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Writing Basics: Index Page

The “Writing Basics” line of articles is my effort to codify some things that are fairly fundamental to writing in the tabletop RPG industry, but which aren’t generally taught in schools or discussed  much in how-to forums and convention panels. These are things I’ve mostly had to pick up over the years, which I would have loved a short primer on when I was getting started (or, in some cases, even ten years into my RPG writing career).

As this line of articles grows, some folks have asked me if I will cover a topic that… I already covered!

Right. Social media is NOT a steady, reliable, or easily searched information distribution mechanism.

So, to help anyone who might wonder what topics I have already cover, here’s the Writing Basics Index Page, with a short description and link to each article in this series. I’ll update this page as I keep writing these.

From Nothing to a Game Book: What is the process that leads from nothing to a company publishing a finished book? This is my best stab at a high-level, rough overview. It is, at best, a sketch that covers a lot of different ways this happens, but there are companies that add steps, or skip steps, or do things in a totally different order.

Paginations and Wordcounts: In this installment of Writing Basics I take a brief look at two related subjects that freelance writers often don’t need to worry too much about, but that are extremely important to the RPG industry overall—paginations and wordcounts.

Introductions: This covers the topic of “Introductions,” by which I specifically mean the text at the beginning of a product, book, chapter, or section (likely with its own header—these things are often interconnected), that explains what’s actually in that section of text. Ideally, it’s interesting to read, gives the reader some idea of what information is coming and why, and gives some context how that material connects to other books/products/chapters/ or sections of text.

Headers: Headers are the big titles of sections of books that tell you (roughly) what content is in that section. If you want a quick overview of what headers are, how to mark them in a manuscript (which, I should note, is actually “however your publisher tells you to,” though the [H1]- and [H2]-style designations are pretty common if not universal), go check out Rogue Genius Games’ “RGG Writer Guidelines,” which discuss headers and how to let your editor and layout artist know where they should in your manuscript.

Final Checks for RPG Manuscripts: In this entry, I going to talk about the all the work you should be doing after you are done writing, but before you turn over the manuscript. These last checks are often the difference between a polished manuscript that gets people’s attention, and a barely-useful mess that requires significant work from your developer/editor/producer/publisher to bring up to their standards.

Check the Rights to Anything You Use in Publishing: This is SUPER basic, but I see smart people get it wrong all the time.

Impostor Syndrome: A lot of creatives have it. I have it. Here are some of my coping mechanisms, in case any of that is useful to someone else (and, you know, why would it be given that I clearly have no idea what I am talking about).

 

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Writing Basics: Paginations and Wordcounts

In this installment of Writing Basics I’ll take a brief look at two related subjects that freelance writers often don’t need to worry too much about, but that are extremely important to the RPG industry overall—paginations and wordcounts.

These are good examples of the kinds of topics I never got much training about in school, and had to pick up as I went through my career. While early on I didn’t ever need to work with these much, the time came when I was trusted enough to begin to get jobs that DID require me to make calculations based on these elements, and I was woefully under-prepared for it. Luckily I managed to find some people willing to explain the core skills to me before I messed anything up too badly, but it would have been useful (to me, and my developers and editors) if I’d understood how these tools are used, and connected, long before I had to be able to create them myself.

In concept a wordcount is extremely simple—it’s the number of words a project needs to fill. There used to be lots of ways commonly used to calculate the word count of work you’ve finished, but nowadays most people just use the wordcount in their word processor program of choice. That’s fine… as far as it goes. I’ll note that since the industry standard in my experience is Office Word, you want to make sure your program of choice calculates a file’s word count in roughly the same was Word does, so if you developer asks for 1,500 words, your computer agrees with their computer on how close you are to hitting that.

Calculating what wordcounts should be in advance is more complicated, and we’ll get to that after we briefly discuss paginations.

A pagination is a document that lays out the specific pages of a book. It is used to determine what content goes on what page. The most common form I am used to is usually an Excel file or similar document that actually has a cell for each page, in which you list what’s on that page. Let’s do a super simple example, for an 8-page book on halfling war baking, as a table.

Title Page

 

 

Page 1

Credits

Table of Contents

Page 2

Introduction

½ page art

 

Page 3

Halfling War Baking History

 

Page 4

War Baker Archetype

¼ page art

Page 5

Equipment: Battle Muffins

¼ page art

Page 6

Glossary

Index

Appendix 1

Page 7

½ page ad

OGL

 

Page 8

 

Page 1 is the first page of the book separate from the cover, and is therefore a right-hand page. That’s why there is a blank entry to the left of it—when I open this 8-page book, the first thing I’ll see (after endpaper, which doesn’t count for our purposes but is sometimes printed on and would be listed as “front inside cover” in that case) is the inside of the front cover on the left, and the titles page on the right.

After that everything is 2-page “spreads.” Pages 2 and 3 will open with 2 on the left and 3 on the right. That means by looking at my pagination, I know that when reading the book you can see those two pages at the same time. This is extremely useful when determining where art goes—you don’t need art on every page. You don’t even need art on every 2-page spread. But you do want art fairly evenly distributed throughout an RPG book, or it becomes a dreaded “wall of text.”

Now obviously you don’t need a table of contents AND a glossary AND an index AND an appendix in an 8-page product. But when planning a physical book, you need to know how many pages your final product will be, and things like this take up space, and often can’t be written until so late in the process there’s no way to just flow them into a layout program and see how much room they eat up. By creating a pagination, you can leave room for these before they are written. Of course that means you need to know how much room you need for them, and that’s often a guessing game based on experience. But at least with a pagination, you have a chance to allot space for these things.

Now that we have a basic pagination, we can look at word count. While this is also a bit of a guessing game, there are factors we can depend on to get much closer than if we just use some generic round number. (That said, I use 22,000 words per 32 8.5×11 page of a 32-page or larger book when I can’t do a pagination for some reason, and while it’s not perfect, it’s often close enough for back-of-napkin calculations).

One of the things you need for an accurate wordcount is a finalized layout style. This is one of the reasons freelancers often don’t have to worry about figuring out their own wordcount—they would have to work with the layout artist to know the book’s fonts, styles, headers, and so on. But once you know how words are going fit onto a page, you can just count the words in 20 or so pages using those layout parameters (with no art or tables), and divide by 20, and that’s your rough per-page wordcount. Let’s say a page of nothing but normal words turns out to be 900 words per page for your graphic design. That means an 8-page book would be 7200 words, right?

Well, no.

Again, go to our pagination. We know the title page is just going to be the title of the book. The credits and table of contents are going to take up some words, but those aren’t part of the wordcount we need a freelancer to provide. Same with the glossary, index, and appendix—we need to remember those need to be done, but they aren’t the same as the halfling war baker material. The OGL is a bunch of words, and it’s super-important the writer work with us to make it accurate, but that’s not part of a project’s normal wordcount either.

The actual meat of this book is pages 3, 4, 5, and 6. That would mean a wordcount of 3600… except we already know there’s going to be art on those pages. A half page of art will reduce a page’s wordcount by, well, half… approximately. (This is all just an effort to get the best approximations we can—someday I may get into developing to fit, copyfit, layout to fit, and so on.) So with one ½-page piece of art and two ¼-page pieces of art, I lose a whole page worth of wordcount.

That means if I want to assign this to a freelancer to write, or I want to have a good idea how long it’ll take me to write, the core part of this book is 2700 words. Specifically, the introduction is 450 words, the history is 900, the archetype is 450 (and that ½ page art had better be a visual of that archetype), and the battle muffins take up 675.

There are also lots of other problems a pagination can help you avoid. Let’s say, for example, that my freelancer comes back to me and says they want to take 150 words from the introduction, 150 from the history and 150 from the muffins, to add 450 words on dwarven war baking. That’s easy in a word-processor, but with the pagination I can see if I think I’d have any place to put that. Now I could just have the introduction end a paragraph before the bottom of that page, then begin the history, and have a tiny bit of it on page 3, and have it run most of the way (but not all the way) through page 4… but everything is becoming a mess.

There are good reasons a lot of publishers won’t let you do this. That’s outside the scope of this article, but you can see how knowing what goes on each page helps plan out any changes that get proposed as the writing progresses.

It’s also useful for placing art, ordering art if you need to do that before the text is done, keeping track of tasks like creating tables of content, and so on.

And, hopefully, it helps show why developers and editors love writers who can get within 2-3% of their exact wordcount. If I ask someone for 1500 words on war muffins, giving me 1800 words isn’t really doing me any favors. In fact, it makes work for me. That’s often less work than if someone only gives me 1350 words out of 1500, but I am still happier if I get 1475 to 1550.

With things designed only for a web blog post or an e-book, these hard wordcounts are often much less important. But paginations and the wordcounts they generate remain common tools of the industry, and even if you aren’t working with them yet it’s useful to know how they function.

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Writing Basics: From Nothing to a Game Book

I got asked how the process of creating a game book happens, from the very beginning. That’s a great question. It really is one of the writing basics.

It’s also a really complicated question.

This is my best stab at a high-level, rough overview. This is based on being on every side of this process at some point over 20 years, and working for and with and as a lot of companies, but it’s not absolute by any means.

This is, at best, a sketch that covers a lot of different ways this happens, but there are companies that add steps, or skip steps, or do things in a totally different order.

It also varies a lot depending on the project. Here are some general steps, although who does what and when can change even within the same company.

  1. Someone comes up with an idea for a product. This may be a publisher who has looked at sales and resources, or it might be a freelancer who wants to pitch something, or it might be a line developer who is supposed to do X products a year.
  2. Someone matches the idea to a publishing schedule. That may mean you know you need exactly 44,000 words and sketches of 3 maps by January 4th, or it may mean “This can be a 700 word pdf, send it to me whenever you’re done and we’ll lay it out in a week or two.”
    Big publishers are very much more like that first example, while smaller ones are sometimes more flexible.
    If it’s a freelancer pitch, the freelancer and publisher work out terms. If it’s internal, you may need to hunt down someone to write it. Either way, the schedule and budget should be finalized at this point.
  3. An outline is done, so ensure the project will be the right size, hit the right topics, and so on. Often cover art is ordered and art and editing is scheduled at this point.
  4. Once the outline is approved by the people who are paying for the book, and the people writing it agree, the writing is done.
  5. Then drafts are turned in. Depening on the company they may be developed, or just edited, or laid out and then edited. That process varies.
    If art wasn’t arranged for before, it needs to be now.
  6. Layout and editing and development is finished. there may be marketing text that needs to be written, or printing that needs to be arranged for.
  7. Book is released.
  8. Profit! (Hopefully)

And that’s it!
(It is never, ever that simple.)

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Writing Basics: Final Checks for RPG Manuscripts

This is the third in my series of Writing Basics blog articles, designed for people who want to write game material (especially tabletop RPGs), and are looking to pick up some insights into how to be better at its weird mix of creative writing and technical writing. These are all lessons I didn’t get in any school or class, or at least that I apply in ways no class ever suggested.

In this entry, we’re going to talk about the all the work you should be doing after you are done writing, but before you turn over the manuscript. This stuff can be a drag, especially since the thrill of writing something may be gone once you are done actually writing it, but these last checks are often the difference between a polished manuscript that gets people’s attention, and a barely-useful mess that requires significant work from your developer/editor/producer/publisher to bring up to their standards.

The Cold Read-Through

Done with your writing project? Great!

Now put it down, and leave it alone for at least a few days. A week is better.

Then reread it all from scratch, beginning to end.

Yes, this requires you have some extra time between the completion of your manuscript and the deadline. This is one of the hardest things to actually arrange for in real-world conditions… but it’s also one of the most useful. One of the reasons I often do drafts of ideas here in my blog is that when I get around to wanting to turn them into full products, I’ve been away from them so long I can look at them with almost-fresh eyes.

It’s amazing, at least for me, how often I didn’t quite say what I thought I did. This is the most reliable way for me to find unclear rules, inelegant phrases, and run-on sentences. Besides, you ought to be shooting to be done well before your deadline anyway, just in case you get kidney stones while a hurricane affects your employer so they need to to work weirdly scheduled extra shifts.

It happens.

Common Personal Error Checklist

Do you write affect when you mean effect? Do you often capitalize Class and Race names, when that’s not the style of the game you are writing for? Do you forget to italicize spell names and magic items, when that IS the style of the game you are writing for? Do you write x2 to indicate doubling something, when your publisher uses <<TS>>2?

As you discover things you do on a regular basis that are wrong, make a checklist. When you are convinced your manuscript is done, run through that list of common errors, and check for them. And make it a living document—if you stop writing “could of done better” in place of “could’ve done better,” you can take it off your personal error checklist.

Spellcheck

Hopefully, we’re all running spellcheck as the very last thing before we turn over our manuscripts, right? Okay, good.

But just running the base program isn’t good enough.

Games often have a lot of string-of-letters that aren’t words any program recognizes off-the-shelf.

Deosil. Otyugh. Sith. Bloodrager. Starfinder.

You need to have a strategy for making sure you spelled all those correctly. If you just skip over these words in a spellcheck, “knowing” that the spellchecker doesn’t recognize them, you risk have a manuscript with a Starfidner ritual for Otuyghs to dance desoil around the Blodrager Circle.

There are two good ways I have found to fix this.

If a word is going to be used a lot in your writing, it may be worth entering it in your word processor’s dictionary. That’s generally not difficult, but when you do it make SURE you are entering the correct spelling of the new/imaginary word or name. Otherwise you can turn spellchecker into an error-generating device, and that sucks.

Alternatively, you can actually take the time to check the spelling of every weird word spellcheck flags for you. Is the god named Succoth-benoth, or Seccoth-bunoth, or Succoth Benoth? You can write down the correct spelling, or have it in another tab, and check it carefully each time you run into it.

If you have some common misspellings you find, you can search for those errors and replace them (one by one—NEVER replace all, it can seriously dawizard your credibility) before you make the word-by-word check for the correct spellings.

Grammar Checker

Different grammar checker programs have different levels of value, but most can at least be used to help find common writing problems such as passive voice, agreement errors, and sentence fragments. In my experience you can’t trust any grammar checker program, but it’s worth looking at anything it flags and double-checking your own work.

Formatting

Check you Headers to make sure they still make sense with your final manuscript. If your publisher uses specific text style formatting (as Paizo does, for example), make sure you have the right formatting in the right places. If you aren’t sure about some specific formatting, it’s generally good to ask. Your developer/editor/producer/graphic designer/publisher CAN fix your formatting… but that takes time away from them doing more important work to make your manuscript awesome. Also, it generally does not endear you to them.

File Format

Most publishers have a file format they want to work with. Check with them if they don’t mention it. There can be important differences between .doc, docx, .rtf, and a Google doc. Remember that to get more work and be paid a higher rate (or to have people be happy to work for you, if you are self-published but not self-laid-out), you want to make your developer/editor/producer/graphic designer/publisher’s job as easy and pleasant as possible.

Post-Mortem

Once you really and truly are done and you turn your manuscript over, it’s time to think about how you can learn from it. With luck, your developer/editor/producer/graphic designer/publisher will give you direct feedback. But to be honest, time is money in this industry, and they often won’t have time to help you be better. In those cases, I find it useful to see what the final version of the published material looks like, and examine how it is different from what I wrote. This isn’t always about something being “wrong” when you turned it in, but about what changes the people who are paying you and that you want to give you more work thought made your manuscript better.

Review

This is like the cold read-through or post-mortem, but it takes place months or years later. When you look at your past work, and consider what you might do differently now.

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Writing Basics: Introductions for RPGs

This is only the second article I’ve done on “game writing basics” (the first being on Headers for RPGs), and like the first one this is designed to cover a topic that I never got a lot of training on in school. In this case, that topic is “Introduction,” by which I specifically mean the text at the beginning of a product, book, chapter, or section (likely with its own header—these things are often interconnected), that explains what’s actually in that section of text. Ideally, it’s interesting to read, gives the reader some idea of what information is coming and why, and gives some context how that material connects to other books/products/chapters/ or sections of text.

That paragraph right above this one? That’s in introduction.

Like headers, I am moved to write about introductions because there are something I see so many new writers not have any idea how to handle. All to often if I contract someone to write a 5,000 word pdf manuscript that covers a topic, the text I receive leaps right into the details of that topic with no warm-up prose. For example, I have gotten bestiaries that open with the name of the first monster, class write-ups that open with a description of the role of that class, and articles on GM advice that leap into what you should and shouldn’t do at a game without ever mentioning they’re supposed to be collections of GM advice.

An introduction doesn’t have to be very long, but it’s both an important way to set expectations of the reader, and a great way to include some information that applies to a whole section but may not make sense anywhere else. For example, if I had begun this blog post with just “Introductions are the text at the beginning of a new section of writing, and are important for explaining what is coming and why it matters,” anyone reading this article would rightfully wonder both why they care, and why I thought the topic was worth writing about. When used to introduce a new section within a larger text, an intro also lets the reader know the old topic has ended, and that they are moving on to something else. If you have a chapter on weapons, and it begins with melee weapons, a simple 1-2 sentence introducing the section on ranged weapons helps the reader know they have finished the melee section, and are moving on to different kinds of weapons. It delineates the beginning.

That said, while introductions are read at the beginning of a section of text, it’s often useful to write them last. In part, this is because an introduction serves to let the reader know what topics and ideas are going to be covered, and until you’re done writing a thing there’s always a chance that its focus and exact contents are going to shift. At the very least, it’s a good idea to re-read your introduction after you’re done with everything else, to make such it still matches in tone and details.

One great way to get a feel for introductions is to pick up books you don’t remember having introductions, and then finding and reading them. Often you don’t remember an introduction not because it’s missing or bad, but because you only needed it when you first picked up a book, and haven’t looked at it since. This is especially true for books that you frequently reference, but rarely read cover-to-cover, which is true of most readers of most RPGs. Much like a good editor, a good introduction is often at its best when it goes nearly unnoticed.

There are also things an introduction isn’t. It’s not the table of contents, index, apologia, masthead, dedication, short fiction lead-in, or credits page. If it’s appropriate you may cover some of the same territory as an apologia or dedication, but only when those serve as the kind of context a writer really needs to appreciate the words that follow. It also serves a slightly different function than a foreword, and a book can have both a foreword or an introduction, or just one, or have a single piece of text serve as both (and possibly not be labeled as either).

Ideally, an introduction feels short compared to the section of text it introduces. For most game books, one or two pages is normally plenty for your introduction, though if you are introducing a 4-500-page book, even three or four pages is a perfectly reasonable introduction. For shorter things, such as a single article, chapter, or lengthy blog post, a paragraph is likely to be enough (though if you combine this with art and/or an art element this may still take up a full page or even two—for the most part, that’s a publisher/graphic designer decision, but it’s a good idea to study the introductions of your publisher’s products to get some idea of how much text they need). For a short blog post of something that’s just a new header in a larger section, a single sentence is often enough introduction.

In many ways, the simplest way to decide what goes into your introduction is to ask yourself what someone who was asked to read the following text might ask about it, and try to answer those in broad terms. For example, if you asked someone to read a new RPG, they’d be likely to ask what it’s about, and why you think they would benefit from reading it—that information makes for a great RPG intro, as long as you keep it appropriate short. For things that introduce sections within a larger work, the intro just has to cover questions that would be asked by someone who already knew what book they were reading.

For example if you have a book about new equipment in a game, its introduction can assume people know what game it is for. Then if there’s a chapter on armor, that introduction only needs to discuss things specific to armor, since the reader already knows they are reading an equipment book. If there’s then a section on light armor within the chapter on armor in general, a short intro (maybe as little as a sentence) tells the reader that instead of information on all armor, you are now talking about just one subset of that topic.

While writing introductions can be awkward the first few times you do it, with practice it becomes second nature. In addition to helping your writing seem smooth by preparing the reader with a guide and context for each thing they write, it can also help you as a writing by giving you a tool to help define what you are trying to create, which may focus your thoughts during the writing process, as you subconsciously begin constructing an introduction in your head. It can also help you think about how to draw a section of writing to a smooth and satisfying close, so no one ends up feeling left hanging when they come to the end.

But that’s a topic for another day. 😀

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Writing Basics: Headers for RPGs

Headers are the big titles of sections of books that tell you (roughly) what content is in that section. If you want a quick overview of what headers are, how to mark them in a manuscript (which, I should note, is actually “however your publisher tells you to,” though the [H1]- and [H2]-style designations are pretty common if not universal), go check out Rogue Genius Games’ “RGG Writer Guidelines,” which discuss headers and how to let your editor and layout artist know where they should in your manuscript. That’s designed specifically for writing for RGG, but should be a useful overview you can apply to whatever style guide another publisher tells you to use.

That advice, however, is a what and a how, not a why or a where. It assumes you know when you want to have headers, and why you might want them to be different sizes. Why headers are useful and how to decide where to put them and what to call them isn’t something I learned in school, or that I was expressly taught by any editor or developer on any of the RPG projects I worked on. It is often taught, in a specific way, in courses on technical or academic writing, but those tend not to use them exactly the way an RPG does. Creating the right number of headers, in the right order and scaling, is something I picked up by example and self-education, rather than finding any course that taught it to me.

So let’s talk about how headers tend to work, for RPGs. I’ll note that this is my general advice, designed to give you a starting point, rather than an end point. Again, I’m self-taught, and learned to work with the people who published me. If you want an academic discussion of headers, you should find someone with a lot more editorial training and credentials than me.

Headers 

Headers are titles and subtitles for sections of your text. They act as labels that let the reader know what information is about to be presented, and let the readers scan for a bit of information by seeking a related header. Headers can also be useful when referencing rules. It’s much easier to say “This uses the standard rules for bull rush, as found in the Combat Maneuvers section of the Tactical Rules chapter” than to say “This uses the standard rules for bull rush, as found halfway down page 942, on the left, at the top of the really big paragraph.” By giving a section of text a header, you make it easy for the reader to know what is coming, quickly find relevant material, and safely skip part of a chapter or article if they know they don’t need that information yet.

(There are also some kinds of headers that specific publishers use for game system elements. For example, if you look at the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, every feat and spell has a different treatment of text for the name of the feat or spell. Those are a kind of header, but in general unless a publisher tell you to mark headers at that level you don’t need to. Now some publishers DO tell you to mark such things, perhaps with “Feat Title” or “Stat Block Title” notations, but that’s the kind of thing you can trust your publisher to tell you if you need to notate formatting.)

In many ways, headers are like the names of sections of an outline that you just don’t strip out. I find this a useful way to think of what to call my headers and how to organize them. In general, every major topic gets a header (which we’ll call a Article Header if it is the title or an entire article or chapter, and otherwise call “H1”), and every sub-topic that is UNDER THE SAME TOPIC gets a header one size smaller (each numbered in order, with H2 smaller than H1, and H3 smaller than H2). Not every publisher has an H3 header, while some have H4 or even H5, and some consider an in-line bold (where you don’t change the font size, you just begin a paragraph with a bolded word, perhaps followed by a colon or em-dash) to be effectively the smallest header size.

For example, if I have a chapter called Equipment, then obviously “Equipment” is my article header. If I want to open that with an introduction, then I’d write have just the word “Introduction” as my H1 header. If I then do some general equipment rules as a new section, I have a new H1 “General Rules.” I don’t go to an H2, because my general rules aren’t part of the introduction. However, if after explaining that this is a section of general rules for equipment I want to describe each of those general rules (as examples, perhaps Availability, Cost, Encumbrance, and Durability), then each of those has an H2 header, as they ARE all sub-sections of general rules.

Here’s an example how that might be set up, though exactly how you format your headers is going to depend on your publisher—the writer’s job is to match the publisher’s requesting formatting, not to try to make your Word document match how the text will look in the end product. That’s the layout artist’s job, and your proper formatting helps them know what header should be what size and style.

[Begin Example]

[Article Title]Equipment 

You generally don’t want to have two headers right after each other, so here you might put a sentence or two equipment in your game. However, some publishers DO go directly from article title to your first H1, so check their house style.

[H1]Introduction 

Introduce why your game has equipment, and why characters care. This might just be a sentence or two, or it could be a philosophical essay about loot, treasure, power gaming, and how equipment does or doesn’t define characters in your game.

[H1]General Rules

This is a new section, still about equipment, but not part of the introduction anymore. So it gets it’s on H1, and here you talk about the fact these are general rules for equipment. If there are rules elsewhere that could interest with these (like skills, or crafting, or whatever), you might mention where those rules are found.

[H2]Availability

This is one specific “general rule,” so it gets a header one size down, an H2 compared to General Rule’s H1. Again, you can often tell what needs headers from a good outline. If you wrote without an outline, you can still go back after you are done and create an outline for a project, which may help you better organize it and determine which sections call of headers, and what kind.

[H2]Cost

Again the rules on cost are a specific “general rule,” so these get an H2, one size down from General Rule’s H1. At a glance, a reader can tell that both “availability” and “Cost” are separate ideas, both grouped under “General Rules.”

[H2]Encumbrance

Here you put your encumbrance rules, still an H2, under General Rules.

[H3]Exceeding Maximum Encumbrance

If the core of the encumbrance rules are about determining how much a character can carry, and noting where the weights of equipment are listed, the rules for exceeding encumbrance limits are clearly related, but slightly different. By giving them an H3, one size smaller than the H2 of Encumbrance rules, you make it easy for readers to find this section (which they may only reference occasionally), and give yourself the option to point to just these rules if something modifies them (for examples if dwarves suffer a less severe penalty when they exceed their maximum encumbrance, in the dwarf race write-up you can give that lesser penalty, and tell the reader to “See “Exceeding Maximum Encumbrance” mon page ##” making it easy for them to find these rules).

[H2]Durability

Since durability is another general rule, it gets the same H2 header as Availability, Cost, and Encumbrance. A reader who gets to the end of the Exceeding Maximum Encumbrance section can tell from the larger header of “Durability” that they have moved on to a new topic.

[End Example]

When determining what your headers are and what to call them, keep in mind that headers are both organizational, and graphic. If a player is going to be looking for a rule section or specific bit of lore fairly often, it aids ease of play to have a header that points them to the right place. Headers can also make a page easier to read—two pages of nothing but column after column of text is more difficult to read through than one with a header or two to break up the monotony and give the eyes something to navigate with. On the other hand, a header called “Everything You Need To Know To Play A Halfling War Baker But Where Afraid to Ask” may be overpowering and look terrible on the page.

Consistency with headers can also be useful. If you are writing up 7 kingdoms, and each one has sections on culture, organizations, population, and threats, having that info groups under the same headers for each write-up can both make it easy for readers to absorb and understand the info, and keep you on track to not forget to mention any cultural notes about Kitchenaria just because you were excited about all the War Baker Guilds you wanted to write about. Keeping the writer on track is another benefit of good, well-defined headers.

As I noted, this is just a starting point on what headers are and how they work. When you are organizing your writing, it can be very useful to keep in mind what headers your publisher uses. If you don’t know, and there isn’t a style guide that tell you, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s a lot easier to know at the outline stage that you only have H1 and H2 options and in-line bolds, than to write a manuscript that assumed you can nest H5s and H4s and H3s to go down multiple tiers of sub-categorization. There are all sorts of things—such as sidebars, and tables, and page treatments, and section breaks, and so on—that can impact what makes sense for your headers, and even what your publisher will let you do. But understanding why you need headers, and how to decide what they should be, is a big jump forward for those without a strong grasp of them.

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New Rules Have A Time and Place

For games with lots of rules, it important to consider where those rules are listed in a book, and how they are presented, organized, indexed, cross-referenced. This can often lead to chicken-or-the-egg issues, such as when you want to explain how actions work so people know what you are talking about when you explain how many actions it takes to reload a weapon, but you want to present some examples of things like reloading weapons to give context before you explain how actions work.

The end result is often a compromise, especially in game with multiple people designing, developing, and editing them.

For expansions to a game, like big books of new options for RPGs, it’s important both to stick to the kind of schema you used in the core rulebook (because that’s what people who need expansions to those core rules have already learned is your organizational standard), and to make sure that if you add brand-new things, you do so in the right place, and at the right time.

For example, if skills are broken into a number of different tasks in the core rulebook, chances are each set of tasks is presented with the relevant skill. But if you are introducing new skill tasks (but not new skills) in an expansion book, there won’t be exactly the same kind of section defining skills. But most likely if “Skills” was a chapter before (or otherwise had its own header—see my Writing Basics on headers), you want to recreate that header, with a new introduction nothing these are just new tasks, rather than whole new skills.

While all that seems pretty intuitive, there’s a corollary that I see violated surprisingly often, especially from writers who mostly work in supplements rather than doing a lot of work in core rulebooks. That is: DON’T introduce new expansion rules anyplace OTHER than a logical niche where you’d expect to find all such rules.

Let’s give an example.

Let’s say you have an RPG with a skill called Riding, which covers everything regarding the care and use of mounts. It outlines how you train a mount, how you get a mount to perform better, control a mount in combat, and so on. All fairly reasonable, and intuitively if a player wants to know how to interact with a mount, this seems like a reasonable place to look. (A lot of that could also be in a Combat section, but let’s assume in this case the game organized around skills.)

However, there are no rules for hanging down to one side of your mount to use it as cover against ranged attacks.

Now, a year after the RPG comes out, you release an expansion book. In this book you have a new piece of equipment, the combat saddle. The combat saddle gives you a +4 bonus to skill checks to hang down on one side of your mount to gain cover against ranged attacks. And since there are no rules for that, it gives the rules.

And that’s a problem.

No one knows to look at equipment for new combat uses of the Riding skill. And unless the combat saddle entry is extremely clear, there are going to be people who feel you can ONLY attempt this maneuver with that saddle. (And they’ll have a point, since having a piece of equipment give you a new option you CANNOT attempt without that equipment is one of the cases where putting rules in equipment makes perfect sense).

Sometimes the issue is even worse, because the combat saddle may only give you the new rules in passing, so they don’t really seem like new rules. Like if it says “You gain a +4 bonus to a Difficulty Class 15 Ride check to use your mount as cover,” then it sure SOUNDS like that’s just a quick reference of rules that exist in a full form later… but they don’t.

And goodness knows there are lots of ways for this to happen. Sometimes game writers believe the ability to do something is obvious even though it’s never spelled out. Sometimes they misremember rules, especially if a rule was changed from a previous edition or cut in the development of a book. Sometimes the plan was to reference the new rule in 3 places but there wasn’t room in the book so it got cut back to just 1 reference… in a bad organizational spot.

There’s no one cause of this problem, and no one solution to avoid it. But it’s worth looking at, as a writer, designer, developer, and editor, to avoid adding rules in weird places.

Especially in expansions.

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Return of the Cavalier-Paladin!

It’s become something of a joke among my friends and online followers that when I am suffering from massive sleep deprivation, or am on powerful narcotic painkillers, or both, I tend to be more creative in my online writing. I think some of this is the killing of my internal censor, that often squelches ideas before they have a chance to grow. It’s also been suggested that these ideas may be the fleeting flashes of inspiration I’m always having, but must postpone to be responsible and get my work done. Obviously when I can’t focus for more than a few minutes at a time and don’t trust my ability to do quality work, I tend not to worry about restricting myself to crucial projects.

So it is, tonight.

I had a flash of nostalgia tonight for the cavalier-paladin class from the days of Dragon Magazine. One of my early rpg experiences was playing a fighter in thrown-together night of gaming, where all the characters were competing in a tournament. Someone who became one of my very best friends played a cavalier-paladin who, despite my rolling something like 5 natural 20s in 10 rounds of combat, still kicked my ass. But she also decided my character was valiant and worthy, and the two PCs became good friends.

Just like the two players.

So most of the actual features of the cavalier-paladin aren’t things that would work well as a focus mechanic for a Pathfinder class. But in my mental haze, I decided I really wanted to create cavalier-paladin hybrid class, and one with very little “new” mechanical consideration. I expected to jot down some notes to maybe work on some other day. Instead, 30 minutes later it was done. (Writing this foreword has taken longer than writing the hybrid class rules.)

So I am proud to present the world’s first Hybrid Nostalgia Class: the cavalier-paladin.

Cavalier-Paladin

A select, worthy few are called to be warriors for the divine, and seek to perfect their skill by dedicating themselves to an organization fighting for a cause. Though still entirely devoted to the service and justice and righteousness, these crusaders believe they can best serve as part of a larger whole. Known as cavalier-paladins, these fearless knights are blessed with boons to aid them in their quests, but also ceaselessly train to improve and inspire others. The cavalier-paladin’s power comes from adherence to ironclad laws of morality and discipline, the conviction of her ideals, the oaths that she swears, and the divine power to smite the wicked.

Role: Cavalier-paladins serve as beacons for their allies within the chaos of battle, marshalling allied forces and controlling the flow of the fight. While deadly opponents of evil, outside of battle cavalier-paladins can be found advancing their cause through diplomacy and, if needed, intrigue. Their magical and martial skills also make them well suited to defending others and blessing the fallen with the strength to continue fighting.

Alignment: Lawful good

Hit Die: d10

Parent Classes: Cavalier and paladin

Starting Wealth: 5d6 × 10 gp (average 175 gp.) In addition, each character begins play with an outfit worth 10 gp or less.

Class Skills

The cavalier-paladin’s class skills are Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Handle Animal (Cha), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (nobility) (Int), Knowledge (religion) (Int), Profession (Wis), Ride (Dex), Sense Motive (Wis), Spellcraft (Int), and Swim (Str).

Skill Ranks per Level: 4 + Int modifier.

TABLE: CAVALIER-PALADIN

Level Base Attack Bonus Fort Save Ref Save Will Save Special Spells Per Day
1st 2nd 3rd
1st +1 +2 +0 +2 Aura of good, order, smite evil 1/day
2nd +2 +3 +0 +3 Divine bond, order ability
3rd +3 +3 +1 +3 Aura of courage, divine health, tactician
4th +4 +4 +1 +4 Lay on hands, smite evil 2/day
5th +5 +4 +1 +4 Banner
6th +6/+1 +5 +2 +5 Bonus feat
7th +7/+2 +5 +2 +5 Smite evil 3/day
8th +8/+3 +6 +2 +6 Aura of resolve, order ability 0
9th +9/+4 +6 +3 +6 Greater tactician 1
10th +10/+5 +7 +3 +7 Smite evil 4/day 1
11th +11/+6/+1 +7 +3 +7 Aura of justice 1 0
12th +12/+7/+2 +8 +4 +8 Demanding challenge 1 1
13th +13/+8/+3 +8 +4 +8 Smite evil 5/day 2 1
14th +14/+9/+4 +9 +4 +9 Aura of faith 2 1 0
15th +15/+10/+5 +9 +5 +9 Greater banner 2 1 1
16th +16/+11/+6/+1 +10 +5 +10 Smite evil 6/day 2 2 1
17th +17/+12/+7/+2 +10 +5 +10 Aura of righteousness 3 2 1
18th +18/+13/+8/+3 +11 +6 +11 Master tactician 3 2 1
19th +19/+14/+9/+4 +11 +6 +11 Smite evil 7/day 3 2 2
20th +20/+15/+10/+5 +12 +6 +12 Holy champion 3 3 2

Class Features

All cavalier-paladin class features function as normal for the class feature of the same name from the cavalier or paladin class, except as noted below.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Cavalier-paladins are proficient with all simple and martial weapons, with all types of armor (heavy, medium, and light), and with shields (except tower shields).

Order: Abilities from her order that state they function when a cavalier of the order is using her challenge ability instead function when the cavalier-paladin is using smite evil.

Every cavalier-paladin follows a paladin code (either the standard code from the base paladin class, or a special code determined by the deity the cavalier-paladin worships). A cavalier-paladin must select an order that has edicts that do not violate the paladin’s code. If a cavalier-paladin violates her code, she loses all cavalier-paladin spells and class features (including the service of the cavalier-paladin’s mount, but not weapon, armor, and shield proficiencies). She may not progress any further in levels as a cavalier-paladin. She regains her abilities and advancement potential if she atones for her violations (see atonement), as appropriate.

If a cavalier-paladin violates the edicts of her order without violating her paladin code, she loses the smite evil benefits from her order, and all order abilities (though not the order’s skill benefits) for 24 hours.

Divine Bond: If the cavalier-paladin selects a weapon bonus, initially enhancing the weapon only causes it to shed light as a torch and count as a magic weapon for those purposes where a magic weapon functions differently than a mundane weapon (such as bypassing DR). Beginning at 5th level, the weapon bond functions normally.

If she selects a bonded mount, this works normally as the paladin option.

Spells: Beginning at 8th level, a cavalier-paladin gains the ability to cast a small number of divine spells which are drawn from the paladin spell list. A cavalier-paladin must choose and prepare her spells in advance.

To prepare or cast a spell, a cavalier-paladin must have a Charisma score equal to at least 10 + the spell level. The Difficulty Class for a saving throw against a cavalier-paladin’s spell is 10 + the spell level + the paladin’s Charisma modifier.

Like other spellcasters, a cavalier-paladin can cast only a certain number of spells of each spell level per day. Her base daily spell allotment is given on Table: Cavalier-Paladin. In addition, she receives bonus spells per day if she has a high Charisma score (see Table: Ability Modifiers and Bonus Spells). When Table: Cavalier-Paladin indicates that the cavalier-paladin gets 0 spells per day of a given spell level, she gains only the bonus spells she would be entitled to based on her Charisma score for that spell level.

A cavalier-paladin must spend 1 hour each day in quiet prayer and meditation to regain her daily allotment of spells. A cavalier-paladin may prepare and cast any spell on the paladin spell list, provided that she can cast spells of that level, but she must choose which spells to prepare during her daily meditation.

Through 7th level, a cavalier-paladin has no caster level. At 8th level and higher, her caster level is equal to half her cavalier-paladin level. Unlike a paladin, a cavalier-paladin never gains 4th level spells.

Bonus Feat: The cavalier-paladin gets a single bonus feat at 6th level. No additional bonus feats are gained every 6 levels thereafter.

INTERVIEWS 1.3

Interviews 1.3
“Can I grab a pen and pad, too?”

“Not right. Not how you talk. Hnnn. With the other masks. They get the we.”

“Wha?”

“The we. The editorial we. You speak to masks in the formal tone, the Fourth Estate voice.”

“Ah… so we do. Sorry, we were not prepared for this.”

“Unavoidable. Apologies. Hnnn. Can not appear in a station house. Can not risk a call.”

“I… er, WE totally understand. May we grab a pen, and writing pad?”

“No. Recorder is enough. Nothing pointed. Nothing flammable. Unacceptable risks.”

“Very well. For the record, we wish to state that we are in the basement of our own home, tied to a chair. Ah… not one of our chairs. Where did this chair come from?”

“Hnnn. Home Depot. Sturdier than your chairs. On sale.”

“Ah… of course. We are tied to a chair from Home Depot, speaking to the vigilante known as Kilroy. The conversation is being recorded digitally, with a dedicated recorder. We do have a recorder program on our phone, if you’d prefer.”

“No cell phones. Traceable. Trackable. Possibly cancerous. Recommend against them.”

“Ah, yes. We’ll consider that. So… Kilroy. This is your show. What do you want to say?”

“Hnnn… nnn. Do not know. Not a reporter.”

“You… you forced me to interview you, and you don’t have anything to say.”

“Not my job. Your job.”

“So, you want me to ask you questions?”

“Yes. Faster. Security weak, no one coming yet. But major reporter of interest. Watched, monitored. Random patrol may come by, or random hero. Twelve minutes safe, hnnn, thirteen a risk. Have used eight.”

“Of course. Well, then, let’s get to the basics. You are a wanted criminal, a vigilante who deals street justice, yet you claim to be an agent of law and order. How do you justify your actions.”

“Hnnn. No justification. Lawbreaker. Should be taken in.”

“You… you think you should be taken in?”

“Yes. Hunted. Brought down. Judged. Locked away. Hnnn. Violent offender. Likely insane. But dangerous. Maybe in Segefield. Maybe in Hexagon.”

“So, if you think you deserve to be locked up, why not turn yourself in?”

“Heroes can’t reach everyone. Not good enough. Not smart enough. Some only I can reach. Hnnn. If I stop, who catches those? No one. Unacceptable.”

“But, who will catch them if you get caught?”

“If caught, then no longer the best. Whoever catches me can catch anyone. I would not, hnnn, not be needed. Survival of the Justice.”

“So, you want to be caught, because that would mean you weren’t needed?”

“If caught by a righteous agent. If caught by evil, hnnn, my loss would be disastrous. But, also, a warning. Heroes would notice. Work together. End the greater threat. But only so long as I am best. As long as I never falter, or give up.”

“So no matter what, you should keep doing what you are doing and make every effort to avoid capture, which you deserve, because only by doing your best can you ensure your loss brings about even greater good?”

“Hnnn. Never put in those terms. Yes.”

“Isn’t that a little self-serving?”

“Yes. Likely insane. Well aware.”

“All right… let’s move on to some specifics. You are famous for spray-painting “Kilroy Was Here” wherever you take down a criminal, or even a common thug. Why?”

“Because it is unusual, and the media talks about it often.”

“Wha… ah. No. Not why are you famous for it. Why do you do it?”

“First, to mark my work. So when the day came, I could be convicted of everything. My mind, hnnn, my mind lies to me sometimes. Paint doesn’t lie.”

“You say at first. Did other reasons emerge?”

“Yes. A warning. When taking down a fence, each post is marked. The next post sees, and knows it is next. The posts shake. Boards fall lose. Fear does half the work.”

“Are… are you literally speaking about a fence?”

“No. Allegory.”

“So, the fence is… ?”

“Any group of scum. Racketeers. Cheaters. Mobsters. Corporations. Thugs. Homeowner’s Associations. Gangs. Bikers. As you mark the loss of each outer member, the inner circle sees you coming, and knows fear.”

“I’m sorry, did you say homeowner’s associations?”

“Modern cattle barons. Petty tyrants, and a common source for money laundering, extortion, and, hnnn, drugs. Many are alien fronts.”

“Do… do you have any proof of this?”

“No, Cats took it to the moon.”

“Cats?”

“Allegory.”

“Ooooo-kay. Let’s move on. You also work with several vigilantes, the so-called Nomads, though you carefully don’t accept that you are yourself part of that group. If you deserve to be brought in as a vigilante, don’t they?”

“Most, yes. Some never break the law. Centipede. Huntsman. NIN. Maybe Tarnkappe, though he mostly likely does, just not while he is seen.”

“But the rest are lawbreakers.”

“Yes. Many times. Serious crimes.”

“But you work with them. Why not bring them in?”

“Bring in those who do more harm than good. Brought in Balefire, and hnnn, Sinstress. The rest are lower on the list. New entries higher up keep getting added before I get to them.”

“Yes you did, both after specific spectacular crimes. But… you do intent to bring the rest of them in eventually? To either hand them over to authorities, or disable them yourself as you’ve been known to do?”

“Yes. Have told them as much. Many times. Most don’t believe me. Or don’t want to.”

“While we are on the subject, why do you turn some criminals in, kill a few, and mutilate others?”

“Turn in those that can be punished by the law. Cripple those who can’t, if it will end their crimes. Kill them if nothing else works. Or if they resist so much no other option.”

“Does it bother you, deciding who lives, and who dies?”

“Hn. Not anymore. One of the most serious signs of mental illness. That and the cats.”

“Real cats, or allegorical ones?”

“Both. Time is nearly up.”

“We… understand. Very well, let’s talk about something you’ve never talked about before. How do you avoid getting caught?”

“Cautious. Smart. Not a big enough threat to enough people for the right resources to be brought in.”

“All right, sure. But, some amazingly successful heroes have stated their intent to bring you in. Anthem and Anthem Lass can both see through solid matter. How have they not identified you to sketch artists for a manhunt?”

“Can’t see through the cowl.”

“You… you mean the dirty piece of cloth you always pull over your face? That bit of worn linen can block Anthem Lass’ vision, when a solid steel door doesn’t?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t suppose you’ll tell us how?”

“If you ask, hnn, yes.”

“Ah… very well. How? How does an apparently ordinary piece of cloth protect your identity from the heroes who can see through hundreds of feet of concrete, metal, and flesh?”

“Cowl is not one piece of cloth. Cowl is ur-rag, the perfect piece of cloth in all universes. It is the ultimate unimportant object. In every reality, in every place where choices lead to people, there is a Kilroy. We all have the cowl. Hnnn. One cowl. It makes us the same, but we are all different. We have no powers, no magic. Nothing but the cowl. Anthem looks through it, sees us all.”

“If… if that’s true it’s amazing. How did you come by the cowl?”

“Saw it, hnnn, in the gutter. Saw it for what it was, when life broke. Saw the mission. Saw the crimes. Knew I was Kilroy.”

“Very well, but, listen. You say you know you are mentally ill. You say your mind lies to you. And you have a social, unique cowl that gave you a special destiny. Doesn’t it seem more likely that you are seriously schizophrenic, and that’s all a delusion.”

“Yes, hnnn, of course. Not stupid. Except… ”

“Except what?”

“Anthem never found me. Anthem Lass doesn’t know my face. Gargoyle can’t find me. Troubleshooter can’t track me. Which is more likely — a schizophrenic no hero can catch, or a universal agent of the multiverse with destiny?”

“Um… “

“Time is up. Good interview. Do not edit it.”

“No, we won’t, of course. If we can ask just one more… “

“No.”

click