Category Archives: Business of Games

One D&D: What Can “Compatible” Mean?

This is an editorial. It is not covered by the Open Gaming License.

One of the things that’s being debated in the wake of the “One D&D” playtest release is how this is going to impact D&D customers, other publishers making compatible products, Virtual Tabletops (VTTs), and the ttRPG environment overall. For better or worse, D&D has a huge influence on tabletop RPGs overall in the English-speaking world. Even if you don’t play D&D, and never have, it’s popularity can impact what dice, maps, digital tools, play spaces, game conventions, and dozens of other adjacent materials and options are available to you.

There have been sea-changes in what was considered “D&D” several times before. The release of AD&D in the late 1970s was one, and to some extent so were both BECMI and 2nd edition AD&D. The release of 3rd edition in 2000, which dropped the “advanced” in the title, along with the introduction of the d20 System and OGL had a huge impact in 2000, and the release of edition “3.5” in 2003 is seen as going hand-in-hand with the “d20 crash,” leaving a lot of companies who used the OGL in trouble. (Indeed, many ceased to exist, and others walked away from d20 System-derived games forever.) Similarly the release of the radically different D&D 4th edition in 2008, which abandoned the OGL, had significant impacts throughout the industry (not the least of which was the creation of the circumstances that lead to Pathfinder 1st edition, and by extension eventually Starfinder and Pathfinder 2nd edition).

With the exception of the switch from 3.0 to 3.5, these changes didn’t much revolve around claims that the new D&D would be compatible with older editions. The release of 5e in 2014 was a bit different, often centered on the idea that it was going to take the best ideas from all previous editions, but it also tied to efforts to be simpler and more accessible, and to have “bounded accuracy” fix many of the problems in mid- and high-level play.

One of the talking points of One D&D is that this isn’t a “new edition,” but a modification of the once-and-future D&D engine that is the core of 5e. It is, we are told, going to be compatible with existing D&D materials.

So, in this instance, what does “compatible” mean? And, what’s WotC’s goal in striving for their new rulebooks (I’m entirely convinced there will be new print PHB, DMG, and MM books, and that belief serves as one of the underpinnings of this analysis) to be in some way compatible with the material they have been putting out since 2014?

Well, firstly, I don’t expect WotC to be particularly concerned about how their decisions impact people making “5e Compatible” products, and I don’t think it’s realistic (or, honestly) reasonable for anyone else to expect that either. The only group that might feel they have some claim on WotC’s mindspace is Dungeon Master’s Guild publishers, since they are working within the WotC IP, in a space where WotC gets a cut of their income. But even then, I personally expect WotC to do what they think is best for their own company (and will thus be most likely to allow them to continue to be the best-paying ttRPG employer in North America, and maybe the world).

My best guess is that WotC is going for One D&D to be “100% Adventure Compatible.” And, in this, I may be letting myself be influenced by the fact that’s very similar to what I was shooting for in the Fantasy Age Core Rulebook, which I have been saying since its inception was not a “new edition,” but a “quality of life improvement implementing much of what we have learned since Fantasy Age Basic Rulebook came out.”

While working on that, I discovered that you can make a new rulebook be “100% “compatible” with all the old accessories and adventures, and still not be exactly the same game. You can, with skill and caution, make a game with some new mechanics, and some mechanics that work differently, and not create anything that doesn’t work with the old game mechanics.

Let me give you a concrete, and entirely theoretical, example.

Let’s say you had S.T.A.B. (Sneaking, Talking, Arcana, and Battle) 1st edition, a very d20 System-esque game, where the success of most tasks are determined by rolling a d20, and adding some modifiers, and trying to hit or beat a target number. If you d20 die roll is a natural 20 you automatically succeed, and if it’s a natural 1, you automatically fail. And, one of the persistent pieces of feedback you get, is that people hate Hate HATE rolling a 2 on their d20 roll, because they will always fail due to the game math, even though it’s not an “automatic failure.”

So, when you release S.T.A.B.B.E.D. (Sneaking, Talking, Arcana, Bards, Battle, Economics, and Dragons), an “updated rulebook for S.T.A.B., you add a new rule — anytime your d20 roll is a natural 2, you then roll 1d10 and add it to your total. If you roll a 3 you add 1d8, if you roll a 4 you add 1d6, and if you roll a 5 you add 1d4. (This is almost certainly a terrible rule, I’m using it just as a very basic illustration of “compatible-but-not-the-same’).

Now, this changes the math of the game, and impacts how the game plays in many significant ways. Someone playing with the S.T.A.B.B.E.D. book is going to have a very different experience than with the S.T.A.B. book, and you can’t really have some players use one and some use the other. But you CAN use *either* to play through the classic adventure “King of the Demonpit Webs.” And they both work with the official expansion Stabinomicon book of extra classes, ancestries, spells, and talents.

But if a third-part publisher had released BASH (“Basic Adventure System Handbook”), based on STAB, and in BASH there was a whole system for earning a “booster die,” which you added to d20 rolls, and additional rules written with notes such as “If either your d20 die, or any die you get to add to it, is a 1, you take a point of Dangit, which the GM can use to cause you bad luck,” then the BASH system suddenly isn’t nearly as compatible with STABBED as it was with STAB.

Now, that example is clearly and intentionally ridiculous. But it shows how a new rulebook can have a set of notably different game rules that still work with all the official expansion books a company has released. It is, in that regard, “compatible.” And for people who only but official STABBED books, it doesn’t matter if they play older adventures or newer “Hardship paths,” though old STAB books, and anything other publishers build off STAB, may not work with all the new material.

While obviously I don’t have any insider insight into exactly what WotC is planning beyond what they have publicly stated, I have done this kind of backwards-compatible new game book work myself. It can be done. And it’s compatible.

Just not the same.

And Now, A Call To Action!

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Savage Worlds: RIFTS: Pawns

So, it’s VERY nice to have friends give you stuff. Having *just* mentioned that I do miniatures on a budget, friends returning from Gen Con gifted me with two sets of modern building props, a bin of Heroclix figures… and a box of Savage Worlds: Rifts: Pawns.

So, I did not get this as a review copy, and I had nothing to do with its creation.

And I don’t currently play Savage Worlds, or RIFTS of any flavor.

And I love this set. It’s going to see SO much use in Starfinder and Mutants & Masterminds games in my house. The visual design has always been one of the things I loved most about RIFTS, and these are some great examples of that. Since I have a ton of Pathfinder pawn bases sitting around I placed my RIFTS pawns in those, and they fit perfectly.

These aren’t *all* the pawns that come in the box, but they are (IMHO) those that work best as Large or bigger figures. They are bright, crisp, and bring a great visual for big monsters, alien creatures, emcha, vehicles, and one cool hoverjet.

The pawns come with little cross-brace stands you can slip them into, as seen on the crouching figure on the lower left. I prefer bases that cover a creature’s footprint, but you CAN use these without separate bases with just what’s in the box, which feels like a great value added feature.

I am particularly impressed with the mecha and upright vehicle pawns, including the Glitterboy. I would HAPPILY buy a box with just more of these.

All the pawns have distinct front- and back-art, in case you care about facing. The big wheeled vehicle flat is blank on the bottom, which seems like it’s missing a chance to have a wrecked version if you flip it over, but that’s the only missed opportunity in the set. These are on a 1-inch grid, and most of the bases are 2 inches in diameter (with a single figure on a 1-inch base on the lower right)

There’s a great mix of straight scifi, weird scifi, and science-fantasy in this set, as you’d expect from RIFTS. There are lost of single characters, but also some useful groups (such as Coalition bots) and Pinnacle Entertainment Group did an amazing job on the selection, art, and quality of production.

I got this set for free, but would happily pay the MSRP for for another set of the same size and quality.

Speaking of Paying For Quality…
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more product reviews, or essays on industry issues, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, storytime posts, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

If you prefer, you can drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi. It’s like buying me a cup of coffee, but more convenient!

What Is Owed?

As a creator, I sometimes struggle with what I owe my family, friends, fans, employers, industry, colleagues, and customers. Not any one of those things in isolation, but how to balance them against one another.

Especially when I prove unable to do all of the minimum of what I feel I should.

Do I owe my family some of my time every day? If so, does that supersede owing work to to employers who are paying me by the project? What if it’s by the hour, or by the month?

If I tease a cool idea and people strongly request I work on making it real, do I owe them that because I proposed it? I mean, I clearly think not, but then, why am I noodling with new ideas in my off hours anyway? If I have late work, do I *get* off hours?

Is there a level or diligence and quality I owe my employers? Do I have a duty to my colleagues and industry not to devalue, demean, or damage the business community we make a living on? How far does that go? Honesty in my dealings, sure. But, do I always need to give my best ideas and best work, or is good enough sometimes good enough. Can I primarily be concerned for getting my own from licenses and open sources, or do I have a responsibility to avoid the tragedy of the commons?

Obviously I owe customers what they pay me for, but where does my owing them go if I fail to produce what is expected when it is expected? Should I be willing to go into debt or bankruptcy to focus only on things due, no matter my economic reality? Should I spend less time sleeping, or sacrifice my health with simulants and energy drinks to crank out the overdue as fast as possible?

Do I owe something back to the community, which has certainly supported and aided me over the years. Is being a mentor to those who ask enough? Should I be seeking out mentees who are otherwise overlooked. Am I being a bad trustee if I don’t? Is it enough to do my best to cause no harm, or must I decry harm done by others wherever I find it? I have a venue, how much do I need to seek to actively use it to support others?

I’m not kidding about any of this. Some answers are obvious, taken individually. I told people who subscribed to my 52-in-52 program they’d get 212 pdfs, total, in 2020. For various (and often unavoidable) reasons, that didn’t happen. It’s 20 months past when it was supposed to be accomplished, and it still isn’t. So, taken by itself, obviously I owe those people the remaining products (because it’s not that nothing has been delivered) as soon as possible.

The 52-in-52 bundle is still for sale, and all the money I make on it (and more) gets channeled into fulfilling it. It’s a great value as is… but more is due. I’ll never give up on finishing it, and I make sacrifices to make that happen. But am I not sacrificing enough? Am I wrong to insist on making sure I don’t skimp on quality while grinding on 20-month-late material?

Is that as soon as possible no matter the consequences to my economic, physical, metal well-being? I think clearly not, but absolutely urgency and some sacrifice on my part is called for. As soon as possible while trying to also make sure people subscribed to my newsletter get their content, my family gets my love and support, my friends get to talk to me, my employers get the contracted time I have agreed to, and I am spend the time needed on my own health and sanity and relationships to be sustainable? That sure feels reasonable, but there’s no meter for that — no magic timer that dings when I have spent the minimum hours needed to fulfill my social obligations, or care for my body and mind. How hard do I push? Does the answer need to be “harder” the longer it’s been since I managed to complete part of the missing content?

When I am paid by the word, how much do I need to make sure I am giving the best, and most focused words? If I have to choose between hitting a deadline and hitting my normal quality level, do I make that call, or go to the people hiring me? If I am convinced it’s better-than-average is that good enough, or do I owe my very best work on every project all the time? That sure sounds reasonable, people don’t normally tell me they don’t care how good I job I do.

If I am instead contracted for hours, those have to be efficient hours, right? If I have writers block and stare at a screen for two hours, should I call that working on that project and be paid for it? Does it matter how often it happens? If it’s no more than my usual amount of wasted time is that okay because it’s part of my process; but if global threats and moving and friends dying and new careers being started means I’m having nonproductive hours much more than normal, do I need to not count them all as “work”?

If a colleague wants to consult with me to hep them in their career, do I need to refuse because the time should be spent on overdue projects? Is 5 minutes of it okay, byt 5 hours isn’t?

I’m not looking for anyone else to answer these questions for me. My honor, my reputation, my work ethic, and my need to do well enough to get repeat business and my guides, and I have been doing this for decades.

But I always keep an eye on: What is due?

And how do I balance the accounts for different aspects of my life when I can’t pay them all?

Patreon

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More Thoughts On AI Art Legalities

Okay, let’s be sure to start with these points:

*I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

*I have not yet used AI-generated art for any commercial purpose other than one image on this blog for editorial example, but I am currently of the opinion that I ethically, morally, and practically can in some circumstances.

*I have already written one article on AI-generated art, but the question is getting a lot of attention, so I may well post more as new thoughts get proposed and articles written and (if it ever happens) legal cases settled. So far, that still covers my current position on the issues.

But, it’s absolutely worth looking at other people’s thoughts.

Here’s another article on the legal questions of commercially using AI-generated art, by Lauren Panepinto. It’s extremely important to read the notes after the article, since she corrects a few items herself. Also, her core assumption that if something has no copyright, you can’t use it in a commercial fashion is, IMHO, entirely 100% baseless. There is no law anywhere that says art without copyright can’t be used commercially.

For example, there is a photo a macaque took of itself, and a legal case (Naruto v. David Slater et al.) determined that image was created 100% without human intervention, and thus never had any copyright. However, that didn’t mean no one use it commercially (and, in fact, the case was brought because someone was using it commercially and someone else wanted to stop them from doing so). The commercial concern using the photo was not directed to stop. The ruling of the case was, in fact, that they could do so, and didn’t have to pay anyone for the right.

Art having no copyright (for whatever reason) means EVERYONE can use it commercially — you can’t prevent someone else from using it too. And, of course, if you get an AI image and yourself make changes to it, even that stops being an issue. (Though I personally believe it will be determined that using prompts you input of your own creativity into an AI to generate images is going to be seen as the same as using a Spirograph — the end result is created by human input, and thus copyrightable.)

Now the question of whether art that builds algorithms from online image archives is considered derivative, that *would* cause the art to be unusable in commercial context. However, as Panepinto notes, it seems likely this will go the way of similar legal claims against google Images which, so far, has not had lost any case claiming they must pay for archiving images Google doesn’t own the copyright to. (And yes, I mean it’s likely to go that way for both ethical and legal reasons — as long as an AI isn’t making collages using bits of other art, but instead looing at online images to create a process by which it can draw images from prompts without using those assets, it is to me no different than a living artist looking at and learning from existing art, which artists do all the time.)

Also, there’s an article going around people are claiming means AI-generated art cannot be copyrighted by anyone. That’s not what that legal case determined. The applicant in that case claimed the art had been created by an AI 100% autonomously (with no human input at all), and wanted the AI to be legally acknowledged as the creator, claiming he would then own the copyright because he owned the machine. The ruling so far is that if the AI created the image “without any human help,” then no copyright does or can exist for the image.

The case did not look at what level of human help is needed for something to qualify for copyright protection, since that was not at issue. I suspect entering prompts and selecting images to get variations on will be determined to be enough for the prompt-issuer to receive copyright. But even if that’s not how that goes, the art can still legally be used commercially, you just couldn’t stop someone else from doing so.

This is a complex and developing area of law and ethics, and while I know where I come down on the issue so far, I’m studying and considering as new arguments and discussions come out, and not only has it not yet reduced my level of ongoing financial patronage to living human artists, I do not foresee it ever doing so as I believe there will always be things living artists are better at, and thus it is in my own best interest to keep the community of them paid and healthy.

Speaking of Being a Patron to Maintain a Healthy Industry of Creatives…
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more essays on industry issues, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, storytime posts, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

If you prefer, you can drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi. It’s like buying me a cup of coffee, but more convenient!

The Convention Follow-Up

So, the Big Con (whichever that is for you) is over for you. You’ve made it home, avoided or gotten over any infection going around (an even bigger concern that it used to be), put away your purchases, posted any pictures you’re going to on social media, and have a little pile of business cards you picked up from people at the convention. You wanted to network, and passed out a lot of your own contact info (you did, right?), and you think you made a good first impression on a lot of people who could hire you (or work for you, or mentor you, or leave public reviews of your work online, or whatever else you are hoping will happen).

Now what?

Before we answer that, let me clarify that you may not have even been at a convention in person. Maybe you watched someone’s game-industry-related livestream, Twitch, or podcast. Heck, maybe you took part in one. More and more events are online, and even things like an AMA or blog post can become a point of contact for people looking to network in the industry. If you happened to drop in and say hi during my and Stan!’s Gen Con-timed Convo on the Couch stream, and you want to reach out to either of us (especially if it’s to build on something we discussed on the stream), treated it the same way as a convention contact is a good call.

Okay, back to the advice.

First, keep in mind that a of of industry professionals won’t get home the Monday after an event. They may want to stay in the event city to see the sites, or may have made this the first leg of a vacation plan, or might be tearing down and packing up larger booths, taking meetings with local companies, or just stuck because flights got cancelled or they got sick and have to quarantine. Even if they head home directly and everything goes smoothly for them, they likely have a lot of catching up to do on things that got delayed as they prepared for Gen Con.

And, of course, everyone else who wants to network with them may be sending messages in the first few days.

The trick to reaching out by email (or messaging system you know for a fact the professional you want to connect with uses for business) is, in my experience, to do it soon enough for them to connect you to the event you want to follow-up on, but not so soon it gets buried in a flood of other tasks and messages. My personal preference is to wait one week, then send a short note. The note will remind them of who I am, when or how we met at the convention, and then if I have a specific ask (such as getting freelance work, or having them on a show), I mention it briefly.

If you got a business card from your potential contact, use the contact info on it in preference to anything else. Email is commonly used for business messages, and if someone has an email tied to a job, that’s normally a fine and professional way to get hold of them. (Phones, too, if listed on a business card or business online “contact us” section, but be aware there are individuals who dislike using phones even if they have a business line.) If their company has a forum or messaging system they use for official communication, that’s also likely a good choice. The further you get from those, the more likely it is you’re venturing into areas a professional may consider off-limits for business contacts.

Personally, I am happy to have professional conversations via Facebook, Discord, and Twitter, but that is NOT a universal attitude. Erring on the side of professional venues is your best bet unless you have good reason to believe someone uses other forms of contact for business. Also keep in mind that a company’s resources should be used for that company only. I have a Green Ronin-based email as the Fantasy AGE developer, but it would be bad form to use it to ask about freelancing possibilities in my role as Editor-in-Chief of Evil Genius Productions.

The sad truth is, there’s a good chance your initial contact of someone won’t get a reply. Yes, it’d be better for the whole industry if professionals at least responded to professional inquiries, even if to say they aren’t in the market for whatever you are pitching, but that’s just not always standard. If you get no reply at all, I am personally fine with you reaching back out to me in a month. However, recent conversations I have had with other industry pros suggests a follow-up once every 3 months is considered more reasonable my a lot of my colleagues. Of course, if the person you want to connect with is active on social media, following them and reading their posts may give you insight on what each of them as individuals think is acceptable.

And, to reveal a bit of pragmatism that is not discussed as much as I’d expect, positively engaging with someone you want to network with in online spaces is a great way to bump yourself up a few spot in their to-reply list. If someone is regularly liking, sharing, and positively commenting on my Facebook, Twitter, and Blog posts (or Patreon posts, if they are a member), or even my YouTube videos, I’m much more likely to remember their name, and prioritize getting back to them quickly.

And if none of that works? Well, you may just need to move on. But you can also look out for other places you can say hi, and try again after making another in-person or online contact.

My (Current) Thoughts on AI Images

There are numerous AI (“artificially intelligent”) programs designed to allow someone to use text prompts and maybe a few simple other buttons to generate images that have never existed before. People have been playing with them for years, and the fact they were improving has been clear for a long time, but in my opinion they have taken a major leap forward suddenly and recently. As with any disruptive technology, this opens a number of cans of worms, and some of those worms seem likely to crawl into the game industry sooner, rather than later.

This broke open for me last month, when I used prompts to produce the following image using Midjourney — an AI image creation program, that allows you to enter text prompts and style notes, ask it to create variants of options it presents, and eventually upscale a thumbnail to a higher-res image. I pay for access to Midjourney, and for the rights to use the images it creates with my prompts in commercial products.

(Prompt and variation choices by me, using Midjourney, and who to credit here is one of the fundamental questions of AI art)

I was blown away that my effort to use prompts to have Midjourney return an image of a dungeon entrance, such as was of the right quality and style I could use it in a professional ttRPG adventure, was successful. I had been sharing images I created on social media that were much less successful, so I shared this one as well, with the comment “So, this is the first MidJourney AI image I’ve prompted that I believe I can use as-is for a ttRPG product. It’d make a great cover, even.”

It would have been more accurate to say it was the first image I thought I *could* use, since I had no immediate plans to do so, but I said what I said. While the response has evolved as more people replied, the early pushback referred to my suggesting I would put that image in a product as “anti-art,” “unethical,” and “gross.”

I wanted to dig into those responses, so I tried to ask leading and clarifying questions. I likely should have waiting longer before replying, because my knee-jerk responses to being called gross can be more confrontational than I prefer to make my professional communications. having taken more time, and having had a number of conversations with different people in a number of different places, I thought compiling my current thoughts and positions in one place would be a good move.

As a starting point, I recommend anyone interested in the question of the history, legality, and morality of AI art read the recent Engadget article by Daniel Cooper ” https://www.engadget.com/dall-e-generative-ai-tracking-data-privacy-160034656.html. The article doesn’t try to definitely settle any issues, but it’s a good rundown of what some of the big questions are.

Speaking of big questions, I was asked a lot of them when I publicly declared I had AI art I can put in a product. I don’t want to call out anyone specifically in a venue where they can’t reply (and I absolutely do not want to encourage anyone to engage in people I disagree with online in anything other than a polite and professional manner, so please don’t), so I have tried to summarize my position on big questions below. Given there are public links to this article, it’s fair game for anyone who wants to debate or disagree with any of my thoughts or statement.

We should all acknowledge there are unsettled legal and ethical questions about AI-generated images. For example, AIs are trained by looking at images online, almost always without compensating the owner of those images, or asking permission. However, the AI do not just remix existing visual elements, nor copy them into a database and go back to grab pieces of them. They look at existing art as references, to learn from them. I do not see an ethical difference between that and a living artist doing the same thing, which is commonplace and well-accepted.

Another common concern is that art generated by an AI may take jobs from existing traditional artists. Such concerns have been raised by new technologies before, including photography and Photoshop. Pragmatically, I note that as of time of writing this, my art budget has not been reduced at all by my use of Midjourney (and this article is the only “professional” product I have such images in atm, and only because it is crucial to understanding why I am even discussing this). I pay several artists, to the tune of several thousand dollars a year, and do not foresee that going down at all. Midjourney can do many amazing things, but at least in my hands it can’t produce something like a recognizable band of adventurers, especially not reproducing them in multiple different illustrations.

However, that pragmatic note aside, I do not accept the argument that my using an AI to create my own art is an ethical or moral failing on my part. The system requires input and decisions from me to generate art I can use, and I do consider the images in question to be “art,” even if a machine was substantially used in its creation. All the mechanical aspects of fixing an image with a camera are machine labor, and it is accepted as art. If I created an image with a spin art machine, or a spiralgraph, that is accepted as art. Nor is the claim that I am unethically avoiding paying artists convincing to me. I can and have used public domain images in commercial products, and that neither puts money in any artist’s hands, nor inspires anyone to claim I am being immoral.
I absolutely understand the concerns of professional artists that this new technology may make their careers more difficult, or even impossible. I have seen the same AI-driven changes begin to influence how professional text is generated and sold. The program Grammerly is used by at least one company I am aware of to replace one human editing pass, and I have been told other places use it in place of any paid editor. Things like resumes and ad copy have AIs dedicated to producing them, and that trend is only going to grow.

In my opinion the answer to those challenges is to work for a world where creators don’t have to depend on companies paying them to create what those companies want, and constantly working to do so as cheaply as possible (as opposed to claiming that finding a cheaper way to obtain images is immoral, which would also apply to using stock art for example, which I do all the time). I suspect this problem is going to spread, farther and faster than expected, and no effort to convince the world to not use it is going to be enough to save creators that can be replaced by it. Those answers may include seeking direct patronage from fans (such as through Patreon and Ko-Fi), a Universal Basic Income, or some other answer no one thinks of using every truck driver, warehouse worker, delivery and transportation job, and basic manufacturing employment begins to be eliminated due to Ais doing it cheaper.

But this technology is not going away, and I suspect it will always have things it does not do as well as living artists. At the moment, I am exploring what it can and can’t do, and I am continuing to research, consider, and come to my own conclusions. There are risks involved in adopting any technology early, and I am weighing them. For example, without paying a much higher subscription fee, my Midjourney art can be seen and used by others with the license, so I have no exclusivity. Further, if the courts decide these images are being created by a machine, rather than being created by humans using machines, there’s a good chance that legally they will be impossible to copyright, adding another layer of complication for using it commercially.
On a personal level, I am enjoying many of the images I created as things to look at. I enjoy creating art this way, and am growing to appreciate the skill it takes to do so. Like silkscreen, quilting, coil pottery, or tie-dye it’s a very different kind of skill, but that’s not on its own enough to say it isn’t art.

So, on AI art I know what camp I’m in but, obviously, not everyone is going to agree. This tech is happening, so it’s worth learning and thinking about. I don’t currently have any plans to actually put AI art into commercial products, but I’m, absolutely using it for my own entertainment and in social media posts. I’m still considering how to proceed in cases where AI art looks like it may be a good match for a product’s needs, and may use it as the basis for human artist efforts, or as underpainting for more traditional art, or as-is, or as-is but paying an artist extra money for each AI piece I use in a form of patronage just to keep the human artist industry vibrant, both out of love of art and (pragmatically) because I believe a healthy visual creative field is necessary to make the best possible game products, even with access to AI-generated images.

Speaking of Being a Patron to Maintain a Healthy Industry of Creatives…
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more essays on industry issues, or Pathfinder 1st or 2nd edition, 5e, or Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, storytime posts, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

If you prefer, you can drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi. It’s like buying me a cup of coffee, but more convenient!

The Minimum Percentage of Jerks Rarely Changes

When an influencer has more than 150% more reach than anyone involved in a fandom (even its creator/publisher), badmouthing everything related to that fandom can end up being punching down.

Sure, if the fandom as a whole is toxic, or the IP fascist, that’s one thing.

But if the fandom is genuinely related to things you have identified as part of your interests (such as any ttRPG, if you declare yourself to be a ttRPG writer), and its fans enthusiastically promote it to you, that doesn’t rise to the level of toxic or abusive.

Of course part of the problem is, the minimum percentage of jerks in any group rarely changes, and social media algorithms are literally trained to seek things you’ll engage with. That means if something is worded to annoy you, since most people are more likely to engage with things that annoy or anger them, that version is most likely to be shown to you.

If the minimum percentage of jerks in a group is 5%, and you have a reach that gets you 10 replies from that group, half the time none of them are from jerks. If your reach means you’ll get 100 replies, 5 of them are from jerks. If your reach means you’ll get 1,000 replies, not only are 50 of them from jerks, but there’s a decent change you’ll be exposed to a higher percentage of them by AIs designed to get you to reply… even if that reply is angry annoyance.

And even you ask people on social media not to reply like that? Absolutely no guarantee anyone replying to your posts the next day saw that request.

If you have a lot of reach online, and are dealing with fandoms and groups and opinions, remember Sturgeon’s Revelation when judging them. “90% of everything is crap.”

Yes, by all means protect yourself and your mental well being. And if that means finding a way to use online tools to block certain phrases, by all means do that. Need to block some folks who leap into your mentions too often. heck yes. But the bigger you are, the more careful you should be venting your annoyance in a way that makes an entire fandom look bad to your followers, because the bigger you are the more harm you can do to a whole group by lashing out and decrying them as an entirety. Make sure they deserve that before doing so, especially if you reach is bigger than any of them, or even all of them.

PATREON!
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

#OwenOnTheCouch, Part 5:Jason Eric Nelson and Joseph Blomquist

Origins Game Fair is this weekend, and sadly I won’t be there. Interstate travel and big in-person gatherings just aren’t on my docket for the foreseeable future. So, I’m going to keep posting #OwenOnTheCouch content to try to do some good by remote, since I can’t sit with folks in person.

This time, let’s talk to Jason Eric Nelson, of Legendary Games (@LegendaryGamesJ on Twitter), and prolific freelance creator Joseph Blomquist (@DoctorMono on Twitter).

Owen: So, Jason: how do freelancers get work from Legendary? What’s the process?

Jason: Usually it’s a recommendation from someone who’s already worked with us, often from another collaboration they’ve done or being an active commenter on a playtest on one of our books. Sometimes it’s a recommendation from someone at Paizo or Wayfinder or Freelance Forge, etc. Having something to point to in the past to show your work or to talk about working with you.

Usually we start on one of our many collaborative books, doing a chunk of something working together with one or more other authors so we each get a feel for working with the other. If everything feels like a fit, we keep going from there. I’ll throw out project ideas or send things to jump on, and freelancers pitch things they’d like to do, and if it sounds like something that’s right for Legendary, we’ll roll with it and you might end up the lead or even some author on a book once you’ve shown your reliability.

Owen: Okay Jospeh, I know you’ve done game writing, reviews, art, and graphic design work; but if we’re just focusing on tabletop game design, what are some credits people might know you from?

Jospeh: I have a list, but just hitting some highlights I have credits for Margaret Weis Productions (Smallvile Roleplaying Game, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Civil War – X-men and Annihilation), Paizo (several Pathfinder Society and Starfinder Society scenarios, including #2-10: Corporate Interests; and the Pathfinder 2e Bestiary 2 entries for the Blink Dog, Hippogriff, and Sandpoint Devil) (PF2), Saturday Morning Games (Dime Stories Roleplaying Game Rulebook, Easy Money- a 10 Cent Tale, and Among the Living- a 10 Cent Tale), Slugfest Games (Red Dragon Inn — Adventures Series: Appetizer and The Guide to Inns and Taverns).

Owen: So, lots of stuff for Pathfinder, Starfinder, Cortex, and Dime Stories! What other game systems are you comfortable writing for?

Joseph: I’ve done a bunch of writing in the industry, but any incarnation of the venerable d20 system- especially Pathfinder 2e, Starfinder, and 5e are all easy choices. I cut my teeth writing for Cortex and have a lot of familiarity with Modiphius’ 2D20 system (especially Star Trek Adventures), Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and FATE systems. And of course, most of my early conversion work was in classic systems like DnD 2nd edition, Marvel FASERIP, West End Games’ D6 system, and Shadowrun. All of those systems are well within my wheelhouse.

Pathfinder Society Scenario #3-04: The Devil-Wrought Disappearance (PF2)

Starfinder Society Scenario #4-13: Hard Reset (Starfinder)

Pathfinder Society Scenario #4-02: Return to the Grave (PF2)

Paizo Fans United

Wayfinder # 20 (The Boomrock Run) (Starfinder)

Wayfinder #21 (Knights of Everstand, Knighthaunt) (PF2)

Saturday Morning Games

(Dime Stories Roleplaying Game Rulebook, Easy Money- a 10 Cent Tale, and Among the Living- a 10 Cent Tale)

Slugfest Games

Red Dragon Inn—Adventure Series: Appetizer (PF1)

Red Dragon Inn: The Guide to Inns and Taverns (PF1)

What other systems are you comfortable writing for?

I’ve done a bunch of writing in the industry, but any incarnation of the venerable d20 system- especially Pathfinder 2e, Starfinder, and 5e are all easy choices. I cut my teeth writing for Cortex and have a lot of familiarity with Modiphius’ 2D20 system (especially Star Trek Adventures), Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and FATE systems. And of course, most of my early conversion work was in classic systems like DnD 2nd edition, Marvel FASERIP, West End Games’ D6 system, and Shadowrun. All of those systems are well within my wheelhouse.

Owen: With such a broad range of experience, have you discovered you prefer one kind of writing assignment over another?

Joseph: I think my interests here are mostly common fare. I love writing background, giving a world or setting life. I love the challenge of coming up with a neat mechanic to act as an interesting sub system in a game. I love to challenge my players and my GMs. After three decades of GMming multiple systems, I am pretty proud of my abilities in that role. I try to be characterful and dive deep into my NPCs and the general feeling of the world I’m trying to lose my players into. That comes out in my writing where I try to incorporate mood pieces to help GMS set the scene and memorable characters that chew scenery.

Most recently, I seem to have found a niche I did not expect- one of an adventure designer. I guess I was always good at telling a tale, but most of my work – for Paizo especially – has been writing adventures. And let me tell you – I love it. It lets me do all the things I enjoy in setting a scene, writing characters, and challenging players. But it lets me do one thing else, help to create the kind of stories play groups still talk about years later.

Owen: What has the journey from gamer to game writer been like for you? How did you start?

Joseph: I’ve been gaming for 38 years or so, starting with the Mentzer Red Box one day, and TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes the next. By age 10, I was the regular GM for my friends- usually in Marvel Superheroes, but eventually introducing my closest friends to AD&D, Shadowrun, FASA’s Star Trek, GURPS, Mekton, and the World of Darkness games as the 90s came with a vengeance.

By the time I was 12, I was the ambassador of role-playing games for my group of friends- not all of which were prepared for the crunchy, rules heavy games of the late ‘80s. My answer was simple- make a game. I made a simple percentile system and wrote a 20-page rpg in my notebook with the amazingly clever name that was in no way derivative of Dungeons and Dragons, Sword and the Hand. This game was the intro for RPGs for our group of friends for years, until we dove headlong into Star Wars in the heyday of WEG’s license. At this point, I put my effort more into writing my own adventures, and plotting them out ahead of time for my players to enjoy in the systems we loved.

Eventually, I became a part owner in a local game store on Long Island, running games of MnM, Shadowrun, and D20 Star Wars in the back room nonstop with my prewritten adventures, to the delight of my players. But not knowing how to get my toe into the industry though I’d been freelancing for various video game, board game, and science fiction periodicals at this point, I did the next best thing – I wrote up my own superhero game. At the time, I conceived Superhuman as a skirmish level miniatures game (though the current incarnation coming to kickstarter soon-ish is a hybrid RPG/miniatures game) and I brought a mostly professional demo version of it with me to Origins in 2006 to show off to game designers I liked to ask for feedback. Luckily, one of the places I dropped a copy, Margaret Weis Productions, got me more than feedback – Cam Banks hired me a few weeks after the con to write super powers for Smallville. And a new leg of my career was born.

Owen: I’m always fascinated how people move into the tabletop writing industry. You mentioned not knowing how to get your toe in the industry: what other learning and experience prepared you for a game writing career once you found yourself in one?

Jospeh: So purely from an educational standpoint, my degree was in psychology and my minor was history. Most of my historical studies were centered around post-roman Britain through to the end of the Danelaw. One of my greatest passions is Arthurian legends, so diving into the deep end of the history and socio-political intricacies of the years Arthur would have lived as well as the years, centuries later, that his legend was truly born was more than just a passing interest. I suppose at some point I’ll seek out graduate studies on the subject or just do what most Arthurphiles do and write my own Arthurian novel.

I played in a touring metal band through my early 20s, and I try to bring my musical acumen into my work wherever possible. That being said, I was a piss poor songwriter- so don’t expect me to write you a jingle worth remembering. I could probably sing it though. Mixing that with the acting I did in college, I’ve increased my voice work to include not only A-list GMming, but voice overs for games and an audiobook on the horizon.

 Comics has been one of the few passions I have that rivals my love of gaming and all things Arthur. My vast comic collection has pushed my interest in games, writing, and allowed me to have a greatly informed perspective on the cycles, elements, successes, and failures of our most modern of mythologies. I’m a fan of B characters (Marv Wolfman’s Nova and Nightwing topping my list) and work well in every aspect of that medium- especially when it comes to games around the subject.

Owen: What’s the most recent project people can check out that you can talk about? 

Joseph: My most recent credit is Starfinder Society Scenario #4-13: Hard Reset. However, my next adventure will be released at Gencon, Pathfinder Society Scenario #4-02: Return to the Grave. Like all freelancers, my best work is under NDA, so I’ll just say – the best is yet to come.

Owen: Where can people find you if they want to reach out? 

Joseph: I can be found @DoctorMono on twitter, on kofi at https://ko-fi.com/doctormono, or in my rarely updated blog www.UnderwearOnTheOutside.com

Want to Support the Couch?!
A great way to help me be able to make connections, post advice, and make #OwenOnTheCouch useful is to send me your thoughts, questions, contact info to be publicly shared, and anything else you think might advance the conversation or help people connect. I’m happy to host publisher throughs on what they are looking for, veteran’s advice, and even post common questions people have about how to break in, move up, and manage common issues. Or, you can just throw money at me! Easiest done through Patron, and Ko-Fi.

#OwenOnTheCouch, Part 4: Michael Sayre and Carlos Cabrera

Continuing with the #OwenOnTheCouch theme, let’s talk to Senior Designer at Paizo Michael Sayre (@MichaelJSayre1 on Twitter), and freelance Game Designer and Voice Actor Carlos Cabrera (https://carloscabrera.carrd.co/).

(#OwenontheCouch 2015)

Owen: Hey Michael Sayre, if someone wanted to write for the Pathfinder Rules Team, what’s their best bet for getting started? By the time they dare to reach out to you, want do you want to see them have done already?

Michael: So, the things I look for are-

A) An established portfolio of published work. Show me you’ve done the thing you’re looking to do for me at a professional level.

B) A professional online presence. Big rulebooks are a collaborative effort and I need people who can be respectful and work well with others.

C) Passion for and experience playing the game you’re looking to write for. I can almost always tell the difference between someone who’s just churning the formula and templates and someone who’s really finding under-supported pieces of the game that can be embellished to enhance the play experience.

D) Some evidence that you know how to read and follow an outline or similar kind of professional collaborative project instructions. With the kind of publishing we do, I already know what kinds of pieces I need and where I need them to make my book happen, so it’s critical that freelancers read and follow their assignment e-mail, outline, and milestone feedback.

Owen: Thanks, that’s a great response!

Would you recommend people doing their own projects, or working for other publishers, before they approach you? Is having a lot of smaller Paizo credits good? A few bigger 3pp or self-published projects? Both?

Michael: A diverse portfolio with a broader array of experiences is probably more appealing to me, personally, than having your entire portfolio exist within a single bucket (whether that be self-publishing, writing for a specific 3pp, etc.)

I think the broader your perspective is coming in the quicker you’ll be able to master “entry level” tasks and get entrusted with some larger or weightier pieces of content. Learning the industry through a few different vectors can help you avoid some of the more common stumbling blocks I see, especially when it comes to learning the best habits for good contract work and avoiding inheriting someone else’s bad habits.

That being said, everyone’s paths to improvement are different, and there’s nothing wrong with essentially “apprenticing” yourself to e.g. a 3pp while you learn the ropes, and as long as you’re still coming in with an open mind and a willingness to broaden your perspective and learn, having experience with one publisher instead of five or the like isn’t a deal-breaker and can have its own advantages.

Owen: Thanks, Mike! And here comes Carlos Cabrera! Heya Carlos. Lemme ask since you are here: I know you do freelance game writing and vice work. What published credits do you have, and for what game systems?

Carlos: I have worked on Pathfinder for both 1st and 2nd editions. My 1st edition work with 3PP is in Pathways #78, the Aethera Field Guide, the Mythic Character Codex, and the upcoming Kingmaker Anniversary Edition. For both systems and with Paizo directly I have worked on Borne by the Sun’s Grace, Lost Omens: Legends, the 2nd edition Advanced Player’s Guide, Pathfinder Society Quest #11: A Parchment Tree, and Ruins of the Radiant Siege. I have also done voicework in Starr Mazer DSP on Steam, Ashasar in the Pathfinder Society Special #3-99: Fate of the Future, and my likeness was used as a playable zombie survivor in State of Decay 2.

Owen: Neat! I’ve never gotten to be a zombie! What other systems are you comfortable writing for?

Carlos: If you’re listening @FFGames I would love to write something for your Star Wars RPG or Imperial Assault! I have already designed content for a home game of IA so I’m familiar with your incredible new dice system. I also have two different board game projects in development and one of them has been picked up by a publisher!

Owen: When you have your druthers, what kind of game content do you prefer to create?

Carlos: I like designing rules that can really expand the worldbuilding of a setting. Adventures or scenarios in new locations, NPCs and player options that can interact with the world in new and interesting ways, deities and the planes… really lore-defining things. In board games you generally have to keep it brief, but all of that is really up to you.

Owen: So, how did you get into games? And then into game writing?

My father got my two closest brothers and I into games at an early age with video games. I had an Intellivision system, one of my brothers a Colecovision, the other a Vectrex. After I had graduated to the NES and then the Sega Genesis, the game that made me want to be a designer at the impressionable age of 10 was Flashback: The Quest for Identity (womp womp). It was a birthday gift from my mother, so both my parents really had a hand in my chosen career.

Even though I wanted to get into video games, I broke into the industry first with writing for tabletop RPGs. I loved playing them and my imagination just didn’t stop after making characters. It took me a good 5 years of networking before my first freelance assignment. I filed Something Clever Games an LLC in 2015 and started work in 2017, so I was trying to break into the industry even before then. I haven’t given up on video games though. When I’m between assignments, I pivot back to a turn-based mobile RPG that I’ve been working on for a while.

Owen: You’ve obviously put a lot of thought and effort into your career. What expertise and study have you undertaken as part of that? 

Carlos: I made the decision to get a degree in multimedia/graphic design instead of using my mechanical drawing and architecture skills to go that route (there were also no video game schools until about halfway through). This has served me well in making maps for encounters and running campaigns, and I still enjoy making art and accessories like custom card sleeves for my games.

Owen: So, if someone is wanting to look at your work, what’s the most recent project people can check out?

Carlos: You still have a reliable couple of months to hear my voice in Pathfinder Society Special #3-99 before season 4 launches at GenCon this year. I will also be a recurring cast member for a Pathfinder 2e podcast this summer, so for that and any future announcements be sure to check out my website! (http://somethingclevergames.com)

Want to Support the Couch?!
A great way to help me be able to make connections, post advice, and make #OwenOnTheCouch useful is to send me your thoughts, questions, contact info to be publicly shared, and anything else you think might advance the conversation or help people connect. I’m happy to host publisher throughs on what they are looking for, veteran’s advice, and even post common questions people have about how to break in, move up, and manage common issues.

Or, you can just throw money at me! Easiest done through Patron, and Ko-Fi.

#OwenOnTheCouch, Part 3: Jason Keeley and Mark Seifter

Continuing this week’s #OwenOnTheCouchTheme, let’s talk to Development Manager of Starfinder at Paizo Jason Keeley (@herzwesten on Twitter), and BattleZoo Director of Games Mark Seifter (@MarkSeifter on Twitter). This is a great chance to listen and learn from industry pros!

(#OwenontheCouch, 2013)

Jason Keeley

Owen: So, Jason, if someone wants to write Starfinder content for you at @Paizo, how do they get your attention? What are you looking for in a freelancer?

Jason: *is walking by* Oh hi there! Well, for adventures, I’m generally looking for someone who has proven they can handle larger assignments (ie, being timely and the ability to inject a bit of their own ideas into a sometimes rigid outline) or has done something equally impressive.

I’m willing to try out newer freelancers for smaller assignments, though! It all depends on what the particular project needs.

Mark Seifter

Owen: Hey Mark, if someone wanted to get your attention as Director of Game Design, and maybe get work from you, what’s their best option?

Mark: So, find the Arcane Mark Discord server, join, then you can PM me on discord and I’ll add you to the list. We’re small so I don’t have a lot of opportunities at any given time, but I love to hear from freelancers.

Plus, now we have this!

Want to Support the Couch?!
A great way to help me be able to make connections, post advice, and make #OwenOnTheCouch useful is to send me your thoughts, questions, contact info to be publicly shared, and anything else you think might advance the conversation or help people connect. I’m happy to host publisher throughs on what they are looking for, veteran’s advice, and even post common questions people have about how to break in, move up, and manage common issues.

Or, you can just throw money at me! Easiest done through Patron, and Ko-Fi.