Category Archives: Business of Games
Whether you write as your whole career, just do some freelancing, or write only for your own satisfaction but are driven to do that, it’s going to come up. At some point, you are going to find yourself needing to write while experiencing grief.
I wish this essay told you how to do that. It doesn’t. It can’t. I don’t know how. Every time I find myself having to do it, it becomes a new problem, because every moment of grieving is different. The problems grief causes change. Sometimes I lack motivation. Sometimes I find myself getting angry. Sometimes I can’t see the screen through the nonstop tears.
Whenever I talk about writing while grieving, a slew of well-meaning people come out and tell me to just give it time. I know they think I am just being too hard on myself, but I come from more than 20 years of writing professionally. This is my job. I’m a full-time freelancer again. I don’t get sick days, or bereavement. If I don’t write, I don’t get paid.
And yes, most people in the industry will cut you slack when you are dealing with something hard, but there are limits. Printers wont change their print dates for you. Conventions won’t shift when they are happening so you can have a big release bump a month alter than planned. People who make money by selling the work you are writing can’t hold off on payroll until you can get yourself together. Some projects have lots of slack built in, others have used it all. It’s worth talking to the people you owe work to, but trust me friends and fans, sometimes I have to write.
Other commentators want me to build everything around their favorite grief roadmap, such as the 7 stages of grief. If someone is totally unaware of some of thinking on how grief works, mentioning the existence of various roadmaps can be useful. But, again, I’ve been here. I know the maps are out there, and I also know the map is not the map is not the territory. Some grief follows different paths. It may jumble the order, or hop back and forth, or find brand new trails of misery, especially through my already-compromised brain.
So, advice from the outside tens not to do me much good. Support can help, like a blanket against the cold–it doesn’t make the cold any less, but it helps you to weather the storm. Of course some support helps more than others, and beyond noting that support that does not give pointless advice or make demands on me in return for the support has a much better track record than those that do, I can’t really tell you which will help more for any given grief.
Because every grief is different, and I can’t analyze it until i am at least mostly past it.
But the grief itself is not really the problem when writing. It’s the symptoms it causes, and those I can try to work through. Sometimes I’ll be successful. Sometimes I won’t. But I’ll get more writing work done by trying than by giving up on it.
So, what have I found works best?
*Accept that it’s not going to be as fast as if you weren’t grieving. Yes, maybe you need it to be for career purposes, but reality often doesn’t play nice with career goals. Take steps accordingly. Reach out to people you owe work to see which projects can spare some slipped deadlines. Cut back on expenses. Consider scaling back optional projects. Whatever you can do to reduce the impact of your reduced capacity.
*Prioritize. Don’t spend a lot of mental time and energy on it if that’s hard for you, but take a moment to decide what is most important. There’s very little as annoying as realizing you’ve been grinding through something you could have skipped, and not touched the crucial thing that needs all your time and attention.
*Write down every step you take. I, at least, suffer serious memory issues when grieving. Having a single place where I keep track of any deadlines, extended deadlines, changed project scopes, and so on, lets me go back and see where I am on things.
*Consider timing things. Need a break? Decide how long you need, set a timer. Having trouble focusing on work? Decide to hammer on a project for 20 minutes, then walk away. Need to do some online research? Set a timer so it’ll pull you back if you go down a rabbit-hole. Much as I have trouble remembering and tracking things when i am grieving, I often lose track of time. A nudge that I’ve been checking Facebook for 10 minutes when I meant to look up a single thing keeps me from wasting what time I have.
*Forgive yourself. If you can. If not, see if you can get therapy to help you forgive yourself. Some things are going to go wrong. I can’t say anyone else will forgive you, and you may make life hard for others or end up damaging your career. But you know why, and there’s no point in adding guilt or anger with yourself to the heavy emptions you are already carrying.
*Make self-care checklists. I often wallow in my grief, and if I am not sleeping, eating, taking my prescriptions, or socializing at all, my writing is going to suffer. Yes, sometimes I need to put off socializing to make more time for writing, or pull an all-nighter because the drop-dead deadline is 8am, but for the long haul, you can’t be an effective writing machine without fuel, downtime, and maintenance.
I wish I had more advice. But the one thing I can add is that writing through grief is possible, but will always take more effort and produce less results. Try to be kind to yourself and others when you have no choice but to give it a try.
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A lot of projects from a lot of game companies are late. I don’t find this at all shocking, at least in part because I have projects of my own that are not just horrifically behind, but (at least to public eyes) look like they’ve had no progress for weeks or months.
But for those who want answers and don’t have access to the creators of whatever project they feel is unreasonably late, here’s a table of reasons whatever thing you wish you already had is late. Tongue in cheek… but also a lot of grains of truth.
- Roll twice. The first roll is the main reason the game product is late. The second roll is something that happened while the first roll was being dealt with, making it later.
- Nothing went wrong with the project. However, because game industry professionals always have multiple projects in the pipeline, an even older, even later project had an issue that delayed it, and that must be addressed before the project you are concerned about gets finished.
- While the publisher wasn’t dealing with major issues, a printer, distributor, freelancer, or shipper was, and that delayed things. By an unknown amount of time. We don’t have an eta yet. We’ll update you as soon as we know anything.
- Dog ate it.
- While only three days of work time was lost when a historic icestorm took the power out and killed cell phone access, it turns out that throwing out spoiled food, getting new groceries, getting emergency prescriptions to replace ruined insulin, clearing debris, calling insurance companies, checking in on elderly family members, and dealing with a three day backlog of emails, direct messages, and voicemails can take much longer than the time the power was out. Some issues take hours to deal with weeks and months later.
- Mental health issues. In this case, normal mental health issues that could have delayed the project in any year.
- Mental health issues… brought on by 2020. That might be a response to the pandemic, political turmoil, issues that call for protest, attacks from someone else flipping out over something linked to this year, or any of a dozen other things hammering this year.
- Aliens took it. … They may have been dog aliens.
- One or more of the creators is so overwhelmed that while they can dedicate time to trying to get the project out, when they do no useable creative work happens.
- A delay from someone else, linked to 5, 6, or 7, is serious enough other creatives need to take time to make sure the most impacted person is safe and okay.
- It was always going to be late. Let’s get real. It’s just worse because, you know, 2020.
- Time lost to having to have meetings virtually (rather than in person), and make plans to try to deal with the ever-shifting landscape of the industry, and answer questions publicly why projects are late, and try to find alternatives to plans made earlier in the pandemic which are already not viable, not only eats into time to actually make products, they tend to interrupt numerous times per day so what time can be applied to making progress on the delayed project is broken up and inefficient compared to conditions back when the project schedule was written out.
- All the time that should have gone to working on the project was wasted screaming into a pillow. And collecting bigger, more sound-absorbent pillows from other locations in the home.
- It’s hard to get much done when you are woozy from selling plasma, which you can do twice a week if you want the big donation bonuses… I mean the money has to come from somewhere.
- The pandemic, and the shutdowns and economic challenges it brings, have caused cash flow to drop so seriously that the project doesn’t have the money budgeted for some part of it. That work now has to be done in-house or by the lead creator, who has to squeeze it in around all the rest of the demands on their time.
- [This space left intentionally blank. Otherwise filling it would have taken so long, this blog post would have been late. The irony is not lost on us.]
- As the game industry takes hit after massive hit, time was taken to see if any Federal aid was available to make up for lost income, or to pay freelancers, to to act as a bolster for the downturn. Whether aid was found or not, the labyrinthine process of finding what options exist, reading the rules to understand if they apply, getting documents together, applying for the program, answering questions that come up, and letting others know what did and did not work, took enough time that an entire hardback book could have been written with the same effort–if anyone had a reason to think it would sell well right now.
- Time-travelers came from the future to delay the publication, claiming that if it was released on time, somehow things would get unimaginably worse.
They looked… haunted.
- With all the joy and inspiration sucked out of them by nonstop horrorshows in their life, the creators just gave up. They aren’t happy about it, and hope to get to it later. When the world seems less terrible. If they haven’t moved on with their lives and let the industry behind forever.
- The creative team loved the game, the project, the fanbase, and the industry, and is working on the “Better late than bad” principle. Stated simply, this principle says “If a project is late, it’s only late until it’s delivered. If it’s not given the time and resources it needs and is bad, it’s bad forever.”
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When I was first getting involved in RPGs in the 1980s, and then in the industry as a professional in the 1990s, people often noted that when discussing success and popularity of Fantasy VS Scifi, movies and TV always skewed much more towards scifi, and RPGs towards fantasy.
Not that there weren’t scifi RPGs and Fantasy tv shows and movies, but they were less common, less popular, and less successful.
And people wondered why.
Now, Fantasy has largely broken the TV/Movie barrier since 2000, and I attribute that to better budgets, effects, and acceptance of fantasy stories as interesting and varied. (And I believe some of that influence came from games… but that’s another essay.)
That still leaves the question of why scifi (and modern, and old west, and so on) ttRPGs simply are not as successful or popular as Fantasy ttRPGs.
It cannot just be momentum or nostaliga. The first scifi ttRPGs came hot on the heels of D&D, and by the time most people were exposed to them there were peltny of both. And ttRPGs have seen several resurgences since their first hitting the public eye, and every time fantasy ttRPGs come out on top.
(There are some AWESOME, world-influencing, trend-setting, society impacting scifi and modern ttRPG IPs. They are just less common than fantasy, and tier-to-tier less successful.)
This of course rasies the question of why. WHY are fantasy ttRPGs better accepted by the general gamer community than other genres of ttRPG?
So, this is my theory:
Players are more forgiving of fantasy.
Yeah, that’s pretty simple, but I have seen it over and over in more than 2 decades of professional game creation, and nearly four decades of play. This increased forgiveness comes in two primary forms.
First, people are comfortable blending a wider range of fantasy concepts together than they are blending modern or scifi concepts.
For example: If I want to play a Knight of the Round Table, you want to play a character inspired by Conan the Barbarian, Jan wants to play a character inspired by Lord Darcey, and Robin wants to play a character inspired by Arjuna, most groups can accept those characters can interact and still feel close enough to their inspirations to be satisfying.
However, if I want to play a character inspired by Captain Kirk, you want to play a character inspired by RoboCop, Jan wants to play a character inspired by Luke Skywalker, and Robin wants to play a character inspired by Char Aznable, chances are we can’t all play in the same game without the differences in our characters making our characters not seem close enough to be satisfying, or having to ignore smart choices in order to stay true to our sub-genres.
Similarly, if a game has special powers fueled by magic, more players accept that magic is not real, and doesn’t need to make a lot of sense and thus just accept the game rules, compared to the number of players who will shrug and ignore rules oddities in science fiction they don’t like.
A simple version of this is that in a game where a target can expect to be hit and damaged with a greatsword 8-12 times and survive (clearly very uncommon in the real world), many players can just accept it. If pistol rules are then introduced and someone can be hit and damaged with a 9mm handgun 8-12 times and survive, a large number of the players who were FINE with the greatsword rules now feel the pistol rules are so “unrealistic” they don’t want to play them.
So, additional scrutiny and less suspension of disbelief is leveled as non-fantasy settings, leading to groups (rather than individuals) gaining mroe satisfaction from fantasy ttRPG properties.
I have a Patreon. It supports the time I take to do all my blog posts. If you’d like to see more gaming theories, (or Pathfinder 1st edition thoughts, or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!
It should come as no shock that, as Green Ronin’s developer for the Fantasy AGE RPG, I want to run a Fantasy AGE campaign. Running (and playing) the games I write and develop for is an important part of being connected to the material as-played for me when I can arrange it, and it helps me build and maintain system mastery.
I have been *meaning* to start a Fantasy Age game for months, but (waves hands at… everything).
However, since I’m only going to be able to run a single campaign at the moment, I want to set up its framework to maximize its benefits to me. That means organizing it so I can run no matter how many of my players can show up, maximizing the amount of time the campaign focuses on game mechanics, and having a framework lose enough I can experiment with and playtest new material without having to spend a lot of effort working it into the game.
My players are, of course, aware that these are goals of mine. I’m currently only able to play in-person with the very small group in my social bubble, all of whom are folks I’ve been playing RPGs with for 20 years or more, so that’s not an issue.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t want ANY framing device for the campaign. I just want one with a great deal of flexibility and a focus on small, variable groups going and doing dangerous or difficult things.
And for this game, that’s going to come in the form of the Intrepideurs’ Guild. Which immediately leads to the question, what the heck is an Intrepideur?
The word is a portmanteau of Intrepid and Entrepreneur that I am intentionally creating for its slightly cheesy flavor. It will, in-world, be used the way “adventurer” might be in a lot of fantasy game settings. Within the context of the fictional world I am creating, an Intrepideur is someone who makes a career out of being brave and bold, and facing things most people don’t want to.
So in our fictional world (which, for the moment, I am naming Fage), its considered normal to have your day-job be facing dangerous things to make money. In many cases, someone will pay you to do this, because the dangerous things make their lives difficult. In other cases, a group might decide to seek out and face a danger because they think there’s money to be made in doing so. Folks of Fage treat Intrepideurs the way our current world treats first responders, extreme sports athletes and mountain climbers, and entrepreneurs. It’s not for everyone and it’s a bit off the norm, but in general it’s seen as a reasonable choice for people drawn to such work.
Now some of this work is pretty intermittent stuff — if bandits have taken to preying on a road between countries, you can hire Intrepideurs to guard you as you travel it or even to clear off the bandits entirely. Need someone to hunt down and stop an arsonist? Protect your sheep from wolves? Hunt down giant crabs suddenly tearing up fishing nets? Gather the prophetic and altering spice Mordant from the Shifting Desert? Intripdeurs are your best bet.
But there are also some things that happen at least as often as severe weather, tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires, and that really do call for a society to maintain an entire class of people trained to deal with them. Here are some common sources of ongoing Intrepideur work.
Bone Stars — It’s well known that the night sky is the inside of the skull of the giant that was slain by the First Gods to make the world (though there is significant disagreement on which giant, and which gods). Sometimes, the long-dead giant forms a wicked thought in its skull, which flakes off a bit of the bone from the skull and plummets to Fage in a bolt of colored fire. Bone Stars can be seen for days before landing, and are often signs of misfortune or the death of a ruler.
But they also often have actual… things… on them. Screaming, mobile fungi that consume all they come across. Metal spiders that build webs of crystal that drink sunlight. Evil, psychic rats. And whatever it is? It does not belong on Fage. it does not seek balance with its environment. The things from Bone Stars was plagues on the land that, if not dealt with, can eventually scrub whole kingdoms clean of life.
And if one of those Bone Stars lands near your town? You want some Intrepideurs to show up and take care of it. Quick, while it’s small.
Catacairns — There have been waves of evil spirits, demigods, and demons that have attacked the World of Fage in the past, sometimes swarming over entire continents. When those things are defeated, it turns out they mostly can’t be “killed” in the mortal sense of the word. But they can be placed within massive underground tomb complexes, which are filled with puzzles and traps and hazards to keep the spirits from ever finding their way to their physical remains, or out into the world. these tomb-prison complexes are known as Catacairns. Some are centuries old, built by fallen empires or lone genius/hermit mages, marked by weird mehirs and monuments.
Mostly, they are pretty stable prisons. Mostly.
But sometimes some energy leaks out of an abandoned Catacairn into the nearby wilderness or town and… CHANGES things. That usually mean a seal or lock has cracked, and SOMEONE has to both deal with the twisted “cairnite” abominations it creates, and go fix the thing. And sometimes cultists or power-mad idiots crack into a catacairn intentionally, to siphon such power, or even release what is within in hopes of being rewarded with vast power. Sometimes the outer locks and traps fail after centuries of disuse, and minor spirits even escape outward, and have to be put down and trapped again.
And sometimes? Sometimes the worst things, at the lowest levels, wake up and start to tear down their whole prison, block by block.
Prismatic Mountains — There are multiple ranges of Prismatic Mountains throughout the World of Fage, and they… shift. Not all the time, but always during the winter. A pass found one year is likely useless by the next. Residents, animals, monsters, even weather shifts from year to year. And Prismatic Mountains are almost always right where you want to take caravans of trade goods through.
So, every year, there’s a huge demand for Intrepideurs to go into the nearest Prismatic Mountain range, and map what they can, learn what they can and, if possible, find a route through. With trade routes cut off nearly all winter, the first group who can prove they can get a caravan through can command steep prices of their route, and some small traders will risk heading into the mountains before a pass is established, with many escorts, hoping to be the first to reach the trade routes on the far side so they can charge premium prices for their wares.
Finding a new route can make Intrepideurs reputation. Finding the FIRT route through in a given year also makes them temporary celebrities.
So there’s the campaign basic set-up. Players will be members of an Intrepideurs’ Guild, starting as Tin-ranked members, hoping to work their way up to Copper, Silver, Gold, and Mithral ranks. They get jobs dealing with problems, each one designed to be a single night of gaming. If a player isn’t free a given night, their Intrepideur can’t make it for the mission that time. Weird things and dangers are built into the campaign setting, so I can test things out and, if they don’t work, discard them never to be mentioned again.
Given the popularity of the Really Wild West session recaps, I may recap my Tales of the Intrepideurs’ Guild game sessions as well. And if there’s interest, I can go into more details on how the Guild is set up to speed play along.
Want me to create more campaign setting notes? Want to see more stuff for Fantasy AGE? Want something else? Really Wild West content? generic GM advice? Would you rather see more material for 5e, Starfinder, or industry insider articles? Join my Patreon for a few bucks a month, and let me know!
I once had a manager in the game industry tell me there were three things that always made him accept that a designer, developer, or editor was going to be less productive for weeks or maybe months and that there was just nothing the manager could do about it.
One was getting married.
One was moving.
I’ve moved six times in the past six years, and I’m not quite done with the most recent one.
Sometimes, things come along that suck up a lot of your time and energy, and there’s not much you can do other than get through them as quickly and professionally as possible. Sometimes you can plan breaks or lower-workloads to coincide with these time sinks.
Sometimes you can’t.
And sometimes, you just have no idea how much of you time and energy a life event is going to take up. you can plan, and hope, and make contingencies… but in the end you’ll just have to deal with the cards you get dealt.
So, Lj and I are now in our for-the-foreseeable-future digs. We’re not OUT of the other place yet, but most of what is left is cleaning and putting things in storage. The worst part of the actual act of moving is over.
So now, we get to deal with the pets.
We have a cat, Maeb.
Our roommate has a cat, Alphonse Lord Tubbington of Sausage-On-Chonk.
They are both indoor-only cats (though Lord Alphonse used to be a street cat, years and years ago). they are both used to being the only pet in the house (though Maeb used to live with her sister, and spend many months in a group PetSmart adaption center).
If this process goes well, it won’t impact my (still-wecked and horribly behind) writing schedule at all.
If it doesn’t, I may have a lot of low-sleep nights ahead.
We’ve done a lot of research, and we have a plan built up.
We’ve been introducing Maeb and Alphonse Lord Tubbington of Sausage-On-Chonk to each other’s scents for weeks. We spent the night letting Alphonse get used to us being in the house, and he adjusted to THAT just fine.
We just brought Maeb over. She is quarantined in the Underground Bunker with us, which is a 400-foot area we use as bedroom and offices, while Alphonse is currently banned from it (he gets the rest of the house).
They can hear each other, and are pretty vocal about it, but neither is doing more than meowing. … It’s a LOT of meowing, but that’s it.
Over the next few days we’ll block small sections of the house from Alphone at a time, and let Maeb explore them, then bring her back to the Bunker to feel safe with her stuff.In a few days to a week, when they don’t meow as much, we’ll bring them to areas connected by glass doors so they can see each other, but that’s it. Once THAT seems okay, we’ll try held introductions.
Hopefully in a few weeks, we’ll all be one vaguely tolerant family.
If not, you may start to get some WEIRD blog posts from me…
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The various AGE (Adventure Game Engine) games from Green Ronin all have the same core mechanic — to see if you succeed at something, roll 3d6, one of which is a “Stunt Die.” Add the 3d6 and any bonus you have, and compare to a target number.
If any two of your dice are doubles (they have the same value), you earn “stunt points,” equal to the value of the stunt die.
In this article, I want to talk a bit about bell curves, critical success systems in RPGs, and what the odds are you’ll get doubles when your roll 3d6. And I’m using pictures of the Expanse RPG Dice Sets, since they are cool-looking and currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarter.
So, lemme start with three important notes.
I am NOT the developer for the Expanse RPG. That role is very ably handled by the extremely talented Ian Lemke.
Second, I AM biased in favor of Green Ronin, since they employ me to be the Fantasy AGE developer and I thus benefit (at least indirectly) if their projects make lots of money. So, yes, this post is happening at this time in part so I can highlight this Kickstarter. (But it’s also good game design analysis. 😀 )
Third, this is my own analysis, not an official AGE post which has been developed and edited. So any mistakes in the math or logic are entirely mine.
Okay, with those disclosures all disclosed, let’s look at bell curves. (We’ll get back to doubles, I promise.)
Many games use a single die to determine success, such as a d20. With this kind of resolution mechanic, you get a flat probability–that is, the chance you’ll roll a 4 on a d20 is the same as the change you’ll roll a 19, 5%. That means if you need to roll a 17 or better to succeed, you have a 20% chance of succeeding (5% for each number that could turn up that is a 17 or higher). This means that the best possible result (and the worst possible result) have the same probability of happening as an average result.
That also means that, barring some kind of automatic success system (such as saying rolling a 20 on the d20 always succeeds), any bonuses have a flat amount they add to your chance of success. When rolling 1d20, a +1 bonus is an additional 5% chance to succeed whether you need to roll a 3 or higher, or a 13 or higher.
And if you DO have an automatic-success or automatic-failure mechanic, the odds of that are also easy to calculate. if every time you roll a d20 on the d20 you succeed, or have a critical success, there’s a 5% chance of that happening with each roll.
Some people love the simplicity of a flat probability. Other people hate that “average” results are no more likely than high and low extremes.
So, enter the bell curve.
Rather than a single die with flat probability, AGE uses 3d6. While the average result on 3d6 is the same as on 1d20 (10.5), on 3d6 you are much more likely to roll something close to that average than either the high or low extreme. Despite having a small total range of numbers (3-18, rater than 1-20), the chances of getting that highest result on 3d6 is only 1 in 216, or a little less than one-half of one percent. On the other hand since there are 27 possible combination that can add to 11, the odds of rolling an 11 are 12.5%. The odds of rolling a 10 are also 12.5%. So, 1 out of every 4 rolls with 3d6 is a 10 or 11.
(This means that if you get a +1 bonus to your roll in AGE, rather than giving you a flat +5% to your chance of success, the value of the bonus depends on what your target number is. If you need a 17 or higher to succeed, your bonus only matters if you roll a 16. Your odds of rolling a 16 are 2.778%, and your odds of rolling a 17 or 18 are 1.852%, So the +1 bonus has increased your total chance of success from 1.852% to 4.63%. )
One of the drawbacks of a bell curve is that since it skews strongly towards the average, using it for task resolution can get boring. Even gamers who dislike a natural 20 being just as likely as rolling a 13 on a d20 tend to enjoy the chance of something *interesting* happening when you roll a 20.
The AGE system overcomes this with the stunt rules.
While success or failure of a task in AGE is determined by rolling 3d6, each roll also has a chance of producing stunt points. You can then use those stunts to perform special maneuvers and neat tricks. This adds some variety to task resolution, while still maintaining a bell curve so average-difficult tasks can be accomplished dependably.
In AGE, if any 2 dice in your 3d6 roll are doubles, you get a number of stunt points equal to the value shown on your stunt die. Which naturally leads to the question– what are the odds that when I roll 3d6, at least two of them are doubles?
So, to calculate this we need to know the chance the first two dice will match (which is 6 in 36). We then add the chance that if the first two don’t match (5/6 of the time), with the first and third or second and third match (2 in 6), or 10 in 36. That means we get at least one set of doubles in 16 our of 36 possible combination, or about 44% of the time (44.4 repeating, to be precise).
Of course if we DO get doubles, it’s the stunt die that determines how many stunt points we get. That’s a flat 1-in-6 chance of each possibility, so while we get SOME stunt points 44% of the time it’s about a 7.5% chance for each possible value of stunt points 1-6.
That’s important, because in AGE more powerful stunts cost more stunt points. This lets us have*something* interesting happen in nearly half of all important 3d6 rolls, but it isn’t always the maximum 6-point stunt result. We get the benefit of the bell curve leaning towards average results, while adding a good chance of some stunt points being generated, but only a relatively small chance of getting the best possible 6-stunt-point result.
To be clear, you DON’T have to understand these probabilities to play the game. It’s a useful analysis for game designers and GMs who want to know how likely stint points are, but the system is clean and simple enough you can just roll your dice, check for doubles, and enjoy the dice giving you fun things to do.
[PromotionModeON]Especially if you have a shiny new set of Expanse dice![PromotionModeOff]
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While it is true I am looking for a good full-time work position, and failing that making sure I have enough freelance to pay the bills, if you have such work you should not hire me.
That’s right. I am literally telling you, don’t hire me. There are better choices for you. Better game designer options you should take. People who are from minority or marginalized groups, or who are actively oppressed, and who you should hire in place of me, largely regardless of what your project is.
I have danced around this post for months, but it’s time to just say it. I will happily take what work comes my way–this is my career, and I need it. But if you value my opinion on who you should hire, please strongly consider hiring women, BIPOC folk, and LGBTQ people as designers, developers, and consultants instead.
And I am going to explain why, point by point.
- I’ll be Fine.
In my original rough draft of this essay, this was my last point, a cap on the list to reassure anyone who was sincerely worried I was harming my career by recommending other people. But, I realized, that misses a big chunk of the point. This is, in many ways, the crux of why you should hire other people.
The whole reason I’ll be fine is that the playing field isn’t tilted against me. As a white, cis, hetero, male, bearded grognard, I am assumed to be competent in my field without having to prove it. When I was an Industry Insider Guest of Honor at Gen Con in the mid 00s, there were tons of people who had never heard of me. I know, because I’d talk to them after my panels, and they’d cheerfully tell me they’d never heard of me.
What there *wasn’t* was a backlash by people claiming that I didn’t belong. Not at Gen Con, and not at any other convention I have attended as a guest, going back to the 1990s. I mention that, because I have seen such backlashes against numerous women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ quests at Gen Con and other venues. People ask from the audience why they should listen to those guests, or actively rant on messageboards about “lowering standards” to score political points with “Social Justice Warriors” or engage in “Virtue Signaling.”
Convention guest spots are a great boost to a creators career. No one guest spot may make a big difference, but going to multiple conventions over years makes you more visible. Lets to travel and talk to fans, and creators, and even potential employers, in other regions at the convention’s dime (at least when the con is doing it right).
The same is true of invitations to be on podcasts or write introductions for books, or participate in special streaming programs. Each of these gives a small but real boost to your career, and I have had tons of such opportunities.
Does that mean I didn’t deserve the opportunities I was given? Not necessarily. But I have seen marginalized creators I work with closely have to work harder to get the same recognition than I do. Harder than I ever had to. I have seen the chilling effect a lack of boosting and recognition has on their careers.
So yeah, chances are that while I can defend every guest spot, job, opportunity, consultation fee, and ongoing series I have ever been given, at least some of those were things that would have been offered to someone else — someone with more artificial social roadbocks — if the world, or the industry, were a level playing field.
So I can actually write a post literally entitled “Don’t Hire Me,” and it’s not going to end my opportunities.
- It’s Time to be Anti-Bigoted
I know a lot of people in the industry who are very comfortable saying they are not racist, are not misogynist, and are not bigoted against LGBTQ+ professionals. The problem with that stance is, even if true, it’s not enough. The industry is skewed by its composition to channel people who benefit from its design into its key roles. Even if no one has ill intent or biases of any kind, the system itself is biased now.
You can’t just be not bigoted. You have to be anti-bigoted.
Not being racist is not the same as being anti-racist.
Not being misogynistic is not the same as being anti-misogynistic.
Not being biased against LGBTQ+ folks is not the same as being intentionally and mindfully opposed to such bigotry, and actively working against it.
There are lots of reasons someone might talk themselves into hiring me for a game-related professional position. But many of those reasons are taking the path of least resistance, which is also taking the path of least active fight for change and improvement.
Put in the extra effort. Making hiring decisions that change the very nature of the industry, so that the industry can improve. If we keep doing what we have done, we’ll keep getting what we have gotten… and in too many cases, that’s just not good enough.
- On Average, Marginalized Creators You’ve Heard of Will Be Better than Me
This is not just the conclusion game theory teaches me (though it IS also that — logically given the bias and harassment and lack of opportunity i have actively seen marginalized creators face, any of them that overcome those hurdles have already proven that can produce at a higher level than I, who did not have to overcome the same difficulties), but it’s also something I have personal experience with. Many of the smartest, most talented, most multitalented professionals I have learned from are gay, trans, POC, and nonbinary.
And in MANY cases, a good part of what makes them so much better than me is an awareness grown from their different life experiences.
It’s extremely common for both companies and fans to note they’d like to see more stuff that aren’t just rehashes of Tolkien, Lucas, Howard, Azimov, Disney, King, and so on. The further you get from the life experiences of those men, and the people they inspired for generations, the easier it is to have new, creative, cohesive, original content that draws from different wells for inspiration.
- Diversity is Gold
Look, if you don’t HAVE a white, cis, hetero, male professional on your game team, it might make sense to add one, and I could be a great choice. But my guess is, you already do.
In fact, my guess is this one demographic is already the best-represented group on your team, outnumbering any other group (and maybe outnumbering everyone else put together). So why add one more?
There is SO much more that a hire can bring tot he table than the ability to produce words that fall in line with the most common existing material. Diversity in games brings innovation, the potential to access new customer markets, and a fresh outlook that increases the chances of making the Next New Thing no one saw coming.
I believe the cold, hard, cash-driven business case for having as diverse a set of voices as possible in your creative team is extremely strong. This isn’t an argument about social justice. It’s one about maximizing the chances you’ll do something innovative and profitable.
Now I will be the first to admit I am far from a scholarly expert on questions of women’s experiences, or BIPOC and LGBTQ+ creators. I am very much trying to listen more than I talk, and I learn something amazing and new every week by doing so.
But this is not a modest proposal. I’m serious.
You are better off hiring someone with a different background than mine.
You may want to check out:
Look, sometimes you need to reference a tabletop RPG (or similar game, like a MMORPG or video game) in your real ttRPGs. So here’s a list to use for that.
Or maybe I just wanted to talk briefly about all the games I WANT to make, but don’t have time to work on right now. Either way, at least I have these names written down in public now. 🙂
Adventures of the Ladies’ Spelunking League
No Man can Survive these Perils!
Set in three time periods (Late 1800s, early 1900s, and Nowish), this math-free, dice-based, story-oriented ttRPG sets the members of the Ladies’ Spelunking League against horrors found beneath the Earth’s crust… and in the inherent biases of the patriarchy we all live in.
Blades Against Cthulhu!
A Barbaric Horror Fantasy rpg.
It’s swords and sorcery against unspeakable things, with two themes. One, all humans have much more in common with each other than they do with eldritch horrors. Two, there are lines even mecriless killers won’t cross.
And a lot of severed tendrils of indescribable ichor.
You can’t win, but you can choose to keep playing.
A zombie apocalypse game where the most important attribute is your Humanity. Survival requires accomplishing difficult tasks. Difficult tasks are made easier if you choose to do things that reduce your Humanity. Your Humanity is also what lets you form alliances, earn trust, and keep going. If it gets too low, you Check Out.
Eye of Argon, the RPG
No horror can match it
Bad pastiche fantasy, with the resolution mechanic being based on how many pages of Eye of Argon you can read without laughing, groaning, or rolling your eyes.
Persuade. Ponder. Prepare. Punch.
You Only Do One Thing Well
The game has exactly four attributes — Persuade (all social interactions), Ponder (for all investigation, knowledge, and thinking), Prepare (for all crafting, planning, leading, and equipping), and Punch (for all fighting).
You can Master one of those categories (automatically succeeding at all related tasks), and be bad at all the others, or you can be Great at two and Okay at two, or you can be Good at all four.
But no two characters can have the same selections.
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There’s a famous quote about insanity — “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
So, in that regard, I am afraid the tabletop game industry is insane. There are lots and lots of things the industry keeps doing, over and over, and being surprised when it gets the same results.
And, I don’t know that there’s much chance of that ever changing. Because the tabletop industry just isn’t big enough to bring in the kind of analysis and training it takes to properly analyze, iterate, redesign, and take risks about how the whole system is put together.
Here’s just one example — a single data point in a sea of oft-unexamined assumptions.
When my wife was earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art, she took a class titled “The Business of Art.” In included how to promote yourself, write a resume, respond in an interview, create a portfolio, and so on. While there are more and more college-level classes about game design, they A: tend to focus on digital games (which represent a LOT more money as a market), and B: don’t have tabletop equivalents of “The Business of Games.”
So each new wave of people wanting to do professional ttRPG work have to cobble together best practices and a career path for themselves. Quite reasonably, they look to what was done by people who have the work they want to do and try to replicate, emulate, or adapt those steps. (Adapting is an important part — I came up through a series of magazine articles, from different tabletop-RPG-focused magazines, owned by different game companies. That’s not really an option anymore.)
So the same advice keeps going out, through the same venues… and keeps drawing in the same kinds of creators. Those of us who have ttRPG careers are asked how to get started–on social media, and at conventions, and in fan interviews– and we advise getting on social media, going to conventions, working with small presses and maybe fan projects.
So, the process that we found, and that appeals to us and is friendly to us, is the one we recommend to people (because, to be fair, it works), using the very venues we recommend newcomers depend on to move ahead, is held out as the best path for new talent.
On a larger scale, it’s similar with game companies. Open calls and contests (advertised in the same forums the people running the companies already use), and panels at conventions the company already have a presence at, and waiting for freelancers to drop pitches or ask how to get started at company forums or using company emails.
And, again, that’s reasonable.
But it does mean as long as the majority of elements in the game industry do what we have done, we’re going to get what we have gotten.
So, why is that a problem?
Because diversity is gold.
Because if we want to industry to grow beyond its roots, somehow there has to be an influx of new ideas, new creators, and thus new markets.
Of course some amazing and talented people DO manage to make their way into the industry. Some find the road that we take and use it despite it being harder for them. others forge whole new paths without any help from the existing system. Not only am I not claiming these folks don’t exist, I am specifically saying a bunch of them are BETTER than many of us who took the well-trod path.
But in terms of sheer numbers, creators from marginalized groups remain very much the minority. Which means their input remains a small fraction of the total amount of ttRPG content, and that most game companies don’t have a balance of different experiences and backgrounds among their creators.
A lot of ttRPG game companies are currently looking at the question of whether their products have been, or currently are, vehicles for racism, bigotry, and the reinforcement of negative stereotypes. There are tools that can (and should) be brought in to try to do better, including more outreach to different creators, research of the cultural impact of aspects that inspire new games, and bringing in sensitivity readers.
But as for the origins of the material, the people deciding what book gets publisher, which creators get bigger budgets, who is seem as “qualified” to work on big IPs — if the industry as a whole keeps doing what it ha been doing, it’ll keep getting what it has gotten.
This past weekend was Digital Gen Con, and my friend and colleague Stan! had the idea of us trying to recreate some of the “Bar Con” hanging out that many pros love to do after hours at a convention. So we did… and we saw a lot of people we would have seen in person.
But we also had some folks participate that couldn’t have made it to a physical Gen Con, and many who would find gen Con a terrible experience for any of a number of reasons. I was something different.
It’s far from a solution to the insanity. But it did make me think maybe there are more chances at improvement than I have normally thought.
That’s just one small part of the imperfect nature of the #RealGameIndustry I have seen over the years. But I hope shining a spotlight on it might convince one or two other people in the industry to look at new ways to getting information out. New ways ti tutor and mentor people. New ways to find creators.
New ways to change from insanity.
Speaking of trying new things, for a number of years I have dedicated more and more of my writing time and effort on publicly-available posts on this blog. I can only do that as long as my patrons can support the time it takes. So if you find any of the essays, reveals, ideas, or game material on this blog interesting or useful, please consider chipping in to my Patreon for as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month.