Guest Blog: Alex Augunas Talks Breaking In to the ttRPG Industry
Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. This one is by Alex Augunas, a friend and business partner of mine, and talks about how he broke into ttRPG writing, and eventually publishing.
If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello, I’m Alex Augunas. You might know me as Alexander Augunas, the Know Direction Network’s Everyman Gamer and the voice of Xvi on Stellar, a Starfinder Actual Play Podcast. Or Alexander Augunas, a Paizo freelance author responsible for creating insane amounts of content in various Core Rulebooks, Player Companions, Organized Play scenarios, and more. Maybe Alexander Augunas, owner of Everybody Games LLC. Probably Alexander Augunas, “That guy who likes foxes too much.”
Owen and I have been friends for a long time. While everyone who is even remotely in a sector of the Tabletop RPG Industry that’s adjacent to 3.5 D&D knows Owen K.C. Stephens, I think we first met professionally in when he first took over Paizo’s Player Companion with Monster Summoner’s Handbook. At the time, Patrick Renie had just left Paizo, leaving Owen to transition over from being in charge of the old Pathfinder Modules line to the Pathfinder Player Companion line, and he liked my spell work in Monster Summoner’s Handbook so we started working together more closely. (I’m the madlad who wrote the spell that lets you blow up your summoned monsters from that book.) That ended up leading me to getting an offer from Owen to work on the Weaponmaster’s Handbook alongside David N. Ross, and Paizo fans adored my advanced armor trainings so much that whenever Owen needed someone to write some wild and brand-new alternate class feature for Pathfinder 1E, he often had me do it. I penned the only bloodline mutations for sorcerers and bloodragers, advanced versatile performances for bards, advanced armor trainings for fighters, and a few things I’m probably forgetting. Then when Owen transitioned from overseeing Player Companions to being Design Lead of what would become the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, he had me pen significant chunks of Blood of the Beasts (literally my dream assignment) and outline Psychic Anthology.
So, how did I get there? Honestly, if you’ve heard one designer’s story about how they broke into the Tabletop RPG industry, then you’ve heard one story. Everyone’s got a unique tale to tell, and mine is basically about me getting duped into writing several hundred pages of Pact Magic content. Imagine, if you will, a younger me (I emphasize “younger” because Owen likes to remind me that compared to “an old fart” like him, I’m a “young’un”). I’m fresh from College, trying to make my way in the world as a substitute teacher (that literally went nowhere) with a lot of time on my hands to kill. I’m what you call an extroverted introvert, i.e. an introvert that learned how to fake being extroverted fairly well in order to be a teacher. So I would get come from work and just not want to be around anyone after having to manage a classroom of screaming kids all day, aged 5 through 12 or so. One day while I was crashed at home, I got an e-mail from one of my College gaming bodies; this was the group that originally introduced me to Pathfinder. He knew I was a huge fan of 3.5’s Secrets of Magic (I actually wrote a pair of pretty sick Prestige Classes involving Pact Magic on the Giant in the Playground Forums for a Prestige Class content back in the day), so he passed along this pact magic supplement written by Dario Nardi for 3.5 called Secrets of Pact Magic. I was instantly hooked; Dario took the core concept Wizards of the Coast published and took it a few steps further, adding style and panache that I became instantly obsessed with. But I had left that 3.5 lifestyle behind; I was a Pathfinder fan now, and I wanted Secrets of Pact Magic for Pathfinder. So I did what any normal person would do and translated a few pages of Dario’s initial work into Pathfinder-compatible designs and e-mailed them to him.
“Hey Mr.! You should update your book to Pathfinder. Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing!”
Now, most people don’t know Dario Nardi. He’s a neuropsychologist by trade, and man he neuro-played me.
“Oh, this is fascinating! Care to show me more?”
Five months later and I had written a 100-page manuscript that became Pact Magic Unbound, Vol. 1. I still remember calling a family meeting where I pulled my parents into the room.
“H-Hey. I know you don’t like that I don’t go out and socialize more and I don’t hang out with my friends as much, but now that my book’s done I thought I should probably tell you that I’m going to be a published author in like five weeks when the print proof of the book arrives at our house.”
Needless to say, my parents were stunned. Here they thought they just had a shut-in son when in reality, their boy had gone and made a book! Cheers all around, and no one ever yelled at me for staying inside all the time again. Hooray! From there, my career can be described succinctly by a quote from Jerry Smith of Rick and Morty.
Someone way smarter than me once said, “There is no confidence like that of a mediocre white man,” and in my case that’s absolutely true. Because literally, I saw companies I liked and wanted to write for, asked them to pay me to write for them, and while some said no, others said yes. That is literally all I did. My first Not-Dario assignment was for a now-defunct company where I wrote Amazing Races! Kitsune. (That product line got bought by another company, and I’m no longer credited for my work there. That happens sometimes.) After that, I asked the absolutely sublime Creighton Broadhurst if I could write villages and other rules content for him, and he said yes! My absolute favorite things to write for Raging Swan Press were villages; I wrote a half-dozen of those easily. They were all interconnected and there was a kitsune hiding in every village. And Creighton, bless the man, who normally puts himself out there as this old-school traditionalist let me publish each and every kitsune I asked for.
From there, I built myself up to the point where I was ready to write for Paizo, and my time came when then-Editor-in-Chief Wes Schneider posted a comment on the forums about always wanting new freelancers and I jumped on it! Only remember, I was/am a mediocre white man with absolutely no sense for how professionalism in an industry I literally wandered into by accident works, so instead of doing something intelligent like writing an e-mail or preparing a cover letter, I literally just messaged poor Wes Schneider on the Paizo website, at his Paizo forum address, and asked him for work.
DO NOT DO THIS. I AM DUMB QUITE OFTEN.
Wes, being the wonderful man he is, politely redirected me to his e-mail where we could chat. He asked for some references, I sent him some rules and some villages and my favorite short story that I wrote for Pact Magic Unbound, Grimoire of Lost Souls Vol 2 (yeah that happened between Vol 1 and this). I don’t know which of those things made him design to gift a plebian of a freelance author such as myself with a chance to write in a Pathfinder Player Companion, but he did and now I’m here, hooray!
So, here’s what’s what.
Let’s say you’re someone new, someone who really wants to break into the Tabletop RPG Industry. That’s cool, yo! Let’s say you think you can’t. That’s wrong, yo! The wonderful thing about writing is that, given time to find and perfect one’s voice, literally anyone can do it. Writing is a craft that one hones and improves over time, and while one might have a predisposition for the pen and paper (or for the keyboard and Microsoft Word as it were nowadays), it’s certainly not a divinely bestowed talent that only those who rolled a 46 on life’s Random Talent Generator table at birth receive. Study other people’s writing and design, practice making your own, and allow yourself the time to learn and grow, and you can do it too! I guarantee it.
So hey, maybe you kinda liked me and my writing from this article and want to show me some support. (Or maybe you hate me now and really want to make me feel badly about myself by giving me MONEY, as if I would know what to do with such niceties!) You can follow me on Twitter @AlJAug, or my company, Everybody Games, @EBGamesLLC. I SWEAR I’m not related to the old EB Games chain (although I DID get one angry Tweet from someone who thought I was). I have a Patreon, where I’m working on designing my own Roleplaying Game, Eversaga, at a glacial pace. You can learn more at https://www.patreon.com/eversagarpg. I also have a website for my company, http://www.everybodygames.net, where you can find links to all my TTRPG products. And hey, since this is Owen’s blog, did you know that Owen and I are partners, so every product of mine that you buy Owen gets some money too? It’s pretty nifty, so you can support us BOTH by buying neat game products from me!
Thanks for listening to me ramble, and I’ll chat with y’all again soon. I have a Kickstarter project in the works, and Owen’s given me the okay to write an article about it! Until then, Ciao!
The Everyman Gamer and Publisher of Everybody Games
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