A Madman Killed the Bards. Temporarily.

“So, how’s that bard project coming along?”

Yes, I get asked this question form time to time. And it’s a fair question, since I made a big public announcement I was working on it. The short answer is “Slowly, as I’m really busy.” The short answer seems more in keeping with a Tweet than a blog post, and as a result I’ve been pretty quiet here recently.

But at some point, the lack of development because part of the development cycle, at east for a largely solo project. If you want to be a game writer or developer, and you’re writing your own projects on your own time (rather than working on someone else’s project on their deadline), you have to accept that sometimes, the project is going to be hit by big pressure to put it aside. Conventional wisdom is that you must Not Let This Happen. Make time for your project, say the Wisdomeers, make it a priority. Quitters never win, winners never quit, writers write, a journey of a thousand words begins with a single outline, and so on. And that all makes sense.


In my opinion if you’re trying to build a career, you need to make sure your habits are both profitable and sustainable. By profitable I mean they advance the cause of your career. I don’t do much free writing for other people, but I do some. And earlier in my career, I did a lot of free writing. I did reviews, fan projects, playtest feedback, spec articles, and more. A lot of people nowadays advise young writers to never write anything for free, and they might be right. But I did, and it worked out well for me. I will say that if the person you are writing for expects to make money directly on your words, you should get a cut of that. But otherwise, all I can say is every bit of free writing I did was designed to advance my career (the “profit”), and the end results (having a game writer career) convince me I did a good job of it.

By “sustainable” I mean build habits you can maintain over the long term, and use to guesstimate how long projects of different sizes and different types of work will take you. That doesn’t mean you have to spend exactly two hours writing every day, and if you fall behind once you’ve failed. That works for some people, but it’s far from the only way to have a regular schedule. I tend to write in fits and spurts, and I know that about myself. I also know that I have weekly word-counts I want to hit, so if I’m more fitful than usual and halfway through the week I’m barely a fifth of the way through my word-count, I need to buckle down. But I don’t worry about having one bad day in a week – I’ve learned that’s part of my process. And I know I can maintain this process, ugly and irregular as it is, over weeks and weeks and months. I also know from long experience that I need to give myself some leeway for longer projects because at some point, my bank’s HQ is going to be hit by a hurricane, or I’ll get kidney stones again, or my family will have a death, or I’ll need to get my car’s engine replaced, or something. Life happens wether your busy or not, and I lose time when I hit a major disruption. But when I look at what I can do over a month or a quarter, I have a pretty good idea of my “sustainable” pace.

So, I have time set aside for by solo bard project… and I haven’t used it for that. Instead, some really interesting (and secret) opportunities have come along, and I’ve decided to prioritize those over my bard project. Since I know what my sustainable pace is, looking my schedule I knew I couldn’t take on the new project and keep up my bard development. Looking at the two projects, one is a unique opportunity with a limited window of participation, and the other is a vanity project that may make me some money, but is valid as long as people are playing Pathfinder. Weighing what I knew (which is rarely much when making these decisions as a freelancer – you take the information and experience you have and, and if you are smart get some other folk’s opinions, then  make your best guess) I decided to take on the new opportunity even though it meant back-burnering my bards project. The bards aren’t going anywhere, I’ll still get to them, but for now my priorities for profitable work have changed.

At the same time, something else seems to be slowly morphing into a potential solo project. I run multiple playtest campaigns as testbeds for my various Pathfinder RPG writing projects, and do a fair amount of work in them that’s never designed to be seen by the public. That’s the place where my hobby time and professional time overlap, and I often spend some time campaign building as recreation rather than work. From time to time, however, things I originally began just as background for my campaigns becomes something I want to publish. And so it is with the Vile Magic of Argonax the Mad.

I’ve got a lot of material on Argonax the Mad already written, from his history and creation of the College Obscura to the Harrowers cult, the Vile Relics, and the apex of his studies, the Craft Minor Artifact feat. I’ve got a dozen feats, a few dozen spells, a slew of magic items… almost a whole supplement worth. All it needs is time spent compiling it into one manuscript, writing introductory and connective text, and developing it with a professional eye. In short, a lot of work, but less than starting from scratch.

But as I mentioned, I’m at capacity in sustainable writing. So, how do I find the time to develop The Vile Magic of Argonax the Mad, and why can’t that time go to bards? Well the much lower work threshold means both that it won’t take as long, and that I can break the time up into smaller discrete pieces. When I’m starting a project from scratch, the early stages really call for some 4-to-6 hours blocks of focused time. When I’m compiling and editing, I can break that down into a much small chunk. So for right now, I plan to “steal” the small motes of time I have scheduled for blogging, and use them for development of Argonax the Mad. If I can write actual blog posts about what I’ve done and why, I should be able to kill two birds with one stone.

Then, bards come later. For now, look for weekly Madness Mondays as I talk about taking some campaign notes, and turning them into a publishable product.


About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on March 5, 2012, in Pathfinder Development and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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