Category Archives: Musings

On Game Industry Professionalism

I’m surprised how often this comes up, but there is often a sad lack of professionalism in the game industry. It’s not all one-way, and it’s not all intentional, and it’s not all unique to this industry… but some of it is, and that causes issues throughout the hobby. Especially as some big conventions are coming up, and those often mean new contacts and new work deals, I wanted to talk about it a bit.

I’m certainly not the gatekeeper of gaming professionalism, but there are some things that seem to be common among the industry folks I look up to who are better-known, smarter, and more graceful than I am, and I do my best to emulate the. This list isn’t comprehensive or absolute – there are important things I and missing and side cases that might be rare exceptions to these principals. But in general, this is a fair baseline for what I see as the start of game industry professionalism.

Oh, and I want it to be fun to read, so it’s broken into movie quote section.

Break a Deal, Face the Wheel

No, no one will actually put a fiberglass mask on your head and send you off to die in the desert… but if you get a reputation for not doing what you have contracted and agreed to, you may end up in an allegorical desert when all the available work dries up.

Look, the industry is often brutal. Pay is too low, deadlines too short, respect too uncommon (especially among some segments of fans). Some years not only would I have made more money spending the same amount of time doing minimum wage fast food jobs, but my main reward was to be called out and attacked by people with less experience and understanding of games than I have. It can suck.

But leaving people in a lurch makes it suck more.

If you agree to do a job, and the other side holds up their end, you need to do your best to hold up your end. I have had people I thought were promising freelancers, who I took a risk on, mentored, said nice things about and introduced to other publishers, take a contract, ask me to push back the deadline by months, then stop communicating at all, then tell me they can no longer do the project at all and give me some half-assed outline in way of recompense. All while continuing to do work for other companies.

If mental health issues has you down? Yes, that’s no different that backing out of a running job because you broke a leg. You need to be up-front and honest, and tell me as soon as possible, but I get it. But do it early, be frank, and don’t immediately prove it’s not about that by taking even more work from other people. If you need a break, take a break.

But if the job you are doing for me just got pushed back to the back of your queue so often because of better work coming along that you’ve decided it’s not fun anymore, or no longer a good use of your time? Tough. You agreed to do this project. We have a contract. Do it.

You’re not just making a publishers life more difficult when you just throw a project aside. You are boosting their missed opportunity cost, adding stress, and preventing them from paying everyone else who would be involved. It’s unprofessional, and it’s way too common among way too many freelancers.

The reverse of this is ALSO true. If you tell someone you’ll publish their work, and there’s no formal timeline, and five years alter you still haven’t? You are screwing with them. And, obviously, pay what you say you will pay, when you say you will or before. Giving feedback is optional, but smart to improve the whole industry. Bad-mouthing a freelancer to other publishers for some behavior you never told THEM was an issue/ Unprofessional. Cancelling a project and just never telling people working on turnovers? Unprofessional. Sitting on a manuscript for years? Unprofessional… and I’ve been guilty of that one.

Keep it Secret. Keep it Safe.

We rarely have information as crucial as the location of the One Ring, but there certainly are things you shouldn’t let the (various) Dark Lords know.

What information is exchanged between company and employee or freelancer as part of a work arrangement should be kept between those two, unless there’s a crime involved or an agreement that says otherwise or it’s become common knowledge. If you get to work on Ultimate Sentient Weapons, a major book that hasn’t been announced yet, you SHOULD NOT then use that information to write a book that does the same thing but better, and sell it before USW comes out. That’s screwing over your partner who got you that info, and it’s not cool. Similarly if a freelancer tells a publisher the freelancer is already working on something similar, the publisher should not take steps to trademark names involved, or change publishing dates, or badmouth them to damage their reputation, or change the project to cover the idea the freelance admitted to having.

Even without an NDA, don’t do this.

Once things are all out in the open, normal intellectual property rights can apply. And if the publisher is giving the info to lots of folks to do associated projects, there’s no reason not to ask if you can be included in that set of folks. But you can’t use info you were given to do a job for A Corp, then leverage it to sell a tie-in to B Corp before anyone even knows it has happened. Similarly, don’t leak files, even just to your friend Josh. Because you may trust Josh… but Josh may trust Wilhelm, and Wilhelm may trust Jerry, and Jerry may be an asshole. Don’t take the risk.

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

What you do and say as a representative of yourself is your business. But if you wrote for a company’s new book, and you go to that company’s forum, and you take sole credit for things that were developed, edited, and worked on by 7 folks? Not cool. And if you badmouth it as crap the developers ruined? Not professional. And if you attack and insult customers who are annoyed? Way unprofessional.

If you can at all help it, don’t escalate conversations people who work with you are going to have to deal with. It’s like leaving a dead fish on the counter. If it’s your counter that’s gross, but you have to deal with it. If you leave it on my counter, you are making my life harder as the reward for me working with you.

Also, you will build a reputation. It will get around. Consider what you want it to be.

Be Kind. Rewind.

This industry is a meat grinder all too often. People with great talent and love of games leave both for more money, and for less stress and grief from fans.

So, try to be nice.

Yes, this is a vague hand-wave at professionalism, but give it some thought. If it takes only a tiny bit more effort to be nice to folks, why not do that? Yes, sometimes people are attacking you, or actively damaging your company or your reputation, and “nice” may not be a reasonable reply.

But if we were all nice whenever we could be? That would fix a lot of issues too.

Give more credit that you take.

Tell people when they make a positive impact on your life. Thank them.

Consider if you are being needlessly cruel in feedback. Saying you hate a game mechanic is very different from saying it’s idiotic and you don’t understand how anyone could ever think it was a good idea, and even THAT is different from saying a game’s writers are idiots who clearly only have their jobs because they are friends with the developer and the boss is so checked out he doesn’t care what gets published.

We HAVE lost people from the industry from such behavior. We’ll never stop it all, but if I can have one rock thrown at me each day or twelve, I’ll pick just one.

Self-Promotion Done Right

You can build up yourself without tearing anyone down. For example, I have a Patreon, and I’d love if you backed it.

Clinton Boomer has a Patreon. It’s awesome. You should back it too.

Liz Courts has a couple of Patreons. All worthwhile.

So does Jacob Blackmon!

I’d rather talk about how awesome these all are, and let you decide where to spend your money.

This entire post was sponsored by the Open Gaming Store. It’s awesome, too.

The Ogre of Battle

Spurred on by a discussion where someone suggested monster tactics as a product line, I took a quick pass at looking at some tactics for iconic monsters, to see if I think they can be useful and generic enough to make a good product. I’m not convinced wither way yet, but sharing my first draft seemed a great way to test the waters. Thus, here I present my ideas for ogre tactics. As the first giants PCs are likely to run into, ogres make a good stand-in for all Large humanoids, though obviously things like spell-like abilities and rock-throwing may give true giants better options. (Or you could use this with ogres that have orc ferocity, and call them orrocs!)

First, many GMs intentionally give ogres terrible tactics because they have an Intelligence of 6. But remember that this is three times as smart as a wolf. Would the smartest wolf you can conceive of make the bad tactical choice you are considering? No? Then neither should an ogre. Further their typical Wisdom of 10 and the fact they have Perception as a skill suggests ogres can recognize and analyze a situation even if they may do a terrible job describing it with good grammar. Certainly an ogre can recognize a spellcaster, see the issue with allowing foes to heal, know when to press the attack o have one unconscious foe and one healthy foe as preferable to two injured foes who can both fight back, and so on.

Indeed, recognizing spellcasters will often drive ogre tactics. With reach (which you can augment with various options below) an ogre has a decent chance of being able to strike a spellcaster in melee, and an ogre should know that they let their guard down when they cast spells, so desire to keep spellcasters close enough that they must cast defensively to avoid provoking attacks of opportunity from the ogre.

If facing foes without reach, an ogre with no adjacent enemies can safely attempt combat maneuvers against foes 10 feet away without provoking attacks of opportunity, and their Large size and high Strength makes them reasonable likely to succeed. Tripping foes can help with battlefield control (especially as the foe is likely to provoke an attack of opportunity when it stands), and disarming an enemy at least reduces the chance of suffering a full-attack action.

Some tactics are more like customizations, in that they move the ogre away from the base stat block of the bestiary, while staying a legal monster build.

Even if using slow progression, an ogre should average 550 gp of treasure, There is no need for this to all be gold and gems it hoards away in a pocket to be looted off its body. An ogre can have some of its treasure as gear it might use. As simple a choice as allowing it to carry a Large longspear (10 gp) gives the ogre an impressive 20 foot melee range, and it can drop the weapon and draw its greatclub if needed. With that much reach melee foes might well feel the need to risk a charge, and that means the ogre can brace to receive charge. (If this seems likely, consider a boar spear, which costs the same and gives a bonus to AC in that situation).

Similarly a Large heavy crossbow (100 gp) may only fire once every two rounds, but it gives the ogre a much heavier, longer-range initial punch. Since an ogres hide armor proves it is proficient with medium armor, upgrading to a Large breastplate (400 g, though it can save by not also buying Large hide armor for 30 gp) gives it +2 AC. A cure light wounds potion, thunderstone, tanglefoot bag, or other alchemical weapons can also increase it’s flexibility in battle, and are useful to 3rd level PCs as treasure.

If using multiple ogres, one throwing javelins and one with a boar spear can be an effective ranged-combat options until PCs manage to close in. If you have three or more ogres, you might consider giving one a kumade (which is a simple weapon with the grapple special weapon property) or a sickle (a simple weapon with the trip special weapon property) to keep foes worried about combat maneuvers.

If considering adjusting the ogre’s feats, Toughness can generally be swapped out for better choices. Improved Iron Will makes the ogre less likely to be defeated with a single bad Will save, or Power Attack gives it an excellent trade off of damage for a little reduced accuracy. If your campaign allows retraining, consider having two or more ogres with the Crowd Control teamwork feat to make it harder for foes to get inside their reach. If an ogre is going to be alone, the Desperate Battler feat may be useful.

And Now, A Tactical Mention of my Patreon

I have a patreon, I helps me justify the time spent writing all this free content. Sometimes it even has bots of exclusive bonus content. Go check it out!

Bad Nights and Coping Mechanisms

It’s late, and I’m tired. Today was a massive failure. As a result, I feel like a massive failure.

So, to coping mechanisms.

Though I do not believe it emotionally, or intellectually, I am going to keep telling myself everything is going to be all right, and that things will get better. There are risks to this, but it serves me better than despair, so that’s the mechanism. It has to be rote, or I won’t do it when I most need it. I have sometimes dug up my old checklist, from when I literally could not trust myself to make smart care decisions on nights like this. I’d stare at the times, and feel total apathy. But doing something seemed smart, so I’d do those things. And check them off, each as I did it, no matter how minor. Some lists even include not doing things, so I get to mark those off just by properly focusing my sloth.

The coping mechanism says I have to go forward assuming I can fix things tomorrow. I can’t keep the failure of today with me, count all my progress against the negative value of this and all the failed days that came before. That’s stacking the deck against myself. I need to have a realistic assessment of what is possible, but that’s about looking forward not weighing down measures of success with things I could have gotten done if I just hadn’t failed miserably on a range of occasions.

I do know, looking at my track record, that sometimes I pull it out, and sometimes I don’t. I also know I am a bad judge of my ratios of success to failure, and that smart people I trust often have a very different opinion of how I am doing. That all gets added to the coping mechanism calculations.

But there’s no point on hammering my brain any harder about this tonight. That hasn’t worked since I was 35. When I am done, I am done.

I need to go through my checklist of things to try to give tomorrow the best chance. What I eat, what I read or watch, how late I stay up, whether I take my prescriptions—these things feel utterly pointless right now, but I know they are not. However bad things are, there is no point in making them worse.

I am bad at self-care, but making every effort I am able to is part of the coping mechanism.

Also do the best you can to take care of yourself, and forgive yourself of your failures.

Depressions is, well, depressing

One of the realities of struggling with clinical depression is that even with therapy, even with prescriptions, even with support systems and coping strategies…

Some days you’re just so fucking depressed it’s hard to move. To think. To even open your eyes.

Nothing has to happen. The biggest problem, in fact, is that is can be causeless and sourceless. There’s nothing to fix, nothing “getting you down,” nothing “wrong.”

Except your joy is broken, and your entire existence boils down to justifying each breath.

More Ways I Have Failed

I have, far too often and far too seriously, failed to use my position of privilege, protection, and visibility to improve the hobby I love so much. These are completely true examples where the fault is entirely mine. The list began here, but it’s not like I magically stopped failing people in this industry when I listed just the examples that leaped readily to mind.

It’s 2015. I am asked to suggest some freelancers who have done good work for me. Instead of going through actual notes or records, to create a list from complete and factual information, I rattle it off from my impressions, allowing all my biases and failings to color that list, instead of being diligent about at minimum making sure it’s robustly considered.

It’s 2016. A woman asks if she can get my opinion on the behavior of her superior in another company. I happily agree. She is being emotionally abused. I point this out, and act as a shoulder to cry on as she realized how terrible her situation is. I knock ideas around on how she can maybe eventually escape or at least mitigate her situation, since financially she can’t immediately leave it.

I do nothing to warn the next woman he might hire. I do not follow up with her. The abuse–which I entirely accept as real and serious–is out of my sight, and falls out of my mind.

It’s 2017. An industry professional at a casual gathering dismisses a broad category of claims of unsafe, biased geek behavior. I am too tired to argue, or even mention I disagree. I leave, with no suggestion I took issue with the statement.

There remains terrible, focused, often premeditated prejudice, bias, and actual abuse in my hobby. Not seeing it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Not creating it yourself does not protect those who are vulnerable.

The Slings and Arrows of being Professional

It is, I have concluded, inevitable that making my living creating role-playing games means I am going to often see people accuse me of being stupid, lazy, short-sited, and ignorant (as specifically different from stupid) on a fairly regular basis. I believe the reason for this is twofold.

First, roleplaying games, by their nature, invite deep senses of involvement. They are designed to be extremely engaging, to suck in players and GMs and provide glimpses of alternate lives where (hopefully) those playing are more interesting and more able to affect change than they are in reality. This is obviously a place where the small percentage of really dedicated fans will have deep senses of ownership. And since any addition or alteration I create for such games (which is kinda inevitable for someone paid to make stuff for them) can’t please everyone, SOMEONE is going to think the things they don’t like are a result of being unsmart, or being uninterested in doing the hard work to produce something better, or not being able to see the consequences that “should be obvious,” or not be well-educated and informed on either technical or emotional aspects of the material I am working with.

Second, the internet means the information about what has been added or altered can be easily (though often incompletely) disseminated to a large audience quickly, and cheaply, so the total population of people who know about it can be enormous, and thus the small percentage of those people that may hate a change, and the percentage of those people who feel that is a result of some failing on my part (as opposed to personal preference), still leaves a big enough pool that the percentage of THOSE people who are assholes about expressing those opinions have no trouble finding the places where their opinion can be quickly and easily (and perhaps incompletely) transmitted to me.

I understand and accept that.

It does not, however, either justify or indemnify the people who choose to be assholes for the dickish nature of their actions.

If you say in your living room that only a total moron would make a specific change, you’re venting.
If you take the time to type that as a post in a online venue the entire point of which is to allow you to give feedback to the people who made that change, you are calling those people total morons. Backpeddling and claiming that obviously your hyperbolic language is just your opinion doesn’t change the fact you were a dick.

It makes me wonder if the consequences for trying to make games that make people happy may not, inherently and inevitably, involve more abuse than if I wrote ad copy for a cereal company for a living.

Of course, as I note, I know this, and have for a long time. Being able to accept that fact, and work to deescalate where possible, and certainly avoid fanning flames, it part of my job whether expressly called out as such or not.

As long as I am here, I am choosing to place myself in that situation, and I need to take ownership of that as well—though my acceptance is still not license to those who act rudely or inappropriately.

Setting Sketch; Wild, Wild East

In 1863, the Lost Continent of Mu rises from the Pacific Ocean, taking up a vast section of what was once open water. Despite being submerged for millennia and being covered in numerous ruins, some of its native white Nacaal people still exist in a degenerate form. Rather than the source of ancient wisdom and the origin of people from the Aztecs to the Egyptians, the Nacaal are revealed to have been traders and culture thieves, who spread ideas they encountered among one people to far-off partners while claiming original authorship.

With the Civil War raging, America is barely able to send any expeditions to Mu, though some naval forces are sent. The Second Mexican Empire, established by France and supported by Roman Catholic clergy, is suffering its own fighting and lacks the will or resource to make more than token expeditions into Mu. Other great powers, including much of Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia have great interest in a new continent, but are hard-pressed to gain access needed to explore it.

Some nations make immediate pushes into the new land. Japanese Emperor Kōmei and the Shogonate, locked in a power struggle over the fate of Japan and its dealings with the west, both send expeditions immediately, both public and secret, to secure this new land that vastly reduces their fishing territories. The British Empire, especially elements with ties and resources in Australia, also rush to declare the new land terra nullius (“land belonging to no one”). Peru, economically dependent on guano exports that cannot last forever, also makes a major push to colonize Mu, followed quickly (though less successfully) by Chile.

New resources discovered on the continent include the liquid metal “vril,” which can expand the mind of some people (suggested to be most likely to work on those with bloodlines dating back to the people who traded with, and were betrayed by, the original Nacaal), gravity-neutralizing cavorite, and the industrially-crucial vulcanium, which has the highest tensile strength of any known metal, despite a relatively low compressive strength and typical shear strength. Control of the “New East” is seen as crucial for any nation or company. The Singer Corporation is the first of a few enormous multinational companies to take a huge gamble to invest in this newest world, and the technology it could lead to.

The year is now 1868. Less than 1/5th of Mu has been thoroughly explored. Explorers from japan and Australia have established significant stronghold, but begin to question if they want to continue to take orders from their homelands. The United States, in a desperate bid to catch up in the race for Mu, pays the way of thousands of potential explorers, settlers, miners, and ranchers to sail from nearly any American port to New Houston, the only major US city on Mu, as long as they swear to support a US claim to any lands they settle. Samurai, cowboys, drovers, explorers, inventors, vaqueros, theosophists, spies, settlers, and traders all flock to a nearly lawless land, where any may develop odd powers from exposure to vril, or just pick up expert skills in an attempt to survive in…

The Wild, Wild East.
Samurai. Sixguns. Steam. Psychics. Adventure.

Top 10 Signs Your Game Group is Looking Forward to Starfinder!

  1. The players all suggest maybe they can add just a few very modest adjustments to the current Pathfinder game. Like allowing androids, lashunta, and ratfolk PCs. And playing Iron Gods. And adding psychic powers. And lasers. And a spaceship.
  2. Mondays and Fridays now include a “blog break” to look for more previews on paizo.com. And to debate what alignment each of the newly-revealed gods is most likely to e, since THAT is a great use of everyone’s time!
  3. The Star Wars vs Star Trek debate has morphed into which one has MORE fantasy elements, since Star Wars has laser swords and space wizards, but Star Trek has multiple pantheons of actual gods, half-elves, and bat’leths.
  4. The wizard tapes his wand of lightning bolt to the top of a flintlock, and insists on calling it a “blaster.”
  5. Any NPC that threatens a PC is told he can’t take the sky from them. No further explanation is forthcoming.
  6. The miniature-focused members of the group are gluing plasma cannons onto lizardfolk, Hellknights, and dragons. … Especially dragon.
  7. There’s a lot of talk of running. In shadows. And the Emperor. Or Heresy. Or both.
  8. Everyone picks up a repeating crossbow, and the ranger and magus work together to invent “hollow point” quarrels.
  9. Your friends are part of why the first offerings of Starfinder games at Gen Con sold out in 30 minutes.
  10. The inquisitor wants to know if studying mass combat in the Dragon Empires allows him to add “Han” as a descriptor for a class features, and then begins referring to “Han Solo Tactics.”

Patreon

I’m not saying funding my patreon will get you more Starfinder previews… because it won’t, it totally won’t.

Know Thyself: The Sap Scale

One of my many coping mechanisms for my various mental issues is my Sap Scale. The more exhausted, emotionally drained, and prone to panic attacks I am, the more likely I am to cry at things that don’t really deserve it. Thus I have “The Sap Scale,” which helps determine how big a sap I am being, and what the appropriate steps to take care of myself are. Obviously, this scale is personalized for just me, and this level of detail is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I do use this kind of detail to keep an eye on things.

The Sap Scale

  1. Cry at the end of “Old Yeller.” This is normal. Not crying here actually indicates a different problem (see “Landmarks of Emotional Numbness” chart)
  2. Cry at the end of Iron Giant. Still normal, and only noteworthy because I have done it up to 10 times in a single day, and still seem fully affected.
  3. Cry at the end of a CW superhero show’s season finale episode. Normal level of Sappiness. Take two deep breaths and check again in 4-6 hours. Consider the potential benefit for catharsis.
  4. Cry during a particularly intense RPG encounter involving debate, philosophy, morality, and characters you care about. Enhanced Sappiness detected. Engage and maintain internal monitoring of mental well-being, but do not stress over it. Really, don’t. It’s okay. You are allowed to have emotions.
  5. Cry at unexpected insults or disappointment. Despite feeling otherwise, this is normal and a reasonable baseline. Engage reality-checks, and be prepared to escalate self-care if Sap Scale number rises. Avoid beginning arguments and hard conversations until Sap Scale number declines. Check for self-care levels (Are you short on sleep? Short on food? Facing long-term stress of discomfort? If so, try to address these issues quickly.)
  6. Cry at the memory of tragedies and losses from 3 or more years ago. Check mental processes for signs of a death-spiral, and examine if this is really what you are crying about. As able, use stress release and/or low-impact support network contacts to ensure if things get worse, you have the needed mental assistance.
  7. Cry during a typical RPG encounter. Emotional alert. Alter or delay any stressful plans, and proceed as for scale level 6.
  8. Cry at a McDonald’s commercial. Emotional high alert. Take self-café steps immediately.
  9. Cry at the trailer for a Michael Bay movie. Active emotional emergency. Move to safe space asap.
  10. Crying. No apparent reason. Tears won’t stop, may drown in own phlegm. If this happens just because you woke up and have to face the day, call support network for help without delay. Yes, even though you don’t want to be a bother. Do it. Right now.

My Patreon

As much as I dislike talking about money on posts discussing mental health… my coping mechanisms are good enough to generally let me realize it’s reasonable to add a small note about the way people who enjoy reading what I write can help me afford the time it takes to write it.

So, if you like, check out my Patreon here. 🙂

Fantasy Idioms

One way to add a little flavor to a person, city, or culture is to add a few useful phrases that take the same kind of place as “Who benefits?” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Even just one phrase, introduced as part of a philosophy or something that’ll come up throughout a plotline, can help drive home a feel for a region,

There’s no need to overdo these, but I often find dropping in one or two can really boost player interest in a representative of a foreign or alien group. Here are some examples.

Gold sheds no tears.

The poison proves the plot.

Which god is thus glorified?

All accounts shall be balanced.

An arrow cannot recognize a king.

It need not be a dragon to burn you.

All who had the power to stop this are guilty of it.

All jackals scavenge, but even lions accept a free meal.

Those who pay the minstrel are the first to hear the song. (Yep, it’s a Patreon reference, snuck in as content. Mea culpa.)