Saturday, September 27, 2014

3PP Interview: Jonathan Nelson of Adventure-A-Week

I interviewed Jonathan G. Nelson of about publishing, freelancing and related things. AAW is perhaps best known for its latest Kickstarters, Rise of the Drow and Snow White. There's a lot of interesting stuff and good advice to read below. Check it out!!

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

I'm Jonathan G. Nelson, the owner, publisher, and creative director for AAW Games and The focus of is primarily on publishing adventures compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game such as Rise of the Drow and Snow White. Although I spend much of my time working on games I also have a day job at a non-profit where I help seniors and the disabled. In my free time I enjoy longboarding, playing drums in a local band, and spending time with my two awesome kids. 

How did you get into RPG design and what kind of projects have you been working on? What have been your best experiences? 

I got into RPG design at age 8 when I started DMing our D&D group. I got involved in RPG design at a professional level in 2011 when I created and decided I was not only going to design and build the website but also write all of the adventures for D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder RPG. It was rough going at first but just like anything, you get the hang of it. ;) 

RotD, a very successful Kickstarter by AAW
In your opinion, what makes a good Pathfinder RPG compatible product? 

Since I specialize in adventures I'll talk about strictly adventure related products. What makes a good adventure is a nice balance between combat, exploration, and roleplaying. They are all good things but too much of a good thing can spoil the soup. It's important to find the right balance, which may differ depending upon the kind of adventure you're writing. Political intrigue? Well, there is likely a lot more investigating (exploration) and roleplaying, it's less likely to contain a lot of combat although chase scenes and a couple nasty big dogs could make things more interesting. Protect a small city from a siege? There's probably going to be a lot of combat although great situations for both roleplaying and exploration will still crop up and can be utilized to your advantage.

Of course there's an important key to writing a good adventure beyond balance—coloring outside the lines without completely ignoring them (the lines that is). It is incredibly important to remember that the lines are there for a reason and you better listen to them or your house of cards could come crashing down around you, but at the same time, they're just lines...guidelines to be loosely adhered to, not followed to a T. So many freelancers fall prey to the same old things time and time again. I can't tell you how many pitches I've received where some orcs or goblins are up to no good and holed up in the cave. Now the PCs must go and kill them to stop raids on the local village. Really? I mean, yeah—I've written those too and look how far I've come over the years, but if you're looking to set yourself apart from the competition and really cause us to raise our eyebrows, don't send us a pitch like this. Instead color outside the lines. Make yourself stand out and make sure it's a damn good adventure. More on this later in the interview. 

When and how did Adventure-A-Week get started? 

Conception was in December 2010. I built the site with artist Todd Gamble's help from 2011-2012. Beta tested from end of 2011-early 2012. We finally opened our doors on March 1st, 2012. was originally an idea I had to run my adventures using just an iPad and my website. That way I wouldn't have to haul 50-75 lbs. of books with me to every game session. The site worked just the way I wanted, but later on our subscribers begged for PDFs so we complied and later we started making print products as well as the demand increased. Now every product we release comes out first in web format (yes, we know it's html but not everyone understands that terminology), PDF, and Print. 

What can you tell about the products of Adventure-A-Week? 

We have a very wide array of adventures and player books written by many notable authors from Stephen Yeardley and myself (Rise of the Drow, Snow White), to Michael McCarthy (Dreamscarred Press), Jonathan McAnulty (Kobold Press), and Mike Myler (VerantheaCodex). 

Can you give us an exclusive teaser about a future product?

You'd like something that we have not publicly announced eh? That's a tough one since there's a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes but none of these secret projects are far enough along to really reveal a whole lot. For those of you who love(d) the Rise of the Drow we have some additional setting expansions planned for release in 2015 including Stoneholme, Fungi Forests (other forests located around the Underworld), and some other exciting locations which can further enhance your campaign in the Underworld. 

What are the best things about the products of Adventure-A-Week and what type of players or GMs would you recommend them for? 

As I said before, most of our adventures color outside the lines. We have adventures for all types of players and GMs. Our A-series takes place in our own campaign setting of Aventyr. B-series are a smattering of setting agnostic modules which can be dropped into any setting and are written by a wide array of authors. C-series are old school Gary Gygax style adventure modules (mostly dungeon crawls) but with some new modern twists. We also have many adventure paths which take PCs typically from level 1 up to 14, 16, or higher. 

For strictly players we have our Underworld Races & Classes books where you can play a funglet psilocybist (Underworld mushroom dude, size large, who trips out his enemies), a hoyrall gunslinger (four-armed insect which uses an alien creature as a weapon), or an ahool ironsinger (giant bat dudes who scream so loud your ears will bleed). There's many more options out there for players as well. Check out all the books on our website! 

Underworld Classes: Masters of the Web
What are the current goals for Adventure-A-Week? What are the biggest challenges? 

We have a number of Kickstarters planned as well as regular adventure releases on our website. The biggest challenge is continuing to make sure we provide high quality content across the spectrum, keep up on regular adventure releases with, while at the same time running and fulfilling Kickstarters. We all have full time day jobs to pay the bills (we do the RPG biz because we love it) but as more and more time is required we would eventually like to phase out the 9-5 and phase in the writing and publishing. Balance is the key and thus far we've been working ourselves pretty ragged. It's important to have enough time away to be inspired and that I would say is the biggest challenge right now. If there's anyone out there who needs a companion on a voyage to say Maui or Tahiti I'm your guy! ;) 

Is there anything else people should know about Adventure-A-Week?

You should know that we love what we do. We're not in the this for the money but rather because it is a passion, an addiction in a way, and we want to leave something behind for people to enjoy. To know people will be playing our games and having fun when we're long gone from this planet gives us a sense of longevity and satisfaction. Having fun is one of the best things in life, so why not make some games yourself? Then send me your pitch! :) 

How do you generally find new freelancers to work for you? What is the application process like? 

Usually freelancers find us by submitting a pitch through In regards to artists and cartographers I typically either receive a recommendation or search through Cartographers Guild or DeviantArt in search of pieces which are appropriate for the adventures we are releasing. I'm not a big fan of receiving emails about your artwork unless it's damn professional and your rates are actually reasonable -keeping in mind we're a small publisher and can't pay what WotC or Paizo pays artists. 

What are the main requirements for a freelancer to work for you? What other skills and/or experience are useful? 

When it comes to writers, many freelancers got their start with us. Stephen Yeardley, Will Myers, Mike Myler and I have gotten pretty good at spotting a diamond in the rough. Sometimes it just needs a little polish and we're more than happy to serve as creative directors to help improve an adventure beyond its original idea or concept. Of course, the freelancer must be able to stand on their own and be creative as all get out. Still, don't ever let fear of rejection ever be a deciding factor when submitting material, just make sure you've done your best and send it in.

As far as skills go, you better at least be aware of the Pathfinder Compatibility License and what you CAN and CANNOT do in an adventure for a 3PP. No violence or implied violence toward children, reference only books listed within the license, never reference specific page numbers, etc. You also must be well versed in the english language and utilize spelling, grammar, and punctuation in such a way that our editors don't scream and run into the forest upon opening your document.

For artists I look for someone who can accurately draw a realistic humanoid. I also want to see something that sets you apart from everyone else. Although some people may be excited to see Wayne Reynolds clones, I prefer a fresh and unique perspective when it comes to artwork. Recent artists who spring to mind who have their own style and only recently became popular include some of the fine folks who worked on the Numenera setting for Monte, Jason Rainville who did Lords of Gossamer & Shadow for Steve Russell (Rite Publishing), and Marcel Mercado who did a lot of the cover art for New Paths by Kobold Press as well as the interior art for the Tyranny of Dragons for the new D&D game. These artists all have their own style which is unique yet professional, they also have rates which while not cheap won't break a small publishers bank on a Kickstarter project. A few of my personal go-to artists are Jacob Blackmon, Mates Laurentiu, and Todd Gamble. 

Can you describe a typical assignment you give to new freelancers? What steps does the process typically include from the freelancer's point of view? 

For authors we ask for a pitch. Once received we go over it and send all our unedited advice "straight from the horse's mouth". After the pitch has been approved we send over the ACT 2.0 (Adventure Composition Tutorial) so they can learn the proper way to write an adventure for We have very specific codes set up for various textboxes and rules which must be followed in order to make our product compatible with Pathfinder. We adhere to the strict guidelines contained within this guide which we provide at no cost to all hired freelance authors.

I usually start with a full color interior piece for artists, typically a humanoid or humanoid monster. This piece and the price of this piece usually determines how often I'll be working with the hired freelancer. 

A B-series module
What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers? 

If you're a writer and want to get into adventure design I HIGHLY suggest picking up the Kobold Guide to Game Design from Kobold Press and read it cover to cover at least twice before you even submit a pitch to us. Also, as I said before you should become familiar with the Pathfinder Compatibility License. Finally, if you're really serious I recommend downloading a couple of our newer adventure releases in PDF to get an idea of how things layout in a final product.

If your pitch is accepted please adhere to word count. If we ask for 13.5k words don't give us 14k. Don't be late turning in your manuscript. Passing up a deadline is never a good thing for your reputation. If you have a family emergency contact us ASAP and explain what's happening, at least keep us in the loop. Finally, make sure you are professional and don't send multiple emails asking questions you could ask in your initial email. If you're unsure of the process ask at the start and we'll be more than happy to fill you in.

Other than those technical details I will again repeat to color outside the lines while still adhering to the guidance provided by those lines. You can do great things, the power is within you.

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