When its time to Edit

Currently digging into the 3rd phase of editing on a project and came across this post by skerples on writing rulebooks and this stood out:

Every sentence needs to fight for its life in a dungeon key

Which from the context applies to the entire adventure/module/dungeon. I love this expression and it makes sense when you read a good book – partly it is good because the copy is the best of the lot, Thunderdome-style.

I use word constraints for descriptions sometimes, and when editing I try to convert to E-Prime writing to make things clearer and less declarative.

How do you edit your work? Are you merciless or sentimental?

Edit: clarification, typo

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Are replies about editing others work welcome, or are you specifically looking for self editing?

Why not both, there have common principles. I find it more difficult to edit my own work for some reason…

I think most people find it more difficult to edit their own work! It’s why editors have jobs, after all.

Anyway, when I do editing for other folks its mostly in the developmental editing, rather than final text editing, mode. I also tend to work with longer texts than dungeon keys, which colors my approach. At that point, the things I try to talk through with them and focus on are:

  1. What is the intent of this piece of text? What exactly are you trying to tell the reader, and why?

A lot of times we’re not clear on this when we start writing! But going back after we’ve gotten all our thoughts down and figuring out what the key message is – and why it is the key message – is really important. It will help make all the decisions that come after when text has to fight for its life. (Love that skerples quote.)

Once we know what a given chunk of text is trying to say, I’ll usually fall back to a rule of threes. You need to get that chunk of text to the point where it conveys your main point and no more than three subpoints. More than that and your intent will get muddy, and it’ll be hard for readers to follow. Especially when it comes to using it in play. More than three things at a time and it’s really hard to track when you have players screaming at you in excitement and throwing dice at each other.

Though that process it lets us be a bit merciless – we’re gonna cut a lot of text and streamline things a lot. But it also leaves room for sentiment – words can stay if they help deliver the message, especially to people with different learning styles. Also, it often ends up that good text that must be cut from this chunk will end up elsewhere. If the words are good, they’re worth keeping. But they might need to move to the place where they have the most impact and are easiest to find in play.

This often goes differently if I’m working on something like a dungeon key. In those cases I’m much more like skerples, and just ruthless about cutting. Intent still matters, but it has to be honed right down. What is the most important thing to know, and what one or two supports does it have? Put that down lean and mean, so a GM can look at it once in play and know what to do. Anything past that goes into the developers blog post.


Dunno if I do so much editing nowadays. I tend to write smaller games, and I do excessive playtesting. When that is done (after a year or so) I write all the headlines that I probably need. I think about the purpose of each headline and the “gold nugget” that makes the headline pop, and I think about the structure of the text; both overall and for each chapter.

Been doing layout for other people’s games, and it’s really annoying if one monster description is half a page and another is two pages long. I don’t write like that. I think about how it should look on a page, and then I constrain myself to that. “Work in your final editing program if possible.”, as the text said in the link.

I always write the game from top to bottom for myself, and then I throw it away, and write it again for the audience (if you’re bilingual, write it first in one language, then another). It sounds like a waste of time, but so is also getting stuck on the same ideas when you’re editing your text. I never edit my text after the second rewrite; other people do. Otherwise I would just sit and nitpick details that really doesn’t matter, and I will never ever finish.

“Have a plan. Revise the plan, but never forget the plan. /…/ Start small. /…/ Don’t write to get rich.” are all good statements, but I would like to expand upon that.

  • Have a deadline. Enough is enough, and you will never finish if you don’t have an end plan. You don’t need to meet that deadline, but it should be there to push you.
  • Playtest first, then write. Playtest just the spine, and flesh it out more and more as you go. Playtesting is a chapter of its own, but if you test just the spine, you will realize that you don’t need everything you had planned. “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”, if I quote Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
  • Think about the final product, and how it’s presented in play. Then break it down into smaller pieces, until you can’t break it down any more. Now you’re ready to design your game. Then playtest. Finally write.

Also, more reading material:

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Realized another thing while going to sleep.

Read other roleplaying games while writing. You will pick up on stuff that you like, and things to avoid. It will inspire you to write on your own game. One game may have a clear red thread through the chapters, another one is really clear what each chapter is for by explaining it in the first paragraph. Things like that…


I edit professionally (marketing) and as a hobby (making free ttRPG stuff). I’m also in a long-term relationship with a newspaper editor.

My editing approach depends on what I’m working on, but I like to start things off with a tool like Hemingway Editor (https://hemingwayapp.com/) to check the reading level.

I like to save iterations along major points in the process as I almost always regret deleting something.

For my ttRPG projects, I do most of the fundamental work with pen and paper, then hone in Word/Docs. I always shoot for concision and compression. I am merciless and often get rid of bits I felt proud of at the time I wrote it (but save for a maybe-later purpose).