Category Archives: Business of Games
Today, I’m just listing some online resources I find useful, and other gamers. GMs, and creators might as well. I may expand this list as time goes on, in which case I’ll link back to it when it gets updates.
As always, I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. Read terms and conditions of any resource you sue for commercial products.
These are the very best of their kind. The gold standard of usefulness, in my opinion.
Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources (https://dmnes.org/names) – This is just what is says on the tin. The list is long, and hyperlinked to definitions, origins, and atributions.
Dyson Logos’ Commercial Maps (https://dysonlogos.blog/maps/commercial-maps/) – A huge, amazing repository of excellent maps by Dyson Logos that have free, commercial licenses attached to them. Read the license and understand it before use (i am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice), but if you need a city, tavern, dungeon, castle, and much, much more either for your game tomorrow night, or your product you want to sell without incurring cartography costs, this is an amazing place to start.
The Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: The Online Edition, by Jess Nevins (http://jessnevins.com/pulp/introduction.html) – Jess Nevins is a true scholar of entire forms of fiction I adore, including Victoriana, Pulp Stories, and more. This is an amazing list of pulp fiction characters, as well as important introductions, descriptions of archetypes, cross-referencing, and so on. For inspiration or a better understanding of the genre, this is an invaluable resource. (His Encyclopedia of Golden Age Heroes is nearly as good, and a valuable companion piece, but is not as finished as the pulp encyclopedia. And , of course, he has numerous published books as well, and a range of similar subjects, most of which are in my cloud reader and a few of which are on my physical bookshelves.
OneLook Dictionary Search (https://www.onelook.com/) – I don’t care about the definitions section of this. What’s amazing is the ability to enter a word and click the “related” button. That provides a list of words that are, somehow, related to the search term. Not synonyms (necessarily), but words that share some kind of link to your search word. Searching for words related to “death” gets you executioner, tomb, slaughterhouse, and so on. The utility for when I want words tied to a theme for spells, hero names, groups, magic items, archetypes, and so on is huge.
Almost as useful is the * before or after searches (such as death*), which give you words and phrases that start with or end with your search term. death*, for example gets you death’s head, death throes, and more. And, you can click through the examples to find out what they mean and/or where they come from.
There are tons of search options and ways to organize and sort the results, so spend some time reading the site and trying out options.
My Patreon and Ko-Fi
Speaking of resources, the tons of material I have on this site is supported by the members of my Patreon, and cups of donation to my Ko-Fi. So, if any of the links above open a new world of options for you, please consider supporting my current and future efforts to bring you more!
One of the things I do is offer my platform to other gamers and creatives as a place they can have their words hosted and, potentially, given broader exposure. Matt Daley asked me if I would post this for him, and after talking with him a bit I agreed.
I’m not hosting it because I agree with or endorse everything Matt has to say here. But I absolutely see his point, and I consider it well-reasoned and supported. It’s not a context through which I have ever looked at any RPG setting, and that itself is enough for me to want to take it seriously and give it due weight. It’s easy for worldbuilders and game writers to only consider the impact of their choices through the context of their own experiences. From my point of view, Matt’s most important point in this is that creating a fictional cosmology that reinforces the ideas behind some real-world manipulative behavior can have consequences the creators likely never considered.
And that’s worth thinking about.
-Owen K.C. Stephens
Abusive Christianity Tropes in Tabletop RPGs
Content Warning: discussion of afterlife, absolute morality, and gods as they pertain to abusive practices. Those who are struggle with these issues are advised to use discretion about this article and to take care of themselves as they feel necessary.
I am somebody who has found great solace in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game over the last decade of my life. I have played with friends on the weekly for years, pored over the rulebooks and lore for countless hours, and even written a number of rules supplements for the game. I love the game, the community, and my fellow game authors, and I write this in the interest of improving the game and fixing several longstanding issues which have alienated myself and others from the inclusive environment which I know that many Pathfinder developers are actively working to foster. This piece is not meant as a takedown or smear against Paizo, Pathfinder, or any particular author. My ultimate intent is to reveal and explain the issues within the text so that they can be amended. While my concerns are not exclusive to this game or company, I have chosen Pathfinder as the subject of this exploration because it is the game with which I am most familiar and where these concerns have become the most prominent in my mind.
I come from a conservative Catholic background, one which stressed service and obedience as the highest virtues and was generally indiscriminate about belittlement, bigotry, and physical/mental abuse. I remember how quickly my school, family or church would point to scripture or tradition to justify cruelty, manipulation, or disdain. I don’t owe anyone my life story, nor do I think that it’s of particular interest to any of you, but I will say that I led a life where I believed violence or misfortune could be inflicted on me with divine mandate the moment I let my defenses slip. I garbed myself in the same hostile and judgemental “righteousness” which I believed that my family and my god wanted from me.
My deconstruction of these beliefs has been a long and painful process, and tabletop RPGs have been a solace throughout this experience. My Pathfinder groups gave me a community which I could safely confide in and a place where I could be emphatic and vulnerable without feeling broken, humiliated, or sinful. This wasn’t to say that I didn’t feel trepidation at times (I was scared to open the Monster Manual to any page on devils whenever a cross was mounted on the wall), but I do believe that gaming helped me build the emotional health necessary for my deconstruction.
This experience has made me rather vigilant to a particular trend in gaming lore, that being the unironic and unexamined repetition of conservative Christianity’s more toxic elements within the mythology of Golarion. When digging into the latest Pathfinder book, it is common to see my trauma responses re-ignite when certain hostilities from my youth are not only repeated, but explicitly coded as objective elements within good- or neutral-aligned faiths. I have decided to catalog the most egregious and noteworthy of these trends across Pathfinder’s recent publications in the interest of bringing these concerns to light and showing how they could be written with a more empathetic inclination in the future.
Throughout this piece, I’ll be using the term “deconstructor” to refer broadly to those who have left Christianity. This category covers atheists, agnostics, and those who have moved on to a new faith or spiritual practice. Despite divergent theological and philosophical views, these groups share many experiences in leaving Christianity and are often categorized together in Christian conversation.
For the sake of fairness, I’ll be covering only books which have been released within the last few years of Pathfinder’s publication. The culture of gaming has changed a great deal in recent years, and while a number of concerning elements can be found in older books I believe that it would be fairer and more valuable to analyze recent releases. Similarly, I will not be calling out specific authors in this post, as I feel that to do so would create undue pressure which would inhibit the change I want to see in the game. The books I will be referencing are as follows:
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Concordance of Rivals © 2019
Bestiary 3 © 2021
Pathfinder Lost Omens: Gods and Magic © 2021
Pathfinder Lost Omens World Guide © 2020
Pathfinder Adventure Path #136: Temple of the Peacock Spirit © 2018
Section 1: Deconstruction as Malicious Conspiracy
One of the first parallels between Pathfinder’s lore and conservative Christianity is the notion of deconstruction or atheism as being the product of evil machinations. Questioning one’s faith is not viewed as a natural line of questioning but rather as a sabotage attempt by a secular conspirator or even a demon/devil of some sort. Pathfinder has designed several creatures which are designed specifically to fulfill this role: The Asura and the Deimavigga from Second Edition’s Bestiary 3 (a conversion from several other older books). The Deimavigga is described as using lies and mental magic to sow doubt in the minds of believers, a refrain which I have seen used by preachers on numerous occasions. Although the Deimavigga’s reasons are not spelled out in its lore, the intention behind their actions seems to be built on an unspoken assumption that those who deconstruct their faith are somehow more inclined towards thoughts and acts which the setting deems to be objectively evil (although the nature of alignment is an issue which I will explore in another section). The Asura, meanwhile, are written as explicitly interested in destroying religious faiths, using their appearance-altering abilities to pose as questioning children or dissenting religious scholars. Satanic involvement has long been an excuse for Christians to castigate or threaten congregation members, and the Asura’s existence presents such abuse as a legitimate and necessary defense of the faith.
Doubly concerning is that these lapses in faith seem to justify acts of force from higher powers, as if the process of questioning one’s faith invalidates the free will which the gods of Golarion seem inclined to protect. Page 8 of Gods and Magic describes how PCs experiencing a crisis of faith will often be visited by emissaries of various gods who will attempt to convert them, an environment which paints Golarion’s deities as mimicking evangelists who take advantage of those in need to win converts. Later on, the same book discusses how service to a deity is seemingly required for one to continue existence in any sort of afterlife (which, incidentally, contradicts statements made in Temple of the Peacock Spirit about heretics being turned into Asura). The demigod Ceyannan from Concordance of Rivals carries a weapon which is described as “capable of dragging out the faith any mortal soul holds for a god”, a description which seems to give cosmic approval to the act of browbeating deconstructors until they return to the fold. Phlegyas, meanwhile, is a demigod described as the “Consoler of Atheists” who was seemingly brought into Pharasma’s service against her will and now works to transform “godless souls” into servants of the goddess of death. These trappings of the Golarion setting, presented as factual within the world of the book, replicate the harshest sentiments of conservative preachers: that deconstruction and doubt are the products of evil manipulators and that the proper recourse for “redeeming” those who question their faith involves bludgeoning, aweing, or otherwise intimidating them until they slink back into the fold. The higher powers of Golarion, at the behest of the authors who write them, affirm practices of real-life religious abuse as a necessity for protecting the cosmos from the supposed dangers of deconstruction.
Compounding upon all of this is victim-blaming lore of Bestiary 3’s Abandoned Zealots, undead horrors who are created from devout souls who spent their life worshiping a nonexistent god or who worshiped in a manner their god does not approve of (the latter, as the book points out, tends to come from the direct involvement of a Deimavigga). The Abandoned Zealot’s offensive abilities (Rend Faith and Crisis of Faith) are based on inhibiting the divine magic of other creatures, while its primary weakness (Anathematic Aversion) is to respond as if traumatized when it encounters a holy symbol. Although the terminology of the Abandoned Zealot is specific to Golarion, the premise of punishing non-Christians or “impure” followers is mirrored in conservative Christian circles. The elements of enviously destroying divine magic and recoiling from holy symbols also link Abandoned Zealots to Christian perceptions of those who have been abused or traumatized by the church (viewing us as trying to ruin the faith for others and believing that we can be “defeated” by religious invocation because we still ultimately belong to the church).
On a macro scale, these are all worrisome pieces of worldbuilding, elements which (intentionally or not) encode conservative Christian ideology in what is purported to be a pantheistic fantasy world. The affirmations and fears of conservative Christianity are written into Golarion as fact, creating an environment where many deconstructors see the tools of their religious abusers justified. When these elements are made universal to the setting and a part of the fundamental process of Golarion’s background, enjoying the fantasy experience becomes a much more difficult task than it should be. Paizo’s depictions of deconstructors themselves is unfortunately no better.
Section 2: Uncharitable and Misinformed Depictions of Deconstructors
The Golarion setting includes a number of characters who are critical of religion, but their approach in representing them appears misguided. Rather than working to dispel the implications established in the previous section, the descriptions within the Lost Omens World Guild and Lost Omens: Gods & Magic seem to fortify several stereotypes from conservative Christianity about deconstructors. Namely, those who leave a faith behind are socially isolated and question their faith due to pressures from an outside world. Gods and Magic has a section on “Atheists and Free Agents” which discusses such people within Golarion, but is quick to bring up that they are only common in harsh authoritarian regimes with widespread bans on religion. Other Free Agent organizations mentioned include the Prophets of Kalistrade (a Ferengi-esque culture which is seemingly written to be the butt of jokes) and the Green Faith (which is described elsewhere in the book as a form of nature worship). The book then goes on to describe these groups as exceptions, stating that “most free agents on Golarion are loners”. The section goes on to make several points which are reasonable and charitable, such as stating the Free Agents may find gods unworthy of worship or may find meaning and belonging through themselves and their fellow mortals. However, the same section applies common misconceptions from Christian apologetics, such as the notion that Free Agents refuse to worship out of anger towards the gods and the recreation of The Brothers Karamazov’s famous line “If there is no god, then everything is permitted”. Furthermore, the section works to cage statements of “free agents aren’t amoral” and “free agents genuinely don’t possess faith in a god” as being matters of opinion, leaving open the viability of more common and toxic Christian apologetics within Golarion.
Rahadoum is a nation within Golarion which is immensely cynical about divine intervention due to its history of holy wars. The country’s opposition to divine servitude is enshrined in a legal code known as The Laws of Mortality. While the existence of such a nation holds promise for compelling commentary, Rahadoum’s lore falls comically flat in execution. Across Lost Omens World Guide and Gods and Magic, the country has a disproportionate wordcount dedicated to violence or intrusion against the faithful, a trend which is scarcely paralleled with other countries or belief systems in Golarion. A nation known for its universities is described as having “dockside propagandists” pushing passerby into leaving their faith, a description which seems to come right out of conservative scare tactics regarding higher education. Where this characterization pushes into genuine absurdity is the Pure Legion, a police force which is dedicated to destroying every religious item or scripture which people bring into the nation. The Laws of Mortality even list “expose and eradicate hidden worship” as a fundamental edict, presenting this ridiculous action as an end unto itself within the philosophy. Granted, while religious persecution has occurred throughout history and has been carried out by avowedly atheist nations, the descriptions of Rahadoum and the Pure Legion mirror the persecution complexes of many conservative Christians, who fabricate threats of secular enemies seeking to actively destroy their worship. The mentions of Rahadoumi people refusing magical healing from divine spells and their futile “proselytizing” towards theists (a word which is used only once more in the book, when it is explained as something which is not done) seem to draw more heavily from insults made by Christians towards deconstructors than from any activity by actual people. To expand these concerns further, Temple of the Peacock Spirit mentions that Rahadoum is being propped up by an aforementioned Asura,
Section 3: The Euthyphro Dilemma: Morality Dictated by Divinity
The matter of morality’s source has been a contested topic in real life and gaming alike for as long as people could exchange ideas. D&D’s Planescape setting in particular had developed and nuanced takes on how even the icons of good and evil could be reshaped through the power of belief. Pathfinder, within the context of it’s setting, gives a clear answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma on page 16 of Concordance of Rivals, which describes deities as “beings whose existence defines morality.” In this context, virtue and vice are defined by the gods and any mortal theorization is irrelevant. Acts are considered good on Golarion because they are in accordance with the will of good-aligned gods (or, more specifically, those gods that Pharasma labels as good-aligned) and are considered evil because they are proscribed by those same gods. All moral matters are reduced to a yes or no answer from a deity who need not provide any justification for their explanation. Having stated this, the authors of Paizo must now choose between the impossible task of creating a perfect system of morality and designing a world where virtue is dictated by beings by those too strong to be questioned. The fact that the gods have such an extensive list of edicts means that Paizo, like many conservative churches, has decided to create a universe where morals are dictated by unimpeachable force and the interests of those who bear it. For somebody who grew up in one such Christian environment, a fantasy world which explicitly operates by power-based morals brings about memories of extensive abuse: parents, teachers, and church leaders who justify callous acts as righteous because their targets lack the capacity to retaliate. This dogmatic approach to virtue is also used in real life to vindicate extremists, assuring them that the words of their holy book or minister are capable of justifying any means for their ends.
There are beings who question the morality of the gods in various Paizo books, but these beings are almost invariably portrayed as being evil. Temple of the Peacock Spirit provides a sample conversation with Zurea, an evil cleric who justifies her faith by stating her (verifiably incorrect) theory that good and evil were created by mortals. Immediately afterwards, Zurea changes the subject by pressuring the PCs to join her faith, a conversation which is intended to end with the PCs killing her (she is described as fighting to the death in her tactics section). The same adventure provides extensive detail on the aforementioned Asura, elaborating on their origins by explaining how each type of Asura originated from a mistake, accident, or betrayal perpetrated by some manner of god. There are times when the article seems to sympathize with the Asura, discussing their origins as “impossible standards,” “punishment that exceeded its crime”, and “experiences of abuse”. The majority of the article, however, seems dedicated to depicting the Asura as obsessive, hateful, and outraged beings with ruinous ambitions and a need for “redemption”. The stories of the Asura pose legitimate grievances with the acts of gods, but at no point does the article question the supreme moral authority of the gods. The Asura, by the virtue of challenging the legitimacy of divinely-ordained morals, are depicted as invariably evil creatures who should be fought and stopped wherever they emerge. Like a number of church congregations, the gods of Pathfinder seem to view even legitimate grievances as threats which must be stomped out.
This vision of absolute and unquestionable morality is periodically juxtaposed with materials derived from the works of H.P. Lovecraft, an author who was openly critical of religion and human understandings of morality. Powerful entities from the stories of Lovecraft and his contemporaries are presented as alternatives to other deities in Gods and Magic, the book describing how reverence to these beings displays a certainty in the universe’s meaninglessness. The authors display such worshippers as inevitably debauched, stating that “because life has no meaning or purpose, self-indulgence and nihilism are the only rational responses.” While the existence of powerful entities outside the purview of the gods creates somewhat of an antithesis to their authoritarian morality, the setting presents this dichotomy as having an objectively correct answer. Reverence of the Great Old Ones or Outer Gods is presented as inevitably leading to a worthless and empty existence, an option that no sensible person would take. As this is the only alternative presented to the system of alignment enshrined by divinity, Paizo seems to follow the lead of Christian leaders who affirm that their teachings are the only path to meaning and fulfillment.
Section 4: Fixing These Issues
The concerns I have discussed here should not be interpreted as a mean-spirited takedown of Paizo or Pathfinder. As I have mentioned previously, playing Pathfinder helped me to work through my difficult deconstruction process. That said, the numerous parallels between the faith I am working to escape from and the fantasy world which I periodically escape into had made my forays into Golarion rather disquieting and unpleasant. I wholeheartedly support a more inclusive and socially conscious gaming scene, and I believe that Paizo and its game designers share my interests in this goal. My hope with this essay is that it will expose the conservative Christian elements which have (intentionally or not) come to shape the world of Golarion, explain the experiences of abuse such elements elicit, and offer alternatives to make the material more welcoming to people like me who are working to heal from Christianity-induced religious trauma. Hence, presented below are a number of suggestions which could be implemented in future releases or GMs’ personal campaigns to resolve these concerns.
Total Removal of Alignment
A number of games and tables have worked to remove alignment as a factor, and doing so could alleviate the anxiety folks like me experience regarding absolute, authority-based morality. Gods could be recontextualized as each doing what they think is proper for the universe without Pharasma or the authors trying to entrap characters in a binary of good and evil. Gods in this context are no longer sources or barometers of morality, simply powerful beings with desires they wish to fulfill. This setup gives recourse for characters to question the rules of deities and oppose the roles they fill in the universe without being immediately devalued as “evil”. It also opens up more compelling opportunities for interfaith conflict and debate while also leaving room for each deity and faith to be criticized. Maybe gods and their followers even recognize that those outside their own congregation could have a point, adapting their positions in light of cultural shifts.
This solution would require some mechanical changes to the game, mainly through reworking the Champion and Cleric classes. Alignment-related options would have to be reworked or replaced, but I feel that these changes would be for the better. Such adjustment would expand the potential options of friend and foe within any given adventure, opening up many new opportunities for stories. It would also force players and GMs to give legitimate reasons behind their support or hostility rather than simply stating “this faction is good/evil”.
Virtue Shaped By Mortals
If removing alignment completely isn’t to one’s liking, another option would be to emulate the fluid and belief-based morality of D&D’s Planescape books. In this setting, gods are not good because their existence defines good, but rather because their behaviors and tenets coincide with beliefs of virtue (such as selflessness, compassion, and redemption) that are held by mortals. The nature of a deity can thus be shifted by the methods of how they are revered, as opposed to deities turning “incorrect” worshippers into undead monsters. In this context, ideas of good and evil exist independent of the deities and are not something that the gods are capable of overriding or asserting dominance over. One could argue that the Pathfinder deities operate like this already within the context of the game, with Erastil, Sarenrae, and Groetus all having their dogmas and roles quietly changed by writers as new books were released. Recontextualizing gods as striving for some manner of good rather than imposing the structures of good could go a long way towards distancing their presence in the game from the experienced abuse of deconstructors. Having gods fail at their pursuit of morality and acknowledge when mortals know their own needs better than a deity would be even better. If a deity steps out of line by trying to overrule mortalkind, maybe that deity would be weakened as the god’s exposed objectives diverge from the works and values of their following.
More importantly, it would be wonderful to see examples of people and cultures finding fulfillment and good outside of the scope of the gods. Paizo could show characters who view godly morality as pointless but still live positive and fulfilled lives. Social clubs and charity organizations could be run independent of the purview of any deity. Cities could be built without churches and populated by Free Agents who are confident enough in their knowledge of their surroundings to provide for themselves. Acknowledgement that there are people who truly have no faith in the gods and are happy and helpful because of their freedom rather than despite it. Moreover, design these characters and groups so that they aren’t anomalies or wonders, just normal and accepted parts of the world.
The mythology of Asura in Pathfinder seems explicitly designed to validate conservative Christian paranoia and legitimize the abuses they perform out of fear. In addition to that, their condemnation as innately evil for having suffered the abuses of the gods is an insult to those who have endured religious abuse in some form. Opening the game up to deconstructors would demand drastic changes to these creatures and their stories.
If one wishes to keep Asura as villains, then perhaps their fiendish goals and methods could be redesigned. The Asura in the games I’ve run are written as clinging to dead stories and ideologies, seeking to resurrect notions of heroism and virtue which the world has moved on from. They embody classical aspirations and morals which modernity understands to be cruel or ineffectual, and thus they work to re-establish faulty ancient traditions by murdering and silencing those who they view as representing modern values. In this context, their acts of meditation, hunger for violence, and appreciation for ruins remain, but their villainy is no longer directed at innocents.
Alternatively, the Asura could be legitimized within Golarion, covering every alignment in their mission to expose the hypocrisies and tyrannies of the gods. There are plenty of reasons to question the merits of even the most good-aligned gods, and Asura could become patrons of such opposition. Imagine a neutral good Asura who organize therapy sessions or planar safehouses for those harmed by deities and their followers, a lawful good Asura who protects a community targeted by a church, or a chaotic good Asura who pursues clerics and outsiders who mistreat their followers. Asura Ranas could grant spells not to worshippers, but rather allies who are fighting the good fight against oppressive deities. With those sorts of planar allies, deconstructors could find a place for their experiences within the Golarion setting.
Deimaviggas should likewise be rewritten, but could perhaps serve as more compelling allies of the gods rather than enemies. The Deimavigga could use lies and manipulations to keep people trapped within a toxic congregation, repeating mantras of damnation and helplessness in order to convince people that they need the god or church which is hurting them. This would certainly fit with Asmodeus’ ideology and with the point Mark Twain originally intended when authoring “The Mysterious Stranger” (which seemingly inspired these devils’ design).
Rewriting Rahadoum and Free Agents
When the most prominent culture with religious criticism in a setting is written as an irrationally fanatical state who seeks and destroys all holy texts, it is difficult for deconstructors to view the authors as anything but hostile. As mentioned before, Rahadoum has the potential to be a compelling and commentary-filled nation, but establishing such nuance would require adjustment of existing lore in addition to establishment of new pieces. Elements such as Rahadoumi being afraid of healing magic and exiling people for possession of holy texts can be removed, as these aspects are seemingly intended to make the nation and philosophy look absurd (not to mention contradicting the statement from Lost Omens World Guide that private worship is permitted within Rahadoum). Similarly, “dockside propagandists” who press people into rejecting their gods on soapboxes can be thrown out as a premise. The Pure Legion can be kept, but they should be given something to fight against rather than being used as a random and deadly hazard for brutalizing religious PCs. The Laws of Mortality were shaped by a holy war between Nethys, Norgorber, and Sarenrae, so perhaps each of these faiths is serving as a powerful and dangerous element within Rahadoum (Nethys and Sarenrae in particular have ties to the nation’s former conquerors, so it would make sense to see them pressing for the re-integration or invasion of governments the Rahadoumi would sooner avoid). Rahadoum is apparently known for their philosophers, so maybe the Pure Legion also serves to protect traveling scholars when they go to speak outside the country (after all, a number of churches would be very upset about a foreigner telling their congregation that there are other paths to fulfillment). Maybe the churches of Sarenrae, Asmodeus, and Nethys have deliberately spread lies about the Pure Legion and the Rahadoumi people, coming up with concerning aspects of the lore in order to limit Rahadoum’s influence or justify military action. As for the Rahadoumi people themselves, it would be interesting to see their practical reasons for adhering to the Laws of Mortality. Maybe these people see no need for churches because government welfare programs and strong social networks provide for them without demanding tithes or loyalty pledges. Perhaps the gods could be vocal about hating the Laws of Mortality, but they know that simply smiting Rahadoum would only prove the populace correct.
Expanding the scope to a cosmic level, perhaps places could be established for Free Agents in the Outer Planes. Those who oppose the gods will likely still have convictions they wish to fight for as exemplars, so giving groups such people their own domains in each of the aligned planes would solidify them as equal and valid players in the great cosmic game. Authors could go one step further and allow people to actually choose their own afterlife rather than having their fates be decided by Pharasma. The lower planes would still be filled by those who believe that a cruel environment would make them stronger or wiser or whose self-loathing drives them seek out misery (in addition to characters who were pulled down by Faustian bargains), but allowing mortals to decide for themselves what faction they wish to join in the afterlife would force each god to make more compelling arguments for why their ideals should be followed. Such a choice would also support the alleged dedication to free will which deities are described as having in Gods and Magic.
Divinity as Grand Manipulators
My last idea for freeing Golarion from conservative Christian ideology has been used in my own games and doesn’t involve changing anything in the existing lore. The gods still wield unquestionable moral authority, shape the cosmos, and target questioners and deconstructors with various abuses and indignities. In this conception, however, the gods are not presented as fundamental forces but rather as powerful adversaries, akin to the True Fae in Changeling: The Lost. Adventuring in such a setting is a gnostic exercise in finding value outside of material existence, discovering meaning and preserving what you love as you are threatened on all sides by malicious and nigh-omnipotent entities who view you as a plaything or tool of validation. Maybe the gods don’t occupy all of existence and there exist beings who are attempting to subvert their rule by rescuing the mortals imprisoned within their influence, or perhaps the gods are desperately clinging to their power and work to conceal the ease with which they could be overthrown. Such a setup creates a very different fantasy environment from Pathfinder’s themes and is thus the least likely to be implemented in any official capacity, but could be a very functional solution for one’s table.
Section 5: Conclusion
I hope this piece of writing has been revealing, informative, or possibly therapeutic to readers. Should any of Paizo’s authors read this piece, I hope that the ideas, concerns, and changes discussed herein can be implemented in future Pathfinder materials. I want to see the game and the TTRPG industry improve in acknowledging and accommodating the experiences of people who have left Christianity and those who are still trying to leave, and I believe that spreading awareness of the concerns and triggers which have made their way into Pathfinder is an important step in realizing that goal.
This post is an editorial, and it not included in the content of this blog released under the Open Gaming License
Roughly nine years ago, I began working with Green Ronin on-staff rather than as a freelancer. They very quickly became some of the people I trust most and love most fiercely in this industry. I’ve been a Ronin, on and off, ever since. I have learned more from them than I can ever explain, and if you enjoy anything I’ve made since 2013, no matter who published it, the Ronins get some of the credit.
Exactly eight years ago (to the hour), Lj and I packed up our household and moved to the Pacific Northwest, so I could work at Paizo Inc. I wanted to spend time with yet more of the greatest creatives in the world, and I have no regrets in that department. I wish I had handled some things differently, and that housing costs hadn’t grown at a rate I didn’t conceive of, but the people I got to know, friends and family-of-choice I made, and the projects I got to be part of are among my greatest joys even today.
Roughly three years ago, we left for Indiana, for a lower-stress, lower-cost-of-living career move. That didn’t go as planned, but given the friends I made, I can’t find it in me to regret it.
Roughly two years ago, during the pandemic, we moved back home to Oklahoma. That was never the plan, and in many ways it felt like total failure on my part. But it’s also where my family and the friends I’ve known for 40 years and more live, and being home as the world churns has helped keep me sane.
I don’t know what the next chapters will be. They won’t be anything I imagined 8 years ago. I’d love to find a full-time steady remote game industry job with benefits… but I’m not counting on unicorns.
So, let me start with this: My industry opinions are based purely on my experience. I don’t have a writing degree, business degree, or any college degree. I barely passed High School. I lack any certifications or formal training. My only claim to knowing what I am doing is that I keep getting paid to do it. What I do know, I learned over 25+ years being in the industry, doing dumb stuff that taught me not to, and listening to people who were smarter, better educated, and more experienced than I am.
That’s often meant watching changes impact the tabletop game industry, and trying to figure out what they mean as they happen. A great example of that is crowdfunding. While there were forms of crowdfunding when I first got into the industry in the 1990s, it was far less common, successful, or sophisticated than it is today. This often leads people to wonder, why do companies insist on crowdfunding games now, when they didn’t used to have to? In my experience, the biggest reasons for the change toward using crowdfunding are threefold.
First, pre-orders basically do not exist anymore. In the 80s and 90s, you could solicit a game product through the three-tiered distribution channel, and get pre-orders that both paid you for a chunk of your total print run months before you had to make them (especially before you had to pay the printer’s bill), and gave you some idea what the total demand for that product might be. If you were thinking of printing 10,000 copies, and pre-orders were 500, you knew you had way overshot the level of interest. If orders were 9,5000, you knew you should print more.
This allowed you to make s big a print run as you could, driving down per-unit costs, without a serious risk of overprinting. This made products overall more profitable. The profit on selling 100,000 units is very different between one 100k print run, and five 20k print runs.
(As an important aside: Knowing how many copies of a gamebook sold doesn’t tell you how profitable it was. How many copies were in pdf or some other electronic format? How many were direct sales? How many foreign sales? How many print runs did it take to produce the volume sold, and at what economy of scale? Was it priced right to begin with? This, by the way, is one reason some things that were popular and sold out don’t get reprinted. If you needed a print run of 20k to make a reasonable profit, and it took 3 years to sell through, and 90% of your sales were in the first 90 days, you likely don’t want to reprint. Because if you print less than 20k more units, you won’t make enough profit, and if it takes 6 years to sell through another 20k at the post-first-release sale rate, your money is tied up in the print run (and warehousing costs), instead of new things that sell faster. Of course, this can be another place where crowdfunding can be helpful. I suspect it won’t be long before it’s typical for game companies to crowdfund reprints. They can set a minimum level to make a profit, and only reprint if they hit that. That’s win-win for consumers and biz.)
Second, crowdfunding a project creates an opportunity for a major marketing push. There used to be multiple tabletop game magazines. You could buy an ad in Dragon, Dungeon, White Dwarf, Pyramid, (or any of a dozen other options depending on timeframe and market) and put your product in front of tens of thousands of eyeballs. There’s no one great place, or half-dozen good places, to do that anymore. And even if there were, without strong preoders, it’s hard to create a useful call to action for a product that brings in a lot of money for the creator when they need it.
But crowdfunding sites allow you to use mailing lists from old projects to contact new people, and multiple different game sites report on new crowdfunding projects getting you much more attention at no cost. (And if you use Backerkit and similar crowdfunding support sites, you can pay for ads to be put in front of large groups of market-appropriate consumers.)
Third, there’s not much widespread evidence to suggest sales during a crowdfunding campaign reduce sales made later through normal venues. Selling 2k extra copies during a crowdfunding campaign doesn’t seem to mean fewer sales over the life of the product in stores. (There are people who disagree with this claim, and that’s fair. And for a specific store, region, or market, it might not be accurate. But my experience from publisher-side observations is enough to convince me that, as a broad trend, this is true.) And crowdfunding sometimes sells 20k copies (or even 200k rarely) of products that similar ones without crowdfunding sell 2,000.
And, of course, game prices have not kept up with inflation. The vast majority of game companies are strapped for cash. This was true even before the pandemic, and the “Extinction-Level Events” that have come with it. So, maximizing the potential for income while minimizing the risks is not just attractive or an effort to money-grab, in many cases it’s an effort to avoid bankruptcy and having games disappear off the shelves entirely.
Supporting This Blog
I’m absolutely not immune to the money crunch in the game industry, so if you want to help ensure blog posts like this keep getting produced, please consider supporting my efforts 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).
Working from home isn’t for everyone, but prior to the pandemic, it was great for me. The problem now is that *everything* is remote. No conventions or casual get-togethers. By the time I do every meeting I *have* to have on zoom, I am too burned out to do remote brainstorming.
There are also problems some people attribute to wfh that, at least for me, aren’t about that. Before when I would do wfh, no one expected me to reply to chats and emails in a quick timeframe. Now, if 15 minutes go past, they wonder where I am. If 7 people ping me at once They aren’t all 7 going to get me attention in 15 minutes. If one of those things is an emergency, the others have to wait. But no one is putting reply expectations in writing. They appear to just seethe, wondering if I am *really* working.
(Note that most of my wfh is contract and freelance, but I have heard it’s even worse for people doing wfh for a single company, most of which seem to have 3 to 4 different ways to communicate remotely, and no system for keeping the volume managable.)
And current work conditions are hampered by things well beyond wfh. For example, more of my friends and colleagues are depressed and in real, dangerous pain than ever before. (So am I.) That mostly isn’t about lack of socialization or in-person meetings. Instead, it’s a response to grief, loss of both actual beloved people and lifestyle options that have ended. It’s a side-effect of loss of faith in humanity overall. And it’s stress dealing with endless uncertainty.
In the tabletop RPG industry in the US, no one feels particularly secure. Small and mid-tier companies could go under with one more shipment being delayed, even when shipping within the US. At bigger companies, layoffs are an ever-present specter.
I’ve had people say “Look, I understand *some* delay, but why is project XX two years late?! Does working from home not work?”
Well, no. It’s because being creative has been a sucking maw of pain and anxiety for more than two years.
“Can’t you just ignore other people’s pain and suffering and calls for help to spend more time working on the game product I want?”
No. I can’t.
And I don’t think I want to work with anyone who can.
And even if I could bring myself to try, the resulting depression that would hit me for abandoning people who crush any protectivity the extra hours were supposed to produce.
No writer, no editor, no publisher, no customer service representative in gaming (or any creative endeavor) is at full capacity atm. I presume the same is true of lots of other fields, but this is the one where people come to me for help and advice.
And the reduced ability in quantity, quality, and responsiveness has fuck-all to do with if they are in an office or not. And if the pandemic totally ended today, it’d be a year or more before they all recovered. And most of them can’t say this, for fear of losing customers.
From Publishers to Assistant Word Miners, from ttRPGs to novels, retail, delivery, medicine — people need to be cut some slack. It sucks, and it cannot and will not be fixed quickly, and it’s not because anyone is malingering.
Thanks for reading to the bottom of my long-ass post.
Support Some Folks!
Normally, this is where I post links to my Ko-Fi and Patreon, and talk about how helpful it is to back them.
But not today.
Today, I am highlighting other people and groups. Because if you want gaming to survive, you need to give what support you can. That might be financial. Or it might be boosting the reach of these means of supporting others.
Know Direction Patreon
“The award-winning Know Direction Network has news, reviews, and interviews. We have provided over 500 hours of original podcast content, over 300 hours of convention coverage, and over 800 articles from a decorated team of bloggers, including prolific Pathfinder freelancers, a hugely successful third party publisher, and an RPG Superstar winner.
We want to do more. We have plans for additional audio, video, and blog content. We want to get more staff to more conventions. And we want to coat everything we release with a more professional varnish. However, we pay for most of our material out of pocket, and it’s hard to find the funds for these projects. “
Open Gaming Network
“The Open Gaming Network is a family of wiki-like rules reference websites for various Open Gaming Licensed game systems, or similarly-licensed RPG systems.” They have a Patreon. Also, you can support the OGN, and a lot of companies, by shopping at the Open Gaming Store!
Isabelle Thorne (aka Kindalara) is a writer, editor, and creator. I’ve worked with her many times, and am a big fan of her creativity and skill. She has a Ko-Fi, and a Patreon as “Thorny Rose Gaming.” She absolutely deserves your support.
Steve Kenson is creating Icons Superpowered Roleplaying Content.
Joshua Hennington is an up-and-coming freelance writer of tabletop role-playing game content; he’s written for several accredited publishing companies, from Paizo Publishing to Rogue Genius Games, Everyman Gaming, Rite Publishing and more!
Chesley Oxendine is an RPG creator who could use help with medial expenses.
Game writer Ruvaid Virk’s heater went out. In Michigan. In the winter.
Steven Hammond is a freelance ttrpg writer and designer, best known for writing kooky stuff for Pathfinder 2e.
Everybody Games is creating the Eversaga Roleplaying Game… but it’s slow, tough work that takes money.
Shanwolf is a new streamer, who is also trying to write “Iron Stars, Burning Hearts.”
Ivis K. Flanagan is a Freelance RPG Writer, Gamer, Teacher, Dreamer, and life long Disney Disnerd. She has a Ko-Fi.
Andrew D. Geels is @PinBarbarian on Twitter. He streams at twitch.tv/pinstripedbarbarian. His website is firstname.lastname@example.org. He has a Ko-Fi.
Shay is an Indigenous tabletop writer, editor, and playtester. They have a Ko-fi.
Minty Belmont has a Ko-fi.
Luis Loza is creating Pathfinder 2E and other RPG content on Patreon.
Isis Woz has a Ko-Fi.
Jessica Redekop is a Canadian illustrator and game designer who is starting to get into costuming by way of LARP. She has a Ko-Fi.
Mike Bramnik is a Gamer, geologist, geek, and relatively new TTRPG freelance author writing for established settings and crafting soundtracks for RPG sessions. He has a Ko-Fi.
Now funding on Kickstarter, the Skaldwood Blight Adventure Path is a complete campaign for Pathfinder Second Edition, taking characters from 1st level all the way to 20th level in a massive book over 250 pages long! A demon lord has invaded the far northern land of stalwart barbarians, righteous priests, and mysterious fey. Can the heroes uncover the demon lord’s many plots, vanquish his minions, and save the Northfells from corruption and destruction? Here is your chance to save the land!
The Adventure Path’s setting, the Northfells, can be easily dropped into any campaign world. There’s plenty of wilderness adventure, but the Skaldwood Blight’s heroes must delve dungeons, infiltrate insular cities, and negotiate with supernatural forces for vital aid. There’s something in the Skaldwood Blight Adventure Path for every player!
The Skaldwood Blight Adventure Path began when Paizo, Inc. developer (and veteran adventure author) Ron Lundeen set out to build a compact yet complete adventure path from the ground up on his blog at RunAmokGames.com. The pieces of the Adventure Path have now been compiled, expanded, and reconfigured into a massive book presenting an entire campaign, complete with art, maps, designer commentary, and more!
This 250+ page book contains everything you need to run the campaign, including:
- 20 chapters of adventure, one for each level of play, in a thrilling, danger-filled campaign!
- An overview of the Northfells, a hard region of ice and fury. Menace lurks in every proud city-state, along every trail, and in every frost-shrouded forest!
- Unique backgrounds suitable for any character!
- Copious art and maps by industry veterans!
Additional rewards to unlock throughout the campaign include:
- Additional backgrounds that tie directly into the campaign’s characters, locations, and plots!
- An expanded gazetteer of the Northfells, the campaign’s thrilling setting!
- A designer commentary about building the Adventure Path from the ground up!
By Ron Lundeen, Paizo’s Developing Manager for Pathfinder, veteran and fan-favorite adventure writer, owner of run Amok Games, and licensed lawyer and member of the Washington State Bar Association!
Stretch Goal 1: Northfells Gazetteer [LOCKED – $`15,000]
We’ll provide a four page, high-level gazetteer of the adventure path’s entire setting, including all the key towns the heroes will visit (and even some they won’t, giving GMs room to expand). The gazetteer also includes the dangerous forests, waterways, and mountain ranges of the Northfells, too, as much of the campaign occurs in the wilderness! A map of the entire Northfells is included.
This gazetteer is player-focused, providing tantalizing hints but no spoilers, so it’s suitable for GMs to give to their players.
More Stretch Goals To Be Announced As We Get Closer To Them
Editorial note From Owen: Earlier this week I posted An Open Letter to Erik Mona, written by a freelancer I know who had asked me to post it. Erik replied almost immediately, outlining steps he was taking, and you can see his response as a comment to the original open letter. The open letter’s author asked that this response to Erik’s reply also be publicly posted, which I am doing now. If you haven’t already read the open letter and Erik’s swift reply, doing so before reading this will give needed context.
“I appreciate the swift response in addressing the raised concerns. I believe that removal of slavery from Golarion is an excellent step towards creating a welcoming and inclusive game. I hope that Paizo will work closely with African American writers and sensitivity consultants as they move forward with this change and beyond. I look forward to seeing what we can create.”
Editorial Note from Owen: As someone established in the industry, one of the things I have done before and expect I will do again is to post messages written by other people who, for whatever reason, aren’t in a position to make such posts themselves. This is one of those times. This letter was sent to me by a freelancer I know, and I am posting it for them, at their request.
A Letter to Erik Mona and Paizo
Pathfinder has a slavery problem. That is not something that I thought I would be writing at the close of 2021, but here we are. The fixation on slavery as an institution, as a “plot hook,” as a fixture in the world of Pathfinder is at times baffling and at times infuriating. Even as Black fans, players and writers express our outrage and discomfort over and over again, certain writers at Paizo continue to ignore us and use an awful source of pain as fodder for their entertainment. And while I would typically choose to call out the company as a whole rather than any particular individual, in this case I feel I have no choice.
In recent Pathfinder release, Lost Omens: Absalom, Erik Mona as credited as both the Development Lead and Editing Lead. It is a matter of public record that the long delay in the release Absalom was due to Mona’s extended time making changes that would take the book from its initial estimated 240 pages to a final page count of 402. In nearly every way that mattered, Erik Mona had creative control over what the final product would look like, and so he is the person I have to hold responsible.
Before I get into the specifics of the book, I do feel the need to provide some additional information so that everyone can understand why it feels like such a betrayal. And to do that I have to talk about the Pathfinder Society Organized Play program that allows players to jump into public, pre-organized games, often with people they may not know very well. Not to bury the lede, until recently, players in these publicly organized games were allowed to buy slaves.
If you’re wondering how that happened, it’s pretty straightforward. Somewhere, in some Pathfinder book, there were rules options that detailed the cost to purchase a slave – a perfectly legal practice in the fictional city of Absalom. Certain Paizo employees decide which books are allowed for Society, and the book with this option was one of the ones allowed. So, any player with access to that rule could then have their character buy another human being, and because there was no rule to disallow it, the gamemaster and other players at the table had no way to stop them.
You see, participating in Society play means that you agree to play by their rules. If you don’t like it, your only recourse by and large is to get up and leave the table. The only alternative is to get everyone to agree that the rule is wrong, and either collectively ignore it, or force Paizo’s hand to get them to change it. A group of players, mostly led by black voices, chose the latter. The official response? If players wanted slavery banned in Organized Play, then there had to be an in-game event that justified the abolition of slavery.
What a fucking hoop to jump through, right?
But it happened. Pathfinder Society Scenario #9-00: Assault on Absalom. An in-game event, requested by players, that led to the abolition of slavery. In one city. By conscripting the enslaved people to fight in a war and then giving freedom to the survivors. Way to trip forward over a very low bar.
And since then, other content has been published with a clear anti-colonialist, abolitionist agenda. Former colonies went through revolutions to free the colonized people and grant them independence. Other influential figures in the world are working to purge slavery from their own regions. Most freelancers and developers so desperately want to move forward and leave this awful shit behind. We want this to be a game that everyone can enjoy, that doesn’t trivialize Black pain or rely on shock value.
Then there’s Erik Mona and Absalom. There are 126 references to slaves and slavery in the 402 pages of Absalom. Some of them are just recounting history. Some of them are references to abolition and aiding free people. Several of them are graphic descriptions of “illegal” slavery, human trafficking, prison abuse, organized crime and all the various ways that Absalom tries to have it both ways. What a fucking slap in the face.
Things like this have happened too many times. At this point, I don’t think an apology is enough. I don’t think editing the book to remove the offending content is enough. My relationship with Paizo was already on shaky ground, and it continues to get shakier by the week. I don’t know what that will mean for my career, but it certainly means that my trust in the company, and any faith I might have had in Erik Mona are gone.
People often seem to value my advice. From game design to life as a ttRPG freelancer to gmae buisness to destigmatizing mental health issues to being an ally, I am often asked to give my opion, offer context, brainstorm options and solutions. It seems weird to me, but people I trust tell me the advice is often useful, so I believe them. I am even so arrogant as to charge a (to my mind, extremely high) amount of money for a solid hour of professional advice.
But, there are significant limits to the value of my advice, and I would not want to present it in a way that suggests otherwise.
Firstly, all of my advice is born of my experiences, and as a hetero cis white man there are a lot of things I haven’t personally experienced. I do listen to people who are marginalized by the industry as much as I can, and tried to learn from what I see happen to them and what they tell me, but that’s still different than knowing from direct experience of what living through and dealing with those events are like. I have to guess how they may make people with different backgrounds and circumstances, and that’s always going to color how my advice applies to them.
I make an effort to be aware of this in various ways. First, there are numerous issues about which I know it’s more important for me to listen than to talk. Booting the voices of those directly affected is often appropriate in ways that given my own experience isn’t. And a big part of that is that I may not understand what the real issue is. If a woman is talking about having her name as author not be put on the front cover of a book, and I might feel it’s could be helpful to talk about times in which I fought to put my name on the front cover as author, and failed. But, due to context, there’s every chance it’s not the same. I’m on the front cover of tons of books, and there’s no systemic negative reaction to me being presented as a noteworthy game designer. I’ve seen co-workers, with the same job title I have, who don’t happen to be hetero cis white man, get announced as guests at game conventions only for multiple people to being casting aspersions that they’re only there as “woke virtue-signaling” or “diversity hires.”
That’s never happened to me. Not when i was first a guest at Gen Con, in 2000, with no solo book credits to my name. Not when I was a guest multiple times at SoonerCon, with nothing but magazine credits. Not when I was a guest at Comicpalooza in 2014 and being treated to the same level of green room care as James Marsters and Tricia Helfer. Anytime I am presented as an expert or noteworthy, people who have never heard of my before simply nod and accept it must be true. I have witnessed that absolutely not be the way people react when people of different backgrounds are presented as folks worth listening to and treating with respect.
Put another way, if I ask someone not to put something on the top shelf and they do, I can still reach it. If someone 5’2″ tall asks people not to put things on the top shelf and they do, they are NOT having the same experience I did.
Secondly (yeah, firstly was a long one), my advice tends to assume everyone you are dealing with is acting in good faith. Often when I talk about being kind, helping others, trying to build networks of allies, fans, and colleagues, someone will comment with a note “But also protect yourself!”
And they’re right.
I rarely have to protect myself from bad-faith actors trying to take advantage of me. It happens, but a lot of it is so obvious I easily sidestep it, and a lot of the ways it used to happen when I was less well-established just isn’t an issue anymore (due to changing technologies, changing industry norms, and so on). I’m more than 20 years into my career, and generally consider myself bulletproof in regards to reputation and recognition. That is NOT the case for everyone, and I’ve pretty well proven that if I am not explicitly discussing how to deal with bad actors, I’ll forget it can be critical context to add.
Thirdly… am more than 20 years into my careers. I am fairly well known in the small pool I wallow in. My advice may not be the best, most current look at how to get started, get better known, make contacts, build a following from the ground up, get paid more, and so on. I am often extended benefit-of-the-doubt, friends-and-family options, and professional courtesies other people aren’t. And I may not even know when that’s the case, causing my to blithely overlook how hard certain kinds of accommodations might be to get.
Fourthly, I tend to approach all industry-related questions from the point of view of a designer, developer, and publisher. I have much less experience as an artist, or editor, or sensitivity of cultural consultant. I also tend to focus on a specific kind of ttRPG game–much more d20 and Green Ronin’s AGE than Dread or Blades in the Dark, and even further from miniatures games, boardgames, cardgames, and even FURTHER from video games and novels. If you want to get the kind of work I do, I may have valuable suggestions and insights. If you want to become a big Hollywood movie script writer, I recommend finding more-closely-linked-in advisors. 🙂
Same thing applies to residence. My advise is U.S.A. focused.
There are, I am sure, other blind spots in my advice that I am, well, blind to. So, please, take anything I say with a grain of salt. Listen to people who come at these questions from different places in time and origin. Be aware that the game industry is a constantly-changing knot of interconnected companies, events, business needs, cultural trends, and changing best practices. I try hard to not be a dinosaur… but even if I know a giant comet is a risk, I’m often going to miss how non-dinosaur concerns could color the utility of my advice.
Having taken ALL that space to warn you that I should never be more than one voice of many you listen to, I’m going to take the bold step of suggesting that if you DO want to keep hearing what i have to say, it may be worthwhile to drop $3/month into my Patreon, so I can afford to keep taking the time to say it.
This entry in the Letters from a Dev series is adapted from a direct message I sent to a freelancer who I had offered to help get some 3pp material published for, and who then had some other opportunities pop up that (quite rightly) they pursued first. But we kept in touch, and I was happy to give guidance and advice when they wanted it.
Recently, they had some material in something published professionally… and the product was not great. I won’t go into details, other than to say the final text is pretty clearly worse than the original turnover the freelancer sent in. Now, that happens sometimes. It’s much, much rarer than things being significantly improved, in my experience. It’s even rarer than a freelancer thinking something has been ruined, when in fact the publisher has made improvements the freelancer simply isn’t fond of. But a publisher ruining a good draft does occasionally happen. And, when it does, it can be a shock, and a real emotional gut-punch.
Especially if the product was something you were excited about, seeing it’s final form be less clear, more typo-ridden, and riddled with worse rule implementation can be spectacularly disheartening. Given how tough ttRPG creation work is, how poorly it generally pays, and how little respect the work earns from the general public, often the joy in seeing the final product–with all its polish and improvement–is the biggest reward for the labor you put into it. When that is not just worse than you expected, but worse than you handed over, it can feel like you wasted your time and have been treated with disrespect.
In this case, the freelancer asked if I was willing to offer any suggestions on how to handle both the professional issue, and the emotional toll it takes. My adapted response is below.
“First, know that this is rare. Also, that’s always hard when it does happen. As a socially awkward depressive, I have had some projects changes and/or cancellations send me into deep negative states. It’s rough.
So, what to do about it.
Assuming the whole book isn’t a shitshow, it’s totally worth celebrating it as a project you contributed to. Credits are important, and even if they take away your joy, they shouldn’t also get to take away your stepping stone. You worked hard for this, and if you decide to move forward with freelance work, it’s worth having a professional credit from a recognizable company name on your resume. As long as the issue isn’t a moral or legal failing, even if you aren’t a fan of the final form, the very fact you did the work and it got published can help you get more opportunities in the future. The best way to clean a bad project taste out of your mouth is with a better project.
Even if you claim the project credit, since you earned it, feel free not to talk about what specifically you wrote for it. Usually, people don’t ask. If the DO ask, just say “Since the developer made changes, I don’t want to claim anything specific without the developer weighing in first.” If someone notes the project has a lot of errors, it’s fair to say you are not the developer or the editor, but don’t go farther than that. As a freelancer looking for more gigs, there’s no upside to making a stink about the quality of other people’s work if it’s not an ethical or legal issue.
It can be worthwhile to reach out to your developer and (politely) ask about specific changes that seem to be errors or violate the guidelines you were given. Don’t say it’s wrong and they messed it up – just say something like “I note that I wrote the Thingamabob gives a +2 bonus, in keeping with the design document I had, and the final version gives a +5. Is there a design consideration I should be aware of, so I can create material closer to what you need?” This kind of request-for-feedback is fairly common, and even if it the change to what your wrote just a big fuckup on their part, bringing it to their notice at least means they can start more quickly to work on errata, if any.
Those are practical concerns. Emotionally? That’s harder.
Bitch to friends you trust to keep it quiet. Play a game as different from what you worked on as you can. Pet a cat. Do an internet search for “TSR DaWizard,” and when you read the stories remember a BIG company got that one wrong on a huge scale. Drink some hot cocoa (or whatever fills that role for you). Let some time pass.
Know that this is a moment in your career, not an omen about the entirety of it.
Also… the pandemic has been hard on every creative I know. This both makes projects more likely to get botched, AND makes the impact of having your work be mangled so much more impactful. We have no idea the circumstances under which the developers/editors got their work done on this project. It may be an outlier that just suffered from massive internal problems with the company. It sucks for you, but it isn’t personal. And it isn’t going to happen every time.
Give yourself permission to be angry right now, and to need some time to shake it off. Usually, after a few weeks, it won’t be quite so raw a wound.
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