Jess Nickelsen: Discombobulated
November 30, 2020 - NaNoWriMo and Arthur Cobblesworth


It would seem I have a few things to catch up with today! Today is the 30th of November, which makes it the last day of NaNoWriMo. I’ve got 1,588 words to do before I cross the finish line, which I’m pretty pleased about, and a whole day to do them. I’m at the point in my NaNo journey where I’m looking forward to writing them, and the whole thing’s actually been pretty pleasurable this time around. (Which definitely hasn’t always been the case!)

NaNo update

This year I did a few things differently, which really helped my process, and I’ll be sticking with this new approach while it keeps working for me.

The first thing I did was I wrote a retrospective (retroactive?) outline as I went. So, after each day’s writing, I wrote a small summary about what had happened. I highlighted any interesting threads or themes. And that was it. The next day I sat down to write, I’d re-read the actual writing I did, look at previous pages’ summaries and highlights, and think about what threads I wanted to pick up and build on. I’d make a few notes about how I might expand on these, and usually a few ideas would stick, and would be enough to write about for the day.

I wrote my daily word count, and the above notes, in the page-a-day section of my Hobonichi Cousin, which had enough room for me to brainstorm a bit on the days that I wasn’t feeling it.” After a while, I had a few ideas about what I wanted to happen later on in the month, so I put these on post-its, and stuck them roughly on the pages where that might happen, but because they could be moved around, I wasn’t totally bound to that idea on that day.

notes from nanowrimonotes from nanowrimo

more notes from nanowrimomore notes from nanowrimo

The other thing I did was I structured the story I was writing, so that each day I wrote, was a day in the story. So November 21st in the book was written on, yes, November 21st. That had an unintended effect that I actually rather liked: it meant that when I sat down to write for the day, I had to decide what the main bit” for the story day would be. I only had ~1,700 words to capture that day’s heart,” so I had to start in the middle of conversations and actions a lot of the time.

The effect of this was interesting. It meant I spent a lot less time writing around the story, setting scenes, writing filler. As I progressed I got a good feel for how I wanted the story to end, so I pencilled in some of that (and put things on post-its), but I also had threads that I’d pulled through from the beginning of the story that I wanted to resolve in some way, so those needed room as well. As a result, the story actually progressed. I couldn’t spend the first week writing one long rambling scene; I had to get on with things.

Of course reading back on it now, it’s all very abrupt. In a lot of places there isn’t enough expansion of setting, interior dialogue, etc. You know, the breathing room” bit of the story. But those are the parts that I can go back and expand. Writing my NaNo this way means that I more or less have the story written down, and my next re-write will focus on smoothing the edges between the daily blocks” so the story flows a bit better.

Anyway, it was a really interesting process, and it worked surprisingly well for me. I really struggle to just sit down and write an outline for a story, and on the occasions where I have done that, I’ve found I’ve been the cliche, and felt a real aversion to writing the outlined book. This way I could indulge the bits I do like about writing: piecing the story together as I write it, feeling patterns emerge, and things unfold. But at the same time it was less overwhelming than it often is, when you look back at a wall of text (or what feels like hundreds of snippets, if I’m using Scrivener) that I have to somehow manage and work through.

The other thing I did this time around, was I used Vimwiki for my writing. I set up a main page, and each day I created a wikilink for that day’s writing. I summed up what was inside each one, and also wrote the daily word count (and a running tally) on that page.I found this really great: I could focus on one day’s worth of writing at a time, and I wasn’t constantly re-reading the earlier stuff that I’d written, which may seem a weird thing to be bothered by, but it really bugs me especially when I want to be able to look at the story with fresh eyes come edit-time.

vim dashboard using vim-wikivim dashboard using vim-wiki

Anyway, that’s probably enough about NaNoWriMo. I still have to write my final words today, so I’d better not get ahead of myself. I could still break my arm or something.

Arthur Cobblesworth

The other thing I did over the weekend was run a game for my daughter and her friend. An rpg, tabletop rpg, TTRPG, or paper game,” as they get called in my house. Dungeons & Dragons (though we were roughly Labyrinth Lord-ing it). We’ve been mucking around with these things for what feels an age, but have never actually completed” an adventure before. Leila adores creating characters, rolling up stats, deciding what she wants her character to be, and then spending ages drawing whatever they might be.

Case in point: her half-elf (note the ears) Lunar:


(Image a bit squashed for some reason!)

Anyway, they were super-keen to play a paper game”, and I had a copy of Please go to sleep, Arthur Cobblesworth, a one-pager by Paths Peculiar. I’d read about this being run for a child (at this great blog ( that does talk quite a bit about running rpgs with kids; here’s the post in question). I’d briefly read over the adventure, and thought, ok, let’s just have a go!

Because character creation tended to dominate everything for us in the past, I printed out some pregens from smoldering wizard (just refreshed until we got two Elves, which they both wanted to be), and then I gave them both an extra 100 gp so they could go shopping in town before we did anything. The first thing both did was scribble out the generated names so they could write in new ones, and then they drew what they looked like on the back of the page. This was really important to them! (They also thought it was hilarious that they were 352 and 295 years old, and I see those have been scribbled out too. Leila has changed Lunar’s age from 352 years old to 212, which is seemingly more acceptable.)

They both decided that they needed to buy piglets, so they each bought one, and then that was enough adventuring equipment for them. We named the piglets (Bubblez and Bobo), and then we thought we’d better name the town as well. Piggytown it was, with the mayor, Mr. Pig. He was an elf who wore a pig ear headband and pants with a drawn-on pig tail on the bum.

==spoilers ahead for the actual adventure==

Mr. Pig asked the two elves if they could help out please. There were some problems with people not getting any sleep because Arthur Cobblesworth was making so much noise in the cemetery. They said yes, and were overjoyed when he offered to pay them some money as a reward. He gave Lilly (the other elf) a great big silver key, and she drew what it looked like on her character sheet.

The mausoleum was pretty scary, but they decided they’d better go at night time, because that was when the noise problem had started. They pushed open the gate after they unlocked it with the great big key, but both were a bit scared when I described the stairs going down. They held hands and went down together.

The cosmic room was pretty awesome. They liked the descriptions of these, but when I mentioned the shelves of trinkets they were all about those, so I randomly rolled on the miscellaneous magic items table in Advanced Labyrinth Lord. I told them there was a weird cube, a small bag, and a crystal ball. (ie a cube gate, a bag of dust of disappearing, and a crystal hypnotic ball, which I changed to a crystal ball… they’ve got enough time ahead of them as players to contend with cursed items.) Well, they immediately dropped all concern for Arthur Cobblesworth and started playing with the stuff, hehe. I decided not to bother them about the notion of grave-robbing, though they were super-cute about trying to ask zombie Arthur Cobblesworth if they could take his things.

They tried to roll the cube, like a die, and then I had them make an int check to figure out that they needed to press the side like a button. A gate opened, and it led to the first place I could think of - the Land of 1000 Towers, from Patrick Wetmore’s Anomalous Subsurface Environment, which I’m a little obsessed with. I just described a desert with some weird towers in the distance, and as Lilly was standing there (with a rope tied around her waist leading back to Arthur Cobblesworth’s mausoleum), I had a giant statue head fly overhead and then disappear.

She came back and excitedly reported her findings, and then Lunar had to go through and look around, and I had her spot a small village in the distance. Then they had to try to push all the buttons, so I (scrambling) said they found: a forest for button 2, an island for button 3, a strange city, the side of a mountain, and then I asked them what the gate led to when they pressed button 6. They thought if it opened up on a sailing ship, sailing on an ocean that that would be pretty cool. So I told them that’s what they saw, and they were amazed they’d got it right. (hehehehe.)

Anyway, I reeled them back a little, just to ask if they wanted to keep going with helping the town with the noise, and they said they did. But they put the cube in their bag; I don’t think they were letting that sucker go after having so much fun with it. The crystal ball went back on the shelf, I think, and after Lunar dumped all the dust out of the bag, and some got on her and turned her invisible, they decided to rub more dust on both of them, then scoop it back into the bag, and they threw it through the gate to the land of 1000 towers, where perhaps some hapless adventurer will find it just lying there.

The rest of the adventure proceeded pretty easily; I had them notice that the statue head in the art gallery looked a bit weird, and so they turned it, and heard the noise of some metal sliding. (When they figured out what that sound had been, later on, they were super-proud of themselves.) The sarcophagus was scary, and as the wandering Arthur Cobblesworth had been seen going into that room they were really worried that he’d gone back into the sarcophagus, but after taking a look they were relieved to find he’d just gone off into another room.

They met the ex-parrot, and I did my voice in (still a bit sore) by screeching and carrying on, and I decided that if the bird explained the whole story they might like that a bit more than just a creepy zombie bird. And yes, they wanted to help the demon, and they weren’t at all bothered by the fact that it was a demon who had possessed the bird. I really played up the fact that both the demon and Arthur Cobblesworth were, well, both a bit useless, but it was still a scary decision for them both to decide to try and kill Arthur. (I reminded them that they’d be helping him go back to sleep,” which they were okay with.)

They decided they would try and sneak up on him. They were worried that he’d have a power attack” and so used their ranged attacks on him while he was looking at the globe in the Cosmic Room. They straight-up fair-and-square killed him at range (though their first attacks missed, I had Arthur looking around stupidly, unable to figure out where the javelin and arrow had come from). They unlocked the gate for the bird, and got the treasure out of the coffer in the treasure room. (They had inspected that earlier, and with some judicious 10-foot-pole use, triggered the poison gas in a safe way, though Leila’s friend had been worried that it was Arthur Cobblesworth’s SOUL that was escaping.)

They went back to Piggytown, where Mr. Pig made a huge deal out of how BRAVE they were, and how scary it must have been in there! He paid them lots of gold, and made them the Heroes of Piggytown. They both got given a necklace with a charm on it that would let them talk to pigs any time they wanted (which was better than the gold), and then they both had the BRILLIANT idea that for every mission” they complete they would get a new charm to put on their necklaces.

And so that was the story of how Lunar and Lilly (and Bubblez and Bobo) solved the mystery of Arthur Cobblesworth and saved Piggytown :)