Category Archives: Con Season

Life in Evansville… So Far, So Good

I have heard recently from three different friends who all said three different other friends are “sure” I hate it in Indiana, here in the Land of the Brain Eaters.

I don’t.

I’m actually settling in really well. Yes, I am sometimes lost, depressed, disconnected, moody, or in a black doldrum so dense nothing, not even cheer, can escape.

But… that’s just me, folks. I have civilian PTSD. I suffer clinical depression. I am a socially awkward introvert. None of that was going to stop because I moved to the last place in the US where you can buy a fried brain sandwich any day of the week.

I mean… maybe once I eat my first brain. I’m saving that for a special occasion.

But honestly, I am doing better than I expected, by a long shot. I have only ever lived in central Oklahoma and the Seattle region (well, and one semester in California when I was in kindergarten). Ever time I have moved, even just to a new neighborhood in the same town, it has taken me months to get comfortable. Sometimes years.

Here? I’m already pretty comfortable.

Some of that may be how I moved–for me the most grueling part was packing things up during the 5 weeks I was still in Redmond after Lj had flown out to Evansville. But that meant our possessions, including my bed, were already in place when i arrived. There was a space for me before I got here. Yes, about half of what I own is still in boxes, and we’re still figuring out which kitchen drawer has the spatulas, and the movers lost some of our furniture and ruined more–but none of that is part of Evansville. It sucks, but it’s just life.

Gen Con was shortly after my arrival, and while driving to and from the Con in a few hours was a new experience, the Con itself is familiar. The Con Crud I got was new — just a little sore throat and a tad too much mucus, combined with a fatigue that kicked my ass for three weeks. So some of the vibes people seem to have picked up may have been annoyance with how little energy I had.

The culture here is one I understand. It’s not the same as OK or WA, but it’s similar to both of them in a way. No one looks at me funny when i say ‘yes, sir” or “thank you, ma’am,” most food is fried *or* bar-b-que *or* Asian fusion, there are multiple multiplexes, lots of delivery services, and a dizzying array of test kitchen restaurants.

Roads are largely laid out on a grid with 90-degree turns and packing lots shared between businesses. Things are flat, though not Oklahoma flat. There’s real thunder, so far on a nearly-weekly basis. The sun comes up and goes down at reasonable times.

I miss my Seattle friends… but I still chat with them online. I miss my OK friends… but I just saw them last month. I enjoy being closer to friends who live in IN and adjoining states, and I expect I’ll make new friends. And if I don’t, that’s okay too.

And WOW are things cheaper than Seattle. Like, stunningly cheaper. That takes a LOT of stress off.

My wife Lj and I have begun figuring out what life here is going to be like. We took our first ever yoga class–a chair-based one, for beginners–and I think that’s going to be a huge part of the future. It’s less than 15 minutes from our apartment, we clicked with the class and instructor immediately, and it had an immediate positive effect on us. I have come to think of it as physical therapy for being human. As I claim back strength and flexibility lost to years of stress and sitting, I’ll be looking at next steps, but this first step feels very *right*, and useful, and sustainable.

I’m already in a Pathfinder game, so that’s good. 🙂 I have also already begun to carve out the new shape of my career. I’m the Game Design Expert at Lone Wolf Development, I have a real plan to produce some fiction in a way I never have before, and I have more things as settled deals which just aren’t ready for announcement yet.

There will be dark times ahead, of course. That’s a fact of my life — I am at war with my own brain, and I take that war with me anywhere I go. But I don’t think those battles will be harder here than they were elsewhere. Yes, my support network is more virtual and less direct now, but then my sources of stress are also reduced. Yes, there are some big financial challenges we put off until after the move, but we are in a good place to tackle those. A lot of the things I thought would happen now look like they aren’t going to, but I knew not all of them would–just not WHICH ones wouldn’t. And, at least at the moment, I am sanguine with my prospects.

And for a while at least, there’s a whole city to explore. Will we go to the giant bridge club building? Visit one (or more) of the many minigolf courses? Pick a “favorite” restaurant, or game store? Go back to taking the occasional evening drive in air that cool but not cold?

Find the elusive Red Cathedral? Or Storm Arsenal? Fight the Brain eaters… or join them?

I don’t know.

But I look forward to finding out.

ABOUT PATREON

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When You Run The Company, Nothing Takes “Just 10 Minutes”

Just coming off Gen Con, which gave me an opportunity to talk shop and history with many of the titans of tabletop, I want to offer some insight on what it’s like to be a manager, owner, or major executive employee at a tabletop game company.

I’ve worked on staff at Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, and Paizo. I’ve freelanced for a dozen other companies, and know many of their owners and executives very well. I’ve helped start, run, and shut down game companies. I’ve been doing this in different roles for more than 20 years.

This insight isn’t about one company. Nor is it about my own time constraints (in general my role is game creation and NOT these kinds of tasks)

This is about the tabletop RPG industry as a whole, as it has been for decades, in many different capacities, for many different companies.

First–you never have free time, or enough time. There is always an event coming up. Sometimes people have to walk away from one almost-week-long event that took 2 months to plan for to get on a plane to fly overseas for another such even. Sometimes people work 5-6 weekends in a row at events, conventions, sales meetings, open houses, and so on. Sometimes you have to work 30 8-10 hour days in a row.

And the people who do that work also have things that have to be done every weekday, every week, every month. It’s 40 hours of work if you are lucky, AND weekends of work (especially during March-August, the half the year we refer to as con “Season”), AND THEN emergencies that are time-sensitive and cannot wait.

And it’s a rough industry. Most of the game companies I bought things from 20 years ago don’t exist anymore. A lot of the ones I bought from 10 years ago don’t exist anymore. Even those that are still around sometimes suffer layoffs, or long periods where things are so risky that a single bad decision about which license to sign, which partner to anger, which friend-of-a-friend you annoy, which print run to cut back, which book to publish, can sink a company.

It’s high-stakes, high-stress, high-time-consumption, all the time.

I absolutely am not telling anyone they are not allowed to ever feel like a company isn’t giving them enough attention. But when there are serious problems, it’s wrong to think the company owners or senior staff are showing disrespect or proving they “don’t care about customers” because they “won’t just take 10 minutes and discuss some information.”

The people who make the decisions who keep the doors open at a tabletop game company can’t do anything regarding major problems off-the-cuff.

It’s never “just 10 minutes.”

And, again, I’m not currently dealing with any of these huge issues in my role at any company right now.

But I have in the past.

I know when I have had issues with licenses with other companies, when I was in other positions, I have had to not just decide “What do I want to say,” but:

“Do I need to warn my partners, who are also partners of a company i am having issues with, before I make a statement about that company’s issues??”

“Do I need to run this by my company’s owner?”

“Do I need to run it through our legal council?”

“Do we need to have a meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page about what has happened, and what our plans are?”

“Do I need to have editors go over my statement so it is clear and concise?”

“Would I rather take the 2-3 hours of collective time it is going to take to do this, or to sleep at least 6 hours tonight?”

And when the people who run these companies are too harried to make the right business decisions? People lose their jobs.

It’s not just a game, or a badly produced entertainment product for the people who depend on these jobs for health insurance, retirement income, and rent.

The thing you claim will be easy to give you?

Done right, it’s never just 10 minutes.

Done wrong, it can tank someone’s job.

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New Job: LWD’s Game Design Expert

I am pleased to announce I am now the Game Design Expert at Lone Wolf Development. (Sometimes, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting at #GenCon.)

While I expect to still be doing many other things as well, including freelance and running RGG, this position is now a major part of my career.

More news when it’s fit to print. 🙂

Shield Feats for PF 2E

Okay I’m at Gen Con, but I can’t help but want to play with some of the most interesting new rules of the  Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook. Shields!

Here are some new shield-focused feats. I am still trying to decide how I want to present some of the new information PF2 feats need in my blog format, so here’s a first try.

Angle Shield[General][Feat 1]

Prerequisites Shield Block
You can angle your shield to deflect part of the force of a powerful blow. When you use the Shield Block feat, your shield takes 5 points less damage than normal (minimum 0).

Duck Down[General][Feat 3]

[Reaction]
Trigger: When you have your shield raised and are forced to make a saving throw.
You can duck down behind your shield, making it more difficult for spells and special abilities to target and effect you. You gain a +1 bonus to the triggering saving throw. You are no longer considered to have your shield raised.

Knock Aside [General][Feat 1]

When you are wielding a shield, you gain a +2 bonus to the Disarm, Force Open, Shove, and Trip actions of Athletics.

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Convocation of Mages: Day One of Four in Seven

It has been many years since I wrote of my travel to the Grand Convocation of Mages. I became comfortable under the aegis of the Golem Lords, and weary of the endless dream ink such travelogues required.

But now I am a Free Lance once again, and it seems fitting to return to habit of marking my hours as seen through eldritch-tinted spectacles.

In many seasons past, my fair denmate, the Loving Tyrant of Lists, has accompanied me to the convocation, and taken her leisure in the land of Nod while I toiled to earn coin. (An amusement of a phrase, given the hard hours of eldritch efforts she engaged to keep my timeline untangled and productive on such trips.) But now, her keen skills have been taken into service of the Allqueen of Wolves, and her travel to the convocation is driven by grand design.

It is I who come along, untethered and at dangling scrolltips, to support her war against the forced of gnarl and chaos that nip at the Allqueen’s heels.

Untethered, but not unbidden. As we now dwell in the lands of the Brain Eaters, we shall take the land route to the Grand Convocation this season, and travel in numbers for safety. I am up before the sun has awoken, to attend last rituals and bend space to accommodate more portage than its dimensions warrant. But this is a quiet time before the flood. I am to help summon the Wolves’ Den, hurl axes at the foes of the Marquis of Parchment, sup alone with the Grimm Master, enjoy the Monster Lord’s Feast at the Hidden Temple (under the watchful eye of the Grimm Master again), spend time dispensing wisdom next to the Ronin Flags, partake of time with the newly forged Golem of the Law of Stars (and many fine Freestaves, whose number I am once again among), and speak in hushed tones to numerous Keepers of Realms and Ephemera and perhaps even sit with the Kitsune Prince before closing out my time with lunch by the Housewrights, and the Feast of Endless Flesh.

But first, my morning oblations.

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The Farewells Begin

Tonight, in about 25 minutes, is my “Farewell Diner” for Paizo.

I’ll be here for 2 more weeks, but this is my last chance to have all the remaining Starfinder team be present for what I see as a celebration of my time at Paizo, and Starfinder (and the people who worked on it) have been a crucial, defining part of that time.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say later, but right now, as I face the first official memorial of 10% of my life, I wanted to express this.

Paizo has some of the greatest, most creative developers, writers, storytellers, and designers in the RPG industry. The art staff, customer service, warehouse staff, and project management all do amazing work trying to keep the actual company able to support those creative goals.

It is not easy. It is not painless. They work spectacularly hard, and emotions and investment in these products runs very high.

I Boomeranged back to Seattle, back into an RPG staff job, because I thought it would make me a better creator.

It has, by leaps and bounds that exceeded my wildest hopes.

But the people I work with, many who have gone on before me and many who are staying here after I am gone, have also made me a better person.

I’m going to have lots of conflicted feelings the first time I see the Paizo credits without my name listed among them.

But one of the strongest will be gratitude for what this time has meant for me.

Long after I am no longer an employee, I’ll remain a fan.

-Owen

Announcement: Change of Course

Well I don’t like TOO much preamble before getting to the point of the announcement, so here’s the tl;dr version.

My wife Lj has gotten a job in Indiana, working as an Executive Assistant for Lone Wolf’s vice-president. As a result, she and I are moving from WA to IN.

In fact, Lj is flying out to our new apartment (if you need our new address and don’t have it, drop me a line) on Saturday. June 15th. In 3 days.

I’ll be around for about a month in Redmond, and then go out to join her.

Inevitably some folks will have questions, so predicting them as best I can, and in no particular order:

Starfinder isn’t going anywhere. Paizo has lots of amazing, hard-working, and talented people on that game line, and they have known I was leaving for a bit now. We don’t know exactly how everything will get sorted out, but the game line and its products will continue.

I remain a huge fan of Paizo, Pathfinder (both editions), Starfinder, the Adventure Card Game, and even things I can’t talk about yet. I was a freelancer for Paizo for years before I was a full employee, and I expect to be freelancing for them again in the future.

While Lj getting a job is the reason for this change, yes, I have plans that involve other companies. But I’m not announcing any of them just yet. Rest assured, I am not leaving gaming behind.

Yes, this is why Rogue Genius Games is taking a short break. But in the long run, it’s not going anywhere. I have plans and plans, yet, for my tiny little gaming company, and its partners and allies.

Yes, that’s why I will be at Gen Con this year. I had decided not to do any out-of-state conventions in 2019. But that won’t be out-of-state by August.

If you have more questions, let them fly!

Five Years at Paizo

I have now been a full-time employee of Paizo for five years.

It both seems like it’s been much, much longer than that, and like it can’t possible have been that long.

I was hired to be a developer for the Pathfinder Modules line, and that lasted for all of a single module (Plunder & Peril), which was outlined and ordered before I showed up, written by awesome authors, and which both Paizo Editor-in-Chief at the time Wes Schneider and the entire Paizo editorial staff had to do a lot of hand-holding to get me through it. Then I moved over to help with the Player Companion line, which I eventually took over. The first book I was able to propose, outline, assign, develop, and shepherd through the whole process was Dirty Tactics Toolbox, and it remains something I am proud of. I developed or helped develop 24 titles in that line, covering a little more than two years. Again, it both feels like it was longer than that, and like I couldn’t possible have been doing that for two years.

During that time I was also the host for Paizo’s RPG Superstar contest, was the Freeport Developer for Green Ronin (and yes, that got complicated, and I appreciate more than I can ever express the trust both companies placed in me), a blogger, the publisher for Rogue Genius Games, a developer and then producer for Rite publishing, a freelance writers developer and consultant, the person who handled most of the development blogs for the Emerald Spire (leading to my “Into the Emerald Spire ongoing multi-year Con game, which will be played at the 6th PaizoCon in  row come next month), a seminar attendee, and as much as possible an advocate for the causes and people I thought needed allies.

(And as a ridiculously long parenthetical aside, I wish I had written something like this for my five-year anniversary with Green Ronin, who have been a loving and supportive family in ways I never would have predicted, and for Rogue Genius Games, which is still my baby. But those milestones hit at times when I didn’t have the words. I don’t want to take away from my main point, but nothing in the past five years has been simple, and I need some folks to know I love and appreciate them at a special level. Thanks Ronins. Thanks Stan! I would not have survived the past 60 months without you all.)

For five years, Paizo has been the focus of my social, professional, and financial life. I met new people. I made, and in a few cases lost to tragedy, close friends. I even had a “five year plan.” I thought I was on a specific path, and thought I knew where that would take me.

Then, Starfinder.

Which I never saw coming.

First the pre-game work, then the core rulebook, and now the work as Starfinder Design Lead. I’ve followed, collaborated, tried to lead, grown, and I hope helped others to grow. I am grateful for how amazing and talented all the people who work on Starfinder in all capacities are, and I am truly proud of a universe I have helped to begin. I look forward to seeing it evolve, especially watching the amazing things other people are doing to make it so much better than I imagined.

On the journey to be here, this arbitrary benchmark which has me writing passionately at 3:30am (and not at all for the first time), one moment sticks out in my mind.

In early 2014, on a phone call with Erik Mona about whether I would seriously give up the life of being a full-time freelancer in the extremely cheap and well-known environments of Oklahoma to take a full-time job for Paizo, he asked me why I wanted the job.

“I want to grow. I want to be around people who do work I admire. I want to meet new people, learn new skills, and do new things. I love Pathfinder, and I love Paizo. I want to help both of those things be better, and I can’t imagine a better place for me to be around successful people who can help me be better.”

It was, Erik said at the time, a great answer.

And, it has proven to be a great success in terms of making me a better person.

The past five years has certainly not been without its challenges, frustrations, pains, fights, and failures. But especially on the my year anniversary, I want to take special care to thank EVERYONE I have ever worked with since I joined Paizo, from managers and publishers and the warehouse crew and art department, editors, designers, developers, and owners, to freelancers and the community and Superstar contestants, for being so helpful, and welcoming, and awesome.

I look forward to the next five years, and all the challenges and opportunities they will bring.

Owen K.C. Stephens,

Starfinder Design Lead, Paizo, Inc.

All Hail the Nerdarchy!

I had a chance to sit down with the awesome folks of Nerdarchy at Gen Con 2018, and talk a bit about tabletop gaming, content creation, and the evolution of RPGs!

(And some thoughts on Starfinder RPG, Paizo Inc., 5th Edition D&D, Green Ronin, crowdsourcing, and more!)

PATREON
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Writing Basics: RPG Pitches (Part Two)

We covered some of the work you need to do well before you actually make a pitch to a game company in Writing Basics: RPG Pitches (Part One). Now we can go on to What to Pitch and When to Pitch It.

What to Pitch

Okay, so if you’ve gone and done the work we outlined in Part One, you have a number of game companies you know are publishing work for the game system you want to write for, and you know what kinds of projects they publish.

So, now it is time to pitch some things very similar to what they already do. Hopefully, there are projects you are excited about that are a good fit for one or more game companies.

If no-one is publishing the kinds of things you want to write, you have some tough decisions to make. Pragmatically, I recommend you get experience and contacts and a good reputation by pitching the sorts of things publishers are already interested in before you try to pitch unique projects no one else has ever thought of. The latter is amazingly useful if done well—but most publishers are going to be dubious about your ability to do something so nonstandard well until they have some idea of who you are and the quality and tenor of your work.

The best way to earn trust to do something outside the box is to prove you understand what the box is and why it’s there. Publishers gets weird and unusual pitches fairly often—everything from people who don’t understand the legal limitations of publishing (it’s hard to lose my interest faster than by pitching a project I legally can’t do, or that required me to do a lot of work on my end to get the legal rights so you can write a thing).

Once you have written a few things for a company that have turned out well, you can begin pitching more out-there ideas.

If you happen to have any special advantages or skills that make you the perfect person to write a pitch, be sure to include that info. For example, if you DO have the legal rights to do a licensed project that seems similar to what a game company is already doing, that’s something to mention early in a pitch. Make sure you’re actually right about that—for example if you have to have a friend who is a best-selling author and casually said they’d be fine with you writing game material set in their universe get that in writing (preferably with some details on timeframe, rights, royalty needs, and so on).

Or if you are pitching an adventure set in a sewer, and you have a professional wastewater civil engineering job, that’s worth mentioning.

When developing your pitches to suggest to a company you have never worked with before, come up with projects at the shortest end of the things that publisher does. You can include one longer one in a set of pitches, but in general something short is a great first project. It’s not asking the publisher to take as big a risk, and it’s not eating up as much of your time to create. Once you and the publish have a project or two together under your belts, you’re both in a better position to know if you want to work on longer projects together.

(Also, you can make sure the publisher is fulfilling their end of the contract before you get more work tied up with them. Do. Not. Work. Without. A. Contract.)

When to Pitch

Right now.

Well, as soon as you have done your homework, and know your own schedule, and have a pitch written.

“But… but… gen Con and the GAMA Trade Show and the publisher’s announced schedule and my school year…”

Yep. Pitch now anyway.

Look, there is no “perfect” time to pitch. Your schedule, the publisher’s schedule, both of your sets of needs—those things are in constant flux. Shoot pitches out there asap, and then begin scheduling when you get replies back. If you have enough work booked for 6 months you can pause, but in general even if you have some work lined up it’s worth pitching new things—just be clear in your pitch what your timeframe likely is. Chances are you won’t hear back about your pitch for weeks anyway, and if your availability is different by then, just be honest.

I only included a When to Pitch section because people have asked me tons of questions about getting the timing of this right.

You can’t. Just do it. The time is now.

The Things You’ve Wanted Me To Tell You For 2,000 Words Now

Your success is going to depend a lot on how much you have read and absorbed all the notes and processes I’ve outlined up to this point, and on being persistent and not getting discouraged when the first company you contact turns you down. And the second. And the next ten.

But yes, there are some basic things you should do once you are actually writing and sending the pitch, and for those of you who have been wanting that list, you’ve finally reached that point in my advice. For all of these steps, remember what I’ve said about doing your homework, pitching things similar to what a company already does, and being ready to actually produce once you get a green light.

If at all possible, find the company’s “Contact Us” page, and use the appropriate email to send your pitch. If you can’t find that, contact them through other (public, professional) means and ask what their process is for accepting pitches. Read their whole website and Facebook page before you do that though—getting this right the first time is a much better impression on your ability to get details right.

Begin with an at-most 2-sentence introduction. If you have any connection at all to the publisher or company, mention it here but keep is SHORT, and don’t suck-up.

Pitch 3-4 projects each time you contact a company to see if they are interested in publishing something of yours. Try to make these different enough that if the company has a gap on its schedule, at least one of your ideas is a good match for their needs. Make sure the projects are all things you are actually interested in and able to write. (Some people try to have one “real” pitch and 2-3 terrible ideas they presume no one will choose to publish. Don’t do this.)

Your pitch should include the following information about each project:

A proposed title. This can be a great chance to prove you know their game product lines.

An elevator pitch description. (That is: if you found yourself sharing an elevator with a publisher and you mentioned you were a writer, and they said “Oh yeah? Got a project you’d like to write for us?,” the description of your idea that is complete but short enough to get out before the elevator finishes it’s ride is your “elevator pitch.” 2-3 sentences, top, and one is better.)

A length, in words. (Doing your homework on the company’s project should held you estimate wordcount based on the words in similar projects.)

A timeframe when you could complete it by, in weeks. If your timeframe has other limitations (“if I don’t get started by August I’ll have school, so writing will take long”) include that information.

Your flexibility on any of these points—but only promise what you can deliver.

Anything that is likely to convince the publisher that you are a particularly good choice to write the product in question. Again, be short.

Here’s a sample pitch, though in a real message I’d add 1-2 more project pitches.

Dear Rogue Genius Games,

I read your publisher’s blog article about game product pitches, and it inspired me to write to you to see if you had interest in some projects I’d love to write for you.

Title: Bullet Points: Halfling War Muffin Recipes.

Length: 600-1,500 words.

A 1st edition Pathfinder RPG rules guide that gives options for adding combat-effective and game-balanced baking-related abilities for players and GMs who want cooking-themed character abilities. Similar in size and scope to your existing Bullet Point projects that add rules for one theme, such as 3 Things Made From Crabmen. (This could also be expanded to be a longer Genius Guide-style project, more like the Genius Guide to name Traits.)

With my current workload I expect this would take two weeks to write once we decided to proceed, although if other freelance projects get greenlit first I might need to schedule more like 4 weeks.

I’ve written numerous OGL products for Pathfinder, and worked on Gingerbread Kaiju (an edible boardgame that included a gingerbread recipe in it), and have insights on how to make this both a useful game supplement and something that appeals to foodie gamers.

You can find numerous samples of my work at my blog (owenkcstephens.com), and on DriveThruRPG.

Thanks for your consideration,

Owen K.C. Stephens

Owen.Stephens@gmail.com
(You can also put your phone number here, if you actually answer your phone. I don’t.)

And that’s it!

Now, go make a dozen more pitches, and while you wait to hear back about those, write for your Blog, Patreon, social media, make some videos… throw your creative spaghetti at the wall, and see what sticks.

Then make more pitches.

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