Monthly Archives: January 2019

Really Wild West Class Features: Envoys

We covered why it’s a good idea to offer some campaign-specific class features for the Really Wild West (index of articles here) Campaign Hack for Starfinder in our first such article, which went over soldier class features. We continue to explore the classes with new class features for the envoy.

There are numerous Western and pulp-adventure tropes that work for an envoy character in the Really Wild West, including merchants, cattle barons, carpetbaggers, snake-oil salesmen, reporters, tourists and vacationers from Back East (be they sightseers, big game hunters, or displaced nobles struggling to carve out a new empire), diplomats, traders, and activists, to name just a few!

We offer four new envoy improvisations, and two new envoy expertise talents.

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Envoy Improvisations [Any level]

Factor (Ex): You have a factor, a CR 0 NPC that helps make arrangements for you. The factor doesn’t even go adventuring for you, and generally doesn’t even travel with you, preferring to handle your affairs by telephone, telegraph, Babbage-Bell message, and courier. You can only communicate with your factor when you have access to a settlement or the Babbage-Bell Grid.

Your factor can handle one request at a time, and all requests take at least 24 hours. A factor can research a question (taking time to take 20, with a +1 bonus, thus answering anything a DC 21 check can find), make travel arrangements or housing (ensuring you get the needed number of seats or rooms at a location, at the normal cost), keep your funds secure (and wiring them to banks and stores as you direct), make inquiries about location conditions and agents (making a Diplomacy check to gather information with a bonus equal to 5 + your level), and do such minor tasks as receiving and sending mail, looking after objects you end to them, and whatever else the GM considers appropriate. They are not a spellcaster, crafter, famous personage, or combatant in any way.

In some cases when dealing with officials or members of high society, the GM may grant you a circumstance bonus to Diplomacy checks to do things such as ask for an audience or open negotiations if you do so through your factor.

Have Thing, Will Travel (Ex): (Sense-dependent) You possess one weapon that you are well-known for carrying, or that is itself recognizable (either as a unique weapon, or as one of a class of renowned weapons). You can choose what weapon this is each time you gain a new level, and if lost you can replace it with another weapon with 24 hours of adjustments and spreading rumors.

You can draw this weapon without taking an action as part of any move action or full action, and as part of rolling for initiative. When you draw the weapon in this way outside of combat or in the surprise round of combat, you may make an Intimidate check to demoralize a single creature within 30 feet of you also without taking an action. Any creature within 60 feet of you when you do this is immune to this ability of yours for 24 hours.

Put A Price on their Head (Ex): You can put a bounty on a foe, dead or alive, to encourage bounty hunters, law agents, allies, sellswords, and gunslingers to make their best effort against that target. You can only do this in a settlement with a Babbage-Bell station, and you must either make a Successful DC 15 Diplomacy check to accuse the target of a crime you reasonably believe they have committed, or have the GM make a Bluff check in secret (DC 15 + 1-1/2 target’s CR, +10 if viewed as friendly by the settlement, +20 if viewed as helpful) to accuse them of something believable, with the ability only working on a successful check.

You must offer at least 100 credits for the target, to be brought to justice dead or alive. You must pay ¼ of this amount in advance. The GM then makes a secret Diplomacy check for you (DC 15 + 1-1/2 target’s CR). If it is successful, within 24 hours everyone who could reasonably have heard about the bounty gains the benefit of your Get ‘Em improvisation when attacking the target, even if you are not present. On a failed check there is no benefit, but you do not know if the check succeeded until you witness someone attack the target.

The bonus lasts 30 days, and you can then renew it by doubling the bounty (and paying 25% of the new amount in advance). If you learn the check failed, you can make a new check my doubling the bounty. If you do not renew a bounty, you cannot set a new bounty on the same target for 30 days.

If someone brings in the target and claims the bounty, you must pay it, or you cannot use this ability again in the same territory (generally an area the size of a US state) until you do so.

You must have Get ‘Em to select this improvisation.

References (Ex): You have a series of references you can use as your bona fides in certain segments of society. These may be names of people who will vouch for you (and who you can describe well enough to convince others such vouchsafing is likely), passwords and phrases, physical letters of recommendation or letters of credit, secret handshakes, or any combination of similar methods. You know exactly which references to call on in what circumstances, allowing you to benefit from these to a degree other characters can’t match.

Select a “reference alignment” within one step of your own alignment. When dealing with official members of an organization with an alignment within one step of your reference alignment, or officials or people with influence in a settlement with an alignment within one step of your reference alignment, you can make a Diplomacy check to change the attitude of that character as a move action by calling on your references. This only works once (ever) per character, and only if the character is unfriendly or indifferent toward you. (Hostile creatures don’t care what your references are, and friendly or helpful creatures already like you well enough not to care either).

Additionally, in a settlement with an alignment within one step of your reference alignment, treat your character level as 1 higher for purposes of determining what you can buy.

Expertise Talents

Interlocutor (Ex; Culture): You know a number of languages, and can often work out how to communicate with someone who only knows a language related to yours. You gain a number of bonus languages equal to your ranks in Culture (increasing whenever you put an additional rank in Culture).

When you meet someone who speaks a language, but with whom you do not share a common language, you may roll your expertise die (by itself). On a result of 1-5 you have no special advantage communicating with the target. On a result of 6 or 7, you have found a related language and can convey very simple concepts with a minute of work. On a result of 8 or more, you find a common language similar enough to easily communicate basic concepts.

Look Harmless (Ex; Bluff): If you do not have a weapon or obviously dangerous item or spell readied for use, and a creature has never seen you make an attack, rather than add your expertise die to a Bluff check, you can make a Bluff check as a standard action to convince the target you are no threat. This is a Bluff check to lie, but it does not take a modifier for the target being hostile or unfriendly. If the check succeeds, and there is any other target in line of sight making attacks against the target or the target’s allies, the target does not attack you, favoring attacking more dangerous-looking foes.

This immediately ends if you are witnessed take any action that works against the target’s best interests, or aiding the target’s foes. If you target gives you instructions (such as “don’t move!”) and you do not follow them, you must make another check with a cumulative -5 penalty for every instruction you have not followed.

If you attack the target while it believes you are harmless, it is treated as flat-footed against your first attack.

In the coming weeks, we’ll look at class features for the rest of the Starfinder core classes, to give them Really Wild West-specific options!

PATREON
If you enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!

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Industry Insider: Writing Contracts

So, as with everything on this whole site: I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

And if you are at the stage where you’re writing contracts, you likely could do with some real legal advice. Yes, that costs money. But if you want a contract that’ll actually hold up to a legal challenge, you want a lawyer in your state to have looked at it. Preferably one with some understanding of publishing and trademark and copyright law, if not specifically gaming. Chances are you can find a generic contract online, make changes to it to fit your needs, and take it in for a review for a modest amount of money.

(Or, if you’ve signed some contracts with other companies for game content, you can use that as a template of what to include, though don’t copy the wording whole-cloth without permission.)

Of course heading off legal challenges are far from the only function of contracts. I have found the MOST common (and an extremely useful) purpose they serve is to make the scope and details of the responsibilities of all sides of a deal clear, and to preserve them against bad memories or misunderstandings. More than once, I have discovered at the contract stage that I was supposed to do more than I thought, or get paid less, or give up more rights—or had a freelancer tell me they got a similar surprise when looking over a contract I sent them.

((A note to freelancers: That’s okay, by the way. Until it is signed, a contract is a suggestion. Sure, most big companies won’t change most terms for you… but it’s both worth asking, and worth knowing what you are agreeing to if you go forward with a contract you’re not a huge fan of. And they MAY pay you more, or change a deadline, or make some other accommodation. It should never hurt to ask.

And if asking about the terms of a contract brings some major negative drama? That tells you something about working with those people too.

Also, never work without a contract.

Not even for me. Not even for your friends. (Especially not for your friends!)

If money, rights, intellectual property, work, credit, or anything that has or potentially will have value is exchanging hands or being used by anyone other than its creator, get a contract. It can be short. It can be basic.

But get one before ANY work gets done.

Okay, back to talking to publishers!))

So, with all that forward out of the way, what kind of information should a contract cover?

WHO

Yep, step one is who are the parties in the contract. It’s easiest of that’s two parties, such as a writer and a publisher, but you certainly can have multiple-party contracts. One useful thing I notice in a lot of contracts is that once the two parties are identified, they are then referred to by some other defined term, such as “This agreement is by and between Rogue Genius Games, a Washington company having a principle place of business at _[address]_ (hereafter “RGG”)…”

That’s useful, because you can then just use RGG in the rest of the contract. For contracts you want to use as a template, it also means you can have a place for the freelancer’s name and address, and then say (hereafter “Freelancer”), and not have to change the name everyplace you want to refer to the freelancer later in the contract.

While it’s usually obvious, who a contract is between can be surprisingly complex and important. For example, if I ask someone if they want to write a project for me in a casual conversation, it may get lost if I am asking them as a private individual, as the publisher of Rogue Genius Games, in my role as a developer for one of about three other game companies I work with, or some other role entirely. Any lack of clarity about that is my fault, but a contract makes sure that the person working for me knows who they are working for before they formally agree to do the work.

Also, some freelancers do work through an LLC or other legal entity, rather than as sole proprietors of their doing-business-as under their own name. That’s normally not an issue, but when it comes time to claim expenses or report income, it’s super-helpful if I tell the IRS that Freddy Freelancer earned money, and he wants to report it under Freelancer LLC, that out records line up.

It’s also a good idea to define who is getting what kind of credit, and maybe even where. Is the freelancer going to be listed as the author? A writer? As ‘additional content by’? Listed on the cover/ Not mentioned at all? Not every contract covers this, but they certainly could.

It’s also a good idea to give a name for the project, so everyone knows what you’re talking about. But a lot of contracts I see add “or such other title as [Publisher] shall decide to use,” which is obviously a potentially useful bit of CYA.

WHERE

What laws govern this contract? Your home nation? Home state? Where your LLC is registered? Look into this, and have the contract spell it out.

WHAT

After a contract covers who, it’s time to get to what—what work is being products. Is it writing? If so is it being figured in words? In pages? In what topics are being covered? It’s important to have a clear description of what the contract is covering. If you need a longer outline, it’s okay to note that there is an outline separate from the contract, or one as an “Exhibit A,” or however your lawyer tells you to set it up.

On top of what the end product is supposed to be, it’s worth calling out the expectations and duties of each side. Many contracts require the freelancer to note the material they turn over is original, never-before contracts, used, or bought, and absolutely not licensed or plagiarized material. Mostly, this is about the publisher having a documents stating they bought the material in good faith, believing it did not violate anyone else’s rights. But it also serves as a reminder for newer freelancers who may not realize that just because something is on Wikipedia or a fan page somewhere doesn’t mean it’s available for commercial use.

In addition to describing the work itself, it should describe the rights being transferred. Is it work-for-hire which (probably) means the author isn’t even considered the author for purpose of copyright law. Is it all rights transferred in perpetuity? Is it just first publishing rights? Can the freelancer still use it for purposes of personal promotion (especially important for visual art). Legal terms can have a lot of weight here, but clarity can also just be useful to set expectations among the parties involved.

The more rights the contract transfers, the more it should pay. I’ve done work for a much lower rate because it just granted exclusive right to use it for 90 days, and then I could reuse or resell it (though noting if I did sell it that it wasn’t new content, but previously published work). I’ve save tons of money on art buying things like second-use rights, or only licensing it to my exclusive use for a limited period of time.

But that all needs to be covered in the contract.

HOW

Can the freelancer subcontract? Send you the final manuscript by Facebook chat? Write in in crayon on coffee filters?

Define what format you want the work in, and how it should be sent to you. Email and ftp systems are pretty common now, but if you want it inscribed on vellum and shipped by carrier pigeon, you need to have that in the contract.

WHEN

Deadlines are important. Include them in the contract.

If you want the freelancer to show you progress before the final deadline, put that in the contract as well. It’s perfectly reasonable for a contract to state that the freelancer needs to turn over a draft with half the work done by the halfway point of the work period. It’s not reasonable to not give any warning you want such advance peeks at how things are going, then get upset of the freelancer doesn’t do so after the contract is signed. They owe you want the contract says they owe you—if you want to be able to dictate when and how and where they do the work, you need to actually hire them.

Also cover if the deadline is when the work is to be done, or when it is to be in your hands. Cover what happens if the deadline is missed. Are you going to start deducting money from the end payment? Are you going to cancel the contract? Do you want to have the right to do either but not be required to?

Put it in the contract.

WHY

By ‘why,’ I mean what is the other side getting out of this. You get the freelancer’s work so they should get… paid.

There are lots of parts of that. How much are they getting paid? Is it per word, regardless of how many words they turn over, or is it a flat rate for an approximate wordcount? Is it per word, but only words you end up suing after editing and development? Is it a profit share arrangement? And if so, is it a percentage of the gross, the net, or some other number (such as the gross of the amount you get from distribution, rather than gross of cover price, but after any money for pod and shipping)?

When is the payment coming? Upon acceptance? If so, what qualifies as acceptance by you (and how long do you have to accept before the writer can take their work back)? Upon publication? (That sucks, btw, but if you do it you need to define what counts as publication, and how long after that you have to pay, and what happens if you haven’t published it 90 days, or 9 years, after getting the work in).

How much? And is that in US dollars? Canadian? Australian?

How are you sending the money? Check in the post? PayPal? If there are fees involved in the payment method, are those your responsibility, or the freelancers?

Does the freelancer get anything else? A free copy of the book? Three free copies? The right to buy more at a 50% discount?

ANYTHING ELSE

When you are discussing this project, with the freelancer or anyone else, keep a notebook (paper or virtual), and take notes about anything important that comes up that people working on it need to keep in mind. Do you need map sketches to send to a cartographer? Well your contract with your writer had better say that. Do you need art descriptions of monsters? Or do you need three writers to work together so none of them duplicate each other’s work? Do you want everything playtested? If so, does the freelancer have your permission to disclose things to playtesters? Do they need to sign NDAs? Or is everything a secret, not to be discussed with anyone until the project is announced?

Think about what you need and who you need it from, then put that in the contracts.

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All Hail the Nerdarchy!

I had a chance to sit down with the awesome folks of Nerdarchy at Gen Con 2018, and talk a bit about tabletop gaming, content creation, and the evolution of RPGs!

(And some thoughts on Starfinder RPG, Paizo Inc., 5th Edition D&D, Green Ronin, crowdsourcing, and more!)

PATREON
If you enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!

Really Wild West Class Features: Soldiers

A big part of the point of making the Really Wild West (index of articles here) a Starfinder Campaign Hack is that it means most of the rules we need for weird-science-and-fantasy-infused-western stories already exist. While the RWW Index has lots of special rules subsets for things like high noon showdowns, renown, gambling, and so on, the majority of the game’s basic rules, including classes, skills, feats, and even most equipment, are largely unchanged.

However, as with any campaign setting, there are good reasons to add some new class options to a Really Wild West campaign, to allow players to make Western-themed characters that are appropriate in the Weird West of a Martian-invaded Earth of 1891, which might not fit in a more traditional (or official) science-fantasy setting. We already touched on a few campaign-specific themes and rules for theosophy and psychic powers, but it’s also worthwhile to create some class-specific new options to help players make some iconic weird-west concepts.

We start with soldier class features, focusing on some new gear boosts and two new fighting styles.

(And, of course, the other advantage of making this setting Starfinder-compatible is that you can take new material like this, and use it in other settings if you want to. 🙂 )

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Soldier

Gear Boosts

Shootist (Ex) You add your level to damage done with small arms, in addition to any other bonuses you get (including your Weapon Specialization bonus). You cannot add this damage at the same time you are adding any other ability that only works with a subcategory of weapons that includes small arms or operative weapons.

Shotgun Fit (Ex) You can custom-fit a shotgun so it’s trigger pull, balance, but plate, and position match your frame and shooting style perfectly. This precise a fit requires you to do maintenance on a shotgun, so it must be in your possession for 24 hours before this ability applies, and you can only keep a maximum of two shotguns adjusted to use this ability on at a time.

When using a custom-fit shotgun firing shot, you halve the damage penalty it takes for range.

THAT’s a Knife! (Ex) You add your level to damage done with operative weapons, in addition to any other bonuses you get (including your Weapon Specialization bonus). You cannot add this damage at the same time you are adding any other ability that only works with a subcategory of weapons that includes small arms or operative weapons.

Tight Grouping (Ex) When you make multiple ranged attacks at the same target in a single round, you gain a +1 bonus to the ranged attack rolls after the first one. If you attack a different target or make a melee attack, you don’t receive the tight grouping bonus for the rest of the round.

Fighting Styles

Cavalry

You may have been formally trained in cavalry tactics, or grown up on a ranch or in a culture where being mounted s a way of life, or be a skilled scorcher who learned to fight from a seat while running scouting missions against Martian Tripods.

Ready to Ride (Ex) [1st Level] You begin play with a light or heavy horse (or with the GM’s approval a similar creature using the same statistics, such as a bison,camel, or moose), or a safety bicycle. If it is lost, you may replace it at no chare at a major settlement, or when you gain a level.

If you begin play with a mount, you gain Expert Rider as a bonus feat, without needing to meet its prerequisites. If you begin play with a safety bicycle, you instead gain the Scorcher feat as a bonus feat, without needing to meet its prerequisites.

Mounted Combat (Ex) [5th] You gain a +10 ft. bonus to speed when using the mount of bike from the ready to ride ability.  Additionally, once per round when your mount or bike is hit by an attack or fails a saving throw, without taking an action you may make a Survival check (for a mount) of Pilot check (for a bike). If your check meets or exceeds the total of the attack roll against your mount or the DC of the saving throw, the mount is missed or considered to have made its saving throw.

Fight From the Saddle (Ex) [9th] You gain Mobility as a bonus feat, but only when using the mount or bike gained from the ready to ride ability. If you already have Mobility, you instead gain your choice of Shot on the Run or Spring Attack (only when using your mount or bike) as a bonus feat without having to meet its prerequisites.

Like the Wind (Ex) [13th] You bonus to speed when using the mount of bike from the ready to ride ability increases to +20 feet. Additionally, you can take 10 for Survival checks and Pilot checks regarding mounted combat and bicycles, even in combat or when stress or distraction would normally prevent you from doing so.

Cavalry Charge (Ex) [17th] When you are on a mount or using a bike, you take no attack penalty to attacks made when charging, and add a +4 bonus to damage done on a successful attack when charging.

Pugilist

Whether it’s street brawling, a formal martial art, boxing, Bartitsu, or a knack picked up from years of literally punching cows, you are particularly skilled at fisticuffs.

Improved Unarmed Strike (Ex) [1st Level] You gain Improved Unarmed Strike as a bonus feat, and when you gain this ability choose to either have your unarmed attacks not count as archaic weapons, or gain a +1 bonus to damage with unarmed attacks. You can make an unarmed attack without having a hand free as long as you are not immobilized and have one limb or your head free to move about.

Additionally you can make unarmed strikes using melee or ranged weapons, by using the weapon to smash a pommel or other blunt part of the weapon into your target. If the weapon has a fusion or weapons special property that is appropriate to apply to an unarmed attack, or is made of a special material, you add those effects to your unarmed attack.

Keep Your Guard Up (Ex) [5th] Your KAC against combat maneuvers is increased by +4.

Stunning Blow (Ex) [9th] You can hit a foe so hard they are briefly disabled. You take no penalty to your attack roll to do nonlethal damage to a target with an unarmed attack. Additionally, you can declare a unarmed attack to be a stunning blow in advance of your attack roll. If the attack hits, the target must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 +1/2 your soldier level + your key ability score modifier) or be stunned for 1 round. Once you attempt a stunning blow, you cannot do so again until you regain Stamina Points during a 10-minutes rest.

Sucker Punch (Ex) [13th] Once per turn you can make an attack of opportunity with an unarmed attack without taking a reaction. You can still only make attacks of opportunity when a target provokes one from you.

Flurry of Blows (Ex) [17th] When you take a full attack, you may make one additional attack at -8 to the attack roll, which must be an unarmed attack.

In the coming weeks, we’ll look at class features for all the Starfinder core classes, to give them Really Wild West-specific options!

PATREON
If you enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!

 

 

“You’re Always Aiming For Their Eyes”

“I want to aim for his eye! So I can blind him, and kill him in one shot!”

“Okay, his eyes widen as he sees your malicious intent, and he throws up a guard. Make an attack roll.”

“What modifiers for aiming for his eyes?!”

“None. You’re always aiming for your foes’ eyes.”

“No I’m not! I’m just trying to hit. I want to do a lethal blow now!”

“You’re always trying to land a lethal blow, unless you do something special not to. It’s a fight. Your character is always doing their best unless you say otherwise. Your attack rolls already represent the very best attack your character thinks can land. Of course you want to stab him in the eye, or cut off his head, or pierce his heart. And that’s represented by the existing combat rules of the game. And when the foe goes down, that is when you succeeded.”

“But maybe I can do those things before that!”

“Sure. It’s called a “critical hit.” in this game. A “stunt” or special maneuver in other games.”

“But I want a SPECIAL chance to kill him in one shot!”

“Okay. Do you want every foe you ever fight to have a special chance to kill you in one shot, too?”

“You’re no fun!”

“If you want to try to be flamboyant in your attacks because that’s fun, I am fine with that. That’s why I said he reacted to your effort. And if this attack kills him, it’ll be because you ran him through the eye, and that’ll be awesome.

If you want to have a reduced chance to be effective because of what you are trying, feel free to not use your full combat bonuses.

If you want an increased chance to be effective because of what you are trying, once I allow that why wouldn’t you always do that? And every other PC? And every NPC?”

 

Writing Basics: RPG Pitches (Part Two)

We covered some of the work you need to do well before you actually make a pitch to a game company in Writing Basics: RPG Pitches (Part One). Now we can go on to What to Pitch and When to Pitch It.

What to Pitch

Okay, so if you’ve gone and done the work we outlined in Part One, you have a number of game companies you know are publishing work for the game system you want to write for, and you know what kinds of projects they publish.

So, now it is time to pitch some things very similar to what they already do. Hopefully, there are projects you are excited about that are a good fit for one or more game companies.

If no-one is publishing the kinds of things you want to write, you have some tough decisions to make. Pragmatically, I recommend you get experience and contacts and a good reputation by pitching the sorts of things publishers are already interested in before you try to pitch unique projects no one else has ever thought of. The latter is amazingly useful if done well—but most publishers are going to be dubious about your ability to do something so nonstandard well until they have some idea of who you are and the quality and tenor of your work.

The best way to earn trust to do something outside the box is to prove you understand what the box is and why it’s there. Publishers gets weird and unusual pitches fairly often—everything from people who don’t understand the legal limitations of publishing (it’s hard to lose my interest faster than by pitching a project I legally can’t do, or that required me to do a lot of work on my end to get the legal rights so you can write a thing).

Once you have written a few things for a company that have turned out well, you can begin pitching more out-there ideas.

If you happen to have any special advantages or skills that make you the perfect person to write a pitch, be sure to include that info. For example, if you DO have the legal rights to do a licensed project that seems similar to what a game company is already doing, that’s something to mention early in a pitch. Make sure you’re actually right about that—for example if you have to have a friend who is a best-selling author and casually said they’d be fine with you writing game material set in their universe get that in writing (preferably with some details on timeframe, rights, royalty needs, and so on).

Or if you are pitching an adventure set in a sewer, and you have a professional wastewater civil engineering job, that’s worth mentioning.

When developing your pitches to suggest to a company you have never worked with before, come up with projects at the shortest end of the things that publisher does. You can include one longer one in a set of pitches, but in general something short is a great first project. It’s not asking the publisher to take as big a risk, and it’s not eating up as much of your time to create. Once you and the publish have a project or two together under your belts, you’re both in a better position to know if you want to work on longer projects together.

(Also, you can make sure the publisher is fulfilling their end of the contract before you get more work tied up with them. Do. Not. Work. Without. A. Contract.)

When to Pitch

Right now.

Well, as soon as you have done your homework, and know your own schedule, and have a pitch written.

“But… but… gen Con and the GAMA Trade Show and the publisher’s announced schedule and my school year…”

Yep. Pitch now anyway.

Look, there is no “perfect” time to pitch. Your schedule, the publisher’s schedule, both of your sets of needs—those things are in constant flux. Shoot pitches out there asap, and then begin scheduling when you get replies back. If you have enough work booked for 6 months you can pause, but in general even if you have some work lined up it’s worth pitching new things—just be clear in your pitch what your timeframe likely is. Chances are you won’t hear back about your pitch for weeks anyway, and if your availability is different by then, just be honest.

I only included a When to Pitch section because people have asked me tons of questions about getting the timing of this right.

You can’t. Just do it. The time is now.

The Things You’ve Wanted Me To Tell You For 2,000 Words Now

Your success is going to depend a lot on how much you have read and absorbed all the notes and processes I’ve outlined up to this point, and on being persistent and not getting discouraged when the first company you contact turns you down. And the second. And the next ten.

But yes, there are some basic things you should do once you are actually writing and sending the pitch, and for those of you who have been wanting that list, you’ve finally reached that point in my advice. For all of these steps, remember what I’ve said about doing your homework, pitching things similar to what a company already does, and being ready to actually produce once you get a green light.

If at all possible, find the company’s “Contact Us” page, and use the appropriate email to send your pitch. If you can’t find that, contact them through other (public, professional) means and ask what their process is for accepting pitches. Read their whole website and Facebook page before you do that though—getting this right the first time is a much better impression on your ability to get details right.

Begin with an at-most 2-sentence introduction. If you have any connection at all to the publisher or company, mention it here but keep is SHORT, and don’t suck-up.

Pitch 3-4 projects each time you contact a company to see if they are interested in publishing something of yours. Try to make these different enough that if the company has a gap on its schedule, at least one of your ideas is a good match for their needs. Make sure the projects are all things you are actually interested in and able to write. (Some people try to have one “real” pitch and 2-3 terrible ideas they presume no one will choose to publish. Don’t do this.)

Your pitch should include the following information about each project:

A proposed title. This can be a great chance to prove you know their game product lines.

An elevator pitch description. (That is: if you found yourself sharing an elevator with a publisher and you mentioned you were a writer, and they said “Oh yeah? Got a project you’d like to write for us?,” the description of your idea that is complete but short enough to get out before the elevator finishes it’s ride is your “elevator pitch.” 2-3 sentences, top, and one is better.)

A length, in words. (Doing your homework on the company’s project should held you estimate wordcount based on the words in similar projects.)

A timeframe when you could complete it by, in weeks. If your timeframe has other limitations (“if I don’t get started by August I’ll have school, so writing will take long”) include that information.

Your flexibility on any of these points—but only promise what you can deliver.

Anything that is likely to convince the publisher that you are a particularly good choice to write the product in question. Again, be short.

Here’s a sample pitch, though in a real message I’d add 1-2 more project pitches.

Dear Rogue Genius Games,

I read your publisher’s blog article about game product pitches, and it inspired me to write to you to see if you had interest in some projects I’d love to write for you.

Title: Bullet Points: Halfling War Muffin Recipes.

Length: 600-1,500 words.

A 1st edition Pathfinder RPG rules guide that gives options for adding combat-effective and game-balanced baking-related abilities for players and GMs who want cooking-themed character abilities. Similar in size and scope to your existing Bullet Point projects that add rules for one theme, such as 3 Things Made From Crabmen. (This could also be expanded to be a longer Genius Guide-style project, more like the Genius Guide to name Traits.)

With my current workload I expect this would take two weeks to write once we decided to proceed, although if other freelance projects get greenlit first I might need to schedule more like 4 weeks.

I’ve written numerous OGL products for Pathfinder, and worked on Gingerbread Kaiju (an edible boardgame that included a gingerbread recipe in it), and have insights on how to make this both a useful game supplement and something that appeals to foodie gamers.

You can find numerous samples of my work at my blog (owenkcstephens.com), and on DriveThruRPG.

Thanks for your consideration,

Owen K.C. Stephens

Owen.Stephens@gmail.com
(You can also put your phone number here, if you actually answer your phone. I don’t.)

And that’s it!

Now, go make a dozen more pitches, and while you wait to hear back about those, write for your Blog, Patreon, social media, make some videos… throw your creative spaghetti at the wall, and see what sticks.

Then make more pitches.

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TOP TEN INEVITABLE GEEK SHOWS

I haven’t done one of these for a while, so:
TOP TEN INEVITABLE GEEK SHOWS

10. The Southsons Family Park and Morty
Irreverent animated family comedy that riffs off more popular shows, while trying to create its own catchphrases and making all the same mistakes and with less original writing.

9. Preteennatural
Look, Supernatural has gone on forever, all the main characters have died (most more than once), and no spin-off has been produced. So:
Young hunky gender-swapped clones of the most popular characters–Deanne, Samantha, Charlie, and Cassielle, try to make their own path and escape the shadow of their originals.

8. GRIMLOCK
A reboot of the T-Rex Transformer as a high-functioning sociopath robot that solves crimes. Seven episodes over four years!

7. Mithral Girls
Linda Carter heads up this heroines-of-a-certain-age sitcom when powerful, confident women who saved the world in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s decide retirement isn’t the best use of their golden years.

6. Crowd Hoot
UNIT was disbanded for budgetary reasons… but not everyone is willing to leave the Earth undefended. Every time a new threat looms, rogue “Companion’s Companions” gather a different force of people who have traveled in a TARDIS before to deal with it. All under the direction of the mysterious mastermind “DN.”

5. Agents of G.O.T.H.A.M
It practically writes itself, continuity be damned.

4. Throne of Games
Political intrigue, sex, betrayal, and war as a single shared video game universe groans under the weight of Smash Brothers, Tekken, Mortal Combat, and Kingdom Hearts all fighting to control the Grid. The mash-up you never asked for!

3. The Mighty Crusaders
Heroes are big, in movies and on TV. Archie Comics characters are making a big push on TV and streaming. So doesn’t it make sense for the heroes originally written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel to get their own show?
The Shield, Flygirl, the Black Hood, War Eagle (if the rights can be ironed out), the Shadow (again, rights), the Comet. The Crusade starts now!

2. Star Trek: Eugenics War
After the war, the records of what happened when got badly confused. The Eugenics War is now, and Khan is Earth’s last, best hope.
I mean, it’s worth a shot…

1. CSI: Brainiac
He’s stolen cities and destroyed planets to collect all the knowledge in the universe. But there are some unsolved mysteries throughout the galaxy Brainiac can’t stand not knowing the answers to. So the all-powerful artificial intelligence has gathered the best CSIs of all worlds and sets them to solve one mystery each week.
Or else.

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Industry Insider: The Cold Hard Truth About Motivation

So, real talk.

The game industry does not run on motivation. It runs on hard work. The people I see who don’t grasp that, or who can’t accommodate it, don’t last.

It’s pretty easy to write when you’re motivated. That seems self-evident (it’s pretty close to the definition of ‘motivation’), and it’s one reason a great deal of writing advice talks about how to GET motivated, and STAY motivated. When that works for you, that’s great–I’ll take a motivated day of writing over an unmotivated day any time I can. Inspirations, muses, focusing techniques–these are all things that make game design and development much easier to actually do. They may or may not impact the quality of the end product, but they absolutely make it easier to get the work done.

But they are not the end-all, be-all of making it as a successful full-time professional.

I see people struggle all the time with making the leap from side-gig or hobbyist freelancer to growing professional, and a lot of that has to do with being able to operate without motivation. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobbyist or side-gig, I did it for years in the 1990s before I finally became a true full-time professional. Not everyone even wants to depend on the game industry for their full-time career, and I don’t blame them.

But if you DO want to make that leap, you are going to have to learn how to get work done, at a high quality, when you are not motivated to do so. When it’s just as hard as any other job.

I used to be asked fairly often how I got over writer’s block, and I’d glibly say I looked at my mortgage (nowadays it would be looking at my rent due). While that was clearly an effort to be funny, it’s also more true than I realized at the time. If I didn’t feel words coming to me easily, then I worked to get the words that were hard to produce. Because motivation was inconsistent, and as a game designer looking to make this my primary source of income, I couldn’t be inconsistent.

And in time, that became a skill like any other.

That’s not to say there aren’t tricks to use to get you through periods low on inspiration and enjoying the writing or developing process. Sometimes you can take a break from a project, and discover some other kind of game work is more fulfilling. Sometime you can subvert expectations or analyze what about a project you find lacking and, by addressing that, both become motivated and make the project better. Sometimes you can shuffle the order of things and do boring scut work–whatever that is for you, be it tables, paginations, formatting, outlining, finishing touches, whatever–when you’re not feeling creative to save the “creative” work for when your muse is working.

But sometimes, you just have to tackle the grind and get the job done.

I’ve discussed things related to this topic fairly often. I’ve talked about making sure the whole world isn’t your job, coping mechanisms for impostor syndrome,  watching for signs of burnout,  and even balancing the needs of burnout and the rent. I’ve also talked about working sick, which is closer to the kind of doing-the-job-when-you-don’t-care skill I’m talking about here, and what I see as the basics of game industry professionalism. And I’ve made lots of posts about coping mechanisms.

But I don’t think I’ve every just come out and said this:

“To be a successful, full-time professional in this industry, you have to do the work even when you are in no mood to do the work.”

And its corollary: “If you want people to trust you to be able to get the work of a full-time professional done, they have to have confidence in your ability to work when unmotivated.”

You don’t have to start there. But you do have to GET there, eventually, or you’ll hit  a ceiling of success.

I have coping mechanisms for this, too, of course. I have no idea how universal they are, because this is a topic no one ever seems to want to talk about, until we’re huddled around drinks after-hours at a convention telling horror stories. So none of this may be useful to anyone but me. I offer them up regardless.

These may not help you do the work when you couldn’t care less, but you have to find SOMETHING that can.

So what do I use?

I talk to a trusted source, and see if they can spark some excitement. To be honest, this ENTIRE blog post comes from me not being motivated to write anything for the professional end of my blog this week, and talking to a trusted collaborator who suggested that itself was a topic I should tackle. And in this case, writing about lack of motivation was a perfect task for when I’m not motivated.

I try to change the conditions of my environment. Different-than-usual music, different diet drinks, different things on my desk–anything to alter the physiognomy of my work space. Even if I can’t spark motivation, I can alter the feel of the drudgery so it’s less wearying than the same thing over and over and over.

I work in bursts. Often I am better off writing for 20 minutes, no matter how bad or annoying or 5-degrees-off-true the words are, and then taking a short break. This works especially well if I am having trouble writing, but am still okay to develop existing words. By the next day, the work is existing text, and I can make improvements to the less-than-stellar work of the previous day.

I remind myself of Sturgeon’s Law, combined with the idea that perfect can be the enemy of good.

That last one hurts. It means that, at the time I am doing the work, it feels like it’s not work worthy of me, or my employer, or the project.

But for a professional, sometimes what you have to focus on is that at the end of the day, it needs to get done. Every professional I have ever discussed this with agrees that sometimes, you just have to grit it out, so there adventure is finished, the book is published, the project can move forward…

The blog has content.

This is one reason editors and project managers and publishers talk about the value of a freelancer who hits their deadlines and stays in communication before they talk about awesome ideas and inspired writing. Obviously “great” is better than “adequate,” but adequate is better than greatness so late the company has gone bankrupt.

Without people who can do the job even when the muse is silent, inspiration doesn’t strike, and motivation is lacking, you can’t have a game industry. Once careers and house payments and full-time jobs and health insurance is involved, the product must get done, even if it’s not the most inspired entry in the field. And I don’t think we do anyone any favors to hide that fact. Sometimes this career is fulfilling and awesome.

Sometimes it’s what we have to do to fulfill our obligations.

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What’s Your Runeblade Name?

Runeblades always have cool, evocative names… but it can be a pain to have to come with them from scratch all the time. So for all your Runeblade name needs, here’s the What’s Your Runeblade quiz!

Take the second letter of your first name, and the last letter of your last name. So, as Owen Stephens, my Runeblade name is Shadow Slayer. (Or Shadowslayer—you can run them together or not, as you prefer.)

Or, you can roll 1d100 twice to create a random name.

Or just pick something cool. 😊

Runeblade Name Beginning
(Second letter of your first name, or 1d100)

A (01-04). Ash
B. (05-08). Bane
C. (09-12). Battle
D. (13-16). Blaze
E. (17-20). Blood
F. (21-24). Bright
G. (25-28). Crimson
H. (26-32). Dawn
I. (33-36). Death
J. (37-40). Doom
K. (41-44). Fear
L. (45-48). Foe
M. (49-52. Gray
N. (53-56). Hell
O. (57-60). Ice
P. (61-64). Luck
Q. (65-68). Mourn
R. (69-72). Night
S. (73-76). Pain
T. (77-80). Rage
U. (81-84). Run
V. (85-88). Sea
W. (89-91). Shadow
X. (92-94). Soul
Y. (95-97). Storm
Z. (98-100). War

Runeblade Name Beginning
(Last letter of your last name, or 1d100)

A. (01-04). Blade
B. (05-08). Bringer
C. (09-12). Claw
D. (13-16). Cleaver
E. (17-20). Crasher
F. (21-24). Dragon
G. (25-28). Fist
H. (29-32). Flame
I. (33-36). Friend
J. (37-40). Gate
K. (41-44). Hammer
L. (42-48). Iron
M. (49-52). Master/Mistress
N. (53-56). Moon
O. (57-60). Raven
P. (61-64). Razor
Q. (65-68). Sigil
R. (69-72). Skull
S. (73-76). Slayer
T. (77-80). Song
U. (81-84). Star
V. (85-88). Thunder
W. (89-91). Tomb
X. (92.-94). Tooth
Y. (95-97). Wand
Z. (98-100). Widow

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The Branding and Promise of the Names of RPGs

I think it’s helpful for the name of an RPG to tell you something about what the game is (supposed to be) like.

For licensed properties, this is easy. A Star Wars RPG is about Star Wars For licensed properties, this is easy. A Star Wars RPG is about Star Wars (even if some folks will always claim it is just the Ghostbuster’s rules of D&D, “reskinned”).

Dungeons and Dragons does a good job of this–it’s a game about monsters and underground locations. Yes, it’s more than that, but it still tells you something. And it’s ubiquity allows you to show kinship with it easily enough — Tunnels and Trolls is clearly giving a similar feel as D&D. Mutants & Masterminds was brilliant.

Hero System and Champions are both pretty good.

Shadowrun was not as good as Cyberpunk, originally, but it is now. Gamma World was good, but Aftermath was better, and Marrow Project at least as good.

But Omega World was brilliant, because of Gamma World.

Both Vampire and World of Darkness did good jobs with this.

Star Frontiers was better than Traveller in this department, but Space Opera may have been better than either.

I’m not comparing the quality of these games as games. Just the ease of branding offered by their names.

I think about this, when I am working on things like Really Wild West, which I hope does a good job of immediately identifying itself as a kind of over-the-top Weird West setting.

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