2021 Year in Review

Well, I’d intended to process what I wrote and published in 2021 sometime in January, but that didn’t end up happening. No fear, though! We’re here, now. Let’s get into it.


To Hunt a God—Quick Update

I’m delighted to share that To Hunt a God has earned its first Bestseller medal on DriveThruRPG!

Cover by Ludovic Chabant.

Part Two has been coming along a bit slowly, but I’m enjoying how it meanders. Usually, I have something resembling a manuscript before I play through material; this time around I wasn’t entirely sure how to handle my ideas, so I’ve been developing the adventure the opposite direction. Using the playtest to drive my writing. It’s an exciting process. I’ve mostly taken this month off from writing, apart from creating notes and ideas to riff on in my sessions of To Hunt a God with Mason—friend and occasional Akhelas co-conspirator. I’m looking forward to taking my session notes, turning them into an outline, and writing out the draft of Part Two.

I’d like to have this done by the end of March, but at the moment I’m not looking to push myself with a firm deadline. I think I’ll have a solid manuscript by then, but that production (proofreading, art, layout) will require more time.

Some cool stuff which has happened in our playtest:

  • Encountering “deep/feral” Aldryami which don’t speak human tongues—I really enjoyed trying to improvise body language for creatures so far outside normal human experience. Shifting bark patterns, floral scents, rustling leaves.
  • Trading private secrets & ambitions with a forest spirit, the Wise Beast.
  • An epic duel between Finstaval—one of the NPCs in Part One—and our redsmith adventurer, in which they heroformed the battle between Storm and Fire, struggling to earn the Earth (win the charms of our Ernaldan adventurer). I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to work some of what made that fight cool into the adventure, but I think I can justify it as a sidebar.
  • Gate-crashing an Aldryami funeral, and winding up in the Underworld. Well, sort-of… Hm… I’m not gonna reveal more about that one just yet!

I’m honestly a bit scared to see how this adventure works itself onto the page. I hope you all will like it. It’s remained, roughly, within the scope I’ve imagined since my initial outlines, but remains some of the most ambitious work I’ve attempted yet. There’s a real danger of accidental self-sabotage, but I think I’m still in clear waters, and have a good heading to navigate.

The Year of MOTM

If 2020 was the year of Jonstown, 2021 was the year of Monster of the Month. This series devoured a significant chunk of my time, much more than I had originally intended. I started the year with a mini-series of six Rune Masters—powerful NPCs which are more than “merely” monsters, characters who lead their societies in both peace and war—in an effort to draw an audience interested in more detailed content. Bonus content included magic items, sidekick NPCs, adventure outlines, etc.

This approach, ultimately, wasn’t very successful. I’m very proud of those issues—especially Vajra of the Skies and Ehnval Tallspear—but my audience didn’t seem as intrigued as myself by these characters. Thus, I tried moving to a simpler format for the remaining issues, albeit knowing that December’s finale would be an exception. It was around that time I knew that I’d be killing off MOTM at the end of the year, and I knew I would want to write something longer, exciting, for the finale installment.

I feel mixed, looking back, on my output for the Jonstown Compendium in 2021. I’m very proud of what I accomplished with MOTM. For two years, I created a new supplement, every month, and was never late. One huge difference which developed this year in my work is the quality of my layout. If I hadn’t dedicated myself to frequent publications, I wouldn’t have learned and improved the same way. In the two-ish years since releasing The Throat of Winter, I feel my work has dramatically improved in layout alone.

At the same time, all I managed to publish on the JC last year was MOTM work. I’m disappointed that I didn’t manage to get together a manuscript of Treasures of Glorantha 2, much less publish a sequel. I’m delighted that I did get to publish at least one longer work: the MOTM finale To Hunt a God.

The joy of longer pieces is that I can justify a real art budget, and make a really beautiful book. This also adds to the time taken; laying out To Hunt a God probably took from 40 to 60 hours for me to lay out, tweak, revise, and generally get suitable for reader’s eyes. It had been long enough between Treasures and Hunt, that I nearly forgot that joy. But, this is also a time-consuming process. Add onto that marketing, art direction, and so on… Production’s a long process. I spent nearly as long producing Part One as I did writing and editing it. It’s actually longer than Treasures of Glorantha, both in pagecount and in wordcount.

In all, the published wordcount for MOTM Volume 2 is about 103,000 words. This includes two issues for which I was not the primary writer: Jallupel Goodwind by Diana Probst (of Beer With Teeth infamy), and Burning Engines by Mason Street. Many thanks yet again for their excellent work! It was very helpful while I began the writing process for To Hunt a God.

A good chunk of this year’s MOTM was written as part of Camp NaNoWriMo, in April. I didn’t hit my 50,000 word goal, but hammered out a significant portion of the last three Rune Masters, as well as the first draft of The Salt Man, and Petty Spirits 2. A big factor in my mostly-successful marathon writing was that I had solid outlines to work from. This is an element I haven’t been leaning as hard into as I ought; when I have enough outlining and prewriting, I write better.

Some unpublished material from MOTM includes about 5,000 words cut from The Salt Man exploring the Dead Place, in Prax, and about 10,000 words of statblocks for Nomads of Prax. Intended as a follow-up to 2020’s Heortlings of Sartar, I ultimately killed this supplement because the “Quick and Dirty” line from LEGION Games on the JC provides the same content.

Other JC Works

Most of my other Jonstown Compendium writing this last year can be organized into one of two piles: Treasures stuff, or Sylthi stuff.

Currently, Treasures of Glorantha Volume 2 is in the outlining and prewriting phase. I have a pretty solid list of magic item ideas generated, and did a lot of research this past summer into the supplement’s focal period, the Second Age. My goal isn’t to write a book set in the Second Age, but rather to explore what relics may have survived from the Second Age. God Learner toys, draconic secrets, and so forth. Two items I’ve already written a first draft for include “Eurmal’s Backdoor Key,” and “The Eye of Arkat.” My notes and drafts currently stack up to about 6,000 words.

One of the sticking points with Treasures 2 has been one of the book’s longer articles. I want to supplement this volume with longer content, similar to how volume one included articles on Medicine Bundles and Orlanthi treasure distribution. I know I want to write something historical, but the more I research the Second Age, the more impossible that feels. It’s a complex period where the world’s cultures criss-cross and intersect in dramatic ways. I originally intended to write some sort of “Abridged History of the Second Age,” but now I’m considering simply writing about the Second Age’s famous figures. This could give me a way to both ground the lore in more interesting stories—by focusing on character drama and turmoil—and simultaneously provide the background for the magic items throughout the volume.

Other article ideas I have are something about God Learner alchemy, and something titled “Prolegomena to Runic Logic,” framed from a Third Age sage’s perspective on God Learner sorceries. I have a bundle of handwritten notes on that one lurking around somewhere; they’re very strange, and would probably wind up being a short, terse article.

I’m also hoping to reach out to other Jonstown Compendium creators, like with Treasures 1, and publish material in a variety of authorial styles.

Sylthi remains in developmental hell, as it did at the start of 2021. Going through my notes and drafts, I’ve added about an additional 30,000 words of material, in addition to random sketches, handwritten ideas, and so on. Some added content includes work on an Adventurer’s Guide summarizing the city and cults in shortform for players, a longform cult of the city god, and a description of the Gordavos Clan, a wealthy non-noble clan with a local monopoly on redsmithing (as well as exploring the historical and political reasons for why it has that monopoly).

Every time I touch Sylthi, the page feels like it explodes with words. I still enjoy working on it, but I have no clue, really, what I’ll need to do to make a publishable manuscript. I know one important element is continuing to play RuneQuest in the city. While my campaign from earlier this year unfortunately fell through, I continue to have ambitions of picking it back up. Presently, I’m playing a one-on-one game with Mason (yes, the same one who wrote Burning Engines) as a way to stay engaged in the setting, and that’s been somewhat effective.

I have several interesting adventure ideas, too, tied into the area, but I really need to publish the setting before I can publish an adventure—much less a complicated adventure—tied into Sylthi and my version of Esrolia.

Going through my files, I haven’t added meaningful work to other manuscripts collecting dust. This primarily includes Melikaphkaz: O-God of Traps and Dragon’s Rift.

Freelance

I’ve also been doing some freelance this year. One project early in 2021 ended up falling through, unfortunately, which cost me some time. Another I don’t feel I can talk about, yet, will hopefully be done very soon. Fingers crossed, keep an eye out.

I’ve had two major projects this year which I can talk about. First, a short book I edited for the Jonstown Compendium is now available! A Short Detour, by Ludovic Chabant, is a wonderfully simple adventure with complicated questions. If that name sounds familiar, Ludo has done a fair bit of artwork for Akhelas since 2020, including the cover of To Hunt a God. He also hosts the Glorantha podcast The God Learners alongside Joerg Baumgartner (apologies if I misspelled that, Joerg!). If you like adventures with moral dilemmas, you should really check this story out.

Illustration by Ludovic Chabant.

I’ve worked a bit with Ludo on another project, which I hope will surface sometime this year. I’m gonna keep mum about it for now, but I’m looking forward to when I can share more.

The other significant bit of freelance I can talk about is The Tomb of Palu. When Menagerie Press put out a call for adventures in the spring, I figured I’d send an email in using my RuneQuest portfolio as a writing sample. My elevator pitch was basically “I’ll write you a RuneQuest adventure for D&D 5E.” They accepted!

Cover illustration by Andrea Alemanno.

This project took me a little longer than I expected to write, but not disastrously so. In hindsight, it did contribute to reducing my available time to work on a longer JC publication. I don’t regret it. I feel proud of this adventure, and I’m pleased it had such a successful Kickstarter. It’s immensely validating that someone else looked at my work and said “Yeah, we’ll hire you.” I’m pleased with the results I’ve had self-publishing, but working for Menagerie Press gave a solid boost to my self-esteem.

The final manuscript I submitted was about 11,000 words, although the publisher edited and tweaked it before publication, generally to the improvement of my work. It’s available in both PDF and a Print On Demand softcover. If you go to the storefront link above, Menagerie Press’s product preview shows the whole PDF, so you can skim the adventure before deciding to buy it.

Other Work

One other project, which I’ve mentioned occasionally on this blog, is The Infested Fortress, a broo-filled dungeon bash by Mason Street. I abandoned edits on the text in order to write To Hunt a God toward the end of last year, but the manuscript is about ready to go to my line editor for additional polishing and revision. (I’ve grown too familiar with the dungeon, I believe, to provide effective polishing.) Although I won’t include it as part of my own wordcounts, this adventure is currently around 11,000 words. I’m guessing it’ll grow a bit larger, and that it will be published by Akhelas in 2022.

Another source of words to tack on is about 30,000 from the blog. Much of this is marketing, rather than “content,” but I’ve generally tried to include behind-the-scenes extras in my posts. One of my unstated goals this year was to post on this site more frequently. I’ve consistently forgotten to do so in a timely manner, but I have at least posted more than in previous years.

Finally, an important “hidden” time cost is art direction. Going through my files, I have a total of 16,559 words spent on art direction. That doesn’t include the time spent making sketches, etc. I find the typical piece ranges from 500-1000 words, although more complicated illustrations can go longer.

The Rivals, by Kristi Herbert, from To Hunt a God.
This required my most detailed art direction in 2021, and Kristi knocked it out of the park. Bravo!

However, 10,000 of those words are from To Hunt a God alone. Art direction increased the manuscript’s effective length by a third! The work was absolutely worth my time. I mention it to highlight how much “hidden” costs of time and energy exist for longer productions, even for something smaller and more amateur than work by, say, Chaosium.


In total, my wordcounts come out to:

  • Monster of the Month: 97,000
  • Cut Material: 15,000
  • Unpublished JC: 36,000
  • Freelance: 11,000
  • Blog: 30,000
  • Art Direction: 17,000
  • Total: about 200,000 words

Whoa.

For context, in my wrapup of 2020, I estimated that I wrote 146,000 words that year, of which 80-90,000 were published. This year, I wrote over 50,000 additional words, and published around 110,000 words (not including the blog). While I didn’t achieve all my ambitions for 2021, this was not an unsuccessful year. I’m pleased with both the quantity and quality of what I have produced.

To add a little context, I probably dedicate about 20 hours per week to writing, publishing, or adjacent tasks. Some weeks this drops to 5-10 hours, while at other times it jumps up to be comparable to a full-time job. These numbers also don’t quantify the random handwritten notes, brainstorms, sketches, and so on which are pretty much an inevitable part of my writing process. Another way to look at that big number is that 200,000 words is equivalent to, roughly, an 800-page trade paperback.

Stack of writer notes, while doing some cleaning last month. Not all from 2021.

Looking Forward

Reflecting on my goals from last year’s wrap-up blog, I feel tentatively comfortable with my choice to axe MOTM. MOTM certainly kept me productive, but I also found it very difficult to work on other projects while creating each month’s supplement. The most work I got done was The Tomb of Palu—surprise surprise, having a contract and a deadline helps me be productive. I spent a couple months doing good, foundational, research and outlining with Treasures of Glorantha 2, but the rhythm of MOTM consistently disrupted that project.

Another longer project which was successful is the final MOTM, To Hunt a God. While the book lacks Part Two, it is still about as long as Treasures, and the result of three to four months of consistent, dedicated focus. Having The Salt Man pre-written, and Mason’s manuscript for Burning Engines on hand, helped make To Hunt a God possible. It feels more like a “real book” to me than anything else I’ve published this year. There’s a certain amount of other work I can do while creating a longer piece, but I’m not sure precisely how much work that is. I suspect the line is between writing and production; I can do layout and some amount of editing, but I can’t step away from one project, to do major writing on another. This is something I should keep trying to learn about myself as a writer and, increasingly, a publisher.

As I continue writing this, it’s increasingly clear to me that I am most effective when working with a deadline. I’m not willing to lay out a year’s worth of deadlines, though. That feels foolhardy. But I am coming to think I need to be stricter with myself on completing Part Two of To Hunt a God.

I’ll aim to complete a new outline of the incomplete material by February 20th, and then have a finished manuscript by the end of March. I don’t know what the wordcount will look like, but I feel comfortable assuming it will be of a length I can complete within one month’s dedicated writing. That should set me up to have To Hunt a God come out some time in the second quarter of 2022.

My next priority is Treasures of Glorantha 2. It’s a damn shame I didn’t get that book written—much less published—last year. This is a work I’ve both implicitly and explicitly promised, and it’s one I need to complete. I won’t set any deadlines associated with it at this time. After I complete the manuscript of Treasures 2, I can screw around more with other ideas.

Beyond the Jonstown Compendium, I want to propose another adventure to Menagerie Press, and I want to return to writing longform fiction.

I enjoyed working with Menagerie Press on The Tomb of Palu. Additionally, it was delightful just doing the most fun part, for me, of creating an adventure, the writing. One of the major time constraints with Palu was re-learning D&D 5E, and then additionally learning how to write for D&D 5E. There’s a lot of similarities with game writing as a genre, of course, but I had to integrate both stylistic and game design elements into my adventure design. I have the seed idea for another adventure which I think would fit their target audience well. Plus, freelance helps pad out my Glorantha art budget.

My goal will be to complete that adventure in three weeks (although probably not three consecutive weeks). One week outlining and pre-writing, one week writing body text, and one week giving the adventure a line edit. This would require a slightly more intense pace than, say, the typical issue of MOTM, but I think that this should be a good discipline rehearsal. Learning to produce a finished adventure manuscript in three weeks to a month is a strong skill to try adding to my arsenal. Plus, continuing to expand my freelance resume is worthwhile.

I’m also feeling an itch to write longform fiction again, probably a novel. This is good. One major reason I ended up writing RuneQuest material a few months before the release of the Jonstown Compendium was that I grew pretty burnt-out on fiction. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I can see that now. Wanting to write longform fiction again is exciting for me. I don’t really have a good idea for when I’ll fit that into my year. I really should wait until after I’ve finished Treasures 2, but I might set aside a month to do outlines and prewriting before that. I’ll have to come back to the strategy table once I’ve entered production on To Hunt a God Part Two, and see what makes sense.

One option could be prepping a manuscript for NaNoWriMo, but I don’t think I want to wait until November before doing some fiction. I’ll have to look at when the Camp NaNo months are again; I find the marathon writing style exciting and fulfilling.

What will I write? I don’t exactly know. I have an old manuscript and notes retelling the story of the Greek hero Perseus laying around, which I think could be fun to refurbish. I’m also tempted to write something set within Glorantha. I don’t know if taking time to write a novel would be best spent within Glorantha (because of my present immersion in the setting), or better spent taking a break from the setting, to create something else. I do have a few ideas for Glorantha novels. One’s about a Praxian young man during the Lunar Occupation. Another, a Blue Moon assassin in the Holy Country (although the last time I skimmed that ideas file, in hindsight it felt somewhat derivative of Brandon Sanderson’s excellent Mistborn: The Final Empire).

And then, of course, there’s the abandoned ideas and half-complete manuscripts laying around. In particular, my mind turns to Sylthi, but I would also like to eventually turn Dragon’s Rift and Melikaphkaz into something playable. A key factor in my development of longer RuneQuest material is getting to consistently play the game. When I play games in Sylthi, I write Sylthi material—or at least ideas. When the campaign falls apart, I stop developing the setting. Completing something like Dragon’s Rift or Melikaphkaz would be easier, because they have a more direct, limited scope.

Sylthi is a small city, yes, but the project feels fractal. Each time I dip my toes into the water, I find new ripples, which in turn generate additional waves, until I’m wandering down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. This is especially true when I’m doing the most fun writing: inventing new cults and religions.

I currently conceive the project as split into three blocks: an Adventurer’s Guide for players, a Religion book aimed at both gamemasters and players, and a City Guide aimed at gamemasters (but probably with gamemaster-only secrets preserved for a separate chapter). One of my troubles with this project is that the setting’s parts seem to move and twine together. For example, it’s not always obvious to me where I should describe temples, because they’re a religious institution, a political faction, and a physical location simultaneously. Do they go with other physical locations, or should they be described as part of a faction? How does that interact with a gamemaster’s experience flipping back and forth through a book to find the requisite information to play a scene? And so on.

I think the strategy for Sylthi remains the strategy I’ve speculated for other works, this coming year. Outlines and deadlines. A pace of one cult per month is certainly possible—comparable to writing MOTM—but I should not do so while trying to work on other projects. I’ll muck around, and never get anything else done. I think I need outline forms of the city’s religions, and to use that to develop notes which can later become manuscript pages. It’s pretty clear to me that the setting arises from cults, and then is modified and altered by physical contingencies and historical events. These all intersect with one another, but I think I need to get the cults and core myths about the setting hammered down before I’ll have success with the additional jigsaw pieces.

I’m going to leave JC works beyond Treasures 2 to the future. My plan for the start of the year feels fairly grounded and realistic, but planning too far will make me panic and feel trapped. Once I have a manuscript for Treasures 2, and To Hunt a God Part Two is released, I’ll be able to take a look at my interests, my needs, my time, and my energy, and evaluate how to spend my writing time.

Last Minute Addendum: I totally forgot to mention additional works as a publisher for this section! One work I know will be published through Akhelas is The Infected Fortress by Mason Street, as I mentioned briefly at the top of this blog. There’s fair odds other content will come down that pipeline, and be published by Akhelas. I’m thinking that maybe squeezing Infected Fortress in for a quarter 1 release is doable, but I’m not sure I want to push that kind of schedule, nearly a month and a half into the year. We’ll see when that gets completed and released as we go!

Until next time, then.


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2 thoughts on “2021 Year in Review

  1. It’s great to know what you’ve been up to, Austin! 2021 sure does sound like it was a huge year for you — but I think we’ll all always agree it passed faster than we can tell. MOTM sounds amazing, and it’s only natural that it was a large chunk of your life’s thoughts. Thanks for this update!

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