One of the most unique aspects of Geek & Sundry’s Vast is that unlike almost any other role-playing game show, it includes a writing staff. The writers work with the gamemaster, Jackson Lanzing, to craft the episodes. Given the fairly spontaneous nature of RPGs, the most frequent questions we are asked are about how the process of putting together a season works. Today, I want to pull back the curtain and give you a quick look at how Vast comes together from the writers’ perspective.
In the weeks before a season, we (Jackson Lanzing and the writing staff) trade ideas about pretty much anything and everything to do with Vast. This is the most informal time in the writing process. Whether the idea is a situation, a single scene, a setting, a character or even just an object; this is the time for the writers to help Jack brainstorm as he assembles the bigger picture.
We spend some time discussing Jack’s initial ideas until it leads us to the backbone of the season as a whole. Once that loose track is in place, writers will start pitching concepts for episodic adventures. This can start with a situation, a theme, or even just a tone. These are still just suggestions and often aren’t even designed for a specific team (Peacekeep or Brightest Eye) or place in the season.
For example, episode 3 of season 1, “The Vast and Furious” began in the writers room with the simple idea to feature a big, climactic chase between two enemy ships in space.
Once the basic concept is in place, the whole room teams up to flesh out those ideas, brainstorming together, finding and shaping structure and suggesting detail. During this process, each episode is assigned to one writer as the order of the season falls into place. This produces a very basic set of “story notes” which will serve as a point of departure for a given writer when they begin working on their game module.
Plans are left fluid though because things can change fast in an RPG.
The first two episodes of the season are crafted personally by Jack; following the ideas, plot points, and some of the background stories crafted from our sessions weeks before. As soon the lights go up on the first episode of the season, the players and dice become major forces in shaping the flow and outcome of events.
Individual writers are charged with making sure their game module takes into account all the developments in the episodes leading up to their own (even if it means throwing out all of their plans and starting from scratch). This can include everything from subtle changes in intercharacter relationships to huge shakeups in the intergalactic political scene.
For example, the events of the series premiere found the character Good Idea attacking the crew of the Avalon and severely injuring Louvin. The beginning of the next episode, The Vast and the Furious, had to be rewritten to allow the players a chance to deal with both the physical and social consequences of that unforeseen injury.
Two weeks out, the writer has seen everything they need to know about where the crew is going to be at the start of their module. While each writer must ultimately produce a document that accomplishes the same goals, we all have our own process in getting there. The hope is to create a universe that always feels cohesive, but also fresh and surprising (it’s a tricky balance, but that’s what we’re shooting for).
Regardless of a writer’s individual preferences, a module has to account for a few basic things. Instead of a traditional script, the writer suggests the shape of potential events. On top of this, the writer generally includes ideas for settings, NPCs, and any special game mechanics Jack will need to run the module.
The writer records those ideas in a document which is then submitted to Jack. He adds the final details to the episode, sometimes working with his story editors (the humble authors of this article).
Jack, now armed with a well thought out and detailed episode plan, can deftly craft a story around the choices made by the players during the game. This is where, despite all the careful planning, things tends to move in unexpected and exciting directions. After all, it’s an RPG so in the end, the players and dice really write more of the story than the writers do.
This was never more evident than in the finale of Vast and the Furious. The big climactic chase scene the whole episode was meant to lead up to (all the way back in the writers room) never occurred because Good Idea was able to use his formidable powers of persuasion to deceive their opponent into letting them go.
Because of this unpredictability, after an episode, Jack often huddles with the available writers and immediately begins reshaping and re-planning the events and episodes to come. This process repeats until the season is over, only to begin again in the next season.
Now that you know a little more about how our writers room works, check out Vast on Alpha on Monday nights at 7 PM PST and join in the fun with us.