On Dan Harmon; What Next?

Dan Harmon has confessed to harassing Megan Ganz when she worked on Community. He has detailed the circumstances, apologized, and she has accepted and public stated she forgives him.

I think seeing this handled to Megan Ganz’s apparent satisfaction is important. We do need to think about, since all these terrible things happened, once we accept that…. then what?

I’m not claiming anyone gets a pass, or that even that a harsh, honest accounting and confession fixes everything. And clearly in the broader context we need to look at what needs to happen for men to stop harassing women.

But we also need to look at what are the correct steps to take for harassers, both in acknowledging their wrongdoing, and what is appropriate from there. 

And to be clear, there’s no room on this post for discussions of due process or innocent before proven guilty. None of that is relevant here. Dan Harmon acknowledges his guilt.

He has apologized for it. Megan Ganz has accepted his apology and forgiven him.

Now what?

I’d be entirely understanding if a production company said “Given your self-confessed track record, we’re not willing to allow you to have hiring and firing power over women anymore.” Should a company Dan works with do more than that?

What’s next?

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Top Ten Signs You’ve Woken Up in a MMORPG

The idea you might wake up and find yourself living in a MMORPG for no conceivable reason, generally as a powerful hero, seems increasingly common these days. (Especially in anime.) For those of you worried you might not immediately grasp what has happened to you if this should occur, we present:

Top Ten Signs You’ve Woken Up in a MMORPG

10. Smashing random people’s wardrobes, chests, flower-pots, and vases is a reliable and reasonable way to make money. Also, no one ever complains about it. Even if they’re standing right there when you smash their stuff.
9. You have one job. It’s healing people, drawing the attention of the enemy, or killing things. That’s it. As a hobby, you may make multidimensional bags and sell them in the only auction house in the universe to have perfect security.
8. You can picture the most important lore of the world as clearly as if you had watched it on a screen, but rarely know the names of the townspeople you meet or have any idea why they are paying you to kill 60 wolves.
7. There’s no refrigeration that you can see, but your food never spoils. Or goes stale. Or leaves stains on your gloves, even when you are eating Hero Quest Stew without benefit of a bowl or spoon.
6. It takes you hours or even days to gather the materials needed to make something (no matter how simple it is), but only 7 seconds to actually make it (no matter how complex it is).
5. While the exact range varies by foe, as long as you stand far enough away from someone they don’t react at all when you kill their friends and countrymen. You can see them, so they can see you, but it’s like the Batlovian guards don’t care how many Batlovian wolf-trainers you slaughter.
4. When you check the body of the wolf you killed, you find a rusty dagger, some magic pants, and a well-worn book.
You have NO idea where the wolf was keeping these things, or what use it had for them.
3. The absolute limit of what you can carry is not based on total weight or size of your gear, but just how many individual things you have. Fifty greatswords? Fine. Fifty horses? Sure. Fifty-one pebbles? Impossible.
2. Aside from a few close friends, everyone else in the world seems to either only say the same three things, or constantly cuss, insult each other, and talk about stupid political ideas.
1. After 10 months of quests and battles you finally grasp the Artifact of Unlimited Power, which is the most effective magic augmentation you can even conceive of. Then, 12 months later, you begin picking up random loot that is far more powerful. But NOW you are on a mission to acquire the Relic of Incomparable Potency. … Which will also turn out to be eclipsed by random things you find in wolf pelts a year or so later.

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I has it.

Advanced Item Mastery Training Feats (Pathfinder)

I am very fond of Item Mastery Feats for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. I think there are lots of interesting places those feats can take characters, especially fighters. I am also a big fan of the Advanced Weapon Training rules that allow fighters to make weapon training do more than just grant flat attack and damage bonuses. The two already combine somewhat (with the item mastery advanced weapon training option), but I think there are yet more interesting ways they can be mixed for fighters, and some other classes.

Arcane Fighter (Combat)
You know magic is a potent weapon, and you study how to fight with magic items.
Prerequisite: Fighter level 1.
Benefit: You are considered trained with Use Magic Device, and can make special UMD checks with a bonus equal to your fighter level + your Constitution bonus +3, rather than your normal skill bonus.

Draught Mastery
When you drink a magic potion, you gain additional benefits.
Prerequisites: One of the following class features: armor training, brew potion, weapon training.
Benefit: Select three item mastery feats for which you meet the prerequisites. Each time you gain a new level, you can change this selection.
Once per day when you drink a potion, you may use the benefit of one of those item mastery feats if the potion would qualify to grant you if it were a permanent magic item. You may use this feat a second time per day when your base attack bonus, caster level, or alchemist level reaches +5 or 5th, and every +5 or 5 levels thereafter.

Extra Weapon Training (Combat)
You are a master of many weapons and weapon fighting techniques.
Prerequisites: Weapon training class feature.
Benefit: You can select another weapon group your weapon training class feature applies its benefits to. Alternatively, you may select another advanced weapon training option for which you meet the prerequisites.

Patreon Exclusive!
The point of the Advanced Item Mastery Training Feats article was to create new ways to use existing Item Mastery Feats and find synergy with advanced weapon training, rather than to present new Item Mastery Feats. However while writing it I thought of one new Item Mastery Feat which fills a gap in what those feats can allow a character to do: Buff Mastery. It is presented at my Patreon, exclusively (for now) for my Patrons!

Looking Back On Twenty Years of Professional Tabletop Game Work

This is a retrospective, and it’s not one I wrote with any great point or theme. I try to not be that self-indulgent with my writing, but I have decided to give myself some leeway when marking two decades in the business. I may have more thoughts tied into the length of my career as 2018 progresses… or I may not.

It’s 1997. I get a letter from Dave Gross, editor of Dragon Magazine. A physical piece of paper, that I swear to myself I will keep forever, but that is gone by the very next time I move, to a new house.

“I really like your dwarven name generator but can’t use it, as we just published our dwarf-themed issue last month.”
I curse myself for not even realizing Dragon did themed issues. I am an idiot.

“But,” the letter continues in tones of glowing hope, “if you could do the same idea but for elven names, and get it to me quickly, that would be very useful.”
It’s my very first chance to prove I can take notes. I promise myself I will never let ego get in the way of doing good work.

That promise ends up with the letter, lost between moves. Unlike the letter, I find it again from time to time.

It’s very difficult for some tabletop game professionals to pin down exactly when their career “began.” Was it when they wrote their first houserule, or designed their first new game—even if neither rule nor game ever went anywhere? Was it the first time they got paid for work in the industry? Does it matter how much they got paid? Does it matter how long the gap was before they next got paid? Is there an amateur level of pay we should consider before someone is considered a “professional”? And if so, where’s the line?

A few years ago I realized I could no longer lay my hands on documents that decisively tell me when I got my first payment for RPG design work, which was an advance for a WII Hero e-book which was never published. I don’t even know if anyone has the manuscript, anymore. But that rules out using “when I first got paid” as a start point for my career, because that day is lost to the mists of time.

So, my next major benchmark is the publication of my first paid magazine article to appear, which happened some months (or maybe even a couple of years) later, with the elven name generator called “By Any Other Name” in Dragon 251, which came out in 1998. I know that I had to write that well before it came out, and I had submitted other articles and drafts to people before that came around. I also haven’t had a year pass since then when at least some professional project was released that I was involved with the creation of. So now that it’s January 2018, I feel very comfortable saying my professional tabletop career began (at least) 20 years ago.

It’s 1999. I have flown out to Seattle, or so I think. Really, I’m in SeaTac, and I’m headed to Renton, but I don’t know the geography. Eric Cagle picks me up in one of the new VW Beetles. I have an interview at Wizards of the Coast in a few hours. I would have been interviewed a year earlier, I am told, but my resume had fallen behind a filing cabinet. I’m wearing a suit. I hate the suit.

I love SeaTac and Renton, despite having no idea where I am.

Normally, I neither think about nor feel much impact from this extended timeline. I am fortunate to count among my friends, coworkers, and colleagues people who have been in the industry much longer than I have, so I don’t feel particularly older than what I consider the “norm” for RPG professionals. While my work has shifted the steps have often been small ones, often with long settling-in periods, so I didn’t even notice the major milestones as they went by.

Going from 2nd edition to 3rd edition D&D came with a staff position at WotC, so the change in the game I was working on was the least of my big shifts. When I had a more-than-decade-long run as a full-time freelancer, I was scrambling for any work I could get, so I didn’t really notice growing from 3e to 3.5, 4e, Pathfinder, and Star Wars d20 to the Star Wars Revised Core Rulebook. I DID notice working on Saga Edition Star Wars, but at that point I had EverQuest (the pen-and-paper version), Wheel of Time, Gamma World, Black Company, and Thieves World games under my belt, so the enormity of it was less shocking that it might have been otherwise.

It’s 2003. Many of my major lines of freelance work have dried up. I can make the rent for a couple of months on savings, but I need a big project soon or things will get uncomfortable. My AOL account has a message from Chris Pramas. Didn’t I say once, he asks in sentences that manage to be professional and casual all at once, that I was a huge fan of the Black Company series?

I had said so once. At my interview at Wizards of the Coast, when asked if I could adapt any one property to D&D, what would it be?

Well, do I actually want to do that now? It’s a big job, and I’d be working for Dr. Evil…

I DID notice Freeport, City of Adventure, which I believe to be the biggest book I was the primary development force for, but at that point I was on contract with Green Ronin, and their support and assistance made it much easier than it might have been and seemed to define my career at the moment more than working on the book did. I kinda celebrated to a product a week, every week, without fail for a number of years for Super Genius Games and then Rogue Genius Games… but that ended when bigger jobs were happening, so it was almost observed more in the ending than the success.

It’s 2007. Stan! calls. I’m surprised, because I had no idea he even knew my phone number, Would I, he asks, like to write a Call of Cthulhu adventure?

I’ve never written anything for Call of Cthulhu. I haven’t played it in a decade or more, and I never played it more than 2-3 times. I don’t know the rules, and I am not an expert on the mythos. I don’t particularly LIKE Call of Cthulhu.

I enthusiastically state I’d love to write a CoC adventure. It’s probably true. And like many dealings with the elder unknowable beings I am planning to wrangle into a compact booklet of fun, that decision has consequences that alter the course of my life.  

I certainly noticed Starfinder, though the transition from full-time freelancer to paid on-staff developer and designer at Paizo was well and fully made at that point, which made the benchmark seem less momentous somehow. I’ve been at Paizo for almost four years now, and that makes it hard to feel like anything I’ve done in my relatively short time on staff as anything more than getting used to being there, and trying to do enough to make hiring me seem like a good idea.

It’s 2013. I check my phone message machine, a physical device hooked to my landline with dinosaur sinew. To my surprise, I hear Wes Schneider’s voice. He wants to know if I was serious when I had last applied to Paizo. Would I really move back out to Seattle? Because if so…

A loud click tells me my answering machine cut of Wes mid-sentence. I panic. Obviously I have to call him back… and unlike most of his freelancers, I have kept track of his phone number at work.

He later jokes he hired me so I would stop calling him when working on projects for him, and use emails and texts like a normal person. He’s kidding.

Mostly.

It was only recently I realized I was still thinking like a full-time freelancer, despite having a steady contract job with Green Ronin for more than four years, and the Paizo job for almost four. Sometimes it’s less that I resist change, and more just I don’t actually know how to adapt to it.

In these twenty years there have been some major changes to how business gets done. I used to send proposals in print, with a Self-Address Stamped Envelope for feedback or rejection to be sent back to me my physical mail. The three-tier system of distribution was strong and broadly spread when I started, and there was nothing like Kickstarter (though patron driven projects existed… often advertised in physical print magazines). PDF products, and companies, did not (and could not) exist, though there were small scale and 1-man productions in the days of print, they just had less reach.

I remember when terms like munchkin and splatbook were fairly rare, and there were very few unmoderated places, be that forums of letters pages of magazines, for fans to gather and discuss what they loved… and hated… or blamed on the politics, incompetence, or greed of the people trying to make a living creating the games they wanted.

It’s 2014. We’re throwing a farewell for a Paizo employee who’s moving on to new opportunities. I tell a story about my first day of Wizards of the Coast, when I had to playtest the brand-new edition of D&D without having actually seen a final rulebook yet.

“Oh,” he says smiling. “Fourth edition?”
“Ah…” I stammer, a tad awkward. “No. Third edition. In 2000.”
His smile broadens. “I was in grade school then.”

But an equal number of things are about the same. The terms core rulebook, adventure, campaign, and miniature all mean roughly what they did 20 years ago. Game creators often still struggle for stability while pouring heart and soul into a complex mix of creative technical writing back by a hybrid of psychological theories and math.

Dungeons & Dragons is still the most commonly known brand. Most fans still don’t have a very accurate idea of what working in the RPG industry is like, even for people who manage full time salaried jobs.

Somehow along the way some people came to think I might have insight into what makes a good game, or what makes a good gamer, which are crucially different. I’m not sure I agree with them, but I have always enjoyed spouting my opinions. I used to be limited to doing it at friends or occasionally to whoever gathered at a convention seminar. Now I can track how many people in Australia clicked on a blog link. (And can ask fans to support me directly, through things like my Patreon… )

Design trends in games have proven to be a pendulum, but I also think genuinely good ideas continue to be created, recognized, and adapted. I doubt any game I write now will be completely forgotten in another 20 years, but I also doubt any of them will be the most current version of the niches they fill. My career only goes as far back as 2nd edition AD&D, but I certainly played several versions of the game before that. I expect to play many more, under many different names, if I make it two more decades.

It’s 2016. Starfinder is meeting the public for the first time, at the 50th anniversary of Gen Con. I don’t want to fight the crowds, so I give it a couple of hours, then go to where it’s being sold at a satellite both, outside the main organized play venue.

They’re sold out, and shutting down. But we brought more of that book than Paizo had ever brought of anything, so I go ahead and brave the main hall despite it being the first day.

By the time I get there, all copies of Starfinder are sold out. Instead of lasting a weekend, it lasted 5 hours.

I’m delighted that I continue to learn and, I think, get better at my craft. At the same time, I strongly suspect that I AM more than halfway through my tabletop game career. I can’t pull all the physical and mental stunts I used to use to keep up in this industry, and I have no idea if I have 6 more years in me, or 16. I suspect I’ll fade away rather than just stop, but one of the things I HAVE learned is that there’s very little point trying to predict what I’ll be working on in three years. I’m always wrong. Even if I am right about the broad strokes (three years ago I was pretty sure I’d still be at Paizo), I also miss major details (three years ago I had no clue Starfinder was even going to happen, much less that I’d play a major part in it).

I still play games with some of the same people I did 20 years ago, my wife included, but lots of other friends I knew and gamed with even a decade or more before that I don’t get to see much anymore.

But games are still my favorite social activity, and RPGs are still my favorite subset of games.

And writing, developing, consulting for, and designing games is still the only job I can imagine having.

RPGs: The Map is Not the Territory

RPGs are not, in general, trying to create a pure simulation of reality in the form of entirely consistent and all-encompassing rules (and acting as if they are, or even should, leads to unhappiness, silliness, or both). The rules of the Game part of an RPG can be distinctly different from a description of the objective rules that define a universe. People who want to take things ‘allowed” by RPG rules and dive down to what a world is “really” like if those rules are equally and evenly available to even citizen of the world are not playing the game as intended.

(And if they have fun doing that, that’s fine. But if they don’t, the flaw isn’t necessarily with the game rules.)

For example, it’s perfect acceptable to say “This ability can be selected by any player for their character. There are no limitations or restriction on a player doing so.” and a GM or campaign setting saying (or even being built so it is true without saying it) “This ability represents a very rare ability, and only a very few people in the universe have it.”

One early step in beginning a new RPG campaign or adventure that almost no RPGs ever mention is, everyone involved should be interested in engaging in that activity in a way that causes everyone to have fun. If someone actively doesn’t want to play, or their motivating for playing is to make other people unhappy and sadly yes, this happens), most RPGs are going to collapse under the weight of neutral or bad intentions. (This is, by the way, one reason why formal organized play groups often have some significant additional rules about player and character behavior, or collapse under their own weight. I remain in awe of people able not only to run such organizations, but write for them, build them,\and create environments where clearly most participants are having fun.)

If everyone wants to play the game for mutual fun, the fact the rules are often focused on what player characters can do (rather than what is unavailable to the majority of the population because not everyone is a Caped Knight Wizard of Justice) is rarely an issue.

Some people claim such a focus on PC abilities automatically mans the player characters are somehow “chosen ones” because they have access to options common NPCs don’t. Now, sometimes that’s the case, and that’s fine. I have often run games where player characters were, explicitly, somehow gifted in ways the vast majority of the population was not. Sometimes that’s a built-in rarity explained by the game. (“Only 1 in 10,000 people can learn the Rite of Heroism… and in this rare case, all four of you have that ability despite being from a village of 700.”)

But in other cases, the PCs have no special fate or inherent superior power. They are just the people who, at the start of the game, have ended up somewhere interesting. Maybe they have options other people can’t take due to genetics, but that doesn’t make them “chosen” despite the rarity, any more than having one blue and one green eye does. Or maybe they have just had unusual circumstances since birth—a lot of people feel anyone CAN become a professional artist if they spend the time and have the drive to do so, but not everyone does.

Put another way, if you were reading a piece of fiction about an interesting time and place where 25% of children die at birth, you wouldn’t want to focus on the people who died at birth at point of view characters. There’s nothing that “protected” the other 75% of the people born, they’re just the characters who are still alive to do things, so of course the story follows them instead.

So just because a game says “A character may select ‘Ouch’ as a power, which removes 1% of a foe’s health once per day with no chance of failure” doesn’t automatically mean the world is ruled by roving gangs of 100 11-year-old commoners who all have Ouch and thus can, as a group, kill absolutely anyone they want to. It just means some people have this and, if the campaign setting, GM, or adventure doesn’t call out Ouch Battallions, chances are they don’t exist.

Now it IS useful for an RPG to give a GM and players some idea of what NPCs and common folk in the game are likely to be like. This might be as complex as the kind of distinction between PC and NPC character classes in d20 games—no player character is going to select the strictly-inferior “warrior” if “fighter” is an option, but tons of NPCs do, and at the same time some important NPCs instead tale PC classes which lets you know (generally without explicitly saying so) that those NPCs are more important to the adventure or campaign.

Or it might be much more simple and subtle, like providing lists of NPCs game rules, or even just lists of inspirational media. If an RPG tells you it takes inspiration from the X-Men comics, Gifted television show, and movies Carrier, Firestarter, and Push, and the game gives you options to take extraordinary superhuman powers, it doesn’t also have to explicitly tell you that not every person in the world has those powers. That’s clear, in the types of stories it outlines as inspiration. You can BUILD a campaign world with that paradigm if you want to, but you should already know you are system-hacking.

I love system hacks, as Really Wild West might make clear. But once you go that route, it’s unfair to expect the rules to not force you to make some decisions to make the hack logical.

No RPG can fully, accurately, and deeply represent all the factors that determine who ends up with what abilities in a realistic world setting. We can’t even do that in the real world, even if we just limit ourselves to who will be successful out of a single class of kids. We can make educated guesses, based on experience and statistics, but some kid will buck those trends.

That kid, by the way, is the one many people want as their player character.

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If you got this far, maybe you like these essays enough to help fund them? That’s easy and cheap to do, with my Patreon.

The Mexican Porfiriate and the Technopolitan Theme for Really Wild West (in Starfinder)

The Mexico of the Really Wild West isn’t quite the Mexico of real-world 1891, but it is grounded in the history and beliefs of the real-world Mexico of the time. This is a fantasy write-up, which focuses on simplified and gamified elements of the true historic Porfiriate and makes adjustments for purposes of making a fun game setting. The true history of the era is fascinating, and I strongly recommend anyone who finds any of this Really Wild West version interesting spend time learning about the actual events, philosophies, and individuals important to this time in Mexican history.

Porfiriate Mexico

While much of the rest of the world considered Mexico a lawless land with constantly-changing governments and corrupt officials from the War of Independence in the early 1800s through the Mexican Empire, the First Mexican Republic, the Mexican-American War, the War of Reform, the French Invasion, the Second Mexican Empire, and the early years of the restoration of the Republic, that has changed since Porfirio Díaz rose to power in 1876. While the sheer list of major events, wars, forced colonialism, and upheaval that wracked Mexico for the first three-quarters of the 1800s might suggest most of the problems in the country have roots in socio-economic causes rather than any inherent laziness or moral lack of Mexican citizens, but common opinion worldwide, all too often, blamed the latter rather than the former.

However, most people in other countries also happily state the “new Mexico” seems to have found cures for the “failings of character” they once assigned to the people of the country. While bias and bigotry against Mexicans has not ended overnight, there is increasingly a sense that the new government, and its citizens and agents, are both better equipped to deal with the rest of the world on equal terms, and to insist the world treat them with respect.

The “Porfiriate” government of Mexico is ruled by military hero Porfirio Díaz with the aid of the Científicos (“scientists”), a group of appointed technocrats who believe strongly in positivism. Put (very) simply, positivism states that knowledge gained by direct observation, interpreted by reason and logic, is the only knowledge that can be proven and conclusively trusted. Positivism was developed by French philosopher Auguste Comte, who taught several of the Científicos, and who called on a new social doctrine based on the sciences and who founded the Religion of Humanity, a secular religion designed to fill the social functions of churches without dependence on theology. It reveres humanity itself, and promotes the three pillars of altruism, order, and progress, with its own priests, liturgies, and sacraments. It has been described as “Catholicism without the Christianity.”

The Porfiriate has run Mexico since 1876, and has focused on modernization, rationality, trade, and safety. The Rurales (“Rural Guard”), a national police force that is in part a counterpoint to the Federal army, have significantly reduced banditry throughout the country, though areas furthest from major cities remain dangerous. The powerful Superior Health Council has successfully improved health conditions overall and run successful campaigns against many tropical diseases, but infant mortality remains extremely high. Financial stability has been maintained on the macroeconomic scale, and rising wages and tax revenues are well on their way to creating a national budget surplus, but food costs continue to rise faster than the lowest wages making life difficult for the urban poor.

While the Profiriate has turned Mexico into a major and respected world player in less than two decades, the new government is not without its flaws. As wealth pours into the country and does improve the lives of the average citizen, it is the most powerful and well-connected families, as well as foreign investors, who see the greatest benefit. The focus on modernization often dismisses or even outlaws traditional beliefs and rituals, both damaging some cultural identities and leaving many poorer or rural families insecure about the nature of the future. Schools demand standardized modern teaching methods which do increase overall education, but also reduce the flexibility to each things important to life in specific areas, especially far from big cities. So far Porfirio Díaz largely has the trust and support of the majority of the population, and is easily able to win public elections when they are held, but he also clearly seems willing to use his vast power to suppress dissent and political rivals in the name of maintain a vision of a modern, rational Mexico.

Further, while much of the rest of the world was driving to the brink of defeat just last year by the invasion of Martian tripods, Mexico has left relatively unscathed. Fewer tripods landed in Mexican territory than most stretches of land the same size and none in the high plateaus at the center of Mexico, which include Mexico City.

Even more importantly, most Tripods in Mexico succumbed to disease within days rather than after the months required in most regions. While other nations were losing vast swathes of major cities and national infrastructure, and later rebuilding the ravaged areas, Mexican engineers were taking tripods apart and learning the secrets of heat rays, compression gears, and extraplanetary metals. The result was that Mexico’s growing industrial base and scientific academies had a huge head start revising their entire manufacturing and educational sectors to adapt to the new technology. Heater guns are more common in Mexico than anywhere else, and their Academia de Ciencias Marcianas in Mexico City creates new gizmos nearly every week.

As Mexico’s government and its people grow in power and confidence, they have also begun to extend their influence beyond their countries borders. The focus on science and rationalism in Mexico has led to significant advanced technologies being created, and experts from around the world study there to stay current on Martian studies, and Mexican experts are often invited to investigate any strange phenomenon anywhere else in the world. This exchange has rapidly caused many foreigners to see Mexicans as likely experts in any science, and they have developed a reputation for being rational, well-educated, and quick-witted. While the Mexican moves to include increasing numbers of women in every job and rank (a trend brought on by a mix of the result of focusing on rationality over traditional roles or instinctive reactions and the need for as many engineers, analysts, and scientists as possible in the rapidly growing major cities) is seen as “odd,” it is generally accepted as part of the “Mexican method” for creating a new, technological society.

The Mexican government’s Science Agents, who serve as the elite troubleshooter and law-enforcement arm of the government both within and outside of the nation’s borders, are revered and respected as among the best detectives and law-enforcers in the world. They are sometimes invited into neighboring countries to deal with particularly complex cases and, though the legality of this is questions, claim limited jurisdiction outside their national borders when an investigation’s trail takes them outside of their nation.

While all the races of the Really Wild West can be found in Mexico, the largest populations are human, lashunta, half-orc, and halfling.

Technopolitan Theme [+1 Int]
Although many Mexicans still lead primarily rural lives, the combination of a government focused on modernization and the influx of alien technology and foreign investment has lead to the rise of technology-focused societies in the major cities and universities. These are people whose entire lives revolve around science and technology, and they have come to be known as “the new citizens” or “technopolitans.” While this social movement is most common in Mexico city, any major industrialized area or large university or similar academic and advanced facility may generate some number of technopolitans. If you were raised in a region with access to modern science and technology, and have come to believe technology can be used to improve most aspects of life, this theme is for you.

The technopolitan theme is specifically designed for the Really Wild West setting hack, though it can be used with any Starfinder Roleplaying Game campaign.

Theme Knowledge (1st)
You can use your Physical Science skill for any Engineering or Life Science check. Additionally, Physical Science is a class skill for you. If it is a class skill from the skill you take at 1st level, you instead gain a +1 bonus to all Physical Science skill checks. In addition, you gain an ability adjustment of +1 to Intelligence at character creation.

Calm Analysis (6th)
Your study of and confidence in the results of the scientific method give you additional rigor and assurance when you are able to calmly consider a question. When you take 10 or take 20 on any Int- or Wis-based skill or ability check, you gain a +2 bonus. Additionally when you take 10 on any other skill, you can gain a +1 circumstance bonus by doubling the amount of time normally required to perform the skill check.

Applied Principles (12th)
Even when you don’t know how to do something, you can often work it out by breaking it down into logic problems and analyzing each step for the basic principles that apply. You can make skill checks untrained, and if you are in circumstances that would normally allow you to take 10 with a skill, you may substitute a roll using half your total Physical Science bonus in place of any other skill check (though you may not, then, take 10).

Check Your References (18th)
You know that for nearly any question, some of the work toward an answer has already been done. Up to twice a day, you can take 10 minutes to check any information repository (from an encyclopedia to a pocket reference book to the Babbage-Bell Grid) to check assumptions, theorems, and research into questions you are considering. This allows you to regain 1 Resolve Point.

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On Being a Full-Time Tabletop Game Freelancer

This grew out of a response I wrote to someone considering full-time freelancing on Facebook. It comes with some provisos.

I haven’t been a full-time freelancer for nearly 4 years now. Things change fast, and no one still freelancing is going to bother to keep me in the loops, so while I stand by the generalities and warnings, the specifics may well be different nowadays.

I had a spectacular set of advantages when my freelance career really took off. While I went to full-time freelance sometime in 1997, at the time my wife made enough money, and got enough insurance, that my miserable first few years didn’t need to be self-sufficient. It’s when I restarted full-time freelance in 2001, after being laid off from Wizards of the Coast, that I had to cover my share of buying houses, paying all the bills, cover insurance, and paying college expenses based purely on what I could earn as a freelancer. And at that point, I was a d20-proficient writer during the d20 boom, multiple people who left WotC to start their own businesses or work as editors and developers for bigger companies knew and liked me, and I already had some major game titles under my belt thanks to 14 months as a WotC designer.

That made things much, much easier.

I was a full-time freelance RPG content provider from 2001 to 2014. So it can be done. But it’s hard.

I lived in Norman, Oklahoma, one of the cheapest places in the US to live and, thanks to being a college town, one that still had a fair number of modern amenities. I recommend finding cheap living options, whatever that can mean for you.

I discovered being a full-time freelancer was actually three jobs.
>First, you have to get work. That means promoting yourself online, contacting potential clients, and going to conventions or similar events to make contacts and network.
>Second, you have to do the work. This is the only part anyone pays you for.
>Third, you had to get paid for the work. Most of my clients were great, but I *still* have a $2000 outstanding bill for a project that got published, and numerous pay-upon-publication projects that were never published, despite me doing my part, and thus never came due.

I strongly recommend spreading yourself around to as many kinds of writing as you can. I once traded writing copy for a repair shop’s website for $600 in repairs. which is good, because I did not have $600. In bad periods I worked for trade for food, yard work, clothes, and even editing or similar favors for other work of mine. Much of that work was not game-related. 

I joined Super Genius Games, and when I left it began Rogue Genius Games, so I would always have a place to write, when other companies weren’t hiring. Of course that meant I only made money on those projects if people bought them, since it was all on royalties. Before that I wrote for d20 Weekly and later Pyramid magazine because they would publish whatever I wrote, without fail, every week. And they paid on time.

It isn’t always smart to start your own game company, but it is always smart to look for a place that will publish you regularly. They may pay less or pay only royalties. You DO need to get paid, but I found a mix of high-paying but rare work and lower-paying or royalty work that was always of often available was the way to make ends meet.

Magazine columns were great. Lines with regular releases and developers who liked me were great. One advantage of smaller projects is that you often do less work before you get paid. A 30,000 word project sounds great… but it’s 3-6 weeks of work you have to do before the clock even starts on getting paid.

Similarly, ongoing contract work is great. Especially if it pays by the month. This is rare, but there are companies who need a single developer or editor, or project manager (or, much less often, has a whole contract staff) that will pay you for a certain amount of time or a certain cut of what gets done, every month. This is a huge help, as it cuts down time spent getting work and tracking down payment for work. Even a small monthly amount can help balance the budget (and see Patreon thoughts, below.)

Don’t work without a contract. Look at the terms. An advance is best, but almost nonexistent nowadays. Pay-upon-acceptance, especially if it talks about when you’ll be accepted by and what happens if you’re not, is great. Pay upon publication kinda sucks, but is fairly standard. Flat rates are often better than royalties, but royalties are a legitimate business plan. I’ve made more money on freelance projects that paid royalties than I ever have on flat rates. of course, I’ve also had such projects end up paying nothing or nearly nothing. And, full disclosure, my own company (Rogue Genius Games) mostly pays royalties, so my opinion on this may be biased.

Your budget may be feast-or-famine. My wife and I were very cautious about spending money when a big check came it, because we literally did not know how long it had to last. We tried very hard to do nothing on credit, because credit can pile up and kill you, but even so after 13 years of freelancing I had tens of thousands of dollars of medical and educational debt that we still haven’t fully paid off.

The 80 hour work week because my norm. The 100 hour work week happened way too often. I pulled more than one 30-hour “all-nighter” shift, a feat I am physically no longer capable of pulling off.

I can’t recommend full-time freelance writing tabletop games as a career choice. In my case, because I had cared about games more than a career or education, I ended up with no other marketable skills.

But if you feel you must try it, I hope you get advice from lots of different people first, and I wish you well.

Patreon

Things like Kickstarter and Patreon have change the potnetial freelance landscape. I recommend everyone have a Patreon-like subscription service and a blog or similar ongoing outlet you can ask people to pay you to continue.

And, of course, I’d appreciate it if you consider supporting mine. 🙂

Addendum the First: Always see if you can use anything you have written to either make money, or promote yourself. Or both. That’s why I blew up what was originally a Facebook response into full blog post.
Addendum the Second: Friends, and colleagues and fans that like and respect you, are more likely to help you find work and promote you and the work you have done.
Act accordingly.
Addendum the Third: There is no shame in being a part-time freelancer. You can do it as a second job, or as a hobby. You can also do it mostly, then with some little extra thing on the side to make sure you survive. I’ve known awesome freelancers who were fast food dishwashers, Uber drivers, substitute teachers, and temp workers. If that’s what you need to have a safety margin, or to live at least part of the life you want to live, do it with your head held high. If, someday, you feel secure in leaving the non-freelance part of your life, great. If not, your work is no less ‘real” or “professional.”

Easterner Theme (for Really Wild West in Starfinder)

One of the classic concepts in most westerns is the character from “back east.” In the Really Wild West people who know more about culture and polite society, and by the same token less about the brutal conditions of “the west,” are also expected to be better educated overall, and have access to the most recently updated information on any topic.

The easterner theme joins rules for shotguns, mounted combat, Badlands City and its Dread Templars and citizens, Renown Equipment Rules, and a set of plot hooks and inspirational media as part of the Really Weird West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

Easterner       +1 Cha

While you are in the Really Wild West now, you spent most of your life in a more civilized, less frontier region. That may be back on the East Coast of the United States, or it might be the urban centers of any major country, such as Mexico City or Tokyo. You enjoyed the benefits of cosmopolitan newspapers and the bonus to current event tracking that comes from living near a node of the Babbage-Bell Grid… while at the same time you have significantly less practical experience with the skills needed to survive in the rough.

Theme Knowledge (1st)

Choose an Intelligence based skill. When attempting a Profession or Culture check to recall knowledge about major figures, theorems, and advances in the field that skill represents, decrease the DC by 5. You gain a +1 bonus to checks with this skill, and it becomes a class skill for you (though if it is a class skill from the class you take at 1st level, you instead gain a total of a +2 bonus to checks with the skill). You also take a -1 penalty to all Survival checks, and if you have no ranks in Survival cannot take 10 with that skill.

In addition, you gain an ability adjustment of +1 to Charisma at character creation.

Up to Date (6th)

You manage to keep your education current and maintain the advantages your lifetime with modern information sources gave your information base. You gain 3 extra skill points at 6th level. These must be spent on Int-, Wis-, or Cha-based skills. You do not add your Intelligence bonus to this collection of bonus skill points, and you cannot have more ranks in a given skill than your level.

Soul of Civility (12th)

Your civilized and refined nature is clear for all to see, and causes people who aren’t already opposed to you to take your opinion seriously. You gain a +5 bonus to Diplomacy checks to change the attitude of indifferent and friendly creatures.

Comforts of Home (18th)

Up to twice a day, when you take at least 10 minutes to enjoy one of the finer things from the culture of home (be that a fine cup of tea, a few lines from a favored book of poetry or great piece of literature, humming classical music, or whatever), you regain one expended Resolve Point.

Patreon

I do a lot of blog writing, from setting hacks like Really Wild West to essays on geekdom and the game industry, and my patrons make all that possible! Please consider joining their ranks. 🙂

Dread Templar Archetype (for Really Wild West in Starfinder)

This archetype represents one of Badland City’s famed Dread Templars, supernatural law enforcers who focus on punishment and vengeance over peace and prevention. It’s specifically designed for use with the Really Wild West setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, but could be used in any campaign using the RPG’s rules.

Dread Templar

Whether you trained at the Acadamance in Badlands City, or was granted Dread Templar powers because someone sold their soul to the Devil (possibly even you), the power of infernal law flows through you, and demands you obey its rules. You may or may not be a Badlands Citizen, depending on your background. One way or the other, you earned your tarnished silver goat’s-head badge, and everything that comes with it.

Infernal Law (Su): [2nd Level] A Dread Templar is infused with the power of hellish order, as seen through the lens of federal US law. If you are aware that a creature is with certainty an unpunished criminal, you must do your best to see the criminal is punished in accordance with US law for its crimes (regardless of whether US law has jurisdiction over the crime). If you are aware of a victim of a crime, you must do your best to gain vengeance for the victim. On any day when you become aware of an unpunished criminal or unavenged victim and don’t act to further procurement of punishment or vengeance, you lose all benefits of this archetype until the next time the moon is at its apex (“High Moon”).

If you see an act, you automatically know if that act is illegal under US federal law, and if so what the minimum and maximum sentences are for those convicted of that crime. If you carry out punishment for such an act, you know if the punishment you carried out is equivalent to such sentences (as determined by the GM). (A GM can simplify the legal code into misdemeanors, which are punished by a 10-100 credit fine or a week confined; crimes, which are punished by a 100-1,000 credit fine or up to a month confined, and felonies which are punished by confinement of a year or more or more serious loss, such as death. Money taken from fines is not considered punishment of the Dread Templar or other PCs keeps it—it must be turned over to nearby legal local authorities or the US federal government.)

You gain a +2 bonus to Diplomacy checks with law officers, and a +2 bonus to Intimidate checks with criminals.

You also carry the power of hellfire within you. Whenever you make an attack, you may choose for half the damage to be infernal fire, which is an untyped form of magic damage. If the attack already deals two types of damage, replace one of them with hellfire (you decide which damage type to replace each time you use this ability).

Lesser Sentence (Su): [4th]

This alternate class feature is optional. A Dread Templar may choose not to take it, in which case they gain their class’s normal class feature for 4th level. Alternative they may choose to take it at another level archetypes can gain alternate class features, giving up the normal class feature, as long as they do not gain another archetype alternate class feature at the same level.

Whenever you make an attack that kills a creature you are aware has committed an unpunished crime, you may choose to invoke a lesser sentence. The creature (even if unconscious) has the option to choose not to die, and to instead impose upon itself an appropriate sentence for its crime, as outlined under US federal law (as adjudicated by the GM). If for some reason the creature is forced to end its sentence prior to it being completed, it dies.

Manacles (Su): [6th]

This alternate class feature is optional. A Dread Templar may choose not to take it, in which case they gain their class’s normal class feature for 6th level. Alternative they may choose to take it at another level archetypes can gain alternate class features, giving up the normal class feature, as long as they do not gain another archetype alternate class feature at the same level.

When you succeed at a melee attack against a target you are aware has committed an unpunished crime, you may also for it to make a Reflex save or have a pair of hellfire manacles bind it. On a failed save the creature gains the entangled condition. It can escape these manacles as if they were physical manacles, with the DC of any appropriate skill check being 15 + 1-1/2 your character level.

Patreon

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My 2017 Year in Review

For me, 2017 was the Year of Starfinder.

The year began with putting the final touches on the Starfinder Core Rulebook, and that system has taken the vast majority of my professional time. I even opted to do Starfinder work outside the office, due to how excited I was about the system, in both professional and personal capacities. That was part of a long string of decisions I made about what work to do, and how much of it, and not all of those decisions were smart ones. I do not regret any of the work I accomplished, but early in the year it became clear I had taken on too much, and that I had been flirting with burnout for months if not years.

For me, 2017 was the year I burned out.

Burnout, like anything, comes in degrees. I’ve gotten slightly burned out before, and always managed to use coping mechanisms to power through it. But I’m not in the my 30s anymore, and honestly I’m well into the tail end of my 40s. Some of the things I used to do, like pull all-nighters to get work done more quickly to catch up. I’m not physically capable of anymore. Other things require specific support networks that I don’t have ready access to anymore. To be clear I have awesome support networks in Washington, but they are different from the ones I had in Oklahoma, and I need to learn how to use what I have the right way, rather than try to use it the way I used my old social circles.

This was the year I first felt total burnout.

I began taking steps to deal with the burnout in the first third of the year… and those steps have begun to be executed but still aren’t fully implemented. Hopefully, in the next 30 days or so, I’ll be where I wanted to be with those. I had hoped to get everything in place over my long winter break, of which this is the last day, but healing my psyche from the damage I did by 8 months of burnout took pretty much this whole time. I’m not fully recovered as it is, but I am mentally upgraded from a casualty to walking wounded. I forced myself to socialize, rather than forcing myself to work, and I let me brain go wherever it wanted when I sat down at my keyboard. (And, most, it went to the Really Wild West setting hack.) That was bad for my long-term plans, but good for my soul.

In August, Starfinder was released, and that put a whole new kind of pressure, almost entirely self-inflicted, on myself. I am proud of what we have done with this game, which required herculean efforts from everyone involved. There were many late nights from many people in multiple departments, there was weekend read-throughs and long playtest sessions and  heated debates about what the right choice was… but while it was all in the office, it was all handled on a professional level. Once the book, and the game, were out in the hands of fans, I had to decide to what degree I wanted to engage. As a social awkward depressive introvert with mobility issues, a big part of me wanted to step back from fans and public games and discussions. Those things take effort, and I was firmly burned out when they hit, though buoyed for a time by the rush of seeing the game sell out so quickly. But in the end, I decided to engage pretty heavily.

I’ve been a professional game designer for 20 years. And, as noted, I’m not producing the volume of material I did even a decade ago. I may not have another opportunity to be a big part of a major RPG release. And I was more involved with Starfinder than any core game that came before except the Star Wars Saga edition, and even with that I was much less involved with the line after the core rulebook than I am already being with Starfinder. The title Starfinder Lead Designer only means something if I choose for it to, and I don’t want to insulate myself from the people who have the most important option about the game—the players. So, even when it drains or frustrates me, I want to engage with those fans, online and in person. From reading forums to offering examples of my personal work on my blog to speaking at the PaizoCon Preview Dinner to running a game at the AFK Tavern for the public on Free RPG Day, I took the opportunities I had and tried to make more, to be part of the community building up around the game. Things like public speaking and running games for people I don’t know and trust are hard for me, but I also think I am good at them and that they are an important part of making a mark in my chosen field.

There is work to a successful RPG career beyond the work on making games, and for many years I didn’t understand that. I have advantages many other smarter, more talented, designers don’t and I want to use them. Much of that is for my own benefit, which I think is reasonable. But also, I want to have a voice in shaping this culture, as minor as my voice may be, and staying engaged is the only way to boost how far that voice is heard.

Beyond my own trials, which were almost entirely self-inflicted and involved helping to make an incredible popular and successful game launch, I also had a lot of friends and colleagues have just fucking shitty years. I normally watch my word choice when writing a piece such as this, that people may share more than my game rules for Halfling space-muffins, but there’s nothing weaker than “fucking shitty” that can convey how rough some of the people I love most had it this year. Those stories and how they handled them belong to my friends, but I had multiple trusted, well-known people talk to me about suicide, or leaving the industry forever, or withdrawing from society as a whole. Fear, anger, and despair were not limited to just a few people in my circles in 2017. I hate it when my friends are in pain, and I hate it more when there’s nothing I can do to reduce the pain.

I have tried to be supportive. I have also tried to take better care of myself, because while these folks will leap up and carry me if I stumble… they’re tired and limping themselves. I have to love them enough to not ask them to hold my hand over self-inflicted injuries. I certainly am not saying I won’t ask for help if I need it. I am saying I owe it to the people who will give of themselves to aid me when I am in trouble to not get into trouble I could avoid by being smart.

For much of 2017, my personal gaming level fell dramatically. Though computer games and console games can take up some of that slack, to me nothing it more fulfilling than RPGs with friends. Nor was I lacking offers and opportunities, I just couldn’t make time. I have improved that situation some over the past few weeks, and look to dip my toe in more improvement on this front in the months to come. But I used to play 2 to 3 games nearly every week without fail, and living a life where I barely have time for 2 in a month is an adjustment I have not managed yet.

Obviously much more happened in 2017. Politics cast a shadow over everything, and seem to have damaged my relationships with people I love, but this isn’t a post about politics (and I think my positions have been made clear enough elsewhere). I broke a sofa. I got sick less than recent previous years. I took dental maintenance seriously for the first time in 30 years. I stepped way back in my role at various game companies, in part to try to deal with stepping up at other companies. I learned some life lessons, and unlearned some backed-in BS I’ve carried for decades.

In the balance, my 2017 was more good than bad. But it was also more hard work and worry than either good or bad.

I hope the next year will be one in which I can apply the lessons I have learned, and perhaps leave society better than I found it.

Sponsor

John Reyst in specific, and d20pfsrd.com and the Open Gaming Store in general, have always been friends of me and my career. John is a high-level sponsor of my Patreon, and an active booster of my work. I encourage you to check out his online rules archives and connected store.

Patreon

Speaking of my Patreon…

I make these posts available to everyone, for free, but the time they take has to be balanced against other writing I could do. My patrons help me justify making longer, more involved posts. If you’ve read this far, please consider if you’re willing to pledge just a few dollars a month to