Rejected for DDI – and I feel fine!

Edit: The final, polished version of the adventure can be found at this link.

I decided to submit the third adventure in my Staff of Suha trilogy to Dungeon Magazine for their consideration. The timing was right, after all; the adventure was ready to go at just about the time the submission window would be opening (October 1).

I spent a lot of time in September trying to polish the adventure itself, figuring that if I could attach the finished adventure to the “pitch” email it would help my chances. I ran the adventure four times and had a couple of friends and a couple of readers from my blog look over it and provide really useful feedback.

Since I live in the Mountain time zone, the submission window opened at 10:00 PM Friday night for me (midnight Eastern time). I was finishing my Friday night game that I run via MapTool at the time, after which I read Chris Perkins’ editorial about submitting pitches. I had already written the pitch weeks before, so I went ahead and submitted it exactly one hour after the window opened. The entirety of my email to follows:

Descent Into Darkness – an adventure for 8th-10th level characters – 5,000 – 6,000 words

The powerful wizardess Tallinn seeks adventurers to be teleported into the Underdark bearing a powerful magical artifact, the Staff of Suha. The mission: Find three other artifacts that have been stolen by unknown creatures, likely in an effort to recreate a teleportation device once used by a long-dead drow sorcerer to bring his foul armies to the overworld in conquest. The other three artifacts (Orb of Oradia, Chalice of Chale and Shield of Shalimar) must be recovered or destroyed, and the forces behind their theft must be stopped.

The adventurers discover that the powerful beholder Ergoptis has enslaved drow, diggers (new insectoid monsters), halfling thieves and mindless duergar as soldiers and hunters of artifacts. The party must fight their way through treacherous traps and puzzles to ultimately face Ergoptis and its underlings in a room dominated by a ziggurat, with a magma river crossed by bridges and floating platforms. Can they recover the final artifact and escape or destroy Ergoptis before the one-hour time limit on their teleportation ritual runs out? Or will the beholder simply add the adventurers to its army of enslaved warriors and continue its plans for domination?

Descent Into Darkness includes four new artifacts, an all-new monster (the digger), a find-the-path puzzle with custom runes and an exciting final encounter with an evil beholder.

Link to a PDF of the current draft of the adventure, complete with maps, stat blocks, puzzles, etc:

Michael, the OnlineDM

That was the pitch. I wondered how long it would take to get a response; they said that they’ll reply to everyone within two months of the close of the submission period, which meant that I could theoretically have to wait until the end of January.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait that long. Monday morning I received the following email from Chris Perkins:

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the adventure proposal. The “artifact hunt” story doesn’t really grab me, so I’m going to pass on this one. We see a lot of artifact hunts, and four artifacts seems a bit much (the write-ups for them alone would eat up thousands of words of text). Also, we already have an adventure in the works featuring a beholder villain.


Chris Perkins
D&D Senior Producer
Wizards of the Coast LLC

I’ve got to say, I felt pretty good about that. No, they didn’t accept my adventure, but Chris took the time to explain what he didn’t like about the adventure. “Collect the artifacts” doesn’t interest him, and they have another adventure coming with a beholder villain. That’s totally fair.

I came away from this feeling pretty good. The best part was that I got the response quickly, which means that I can release the adventure here on the blog!

The version I actually submitted to Chris is at this link. It’s set up specifically for upper-heroic parties.

However, I also assembled the adventure in a way that can be run with any level in heroic tier (though I feel that the adventure runs best at level 6 or higher). That version can be downloaded here.

I’ll talk more about the adventure itself in a later post, but I wanted to share my thoughts about the process for anyone else who wants to submit an adventure to Dungeon.

First, just focus on the pitch, not the finished product. I’m sure that Chris didn’t even look at the link I sent him, and I don’t blame him for that. He has tons of submissions to go through, and he’s not going to read a sixteen-page PDF for each submission.

Second, be creative. It seems like the key is to pitch something that makes the editor say, “Wow, I’ve never seen anything quite like that before!” The key is novelty, not execution, when it comes to the pitch. I feel like I’ve put together a fun, solid adventure, but the things that make it fun and solid (cool combats, puzzles, magic items, etc.) aren’t the things that make a good pitch. It’s a fairly run-of-the-mill adventure premise, and that’s not going to get it past the initial screen.

Third, do your research. In my case, my adventure was rejected in part because there’s an upcoming adventure with a similar villain, which I couldn’t have known about. But I’m sure that if I had pitched an adventure whose villain was similar to something done in the past few issues of Dungeon, it would have also been rejected. And there’s no excuse for me not knowing that.

Anyway, I’m glad I went through the submission process, and I’m especially glad that Chris handled my rejection letter the way he did – quickly, professionally, and with some helpful feedback. If I get any truly inspired ideas for adventures, I might pitch again. But this process was a good one for me.

11 thoughts on “Rejected for DDI – and I feel fine!

  1. Michael, thanks for sharing this so we can all learn from it. I suspect that in general they will react to anything the way a DM might; artifacts are worrisome because of their power. Also, it could be too much of a good thing. I wonder how the pitch would have gone over if the 4 items were actually very normal-seeming low-level magic items (forgotten blades?) that have an important history. That kind of hook is unusual, has no downsides power-wise, and could tell an interesting story.

    • Excellent point. As written, the adventure assumes that the artifacts will NOT be kept by the adventurers (it’s written as a one-shot), but I didn’t make that clear in my pitch. This also means that they’re not full-fledged artifacts either, with concordance scores and so on. Also, the adventurers only get the fourth artifact at the very end of the adventure and won’t really have a chance to play with it (I didn’t even give it stats in the earlier drafts of the adventure, but my play-testers requested a stat block).

      Ultimately, it’s a “collect the MacGuffins” adventure; perhaps calling the MacGuffins “artifacts” hurt my chances. Lesson learned! Maybe it will help other DMs.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. Very informative and hopefully helpful to folks who plan to make similar proposals in the future.

    Though I admit, when I first read the title I thought this was going to be a story about how you were rejected for a DDI ACCOUNT, which would have been enlightening and entertaining in its own way.

  3. I echo a big thanks for sharing your experience here with your D&D submission. It’s great to see the reality of the details surrounding communication near the end of the submission process. Like sharing the letter, and telling us what tools you for the maps and magic items.

    Enlightening stuff, thank you again! You’re really helping the aspiring RPG writing community here 🙂

  4. I have been creating a maptool adventure arc based upon your modules, as a new dm I find them very well layed out and easy for me to follow. Once I get past the server issues and my group run them I will try to leave a comment on my success or failure with the adventure. I do thank you for posting items that are useful to rookies.

    • That great to hear, David! I’m glad that you’re getting some mileage out of the adventures, and using MapTool to boot! Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help with the server issues.

  5. Hmmmm, upper heroic, you say? I’m running Thunderspire Labyrith in an on-line play-by-post game now, and I didn’t want to follow up with Pyramid of Shdows because I think some players might already be familiar with it. I may have to circle back to this…

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