Ramblings of a Technical Writer

Hey y’all, excited to share my finished Capstone project with you. For my project, I created a technical writing blog in which I analyze and critique technical documents. For those unfamiliar, technical documents are typically instructions or other types of reference materials – they’re informative and dry, with little room for nonsense.

My blog, on the other hand, has a lot of room for nonsense. I noticed that most other technical writing blogs were just super boring, so I decided to differentiate my blog with a more humorous, casual tone. This should make my project a bit more entertaining/interesting for people besides technical writers.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with the project. I felt like I was able to offer insightful analysis into each document without making it a total snoozefest. I didn’t quite expect each of my posts to lead me down such long, weird rabbit holes, but I enjoyed digging deeper into documents that most people don’t think twice about.

Here’s my final project site: https://alexlopez2020.wixsite.com/technicalwritingblog

I hope y’all are doing well, and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of your projects.

FRE Decision

I’ll be fully realizing my Experiment 1. My FRE will be a guide to creating a character in the Pathfinder TTRPG. It will include an extensive rewrite of the current character creation rules, reorganized to better reflect how we go about designing a character. It will also include tips that will help new players create a character they enjoy playing and generally help them navigate through the thousands of options available to them. One reason I chose this experiment is because all of the Pathfinder character creation rules I’ve read through misrepresent how we typically create characters, and none of them really guide the player through all the possible options. These issues make an already complex process even more difficult to navigate and increase the barrier of entry for people interested in playing Pathfinder. My FRE would lower this barrier of entry and generally be a more useful guide to character creation for new players. As an experienced Pathfinder player, I’d like to enable others to join in the hobby I enjoy so much. I’d like to share these rewritten rules with current Pathfinder players so they can potentially use them to introduce new players to the game. I’d also like to try to find a venue that would more directly allow my guide to reach people interested in trying Pathfinder (e.g. a journal/website dedicated to TTRPGs/tabletop games).

I’ve been excited to work on this experiment since I thought of it. I’ve always emphasized and enjoyed writing very clearly, concisely, and understandably in my work. It’s recently gotten me interested in technical writing (e.g. writing instruction manuals and user guides). Rewriting the Pathfinder character creation rules allows me to try out technical writing and see how I feel about it. It also gives me a chance to work with one of my favorite subjects and gain a deeper understanding of Pathfinder. In particular, it will be very interesting to try to come up with useful tips for new players in character creation. The character creation system is very complex, so you really have to analyze the system deeply to determine how we make enjoyable characters. This FRE will also have a very reasonable workload – I don’t have to do a whole lot of research (I’m already very familiar with the system), and the actual instructions will more-or-less be paraphrased from other sources. The tips and formatting are the biggest challenges, but those should still be reasonably achievable.

I really enjoyed writing for my second experiment, but it would’ve taken way too long to fully realize it. I wanted to write a full-length farce (a play with absurdist comedy), but 2 hours of dialogue takes many hours of writing. My Experiment 3 (a Socratic dialogue) would’ve been more reasonable, but I didn’t find the genre as compelling as I had initially expected. It seems like a formal philosophy essay or a play might’ve been better fits for my idea.

My character creation guide will be in the form of an instruction manual. When you want to deliver instructions as clearly and concisely as possible, instruction manuals are typically the best choice. My origin piece interspersed the instructions for character creation throughout a personal narrative about creating my own character. Although it was interesting, I definitely wouldn’t hand it to a new player and tell them to use it to create a Pathfinder character. If you want to know how to change a lightbulb, you’re probably not gonna pick up a romance novel, musical, or horror film about changing a lightbulb – an instruction manual will deliver a far more focused message in far less time. You might watch the lightbulb horror film for fun, but you probably won’t want to sit through 2 hours and 10 minutes of lightbulb-based terror every time your lightbulb burns out. I want to deliver a clear, concise, focused guide to Pathfinder character creation, so an instruction manual is my best bet. I don’t think my genre would make it more difficult to reach my audience; sure, D&D short stories and memes reach a broader audience, but they’d do an awful job of delivering character creation instructions. I think if I publish to the right venues, my guide could still reach a good number of new players.

I could post my character creation guide on both of these forums dedicated to Pathfinder:  https://www.reddit.com/r/Pathfinder_RPG/ and https://paizo.com/community/forums/pathfinder/pathfinderRPG. From there, experienced players could introduce new players to Pathfinder with my guide.

Experiment 3 Reflection

               The genre I researched for my Experiment 3 was Socratic dialogues. This definitely seemed to be the most niche genre of the three I’ve researched. I enjoyed being able to look into a more unique, uncommon genre, but I also felt like there weren’t many options to choose from compared to other genres. The pieces I chose were interesting, but I found myself wondering if their arguments would’ve worked better in the form of a standard philosophy essay. For example, there were times in “Crito” where Crito was just acting as Socrates’s yes-man instead of bringing up counterarguments. If there’s not really meaningful dialogue between characters, why format the piece as a dialogue at all? I like the idea of using a dialogue to display both sides of an argument, but I feel like the genre is only effective when the authors have plenty to consider on both sides. When done properly, however, I think the genre is great at enabling a naturally flowing argument.

               I think this genre would go fairly well if fully realized, but perhaps not as well as I initially thought. I think I could write a compelling dialogue, but I don’t know if the genre would feel entirely necessary for my argument. I have a few counterarguments to help propel the argument along, but I still feel like it would be rather short, and the counterarguments would be refuted too quickly. It might be more entertaining as a short story or short play because I could better incorporate some of the magical shenanigans you’d expect from Pathfinder clerics. Still, I think it’d be a very novel way to formulate an argument against euthanasia and I could likely iron out some of these issues with more research and brainstorming.

               This was a pretty radical departure from my origin piece. I kept the Pathfinder themes but decided to scrape the whole narrative about designing a character so I could explore a very different genre. This experiment would discuss neither Pathfinder character design nor my character, Ryan Kitt – it kept the Pathfinder theme and little else. Instead, it would take one of my interests (bioethics) and express it in the unusual form of a dialogue between Pathfinder clerics. I found it interesting to consider what types of topics and genres I could pursue if I scrapped most of the origin piece and focused on creative ideas related to Pathfinder in general.

               If I were to publish this piece, I’d need to look more into counterarguments against my stance on voluntary active euthanasia. More counterarguments would make my piece a better fit for the genre and would produce a more nuanced/compelling stance on the issue. It might also be helpful to read additional dialogues so I could gain inspiration on how to introduce and frame my argument – a few of my sources had interesting ideas, like including an explicit list of premises, so I’d like to see what other authors in the genre do. In terms of the topic, it might be helpful to look for hard cases concerning voluntary euthanasia (e.g. Is it permissible when the patient could be treated but refuses treatment for religious reasons?). It also might be helpful to look up tips on arguments about ethics, see if there’s any strategies that might be particularly useful in my case.

               Socratic dialogues don’t require much in the way of technical skills or equipment – they can be written entirely in text, with very little to worry about in terms of formatting. I could consider actually recording the dialogue read aloud with a friend, but I don’t think I’m interested in that route currently. It’s a little tough to say where I’d want to publish this piece. Its topic of euthanasia makes it a good candidate for forums and journals dedicated to (bio)ethics, but its Pathfinder spin means it could also fit on forums for Pathfinder or D&D, or perhaps even creative writing journals. The genre is, again, quite niche, so perhaps I could find a website eager to accept new Socratic dialogues.

Experiment 2 Reflection

Overall I really enjoy farces as a genre. The absurd humor displayed in farces matches my own sense of humor very well. I also think the relationship between play scripts and performed plays is very interesting – play scripts are limited by what can be practically accomplished within a play performance, but the performance introduces entirely new modes to the script’s story. On that note, I think play scripts could incorporate more images. Playwrights could incorporate sketches of sets or costumes to help guide the director without limiting their creative freedom too much. (Playwrights could also use detailed photographs/illustrations of exactly what they’re imagining if they want to limit creative freedom, but it seems like that would be frowned upon).

I think this project would turn out pretty well if fully realized. As I thought more about this experiment and drew inspiration from the pieces I read, I became more confident that I can deliver an interesting, humorous, and fairly unique narrative. One obstacle I had underestimated was how long 3-act plays are – writing a full farce would take longer than I had anticipated. However, I could always just write a shorter play (perhaps with just 2 acts) if I felt pressed for time. Otherwise, I still agree with my initial proposal in terms of the topic, plot, and genre.

This experiment is a pretty significant departure from my origin piece. My origin piece was a nonfiction personal narrative about designing a Pathfinder character named Ryan, whereas this experiment is a fictional play written as though Ryan had written it. So, I kept the topic related to Ryan, but the story no longer takes place in the real world or involves myself. Likewise, all the technical details about designing a Pathfinder character have been dropped. However, I still included the more general idea of character design – the play would be about a playwright designing a character in one of his plays. I figured this would be a nice way to tie in the topic of my origin piece and add another layer of ridiculousness to the play.

I’d still have a little bit more research to do before I could fully realize this experiment. I looked over the typical formal structure of play scripts (title page, cast page, etc.) but I’d have to refresh my memory as I’m writing. I’d probably have to play around with the formatting for a little bit, making sure my margins/line spacing/font size all create a very readable printed script. I’d also need to do some more research into spells and magic items to include in the magical stage directions (I’ve listed some common spells in my sketch draft, but I’d have to see what specific spells are needed for my narrative). Finally, I may need to clarify questions about the setting with my GM. For example, he mentioned that the Ryan’s homeland is filled with wealthy merchants, but it’s not clear exactly how wealthy – 6,000g for 3 Hats of Disguise might be chump change for them, or it might be a serious investment. If I overestimate their wealth, then the play couldn’t realistically be funded in-universe.

I can think of a few different general possibilities for where to publish this piece. Because the piece takes place within the Pathfinder universe, I could post it on forums dedicated to Pathfinder. It could prompt players to think about and discuss how magic affects in-universe media. Although it can’t actually be performed, my farce could still be a fun read for anyone interested in play scripts/farces/comedic writing. Those not familiar with Pathfinder should still be able to understand the play quite well (though some magical effects might require explanations via footnotes), and the humor should be fairly universal. Thus, I could try to publish it in any number of websites, journals, etc. more generally dedicated to play scripts, comedic writing, worldbuilding, etc. In addition to making my audience laugh, this piece may also prompt them to think about how magic, superpowers, etc. could influence the media within different fictional universes.

Blog Post 2: A Day In The Life

The writer I’m discussing is Jason Bulmahn, creator of Pathfinder and its current Director of Game Design for Paizo. Bulmahn writes parts of instruction manuals and adventure paths for tabletop RPGs. Jason acquired a ton of experience before he began designing Pathfinder, playing TTRPGs like Dungeons & Dragons throughout his life. His experience eventually got him a job writing scenarios for the Living Greyhawk Campaign run by Wizards of the Coast, where players across the nation meet in small groups to play Dungeons & Dragons in one vastly interconnected fantasy world. He later moved to Paizo Inc. and worked on Dragon Magazine until the end of its print run, after which he and the rest of Paizo focused on creating their line of game mastery products and Adventure Paths for D&D 3.5 Edition. Two problems arose as Wizards of the Coast prepared to launch D&D 4th Edition: 1) Paizo was unable to obtain the 4th edition rules early, meaning they couldn’t design Adventure Paths until after the game had been released, and 2) Paizo wasn’t sure how the new content license would work, meaning they might have to shift their approach if they wanted to continue profiting off of D&D-based books and materials.

During this time of uncertainty for Paizo, Bulmahn had been independently working on his own edition of D&D. Instead of designing a major overhaul like Wizards of the Coast had done with D&D 4th Edition, his initial idea was a “D&D 3.75.” His idea was to take the core ideas of D&D 3.5 and make various adjustments and improvements, presumably based on both his own opinions and common community feedback. In his initial writing, Bulmahn was mostly analyzing the existing D&D 3.5 rules, identifying their strengths and flaws, and using his own experience in the game industry to make them better (more entertaining, more steamlined, etc.). It’s also likely that he took a lot of inspiration from his experience playing other games: In his YouTube video on how to get into the games industry, he stresses the importance of playing a variety of games (games you love, games you hate, video games, board games, games in different genres, etc.) and analyzing those games – their strengths, their weaknesses, and why certain decisions were made by the designers. It seems that both this research and Bulmahn’s vast experience with D&D granted him the expertise to design a great new edition.

As Paizo was brainstorming what to do about D&D 4th Edition, Bulmahn pitched his D&D 3.75 as a standalone set of rules that Paizo could publish. Paizo loved it and within a week, Bulmahn was the lead designer for the newly coined Pathfinder RPG. Pathfinder has been Paizo’s focus for the past decade, even releasing a sci-fi variant (Starfinder) and currently gearing up to release Pathfinder 2nd edition.

Bulmahn is now the Director of Game Design at Paizo and Team Leader for Pathfinder 2E. Though he presumably still does plenty of work establishing the design direction for the game, plenty of his writing nowadays involves addressing questions and feedback from the community. Looking through his posts on the Paizo forum, there’s various posts introducing new content, explaining the thought process behind certain changes, and otherwise moderating discussion about the game. It’s unclear exactly how much of his writing is published in new Pathfinder books, but he does mention editing the Chapter 1 text for a Pathfinder 2E book in this post.

Note from this post that Bulmahn directly incorporates feedback from the community into his writing. Although Bulmahn, being the head of game design, has a lot of freedom with incorporating his ideas into the game, he’s still ultimately held accountable by the community. For example, Paizo released a Pathfinder 2E playtest a while ago (basically an open beta) and a lot of the community was unhappy with the Resonance system included in the rules. (If I remember correctly, Resonance made Charisma and Use Magic Device less weak but placed too many restrictions on magic item usage). Paizo recently ended up scrapping the entire Resonance system due to its unpopularity. I’m sure Bulmahn gets feedback from other writers on his idea, but it seems like the main barrier between getting his ideas published is community feedback.

It’s not entirely clear exactly how Bulmahn gets paid, but, given his roles in management and communication with the community at Paizo, he probably gets paid a regular salary for all his various work. Likewise, it’s unclear exactly how his writing process goes, but it seems to be a mix of analyzing existing rules, editing issues, and making improvements.

Works Cited:

youtube.com/watch?v=Zm-387BHc5g

polygon.com/2016/8/1/12317888/the-story-of-pathfinder-dungeons-and-dragons-most-popular-offspring

en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Bulmahn

paizo.com/people/JasonBulmahn/posts

paizo.com/people/JasonBulmahn/threads

paizo.com/threads/rzs42ec8&page=3?I-finally-understand-the-design-goals-of-PF2#102

twitter.com/JasonBulmahn

wizards.com/default.asp?x=lg/welcome

Experiment 1 Reflection

The genre I researched was Instruction Manuals for Tabletop RPGs (TTRPGs; think Dungeons & Dragons). As far as instruction manuals go, manuals for TTRPGs are on the more interesting side of the spectrum. They often include atmospheric narratives and artwork set within the game’s universe interspersed throughout the rules and options. The rules themselves can spur your imagination, inspiring you to come up with new characters. For both new and experienced players, it’s exciting to discover what’s possible within the boundaries of the rules and options provided.

However, TTRPG instruction manuals are also on the long side of the spectrum – most of my sources were a few hundred pages. That’s a whole lot of rules and options to read just to play a game with your friends. This issue is compounded by the fact that some of these instruction manuals present the character creation rules and options without guiding new players to make an enjoyable character. Sure, I can choose from all these different feats and skills and classes and whatever else, but how should I string all these options together? What combinations should I avoid? Yes, you have the freedom to make whatever you want (within the rules); however, you’re probably not going to have much fun if, for example, your character is pitifully weak and your friend’s character is incredibly powerful. The encounters you face will either be way too challenging for your character or a total breeze for your friend’s (“Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit” demonstrates this issue quite well). Because TTRPGs are played for fun and it’s not always obvious how to build a fun character, this genre should place more emphasis on guiding new players to make characters they’ll enjoy playing.

I think this project would turn out great if fully realized. I’ve got a solid idea of all the information I’d like to include, and I think it could potentially be a useful resource for the community. I also think it would be a manageable amount of work for this class. My opinion hasn’t changed much since my proposal, though I’ve come up with a few potential ideas to incorporate that may make the process take longer than anticipated (e.g. publishing on a webpage and including a few different versions of my outline for different audiences).

My idea of generating a character creation outline was essentially half of my origin piece. My origin piece is a personal narrative detailing the process behind designing an incredibly complex Dungeons & Dragons character named Ryan Kitt. Because my audience wasn’t necessarily familiar with the game, I had to include technical explanations about the rules and options available to me during the character creation process. Essentially, this Experiment keeps all those technical explanations and thoughts about character creation and throws out the entire narrative about Ryan. It focuses entirely on the technical details covered in that piece.

At this point, I’d say I’m comfortable enough with the topic to put together a well-organized, insightful character creation outline. Currently, I’d like to publish this outline as a post on various forums dedicated to the game, Pathfinder. This could allow new and old players to use it as a learning and teaching resource, respectively. However, I’m still unsure if it’d be better to post it as a Google doc or as a web page. I’d have to do more research into web pages to see if that’d be a feasible option. I think a web page would potentially have better formatting than a simple Word doc, but I’d also be less familiar with the formatting tools compared to Word. In either case, I’ll still have to learn more in terms of formatting so I can improve my outline’s readability.

Intro & Origin Piece

Hi everyone, I’m Alex. I’m a junior majoring in Cellular and Molecular Biology with other interests in bioethics, gaming, and music. Writing has always been one of my strong suits, and I’ve realized over the years that – regardless of what I’m writing – I can write for hours on end without growing remotely tired or bored. I’m planning on pursuing a writing career, with specific interests in Science Writing and Technical Writing. I hope the Minor in Writing program will help me explore different avenues of writing and determine what I’m best suited for.

I wrote my origin piece, “The Creation of Ryan Kitt,” for my creative nonfiction class last spring (ENG 325 with Professor Nichols). It’s a personal narrative detailing my experiences creating a ridiculously complex Dungeons and Dragons character. The piece is a little unusual in that it tries to explain the very technical process behind creating this character while also trying to be funny and entertaining.

There are two main reasons I chose this as my origin piece: 1) It covers or at least touches on a lot of different topics. It explains all the technical nuances of creating a character in general terms, it details all the decisions that went into this particular character, and it covers some of the in-universe events and backstory surrounding this character. This gave me a lot of potential ideas to tackle in my experiments without stretching too far from the origin piece. 2) I tried to accomplish two goals at once with this piece, and there were times where I felt like it would’ve worked much better as two separate pieces. First, I was trying to teach people who’d never played this game before how it worked and how to create a character. Second, I was trying to provide a humorous narrative about this absurdly complex character I’d created. Sometimes the two goals conflicted – I’d try to explain a rule really well but it’d make the passage feel really dry, or I’d try to make a joke but it’d make the rules more confusing. I’d like to at least tackle one of those goals on its own as an experiment this semester.

There were a few things I really enjoyed about this piece. The research was very easy – everything’s available on a couple websites and I had most of it memorized anyway. Additionally, I love taking complex concepts and trying to make them simple and understandable. I likewise love when I get the chance to throw some humor into a piece. The genre was probably the odd part for me. All my technical explanations felt a little off from a typical personal narrative and it made certain parts quite awkward to write. I remember rewriting a few passages over and over because they’d either be overly detailed and dry or oversimplified and confusing. However, I was glad I was able to do something a bit more unusual with the genre – I’d already written several traditional personal narratives before and wanted to mix things up a bit.