Category Archives: Musings

Writing When Depressed

While I am personally a creative who suffers from mental health issues that include depression, and I know a lot of friends and colleagues who fall into that category, I don’t have scientifically valid statistics to prove that RPG creatives are often people struggling with depression. And that doesn’t really matter, because even if the numbers aren’t higher than for the baseline population, it still means that there are at least a few of us out there. I might just be talking to a tiny group today, but it’s something I am passionate about.

How do you write, draw, create, make things that are supposed to be fun for other people, when you are depressed? And I don’t mean down a bit because your favorite series ended or you can’t get that soda you like in your hometown anymore. I mean clinical depression, which can include loss of executive function, true hopelessness, sleep disruptions, and even thoughts of suicide.

I’ve talked before about how I get through my most serious depressions, but there’s one thing I haven’t touched on, or at least haven’t often enough.

Sometimes? You can’t. And that has to be okay.

Just as it is not a moral failing or sign of weak character to be unable to run when your leg is broken, it is not a moral failing or sign of weak character to be unable to create when your brain is broken.

If you are too far down the hole to reach any of your creative tools, please let that be, and instead seek help. That can be professional help, self-care, reaching out to a support network — whatever you can do. I’m not qualified to give professional advice on these things, but there are resources out there to find help if you don’t already have some in place. If you aren’t in a place where you can bring yourself to care about yourself, see if you can consider taking care of yourself as a way to help the people around you–sometimes I can only manage any degree of self-care out of guilt. That’s far from perfect, but sometimes I have to take what I can.

But then there’s the gray zone. Where you can try to work, but it’s terribly difficult and slow and you think everything you do is bad and pointless. Again, you have to be kind to yourself when you are here, but maybe there are ways to get a little more done if you find the hacks your brain responded to.

So, here are the hacks I use. They may not work for you, but if you try different things, and record the results, maybe you can find things to help you when work is possible, but damnably difficult.

For me some of it is habit. More than 21 years of it, at this point. If I’m not actively doing anything else, my brain naturally wonders if there is work I can do. When the thing that needs to be done FIRST is more than I can handle (sadly the project that is most important to finish often triggers the most anxiety which triggers the worst depression symptoms), I hop to something else if my brain is less opposed to it. No, that doesn’t help me get the most crucial thing done on time, but down the line it’s better to have worked on something, rather than nothing.

Some is desperation. This is how I pay the bills. Holding my own feet to the fire hurts, but it can also break through apathy sometimes. I don;t recommend this one unless you have already noticed a tendency of reviewing your situation to help you prioritize and take action. But if that is a tendency of yours, then it may be worth seeing if it can apply to creating.

A ton of it is therapy. I have learned to make my writing work for me in my battle with my brain. Often, that doesn’t actually produce anything that gets a deadline checked off. but sometimes, if produces a blog post when I need one, or at least helps me build my social media presence. And if nothing else, writing is a perishable skill. Writing privately helps me maintain the habit and edge I need to write for others.

My wife, Lj, is a HUGE help. In fact I have a lot of support group, including my public contacts. When I tell folks I am hurting, I get a lot of positive messages. People from lifelong close friends to social media connections I have never met in person also give me a lot of great private venting opportunities.

And sometimes? Sometimes I just have to melt down and give up for a bit. But Lj can hold me when I collapse and wail in great wracking sobs. When I am an inconsolable mess for an hour or two, convinced I have done so much damage to my reputation and career, that I’ll never work again. When it seems like I’ll never hit another deadline, that no one should ever trust me to get anything professional done. And that whole time, Lj tells me it’ll all be okay, and eventually I believe her.

Often, I pass out in exhaustion after that. Sleep, or at least oblivion, claims me for anything from a few minutes to a few hours.

And then, sometimes, I can write again.

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Writing Basics Minis: Avoiding Word Derailment

This one is super-short, but for me super-useful.

Don’t let your search for the perfect word derail your writing flow.

That’s not to say it’s not worth popping a thesaurus open (or using the ‘related word’ function of onlook.com, a site Starfinder Lead Designer Joe Pasini turned me on to) to see if you can find it quickly and easily.

But before it disrupts your produtive writing time, put it on the back burner and move on. I personally just put a description of the word I want in brackets and highlight in bright yellow, so I know when I go back through the piece later that it needs to be replaced.

A chunk of the time, describing the word I want to put in the brackets causes me to think of it. And often, when i run back into the section on a reread, at least SOME good word to use leaps to mind. But the important thing is, when I am “in the zone,” getting wordcount quickly and feeling the concepts flow easily, I am not wasting time trying to polish a single term during rough-draft-creation time.

I can’t tell you how long to spend on it before giving up. Only you can know your muse’s endurance. This is a trick for making sure you don’t spend an hour on one word when you need that time to write 500. But be aware you don’t have to get any of it perfectly right the first time through.

This applies to anything, really. Can’t think of the right word? Not sure what to make the 4th level bonus spell? Need a riddle to add some mental challenge to an adventure?

If it’s holding you up, and you KNOW what comes next already, skip it, mark it, come back to it.

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Tales of the Brain Eaters. Four.

E-Ville’s preternatural forces are mostly aligned with, if not actually part of, specific conclaves or ententes. The Red Cathedral is the most prevalent of these, and nearly every percival either toes the line with them, or has taken positions with lesser alliances specifically to oppose or avoid them. Most of these factions have specific otherworldly concerns, though I’m reasonable sure the Bridge Club are only interested in protecting their ability to play bridge. Which, given how particular the Red Cathedral is about the use of cards (focused on Tarot and Italian-suited decks, but covering all cards to some degree) does require some political power and unity.

But it turns out there are a few true independents left, existing in the margins. Many are sole practitioners, but some are small groups united by blood or possessions, too minor to be considered their own faction, too effective or connected to be considered civilians. The consuls of other factions seem well aware of at least most of these diacritic forces, which are sometimes employed as expendable mercenaries, but finding them is more difficult for outsiders.

Or newcomers.

Even so, there are some clues which can help you at least begin to make inquiries.

Palmistry barbers.

The occult links of both palm readers and old school barbers (especially in their early roles as bloodletters) are well attested to elsewhere. In most cases, those traditions are long since diluted to the point of rumor, but apparently a few followers in Evansville joined forces some generations ago, and have retained at least some of their true art. And, weirdly, they did so by combining their visible commercial front.

There are a few places in E-ville where one building serves as both a barber shop (never a “salon” or “stylist”), and a palm reader or fortune teller (but, interestingly, never a claim of being “psychic”). These public business are small and seem to mostly survive on loyal return customers. Their official offerings are no more connected to the hidden world than anything you’d find in a modern bookstore (though see below), but if you ask just the right questions, they may have the occult answers.

But don’t be insulting, and don’t threaten them. They’ve remained independent. Respect the why and how of that.

Blank delivery.

There are small, local stores where you can order groceries or deli items their own staff deliver. And some of them have options where you can pay for what appears to be a blank entry. But you can enter special requests, and pay extra for it. If you have the RIGHT shop, and the RIGHT special request and you pay the RIGHT amount, you may get something the Red Cathedral would rather control itself.

This works best if a trusted guide clues you in on where and how. Trying it at random is expensive hit-and-miss, and likely to get you tangled in mundane crime before you discover an occult supplier.

Books Plus…

There are a surprising number of bookstores in E-ville. Even national chains that have gone bankrupt have still-active stores here. Many of those zombie chain stores are places with occult connections, but they are firmly controlled by the major factions (though interestingly this seems to be a rare place where the Red Cathedral is not the major influencer… and I do not yet know who is).

But there are independent occult shops, if you can find them. They are all in older, cheaper parts of town, and seem to universally inhabit buildings built before 1925, or in the 1970s (I have no idea why). And they all offer “Books + ____.” What that blank extra something is varies, but the more eclectic, the better your chances of finding a secret back room is available if you know the password.

Books, comics, collectibles, and vaping supplies is a good sign. Books and pizza is surprisingly common. I’ve been told Books and Vacuum Repair is a sure thing, but I haven’t been able to find such a store. Apparently, they do not advertise online. Or indeed, at all.

Others

There is no doubt there are other independents, but the only ones I can confirm have required me to keep their secrets, which is fair enough. They are mites dashing between the feet of giants, and do not wish to be noticed needlessly. Or carelessly.

So if you need someone outside the compacts and factions that rule the shadows of Evansville, and you think you have a line, don;t dismiss it just because it doesn’t fit this pattern. As trends, these account for only a small portion of those who have stayed beyond the Red Cathedral’s reach.

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Writing Basics: Online Schmoozing

This is less Writing Basics than it is Freelancing Basics, but I suspect it’s going to have the same audience, so I don’t want to make a whole new tag. 🙂

I’ve spoken and written many times about how useful it is when building a game industry career to go meet other professionals in person. You can do this at conventions, game days, trade shows, and sometimes smaller open-invitation get-togethers. And I stand by all of that.

But, let’s face it, for a lot of people going to meet professionals who live in Seattle (or anywhere really) isn’t a viable option. If you don’t live right near an event they are attending, or very close to their home base, it’s expensive to get to any such opportunity. Even if you do live nearby, you may not be able to take time off work as needed. Or you may be a person with disabilities, or have family you have to take care of, or face crippling anxiety in crowds.

My first Gen Con nearly drove me out of the industry, I was so overwhelmed by the massive crowds. The first Gen Con I attended as a Paizo employee nearly killed me because I’m just not up to doing as much walking as it called for. I’ve worked very hard on overcoming those issues of mine, and many others, but that’s not an option for everyone.

What is available to everyone reading this on my blog is – online schmoozing.

No, it’s not as effective as meeting people in-person. But it’s also much less restrictive on when and with who you can try it. And human psyches being what they are, it can still be extremely effective, especially over the long run. Familiarity, gratitude, and humor can help build relationships.

So, some basics.

Follow Them. Like and Share Their Stuff

The beginning step is just to find places where these professionals are being visible in a professional capacity, and engaging with them there in basic and helpful ways. Do they have a professional Facebook page (and that likely includes anyplace they advertise their work)? Follow them, interact with and SHARE their posts. If you thought a post was neat, reply saying you thought it was neat. Retweet their Twitter announcements. Subscribe to their Twitch shows. This will begin to be noticed, over time, in a positive light.

Don’t Take Rejection Personally

Seriously, a declined friend request with no explanation is not an insult. Just take these things in stride, and look for more professional, less intimidate places to follow that game creative. Many creatives keep separate presences for their role as authors or artists an their personal social media, so try to find their professional account. (I don’t do this, but I’m a weird exception in that regard.)

And if they block you? Take the hint, and walk away. Full stop.

Remember They Don’t Owe You Anything

Online schmoozing is not transactional. Watching 400 hours of a Twitch stream does not obligate that broadcaster to do you favors, boost your stuff, or even talk to you. Over time you can see who does seem interested in talking to you, or even helping you, but accept that is their choice and you cannot and should not push for or expect anything.

Be Recognizable

In general, I think it’s most effective for you to use your real name and face as your tag and icon when you want to benefit from online schmoozing. But that’s obviously secondary to you being happy, and you being safe. If there are reasons not to use your real name or face, see if you can at least use recognizable names and icons over multiple platforms. I can’t begin to guess how many people I recognize on Facebook, and on Twitter, and on paizo.com, without having any idea they are all the same person. If someone wants to benefit from my getting to know them virtually, there’s a much bigger impact if I know those interactions are all with one person.

Be Safe

It’s the internet. Some creators are creeps. Some are secretly vile. Don’t do anything that feels scummy, invasive, or not in the nature of the professional contact level you are trying to build. Keeping communication in public spaces can help with this.

Respect Their Space

Different online spaces call for different kinds of interaction. For example, if a professional is streaming to promote their new book and have a live chat, and opens a question-and-answer period, that’s a bad time to ask their advice for how to break into the industry. They are there to promote something, so a much better interaction is to ask them about that project, or something closely related. If, after a few questions, there don’t seem to be more folks wanting to talk on that subject you can inquire about asking a less-related question. But if the answer is no, don’t push it.

Similarly, if you get invited to a social online space that includes professional, don’t pester them about professional issues without some sign it’s appropriate and welcome. I’ve heard stories about game company owners having people pitch them freelance projects during online gameplay with MMORPG guilds. That’s the wrong time and place.

Be Polite

Here I’m specifically talking about your interactions with professionals you WANT to get to know better. And, remember to think about how what you write could be taken in harsh text form, with no smile or human inflection or context to soften it. There are people I have known for decades who can reference old in-jokes with me online that make me smile, but that from the outside must look like some harsh insults. Someone who thought that was just how I interacted with folks online and tried to emulate similar language might well tick me off, and I’d have no idea they through they were joining in on the fun.

Don’t Spend Too Much Time On It

The idea here is to become part of an easily-accessed online community that includes professionals you hope to learn from, and someday be recognized by. It’s not to have a part-time job clicking likes and boosting tweets.

If your online schmoozing prevents you from doing anything fun or important? You’re doing it too much.

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Writing Basics: Bringing Your Publisher Concerns

In part one of my recent ongoing series of articles looking at converting every feat from the PF Core Rulebook that doesn’t already have a namesake in Starfinder to the Starfinder game system, I mention that if you think a project you are being hired for has bad decisions behind it, you should bring those to your publisher. I also mention that once you agree to do the job you should do it, without offering any exceptions for cases where you have moral or ethical concerns about completing the work. these can be tricky waters to navigate, but it’s worth discussing some best practices for bring your concerns to your publisher/editor/developer/producer.

Some of the following examples are going to sound extreme, and I don’t want to give the impression that every project is filled with objectionable, harmful, short-sighted material you have to fight back against. But I can’t pretend it never happens, and obviously it’s when the stakes are highest that this is both the most important, and the most nerve-wracking.

Also, I am aware of my own shortcomings enough to know I don;t always see the ways in which material can be harmful. So if you are writing for me, and you have concerns? LET ME KNOW. Push back. Point to this article if you want some back-up. I ASKED you to tell me if I’m requesting bad ideas from you.

As always, I’ll also note that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. Also, I come at this as a writer, developer, and publisher, as those are the kinds of roles I have filled for RPG creation. Artists, graphic designers, editors, and layout artists face similar challenges at least as great, but my advice may not work as well for them.

Try Not To Create Any Surprises

Ideally when working on a project you’ll have access to an outline and a general vision of the project prior to agreeing to write for it, so if you have any concerns you can bring them up early on. For example, if a project’s outline suggests covering topics you don’t feel are appropriate for an RPG, you can discuss that at the beginning with your contact. Even if that means you backing out of the project because you just can’t get on the same page as the publisher, it’s much better for all concerned if you do that early.

If your project is going to involve a lot of discrete bits, it’s worth scanning those for potential trouble spots extremely early in the process. For example if you are asked to do expanded write-ups on six cities, go through the existing material at least briefly as soon as you can. If one of the cities is mired in material you see issues with (whether those are as simple as it having a stupid name or as complex as having an explicit social set-up filled with stereotypes you find harmful), bringing those to your contact as soon as possible both allows everyone plenty of time to try to figure out a solution (while the rest of the project moves forward), and proves you’re taking your responsibilities seriously.

The closer you are to deadline, the less flexible your publisher is likely to be. While that is often because the publisher places money over your concerns, it’s worth remembering they have mouths to feed as well, and people counting on them. That doesn’t excuse making money on harmful material, but it is worth remembering if you’re trying to build a working relationship.

Of course sometimes things develop you could not have foreseen. You may only be contracted to write part of a project, and when you see someone else’s section it’s full of material you have issues with or, worse, it changes the context of your own material in harmful ways. Or you might be shown cover art you dislike so much you don’t want your name associated with it. Or you might get developer feedback that explicitly asks you to alter things in a way you have problems with. The point is that the sooner you can raise a flag, the easier the process is likely to be for all concerned.

There’s A Thing Line Between Asking for Clarification and Passive-Aggressive

A great first step when something from the publisher seems like a bad idea is to ask for clarification. Going back to my series of articles as an example, if a publisher told me to convert *every* missing PF feat from the core rulebook to Starfinder, I’d pretty quickly ask if they meant even feats that refer to rules that don’t exist in Starfinder and already have their basic concept covered, like Exotic Weapon Proficiency. The publisher might come back and agree that some feats don’t need conversion.

However, once I get told that yes, EVERY feat needs to be converted, constantly asking if that’s the case even if the end result is dumb, or even if that means confusing people, or any other objections, I’m moving beyond just asking for clarification. Once you have your answer work with it, for better or worse.

If the answer means you can’t work on a project for personal or ethical or legal reasons, at that point just say so.

Be As Polite As The Situation Allows

Ideally, you’ll always be in a place where you can be polite and considerate to your publisher. If nothing else, with luck you’ll have some idea what kind of material the publisher produces before working for them (or even pitching them ideas) and will have just avoided anyone who is going to ask for things you think are stupid or problematic.

Even just five years ago, I’d have made this advice to ALWAYS be polite. And, honestly, my privileged and luck have meant I have always had that choice (though I haven’t always used it, to my regret). But I have seen other writers put in situations where I confess, polite might not convey how serious an objection is.

I strongly recommend defaulting to as polite as you think you can possibly be, and reserving more stringent language and complaints for serious legal or ethical objections, but that has to be your call.

Explain Your Concerns

Saying “this piece of art is terrible” isn’t helpful to a publisher. Be as specific, and as nonjudgmental, as the situation allows for. Does the art depict the 8-armed Klyzon species as having 6 arms? Are the colors so muted and fuzzy that from 2 feet back it just looks like mud? Does the Klyzon look EXACTLY like a character from the Trek Wars animated series? It it’s tattoo of a symbol with real-world religious or political meaning? Is the Klyzon man a horrific monster in full armor, and the Klyzon woman a near-human with tiny horns wearing sexualized attire?

Specific details on what is your concern, and why it concerns you, helps move quickly to seeing if improvements or resolution can be found.

If there is a broader social issue in play, it may help to link to resources education on that issue. Yes, this is asking you to do extra work, and that’s both unfair and not your ethical duty. I offer the suggestion because I have found it effective, but you have to decide how much effort you’re willing to put into any issue.

Offer Solutions

If you can think of an easy way to address your concern, pitch it. Publishers love solutions to problems, especially compared to problems they have to spend time working on themselves.

In fact if approving your solution is less work than figuring out some way to get what the publisher originally asked for, the publisher may just agree to save time and effort.

Try To Do It All At Once

This isn’t always an option, but a publisher can much more easily deal with a unified, concise list of 7 issues with a project, than getting a new issues brought up 7 different times during production.

Pick Your Battles

There’s nothing wrong with noting you think a sketch of a monster you are writing up is too goofy to convey the theme of menace and fear you have been asked to write… but that’s also not something I’d ever take beyond the bringing-it-up stage. The publisher has people they trust to make publication decisions, and they are unlikely to take your freelance opinion over that of their staff or trusted contract producers.

Even when mentioning concerns, it can be worth it to note when you are just bringing something up for consideration, (and will finish your work as agreed, on time, to a high standard of quality even if nothing changes), and when you think there is a serious issue you need to find clarification on before you can continue, or that you fear may impact the value of your work.

To Thine Own Self Be True

I wish I didn’t even have to cover this, but that’s not the world we live in. Your own sense of ethics, morality, and right and wrong should take precedence over giving a publisher what they want… to whatever degree you decide you’re willing to pay the price for making a stand.

It’d be nice to claim you’ll always be rewarded for doing the right thing but again, that’s not the world we live in. Only you can decide what to do when legal obligations (such as a contract), financial obligations (such as looming rent payments), and moral obligations (such as creating work you think might harm others) aren’t in alignment.

But I don’t personally think advancing your career, or getting one freelance paycheck, is worth feeling you have made the world a worse place. Be honest with yourself, and make the best call you cab.

Don’t Assume The Publisher Is Making a Change Until They Say So

Some freelancers will write in they have a concern, propose a solution, and then immediately continue their writing as if their proposal had been accepted. In some cases this has included things such as saying a topic can’t support 1500 words, so they are going to write 1100 words on it, and 400 words on some new topic.

Don’t. Do. This.

The project outline and remit hasn’t changed until the publish says it’s changed.

Be Clear On Your Position

I never recommend starting with ultimatums or even making threats, but especially once you have voiced a concern, if you are dissatisfied with the publisher’s solution, it’s worth talking about how you would like to proceed.

You may just note you won’t want to take similar projects in the future. You might ask that your name be taken off a project. You might need to ask for extra time because you feel the scope of the project has shifted or requires more research than you expect.

I personally have never, on ethical grounds, backed out of a project without the publisher’s approval once I had signed a contract. But I’m not going to claim there are never circumstances where that might be the moral choice. Myself I’d always finish wordcount and turn a project over by deadline, even if I had to write something that wasn’t exactly what was asked for because I have conscientious objections to what was asked for.

I have asked a publisher if they would approve of my walking away from a contract for various reasons, and had them agree to it. In general, that means I don’t get paid for work already done (which the publisher then cannot use), and that’s often the cost of doing business.

Don’t Freak Out

As a socially awkward introvert with depression, I know it can be overwhelming to tell a publisher you think they need to change their concept. But it happens, and most publishers are used to it, and many even appreciate it. By being prompt, polite, and specific, you can generally get a dialog going on issues without having to take on a huge emotional burden.

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Developing to Spec: Part 10d: Down the Rabbit Hole

This is the fourth section of Part Ten of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve once again hit a whole category of feats –item creation feats. And I had no plan for handling that. So I came up with what I thought was a clever item creation feat for Brew Potion and Craft Magic Arms and Armor. The I applied it to Craft Rod and Craft Staff, which was weird. Then Craft Wand and Craft Wondrous Items, which was weirder. Now we just have Forge Ring and Scribe Scroll left.

The further I go down their weird rabbit whole of having Craft Wands make hybrid items, Craft Staff make technological ones, and Craft Rods do augmentation, the more I doubt my choice to do things that way. But I’m already most of the way down the rabbit hole, so I’m going to tackle the last two of these feats, and think about how I like the full set as I move on with other feats next week.

FORGE RING
You’ve mastered the nearly lost art of magic ring forging, and can aply it to creating similarly useful objects of magical power.
Prerequisites: Mysticism 7 ranks.
Benefit: This feat interacts with magic items that do not use charges (see the rules on Charges in the Magic Item section of the Equipment Chapter of the Starfinder Core Rulebook). Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of such magic items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of such magic items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory. Alternatively you can do this with nothing more than the UPBs and a relatively quite space to work in, but when you do so you are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

SCRIBE SCROLL
You are adept at taking magic energy and freezing it time, a process that was once done using ink and parchment, and now generally involves spell gems.
Prerequisites: Mysticism 1 rank.
Benefit: This feat interacts with magic items that have charges that never refresh (see the rules on Charges in the Magic Item section of the Equipment Chapter of the Starfinder Core Rulebook), except serums and spell ampules which fall under Brew Potion). Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of such magic items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of such magic items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory. Alternatively you can do this with nothing more than the UPBs and a relatively quite space to work in, but when you do so you are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

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Developing to Spec: Part 10c: More Weird Design Choices

This is the third section of Part Ten of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve once again hit a whole category of feats –item creation feats. And I had no plan for handling that. So I came up with what I thought was a clever item creation feat for Brew Potion and Craft Magic Arms and Armor. The I applied it to Craft Rod and Craft Staff, which was weird. Now we go forward with Craft Wand and Craft Wondrous Items.

CRAFT WAND
Wands were one the magic tools of choice for spellcasters throughout the galaxy. No one knows what momentous shift changed how wands functioned, but you have studied all the rites and rituals that once created them. That knowledge turns out to apply well to the creation of advanced technology augmented with magic, despite the appearance of these “hybrid” devices often having little to do with what is often considered a ‘wand.”
Prerequisites: Engineering 5 ranks, Mysticism 5 ranks.
Benefit: Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of hybrid items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of hybrid items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory or tech workshop. Alternatively you can do this with an appropriate toolkit, but are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

CRAFT WONDROUS ITEMS
You are well-versed in the creation of magic items that work off recharging pools of magic.
Prerequisites: Engineering 5 ranks, Mysticism 5 ranks.
Benefit: This feat interacts with magic items that have charges that refresh each day (see the rules on Charges in the Magic Item section of the Equipment Chapter of the Starfinder Core Rulebook). Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of such magic items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of such magic items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory. Alternatively you can do this with nothing more than the UPBs and a relatively quite space to work in, but when you do so you are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

The reason I limited this to a specific subset of magic items is twofold. First, magic items can do nearly anything in Starfinder, so they are more flexible that technological items. Second, breaking them into different categories both gives me more space for Forge Ring and Scribe Scroll,and better models how Pf divides its categories of magic items.

That leaves just two more item creation feats, which we’ll tackle tomorrow!

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! I’m happy to do this kind of Practical TTRPG Designer masterclass free to the public… but it’s only possible for me to take the time to do so if people join my Patreon and help me have the free time to write these things!

Developing to Spec: Part 10b: When The Easy Answer Is WEIRD

This is the second section of Part Ten of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve once again hit a whole category of feats –item creation feats. And I had no plan for handling that. So I came up with what I thought was a clever item creation feat for Brew Potion and Craft Magic Arms and Armor, and I can see how it’ll work well for Scribe Scroll and Craft Wondrous Item. Those are all well and good. Even Forge Ring is probably going to be okay.

But the NEXT feat I need to convert is Craft Rod. And there are Craft Staff and Craft Wand lurking out there, as well. So we need to get creative.

Looking at the types of equipment in Starfinder, I can map Scribe Scroll to spell gems, which serve the same function. I can map Forge Ring to magic rings, and Craft Wondrous Item to other classes of magic items. That still leaves augmentations, computers, technological items, hybrid items, vehicles, other purchases, and (if I got desperate) starships.

I’m going to discard computers, vehicles, and starships from the craft system immediately. Even ignoring how much those don’t feel like magic crafted items, the idea of letting someone make a computer in 10 minutes, which could then grant access to skills for example, seems clearly adventure-breaking.

I can see using Craft Staff for technological items (playing up that staves were, technically, weapons as well as magic items). Using Craft Wand for hybrid items is a stretch… but maybe I can find a way to have it make sense with the flavor text. That leaves me augmentations for Craft Rod, which again feels weird, but it IS a good game mechanical match.

This, by the way, is the point in a design process where if I was working in an office with other people employed by the same company, I’d lean over to whoever was next to me (for Starfinder, that was usually Rob McCreary or Joe Pasini), and ask them if this idea was TOO weird. failing that, if I had a developer or publisher to run it by, I’d ask for their input.

But since I am doing this project as a solo freelancer, I am on my own. It feels like it might be too weird… but it also works, so I’ll give it a go and see how I feel after the project is done. This is one of the things that can happen when you run into a major design challenge without having a solid plan to handle it, and just bull forward with the first thing that seems workable. (This is also one of the reasons a lot of game companies have developers — just because I decide this weird answer is okay doesn’t mean a publisher will agree with me. Developers help keep a game line;s tone consistent.)

CRAFT ROD
You have mastered the ancient art of using magic and sliding, interconnected rods and gears to make functioning, complex machines to accomplish specific tasks.
Prerequisites: Life Science 9 ranks, Physical Science 9 ranks.
Benefit: Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of unimplanted augmentations with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of augmentations up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level. They may be unimplanted, or you may create them automatically implanted in a willing target that is able to have an augmentation added to the appropriate system.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory or medical bay. Alternatively you can do this with a medkit, but are limited to augmentations with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

CRAFT STAFF
You have mastered centuries of philosophy and techniques on using magic to create technological items. Though this ancient art began with just staffs, you can use it to produce the vast array of technology you are familiar with.
Prerequisites: Engineering 11 ranks, Physical Science 11 ranks.
Benefit: Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of technological items with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of technological items up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an tech workshop or vehicle bay. Alternatively you can do this with an appropriate toolkit, but are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

Yep, those are weird. But, at least right now, they also feel cool to me.

I’m keeping them for now, and moving on with this project!

PATREON
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Developing to Spec: Part 10: When You Have No Plan

This is a Part Ten of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve once again hit a whole category of feats –item creation feats, beginning with Brew Potion–that play on game mechanics from PF that just don’t exist in Starfinder.

And, confession time, I have no plan for these.

I’ve known they were coming, in vague terms, since I began this project. And I’ve know they were the next thing to be tackled since last week, when I discovered I’d skipped a few things when I diverged from alphabetical order to tackle critical feats. So I have had lots of time to casually ponder this design issue. That often brings a number of ideas for how to work around some tricky bit of game design.

This time? Nothing.

Obviously I COULD just say I’ll do them later, and give myself more time. In some ways, that’d be the smart thing to do. But I want these articles to show how I tackle tricky development and design issues, so let’s pretend I don’t have any more time. I am on deadline. The project lead insists these be done, and I am out of time. So, since nothing else has sparked a good idea, it’s time to take an extreme measure.

It’s time to read messageboards.

I try to avoid this as a way to look for inspiration on specific questions, though I often do read game boards to get a feel for what players of a given game are thinking. But I am aware messageboards are not representative of all of a game’s players, and they can often have toxic elements I’d rather not dwell in. On top of that, when I am stumped on an issue I need to be careful not to plagiarize ideas I run into. Looking for inspiration is fine–taking someone else’s actual work and passing it off as my own isn’t.

So, reading through some Starfinder messagebaords today (there’s a reason this article got pasted so late in the day), I find the following common complaints about item creation in Starfinder.

It takes too long.
It doesn’t save you any money.
You have to have a big chunk of your wealth locked into UPBs instead of gear if you want to be able to craft while far from civilization.

Now I’m not going to play with costs at all. Equipment economy in -finder games is highly tuned for a reason, and adjusting it can lead to imbalances quickly, But there may be some room for solutions in the other issues.

BREW POTION
You have mastered ancient alchemical and magical arts of potable and potent liquids.
Prerequisites: Life Science 3 ranks, Medicine 3 ranks.
Benefit: Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of posions, medicinals, spell ampules, and serums with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of poisons, medicinals, spell ampules, and serums up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory, medical bay, or synthesis bay. Alternatively you can do this with an advanced medkit or chemalyzer, but are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

Okay… that seems like a usable feat! It’s focused, but it fixes some of the problems people have with crafting. And it’s optional after all — if a player doesn’t think it’s worth it for them, they don’t have to take it.

Can we do the same with Craft Magic Arms and Armor?

CRAFT MAGIC ARMS AND ARMOR
You have mastered ancient magical techniques to create and adjust armor and weaponry.
Prerequisites: Engineering 5 ranks, Physical Science 5 ranks.
Benefit: Over the course of ten minutes you can break down a number of weapons, suits of armor, shields, or fusion seals with a total item level no greater than your character level. You receive half these item’s credit value in UPBs.
Additionally with one hour of work, you can turn UPBs into a number of weapons, suits of armor, shields, and fusion seals up to a total of item levels no greater than your character level. None of these items may have an item level greater than your character level.
Using this feat for either function requires you have access to an arcane laboratory, hangar bay, or tech workshop. Alternatively you can do this with an appropriate toolkit, but are limited to objects with an item level at least 2 below your character level.

Well, it sure is a feat. We’ll see if this concept survives going through all the item creation feats!

PATREON
This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

 

Developing to Spec: Part 9 (d) — My Mistakes Create A Teaching Moment

This is a continuation of Part Nine of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read long as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, we’ve hit a whole class of feats that play on rules that don’t exist in Starfinder — metamagic feats. Having developed a plan for converting those (and wanting to stay consistent with our development), it seems smart to tackle all the rest of the metamagic feats before we move on to the next in alphabetical order.

So, that brings us to Widen Spell. …. And Empower Spell and Enlarge Spell.

Wait, what? Shouldn’t those have been before Extend Spell, which we did in the first section of Part Nine?

Yes. Yes, they should have.

But when I did all the critical feats we got out of order, and instead of hopping back to Brew Potion (which would have sent us down a rabbit whole doing crafting feats this week), I somehow skipped ahead to Exotic Weapon Proficiency. I only caught the mistake earlier this week, when double checking I could get all the metamagic feats done by today, to move on to a new topic next week.

Now this isn’t a big deal. I can write these things in any order, so going back to Brew Potion next week is fine. But if I hadn’t double checked, I might have missed those skipped-over feats entirely. For purposes of a series of blog posts, that’s fine. But if this was actually a project I was developing for another publisher? A chunk of missing content would be a major failure on my part.

So, teaching moment. If your assignment is supposed to cover a specific list of items? Check from time to time, including when you think you are done, that you have covered all of them. And if you missed some? Fix it.

So, we’ll do three more metamagic feats today to get that line of design done, then hop to Brew Potion and crafting feats next week.

Since it’s always worthwhile to do things in alphabetical order unless you have a pressing reason not to, let’s look at Empower Spell. It has a lot of the same issues as Maximize Spell, so maybe we can use the same kind of solution. However, since it doesn’t add as much damage, we need it to be a smaller risk, and apply to a wider range of spells.

EMPOWER SPELL
You can get more effect out of your lower-level spells.
Prerequisites: Able to cast a spell at least 2 spell levels higher than your lowest-level spell.
Benefit: When you cast a spell with a casting time of 1 standard action, that is at least 2 spell levels lower than the highest-level spell you can cast, you may cast it with a casting time of 1 full action. The sp or hp damage done by the spell is increased by +50%.

That applies to a slightly higher level of spell, and takes a full action rather than 1 round. The payoff is much lower, but I could legitimately see a spellcaster wanting both these feats, and while they won’t work with each other (intentionally), they will stack with technomancer magic hacks.

Then it’s Enlarge Spell, which looks like it’ll work much like Extend Spell did.

ENLARGE SPELL
Your spells often have much greater reach than most spellcasters’.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast a spell with a range based on level.
Benefit: When calculating the range of your spells, treat your caster level as being +4 levels higher.

Aaaand that brings us to Widen Spell. Starfinder doesn’t normally have areas based on level, but they do often have targets limited per level, so we can use that with the Enlarge/Extend paradigm.

WIDEN SPELL
Your spells often affect many more targets than most spellcasters’.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast a spell with a maximum number of targets based on level.
Benefit: When calculating the maximum number of targets of your spells, treat your caster level as being +4 levels higher.

PATREON
This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!