Category Archives: Business of Games
Today, veteran creator and one-time WotC co-worker Keith Strohm said to me “Many industry pros and fans look to you because of who you are and how you communicate.”
Then, I have something I have to say. Something difficult, and complex, and likely unsatisfying.
I believe Paizo Inc. as a company, has been a force for good in the game industry and in the world. This is why I have noted again and again they have my support.
Does this mean they are perfect?
No. It does not.
There are problems, both internally and with interactions outside.
Further, I accept that there are people I know, trust, and am impressed by who disagree with me about Paizo, as a company.
I understand where they are coming from.
I just think it can be improved, and does more good than harm. In my opinion, much more.
I try to take in the perspective of those who do not have my power and privileges. I acknowledge I need to listen more than I talk. I WANT people who think Paizo needs to be taken to task to make the effort to do so.
There absolutely are people who got a raw deal from Paizo.
I know people who left Paizo. I know people who still work there. I know managers, and creators, and people in other departments.
There are people in pain, right now, about how Paizo does some things. And, when/if those people give me permission to tell their stories, I will.
(CW: suicidal issues)
But I also know that if it were not for ttRPGs, I would have killed myself as a teen. And, I have had fans of work I helped with, that Paizo published, tell me that without Golarion and Path/Starfinder, they would have done the same.
At the same time, injustice happens, and those who are wronged have every right to be angry, and to lash out in their anger. I won’t tell people they only get to fight against wrongs done them if they are cool and calm. That’s automatically taking the side of the status quo.
So, yes, I support Jessica Price, even if I believe she characterizes things in ways I would not and assigns motives I doubt were present.
And I support Erik Mona, who does a job I would NOT want, and does it better than I could.
I consider both these people my friends.
I support holding Paizo accountable for any wrong it has committed.
I support working with Paizo to keep putting out products that give new creators voices, and allow many of the best, kindest, most genius writers I know weave a world of wonder.
I cannot tell anyone else how to feel.
I don’t consider the recent issues to be clear-cut, on any side. Jessica has done things I consider wrong and harmful. Erik has done things I consider wrong and harmful. I believe they are both trying to make the world better.
I suspect they would both roll their eyes at me, and let me know that, once again, I have been taken in by the other side.
Maybe they are right. Lords knows I am not perfect. I’m not even willing to say I’m particularly good.
I’m trying. I think they are too.
I haven’t mentioned anyone else in this thread, because if I do, people will try to parse what I REALLY mean from a sentence here, or a word there. I’m not getting into that space.
I don’t know everything that happened. Some I know, but took differently. Some I just missed.
If you feel hurt or betrayed, you have the right to that feeling.
If you want to stop supporting Paizo, you have the right to do that.
If you want to keep supporting them, you have the right to do that.
There are things I saw when I worked at Paizo I thought were problems. I told them so. Some got better. Some didn’t. Many, many issues didn’t impact me, and I cannot be the judge of how they went or are going.
And, in the end, I left.
What I feel sure of, is that Paizo has many of the best, most creative, most empathetic, most hard-working, world-changing writers, developers, and editors in the world.
And those people have my unwavering support.
And so, for now, Paizo does too.
And some people who left Paizo did so under much worse circumstances than I did. And I think many of them are trying to shine a light on the darkest places, and even if the light has a filter, I think that’s a thing that needs to be done.
So, we get back to my original position from a couple of days ago.
But the people who have the least power and reach here are most likely the most innocent. Editors and developers and writers who have to be on Gen Con panels, while they wonder if they’ll have a job tomorrow.
Or wonder if they’ll get death threats because they refuse to denounce their employers.
Or if they’ll get the internal cold shoulder if they fail to declare support.
To be a Paizo employee right now comes with a huge stress load.
If I can ask one thing, it’s that you keep these people in your mind, and ask yourself, “Does what I am about to do help them more than it hurts them?”
And, if you can, reach out and offer your support.
For my part, I will continue to support Paizo, Pathfinder, and Starfinder.
I plan, currently, to be part of the Infinities programs.
I plan to do freelance work, and point to the awesome products Paizo makes.
And, I’ll amplify those voices I think are important Especially ones with a different perspective and life experience than my own.
Some voices will praise Paizo. Others will damn it, or specific acts and people within in.
I especially want to be an advocate for, and aid to, people within the company with the least power. If any of them want something said and aren’t in a position to do so, with their permission I’ll say it.
Work needs to be done, but I believe it’s possible.
Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am naive. Maybe I am being played the fool. It would not be the first time.
Don’t shut out other voices just because you heard mine.
But do consider a conversation over a shouting match.
I know I should have done more earlier, when I had more influence. And to everyone who had to suffer under conditions I both accepted and was quiet about, I’m sorry.
I’ve tried to educate about what the ttRPG industry is like, and it’s often brutal.
And I don’t have all the answers. I may not have any of them.
All I can do is try to listen, express my thoughts when appropriate, and try to help in any way I can.
I know that’s less satisfying that decrying anyone the villain.
It’s all I have right now.
To those who have been my friends and supporters, my sincere gratitude.
To the people I didn’t help when i could have, I am truly sorry.
This is where we are now.
Let’s work to make this place better.
Love you all.
After I posted my draft of a Starfinder version of the PF1 inquisitor class, game designer and industry veteran Ryan Costello asked me a key question (and gave me permission to quote him on my blog about it):
“I noticed you mentioned in the conclusion that you are carrying over the PF1 Inquisitor teamwork feat focus. I always saw it as a strange fit for the theme. Any insight into why the class went that direction and why you are keeping it?”
So, this blog post is essentially my response.
I can only guess at the original design intent behind granting inquisitors bonus teamwork feats and solo tactics (which lets an inquisitor treat their teammates as having the same teamwork feats, making them much more useful) as a class feature in PF 1. While I worked on the book that was was introduced in, it was as a freelancer and all my work was to fill out support sections (archetypes, feats, spells, and so on), rather than do any design work on the base classes themselves. It’s worth noting that book was the APG, which is also where teamwork feats themselves were introduced, so it might be a simply and pragmatic decision to have one of the new classes tie into the new category of feats (as the cavalier class also did), and help differentiate them from clerics.
Of course one of the biggest fictional settings to heavily feature inquisitors is Warhammer 40k, and in that setting most inquisitors have a team of specialized agents that work for them. That doesn’t immediately equal teamwork, but the connection isn’t so tenuous I would discount it.
And you have to give inquisitors some kind of thematic hooks, and real-world examples of things like torture and bigotry don’t lend themselves well to the kind of heroic character Pathfinder mostly assumes players take the roles of. Also, with solo tactics, it’s less that an inquisitor is good at teamwork (working with people), and more that they are good at predicting how both allies and enemies will react in a way so precise they can use teamwork feats even when no one else is trained in those techniques, or even trying to use them. The inquisitor can work off people, taking advantage of their mere presence, almost like a kind of Super Combat Sense Motive.
Ultimately, I included the same thematic ideas because I set myself the task of creating a Starfinder version of the Pathfinder class, and I think this is a key element of that class, regardless of what the original thinking behind it was. But the fact it’s a different ecological niche remains true in Starfinder, which helps differentiate my inquisitor in a game system where there have been only 2 attack bonus progressions and 2 spell progressions to date, so something brand new always helps a class stand apart.
And, of course, since I designed my own teamwork feats, and plan to introduce them in the same book I introduce the final version of the Starfinder Inquisitor, the pragmatic consideration also applies. By putting a class with teamwork feats as a part of their legacy into a book that adds such feats (or, rather, my improved Starfinder versions of those feats) to the game, I am also driving greater engagement with different parts of the book.
Writing things like this is work, and it takes time from my other paying projects. If you got any use out of this article, or have enjoyed any of my content, please consider supporting my Patreon to cover the cost of my doing it. You can join for the cost of a cup of coffee a month.
I’ve made no secret of the fact I have multiple mental health challenges, including civilian PTSD and depression. This has been true for my entire nearly-25-year career, and I’ve faced a lot of difficulties as a result. As a ttRPG writer and developer, I deal with deadlines a great deal. As someone who can suffer executive disfunction, the core tasks needed to hit deadlines are sometimes impossible for me. There are days I am literally unable to multitask, plan, organize, and, yeah, prioritize.
If I were smarter, I’d have gotten out of the deadline business. But I am stubborn and strongly, weirdly, dedicated to creating (and trying to promote and improve) tabletop roleplaying games.
Which means over a quarter-century, I have developed some coping mechanisms. None work all the time. Many make only a marginal difference. But deadlines, budgets, projects, and deadlines are often won or lost in the margins. If something lets you average 2,050 words per day rather than 2,000, over 52 five-day workweeks, that’s an extra 13,000-word project done every year.
One of the things I have to deal with is the conflict between prioritizing, and the things at the top of the priority list being impossible. I can’t fix that conflict, even though it happens over and over, but I can work to mitigate its impact. In no particular order (see #2), here are some coping mechanisms
1. Don’t Wait To the Last Moment
Your deadline is 4 weeks away and you think you need 2 weeks to do it? See if you can be done in the first 2 weeks. If yes, then you can get a jump on the next thing, and no mental health issues in that last two weeks can make you late. If not, you at least have a feel for what the project is really going to take, and two more weeks to try to get it done. If you wait until the time needed is the time left, a mental health issue sidelining (or even just slowing) you means you will be late.
It’s also helpful if some issue means you are radically wrong when you estimate how much time you need.
2. Don’t Get Sucked Into Doing Work You Don’t Need To
Making a list of coping mechanisms on your blog? You may be tempted to prioritize them to present them in the best possible order. But if that is taking more thought cycles that just tying them out in any order does, maybe you are making work for yourself when you don’t need to.
I have found myself making outlines longer than the final product is supposed to be, spending days researching something that is going to be relevant for just one line of text, and writing the same thing four different ways to see which one is better. If you have the time for that and are ahead on everything else and have no the projects you’d like to start, that’s fine. But in the real world, there are better ways to spend to your time.
3. Attack Any Task You Can From Any Angle You Can Whenever You Can
Sometimes my brain works best by carefully planning ahead, making lists, figuring out what I need to do when and for how long… and sometimes the only thing it can focus on is writing about halfling battle cheese. That’s fine if halfling battle cheese projects are my priority, but even when they aren’t, that may be the only thing I can work on. If I have multiple projects, and I simply cannot make my brain do any of the work three of them need, then I need to prioritize among those things I CAN do.
This is crucial, at least for me. Spending time psychically flagellating myself for not working on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd most important thing is NOT more useful than actually getting work done on the 4th, 5th, or 6th most important thing. Depending on how disastrously close to failure those 1st three projects are, I may ramp up the internal pressure to try to force myself to get them done — but if I can’t, then I can’t. Acknowledging what is impossible, and then still prioritizing among what isn’t impossible, is the best route forward for me.
Of course, this means I also must regularly re-assess what’s impossible for me. Just because I began work on a lower-priority task doesn’t mean I need to finish it before moving on to something else. Indeed, sometimes there mere act of accomplishing something gives me the strength and focus I need to tackle something harder and more important. My contribution to more than one award-winning game came not in one smooth run, but in jerks and jolts as I tackled some crucial part of it, then had to go away to work on less-important things until I could do the next difficult bit of writing.
4. Be Honest With Yourself
You can’t fix every shortcoming you acknowledge to yourself, but you can’t even try to fix any lie to yourself about. It hurts to say “I am going to miss this deadline, because my cPTSD won’t let me work on it, again, for the fifth day in a row.” But that’s still better than trying to believe you can write 15,000 words of quality work in 24 hours, with enough caffeine and snack food to keep you going the whole time.
And if you USED to be able to do that, in your 20s, 30s, and 4s, and now that you are in your 50s you can’t anymore? You need to be honest about that too.
5. Be Honest With People You Are Working With
This is super-hard some days, but it is the ethical, practical, empathetic option. You can’t build a sustainable, long-lasting career on just not communicating when things go bad (it’s often called “going turtle” in the ttRPG industry, and it’s a well-known bad sign), or constantly claiming the dog ate your hard drive.
Things DO happen sometimes. If you got driven out of your home by a hurricane a day before a turnover was due, by all means tell the people you are working with what happened while you can. But honesty is always the best policy.
6. Track The Impact Different Kinds Of Projects have On Your Mental Health
For many creators, not all creative work is created equal. I, for example, can more easily write about my process and mental health and industry insights than I can write descriptions of fictional worlds and their societies. I can much, MUCH, more easily write crunchy player option game rules within an existing ruleset than I can write an encounter for a GM to run as part of a published adventure. And writing some things is more likely to leave me depressed, fatigued, or dysfunctional.
You often won’t know about these differences until you have done several different kinds of writing. But as you go through the career of a creator with mental health issues, keep track. Was the War Clans of the Half-Pint Bakery a nightmare because you were having a bad month and other factors in life impacted you? Or does any project focusing on warfare set off mental blocks you don’t get on other assignments?
7. Forgive Yourself
All the best intentions, your strongest efforts, and the smartest coping mechanisms may fail you from time to time. If you beat yourself up over that, it’s just more fuel for the next round of executive disfunction. There are plenty of other people ready to castigate you for every delay, dip in quality, shuffled schedule, and dropped ball. They don’t need your help to point out your flaws. Keep an eye on #4 and #5… but then forgive yourself.
This writing is work, and it takes time from my other paying projects. If you got any use out of this article, or have enjoyed any of my content, please consider supporting my Patreon to cover the cost of my doing it. You can join for the cost of a cup of coffee a month.
Years ago, I was watching a singing competition reality show tryout, when one of the judges told a singer they weren’t good enough for the show. They had no chance of being a pop star, or become famous. they were, the judge said, good enough to make a living being an act singer on cruise ships.
The contestant and other judges reacted as though this was a significant insult. The judge was annoyed by this reaction. “I just told them they were good enough to make a living as a singer. That’s not true for everyone. I’m not doing them any favors by suggesting they can be more successful than their talent allows!”
While that obviously simplifies a lot of factors–the ability to improve, a god producer or agent, luck, determination, changing public standards and genre preferences–I suspect there’s a grain of truth in that critique. Pre-pandemic, there were more than 300 cruise ships operating worldwide, each with one or more theaters offering various acts nearly daily. That’s a lot of stages to fill with singers, and while it doesn’t pay as well as being a hit singer, there is a paycheck involved along with travel, room, and board.
And a lot, a LOT of work. Some singers go on for hours every night, 6-days-a-week, with a few 15-minute breaks. Very few cruise singers do the job for their whole career and then retire. Most run contract-to-contract for a few years, and then move on to some other career, possibly coming back for short contracts between other gigs.
In this, I see a lot of similarities to ttRPG design.
Robin D. Laws famously said there are more professional astronauts in the U.S.A. than full-time ttRPG game designers. That’s especially true if you define full-time as making all the money needed to pay all your bills, and cover health insurance, and put away money for retirement. And of those full-timers, many are the equivalent of cruise-ship singers. Going from gig to gig, making ends meet by working hard, long hours and taking work better-known (better paid) designers don’t want. Most of them will put in a few years, often while younger, then go to part-time-at-most, or move on to other fields entirely.
But a few will stay with it for decades. Even fewer will manage the career alchemy to move into more sustainable positions. Some combination of getting better, changing preferences, good connections, and luck will propel them into full-time jobs with benefits.
That’s not a guarantee they’ll stay in those positions of course. My wife and I have moved cross-country for stable, full-benefit ttRPG industry jobs three times. Twice, that ended in a company layoff in less than a year. Once, the cost of living where the job was simply grew faster than the job’s salary. Even getting that rare unicorn of a full-time ttRPG job isn’t a sure thing, just another shot at maybe finding pop stardom… or at least paid insurance. Reaching the peak of the industry can end up being a visit, that raises your visibility, gives you a chance to improve, gets you more contacts… and then ends. So you need to look around for other ways to make it, just now with a better-looking resume.
And the more tourists might recognize your name, the easier it is to get a gig singing on a cruise ship.
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A lot of people are going to disagree with me, and that’s fine. But I firmly believe this is the most important secret within the ttRPG industry, as a whole. Obviously there are different secrets for any given company or game, but this is the one that you won’t hear about in reward ceremonies, podcasts, or social media acounts.
You Never Hear About The Most Important People in the Industry.
But, you cry, I know all the streaming actors and GMs! I can quote 31 game writers’ names! I have memorized Shannon Appelcline’s 4-volume “Designer’s & Dragons” history of the industry!
And that’s great. Seriously, thanks for paying attention.
But do you know who was the producer of your favorite show? Which editors were leading the team for that award-winning game line? Who tracked the budget of the company, making sure bills were paid and paychecks cleared? Heck who shipped those books from the warehouse? Who planned and built the Gen Con booth? Who made the arrangements with the printer, managed the schedule, figured out the cost/benefit factors of printing 2,000 vs 3,0000 copies? Who wrangled the new post-Brexit VAT laws, or YouTube children-appropriate content rules?
Who was taking customer service calls, handling people who might get pissed off about a game for reasons entirely unrelated to its content, fun, quality, or creator? Who wrote the community engagement rules, safety policy, and editorial standards?
When a game company goes under, the reason is rarely “The game wasn’t fun,” or “The Lead Designer Left.” No, companies collapse because they didn’t prepare for a change between the value of international currencies, or a book was massively overprinted, or they hired too many people-or not enough people-and the schedule and budget couldn’t be manipulated fast enough to deal with changing market conditions.
Or everyone burned out, and just walked away.
For the industry to be an industry, rather than a haphazard series of vanity hobby options, there are support professionals dealing with the things that all industries need. Sourcing. Shipping. Editing. Marketing. Warehousing. Customer service.
And even within the industry, most people can name 5 designers for every editor they know, and 5 editors for every print buyer, customer service manager, or warehouse director.
And yes, for a lot of companies, people have to wear many hat. But if you know the name of the writer who happens to also handle print runs, but you don’t know they are the person arranging for book printing, that’s still an unknown print buyer.
And most of these kinds of jobs can be done in other industries, for more money and less customer vitriol. So, if you have any opportunity to interact with these crucial people who make the ttRPG industry possible?
Be nice. Say thanks.
Without them, there is no industry.
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You can think of this as an unusually long #RealGameIndustry entry.
If you are depending on the game industry for your full income, and you do not have a full-time job with benefits, necessity means at least part of what you are doing to performative.
Performing to build a community. Performing to gain name recognition. Performing to seem more fun and interesting, on the assumption that makes your products seem more fun and interesting.
Given how many of us came into gaming to escape what we saw as societal and clique-based requirements for shallow performative interactions, this is often a bitter irony. Indeed, while most of us are too smart to complain publicly, this can result in annoyance or anger as what we see as the “pretty popular people” being successful in their performance to a degree we cannot match (often directly measurable in how much money those people can raise compared to how much experience they have or how much content they have created.)
Especially as a mentally ill, socially-awkward, depressive introvert, it often strains my coping mechanisms and ability to put on a false face to their absolute limits. Social media is both a blessing and a curse in this regard. The ability to use text to put forth an idealized, entertaining self helps create a buffer between my depression and my need to be a performative creator. However, those very tools also demand constant attention to remain an effective part of my mandatory performance.
And at that, I have a much easier time as a cis white hetero male, because there are faults and failings I can have which are seen as quirky, or the stereotype of the grumpy writer. Creators in more marginalized groups often don’t get that slack. They both have much more cause to be scarred by social interaction, and must maintain a more perfect performance to reap the same benefits I do.
Even my ability to make discussions of my illnesses, failings, and annoyances part of my public persona is made easier by my role as an elder whitebeard. I have seen women, and minorities, and LGBT creators all with as much or more experience as I have been shouted down as clearly unstable for daring to say the same things I am allowed to state largely without consequence.
Nor do I foresee anything of this changing in a major way. The need to be performative to be successful as an independent appears to be baked into the industry (and full time jobs that pay something like the median income for their area are so rare as to be unicorns). That means the only part of this likely to change is the unfairness that performative need puts on marginalized creatives.
That fight is worth fighting. But it’s going to take hard work and time to make significant progress.
Meanwhile, the demands for performance keep changing and increasing, as technology drops the barriers between creator and consumer.
I work hard to remain relevant. And I see no time when I’ll be able to stop working at that without falling into an at-best-niche position. Which means my coping mechanisms for my trauma, depression, and other issues must include being able to maintain the performance–at least for regular, short bursts– even when I am fighting to not just curl up under the covers and give up on it all.
This is like climbing a wall, endlessly. If you ever fully give up you don’t just fail to make progress. You may be able to rest in a cradle for a time, or depend on your ropes. But those things can only hold you for a brief time. Eventually you’ll fall, and then you don’t just drop a little. You lose a huge percentage of your progress, and can damage yourself and your career, even kill it, as you smash things on the way down.
Keeping yourself in a place where people will see you and your work so they even might buy it is a grind, on top of the grind of creating enough work to survive even if people see enough of it.
You don’t have to have answers for all of this as you start. But to rise above a certain level, you must begin to work it out eventually.
When people sometimes suggest I take on too much, I want to yell at them that if I only do 75% as much work, I won’t get 75% of the result. I’ll get 50%, or less. If you try to microwave popcorn and you put it in for 60 seconds, you don’t get half the popcorn you’d get if you microwaved it for 2 minutes. Your work is all at least partially wasted if you can’t back it up with enough PR, backstock, and previews to maintain brainshare in an audience with tons of other, better-funded, better-advertised options.
I don’t have solutions for many of the problems these issues bring up. But it’s better for newer creators to be aware of the potential minefield and prepare for it, than have it come as a surprise for them. If you just want to create on your own terms and enjoy whatever success happens to come your way, and not try to pay the rent, cover medical insurance, and put food on the table purely through ttRPG efforts, you can largely ignore this. And if you find a way around it, I heartily congratulate you. And there are different levels of this performative need, with some folks managing much more success than I with much less performance put in.
But be aware of the potential drain on your time and energy.
Speaking of Performing
Part of the performative need is to drive people to platforms you can monetize, like my patreon. There is an extended version of this article on my Patreon, available only to patrons. You can join for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee a month, and it’s one of my primary forms of support to put out my essays, letters, background, context, and of course game content in an effort to make the ttRPG industry a better place.
Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. This one is by Gaming veteran, artist, and writer Jacob Blackmon!
If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I Started Drawing Because I Can’t Spell Worth Shit…
My Life As a TTRPG Freelance Artist
By Jacob E Blackmon
Let’s just start by saying, I love my life. I love being an artist in the tabletop game community. This job has allowed me a freedom of living that I never imagined possible. I seriously cannot think of any job I would rather be doing right now.
As the same time, it has also been the occasional financial burden, when the art commissions slow down and money gets tight. That is something one has to learn as a freelancer in any market. There are highs and lows (or “feast and famine” as some say), and one never knows when they will come… so be sure to have a good savings account.
My name is Jacob Blackmon, and I have been a freelance artist in the tabletop rpg community since 2009. I’ve only been doing the gig as a full time thing since 2013. Given that I was born in 1977, this has been a very small – but significant – portion of my life. I’ve been gaming since 1989, and I never even considered using my art skills as a ttrpg artist.
For the longest time, I wanted to be a comic book artist, hence my distinctive style. This style has served me well… and also been a curse, as there are some companies that refuse to work with me, because I don’t have that traditional “painted fantasy” look. And that kind of rejection is certainly going to apply to the big-name companies (Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, etc.), who only use that “painted” style of art, so I know I will never get jobs with them. Which is too bad, because I would love to see my name in one of their books.
But my success is not measured in what books I have not been in. It is measured in the books where I HAVE contributed my art. And those are MANY! The third-party ttrpg industry is a massive community of wonderful and passionate people. These are the folks I consider my peers… and quite, often… my friends. Despite this familiarity to which I speak of them, it is important to maintain a professional attitude when working with such people. They expect every bit as much professionalism from their freelancers – artists and writers includes – as any of the big name companies.
Deadlines are a serious thing, and can make or break a company, especially in the post-COVID days. During the CV19 days of 2020, the gaming community seriously suffered. If you were not Wizards of the Coast, you saw your finances drop significantly. This is why deadlines are so important to keep in mind as a freelancer. We need to make sure we get our work done in time, so the company can get their product out.
I have seriously lost count of many projects have come my way because another artist decided they didn’t want to work on a project and did not communicate this fact until after the deadline posted by the company. This is a serious breach of trust and of professionalism. If a freelancer can’t make their deadlines, the company will stop going to that person in favor of those that will. So, meet your deadlines. This is, seriously, THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE IS CAN GIVE ANYONE! Meet your deadlines!
I can count, on one hand, how many times I have failed to make a deadline. And, when it has happened I always let the company whom I am working for know that I will miss the deadline before it happens. That is the second key: communication. Just like in life, love, family, and relationships, one needs to maintain communication with the people they are working for. Let them know the progress of the art assignment. Have you started on it? Yes? Let them know that.
During the art process, I usually have several stages of communication with a client.
- Beginning – When first starting on the art.
- Early stages – When my first rough draft concept is ready, I send them a copy via email (sometimes through another PM service, if they prefer, but emails is always the true professional way to do it!). When a rough draft is approved, I move on to…
- Line work – This stage shows the clean version of what had been the rough draft, giving the client an idea of what the final piece will look like. It is also the last time a client will really have to make any serious changes to the pieces. I mention this, because once we start to add color, shading, and highlighting to an illustration, it becomes MUCH harder to make alterations.
- Coloring – For me, this is both the base coloring stage, plus shading and highlights. This is often the final stage, as alterations after this stage are incredibly difficult.
Each of these stages has me sending the client an email of what is going on with the piece. Once the final piece is approved, that’s the best time to send an invoice and get paid! The best clients pay immediately (“I do the job, I get paid.” – Mal Reynolds, Firefly), but some clients may have to hold those payments until they themselves get paid through another venue. This is why it helps to make sure to have a steady stream of clients at the same time. That way, not only can an artist transition from one piece to another, while waiting for one client to respond to the latest email; but also so that the artist has a nice steady flow of income. One client may not be able to pay their bill immediately, but the other should be able to. And that keeps a bank account happy, bills paid, and food on the table.
There are a couple of suggestions I have to maintaining a steady supply of clients, as well as netting new clients in the future. These were things I had to learn along the way in my own freelance art career, and some were told to me by others. So I am teaching them to you, as well…
Have a rate sheet! Make sure you know how much to charge for your work, and make sure it is equal to how valuable your time is that you put towards your work. Don’t short-sell yourself, just to make clients happy. Save the price discounts for “friends and family.” Make sure to always charge your friends and family. Don’t give them free art, unless YOU choose to do so. This is your JOB!
THIS IS YOUR JOB! Be a professional. Meet your deadlines. But, at the same, time treat it like a job. Take time off, including regular breaks during the day (don’t sit in the chair and look at social media; stand up and move around… make yourself a light snack.. socialize with your roommates), break for lunch, and when you have put in your 8 hours…. STOP WORKING!
The last bit of advice I can give to a potential artist who wants to work in the ttrpg community is to also be a ttrpg gamer! You cannot imagine how much time it save a client to have an artist already be familiar with the various games and art associated with said games. No one has ever had to describe to me what a “peryton” is, as I already know what they are supposed to look like. This saves both you and the client a ton of time and descriptive text.
Go! Draw! Have fun and make money doing it!
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There are, as far as I know, only six realistic retirement plans for full-time, ttRPG professionals in the United States–and calling them “realistic” is debatable. This is not a happy or upbeat list of options, and it doesn’t come with any problem-solving or brilliant insights on my part. This is just the state of the industry, as I know it.
You can think of this as an unusually long #RealGameIndustry entry.
Company Retirement Account
A few of the biggest ttRPG-producing companies have things like 401k programs, a few with some degree of matching funds. It can be tough to put much away in these, as in most cases pay barely covers living expenses, but if you can, and you manage to work at the same company for 30 years or so (which is also extremely rare), it may build up a big enough account to cover you in retirement.
Personal Retirement Account
You can, of course, create your own retirement account and put money in it, with or without some period of time when you have corporate matching funds. This is the “best” option for most full-time freelancers… who on average make even less money (and thanks to paying for their own health insurance and paying self-employment tax often have higher expenses), which makes it even harder to put anything away for the future. And, of course, no matching funds.
Build A Passive Income
Though royalty deals, maintaining ownership or partial ownership of the products you create, starting your own company, or some similar plan, you can try to set up passive income — that is, money you work for once that then keeps coming in. I have profit-share deals with more than 500 products sold as pdfs. Most older files sell only a few copies a year now, but that IS an income that keeps coming in even when I don’t do much or any work on maintaining it. I myself haven’t even gotten this near a level of retirement income, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, or at least be part of a retirement plan.
Have a Spouse With A Real Retirement
Yep, this sounds like I am being glib, but I have had multiple ttRPG professionals tell me they only believe they have any hope of retirement because they have a spouse with a solid corporate retirement plan or the spare income to invest in their own retirement account. It would be dishonest not to include this as among the common plans within the industry.
Depend on State Benefits
Be that Medicare, Social Security, Disability, or some other program, I know many ttRPG professionals who just assume at some point they’ll only have whatever the government gives them, and will have to survive on whatever that allows. Most are not optimistic about the quality of life this will allow, and many have tried to make other arrangements, only to have them fall through.
This is honestly the most common “retirement plan” ttRPG professionals have talked to me about – Don’t Retire. Work until they die. Assume that there will never be a time when we don’t have to put in 40-80 hours a week to earn enough to maintain an at-least marginal existence.
I personally call this the “Die at the keyboard” plan.
Speaking of Making a Living
There is an extended version of this article on my Patreon, available only to patrons. You can join for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee a month, and it’s one of my primary forms of support to put out my essays, letters, background, context, and of course game content in an effort to make the ttRPG industry a better place.
Sometimes, the most important thing is to have a seat at the table.
Within the ttRPG, and broader tabletop hobby game community, often GAMA is the table.
And it looks like there may be soon a place for more people to be a part of it, with formal ways to have their voice heard and respected.