Publishing an Adventure Is Cheaper Than You Think

You want to publish a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. But the task looks daunting. And expensive. Good news. It can be simple and cheap—even free.

Publishing a TTRPG Adventure Cheaper than you think!

You want to publish a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. But the task looks daunting. And expensive. Good news. It can be simple and cheap (free, even!) and I'll show you how. In this article, I break down my attempt at creating a good product with a minimalistic approach and low costs. I also compare it with what I could have easily spent. The difference is staggering.


Publishing a D&D adventure can be as complex and expensive as you want it to be. But it's hard to know how to keep it simple and cheap. My latest adventure does just that. In fact, that was my goal when I set out to write it. This adventure is a one-shot D&D adventure clocking in around 8 pages.

Tower of the Barrow Witch

A fifth edition one-shot adventure

Get it on DriveThruRPG

Let's break it down into two big areas: the content and the presentation.

Content

Writing

The cheapest way to write? Do it yourself.

If you're not a trained writer (I'm certainly not), you can use good resources like The Elements of Style to upgrade your skills. For what it's worth, I own this book and have not read it. But it comes highly recommended. Another great resource is Grammarly to help guide your writing.

Potential cost so far: $0 (I like to write my own adventures)
Actual total: $0

Editing

The cheapest way to edit? Phone a friend.

Are professional editors worth the price? Absolutely. But with great skill comes a great price because people charge what they're worth. If I had the editor of my choice for this 8-page project, I'm looking at $120 (proofreading) to $240 (developmental editing). My partner is a better writer than me and luckily willing to look it over for free since it's a small project.

Potential cost so far: $120
Actual cost so far: $0

Sensitivity Reader

The cheapest way to get a sensitivity reader? Phone a friend.

Like editing, anytime you skip a professional, you risk quality. Do I think you should hire a sensitivity reader? Absolutely. Again, they're trained professionals and this isn't something you can just do yourself. But there's a cost. For my project, I'm looking at $20. My project is (I think) low-risk because it's a short dungeon crawl with common undead themes. But if you're writing about cultures (real or imagined) or anything from a culture/experience that is not your own, please for the love of the gods hire a sensitivity reader.

Potential cost so far: $140
Actual cost so far: $0

Presentation

Art

The cheapest way to add art? Find existing art with licenses that allow commercial use. You can find art quickly on sites like pixabay and unsplash.

Stock art is another great option. You buy a license to use the art once (but be sure to read the license to make sure it supports commercial use). DriveThruRPG has a lot of stock art available under Product Type > Publisher Resources.

You can commission custom artwork. But your costs rise quickly here. Again, you're paying a professional and they're worth what they're charging most of the time.

I'm currently of the opinion that some cover art is great but the interior art is overrated. The adventure's written content matters more. Don't get me wrong. Major publications with beautiful interiors are wonderful but for our purposes, you probably aren't making your money back here. More on that later.

For my adventure, I used a stock art image on the cover that cost $3.50. A custom commission for a full page cover alone would cost around $200 (on the low end) for the artists in my Rolodex.

Check out James Introcaso's article for even more ideas.

Potential cost so far: $340
Actual cost so far: $3.50

Cartography

Maps are similar in cost to other artwork. The cheapest way to add maps? Find existing maps with licenses that allow commercial use.

For this adventure, I used a commercial map from Dyson Logos. But the DM's Guild and DriveThruRPG offer excellent stock maps you can purchase for use. I also offer stock maps for use in my shop. Don't see what you need? Reach out and I'd be happy to help you find it.

Potential cost so far: $340
Actual cost so far: $3.50

Layout/Design

The cheapest way to get a good layout? A word processor.

You should absolutely make sure that your layout is accessible (and you can even hire consultants for this). But visually? I'll harken back to my opinion of interior art: often overrated. Again, we just want to publish something. We're not trying to compete with Wizards of the Coast or Kobold Press. You can spend money on nice layout software. Adobe offers subscriptions and Affinity offers one-time purchases. I purchased Affinity Publisher for $25 on sale a while back. I used it for my Narrative Wealth supplement (which you can get free by subscribing. It makes for a nice-looking document but none of that's needed.

For this adventure, I used Pages (Mac) and just tweaked my fonts and spacing. A simple and clean layout with no associated cost.

Potential cost so far: $365
Actual cost so far: $3.50

Summary

Even cutting a lot of corners and doing much of this myself, I could have easily spent $365 on an 8-page adventure! So why not? Simple. The goal was to publish something. I don't plan on making $365 in sales on this adventure either. Is it the best product I've made? Not by a long shot. But it is a fun and flexible adventure that I'm happy with. And most importantly, it's finished.

I hope this shows you how easy/cheap it can be to publish an adventure. But also how quickly costs can add up if you're not careful. Do this a few times, offering products at a low price (or Pay What You Want) and you can start to earn a little money to spend on future products.