Category Archives: Retrospective
I have had my fair share of dead PCs get returned to life in ttRPGs. Often they are dead so briefly, and with such little consequence, it doesn’t really feel like they died at all. Brought back by spells within 6 seconds of joining the choir invisible (not even enough time to see if they are an alto or soprano among the spirits), given reprieve by a GM retcon, or just having their life restored off-screen as part of treasure division, some characters’ deaths have no more impact on their narrative than tossing out the laser pistol they carried during the nightmare invasion of Ragesh III for a more expensive model that does 1d8 instead of 1d4.
Even among characters who needed more effort put in by friends and allies to return to the mortal coil, being temporarily dead is rarely an interesting enough part of their story than any of us sit around and recount when we are telling imaginary war stories. Being temporarily dead is mostly a hiccup, a plastered-over accident we erase because we’d all rather keep telling our parts of that character’s story.
It doesn’t have to be that way. When my wife’s cleric in IFGS (live-action foam-sword fantasy D&D-style larping) died, an entire game was written and produced for her closest friends to bring her back. Her soul wasn’t responding to normal resurrection magics, and we had to travel through her most vivid memories to find it and convince it to return. This meant playing through the biggest, most memorable encounters of her previous IFGS adventures, many of which some of us had gone through with her, and recreate he greatest victories (and, in the case of getting burned by one glyph she mis-named, we thought we needed to recreate her failure as well). All that lead to finally finding her in a kind of lesser heaven, happily keeping house, and somehow convincing her she was needed to keep fighting the forces of evil away from a world where the fire was always warm and the baked bread always fresh.
THAT return to life some of us still talk about.
But for my own characters, it’s much more often the ones who stay dead who get their stories told by other players. When the rarely heroic Pallinor flew across the chasm moat to take on 5 apprentice warlocks, keeping them from casting spells at any of his allies so they could fight their way across the bridge, his success ensuring their victory but at the cost of his own magic being snuffed out and plummeting to his death. When the Monitor overloaded the reactor in his powered armor to self-destruct and blow up himself and 7 Sentry war-bots, ensuring the young mutant girl Olivia could escape, and become the leader and heroine Emerald a generation later. Those deaths were never undone, and it made the character’s sacrifices mean more to me, and be notable enough that other people who were there sometimes tell their tales.
Because the ending for most of my characters is that the one-shot game was a one-shot, or the adventure path ended when someone moved rather than when we finished it, or the campaign’s GM lost interest, or schedules changed, or personal quarrels made a group not want to get together for that game anymore.
My fictional characters who lived are rarely as memorable as those who died… and stayed dead.
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The idea of a tabletop roleplaying game was so unbelievably powerful and alluring when I first encountered it in 1982, it did not matter how good or bad the rules were. In fact, it didn’t matter if we even had the rules–the group I first played with (myself, my sister, and my uncle Lucien) literally only had the hardback 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide available to us. But the very idea of a game where you took on the role of a heroic character and played through your own adventures was so seductive that I crafted (terrible) rules to replace the Player’s Handbook, and we managed two game sessions.
I was hooked forever. To the best of my knowledge, neither my uncle or sister ever played again.
Part of the appeal was that I was an voracious reader, and always got through series I loved faster than they were produced. And, in many cases, the pulp novels that lined the hallway to my bedroom in my childhood home stopped having new entries before I was even born. I hated getting invested in a character and having the stories about them just… stop.
But here was an opportunity to make my OWN stories. To my 11-year-old self, it had all the exciting appeal of playing cops & robbers, but with RULES and a simulated semi-objective reality attached so everything didn’t just devolve into yelling “Bang! Bang!” “You’re Dead!” “Am Not!” “Are Too!” (or, at least, that happened less often).
I was a child with a new toy, and it was better than any toy I had ever had previously. I was already dipping my hand into game design, on an ad-hoc, houserule basis, but I wasn’t really questioning the basis of the games I played, or the stories they encouraged me to tell. In the first few years I played a lot of Tunnels & Trolls solo modules, played a massive amount of D&D hybrids (blending AD&D 1st ed, OD&D, and Basic D&D however made sense at a given session),played a little Car Wars (but made a LOT of Car Wars designs), and played a surprising amount of Secret Gamma Hill World Busters Alpha (smooshing Gamma World, Top Secret, Boot Hill, Gangbusters, and Metamorphosis Alpha into one reality-hopping, post-apocalypse-retro-Saturday-Afternoon-B-Movie mess, which only worked because no one questioned it much).
I had only two regular groups early on — the School Recess Crowd, and the game my mother ran for I and several friends every Sunday (in which she discovered young boys would shut up, listen to her, and tackle math, history, geography and logic puzzles if she made it needful for the solution of a dungeon room). Everything was fair game. We all borrowed from movies, books, comics, and other games. I grabbed every RPG I could, even ones I never got to play or only played 1ce or 2ce, and Traveller, Space Opera, Champions, Empire of the Pedal Throne, the Morrow Project, and Palladium Fantasy Roleplaying Game, all took up more and more space in my room, as action figures, brick-building sets, and plastic army men slowly lost their appeal.
But I was generally still only playing with people I knew from other walks of life in 1982 and 1983. A few school friends, family, and people my family arranged for me to meet. I wasn’t developing a circle of friends FROM gaming yet, nor expanding into all the wide and various other forms of tabletop games. I wasn’t questioning HOW to play games, or even WHY, or considering there might be good ways, bad ways, and even damaging ways.
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I find it fascinating when I talk to other game creators, about what they do and don’t consider strongly influential to their love of speculative fiction and their foundational fandoms. For me, fandom and animation have always gone hand-in-hand, and while there are numerous fandoms I am part of that are primarily consumed in other formats, I can trace easy throughlines from the earliest animation I consumed to a lot of my current preferences. I’m especially bemused when I mentions something I think of as iconic and core to the geek zeitgeist, and discover some of the people I am talking to have never heard of it.
Like a lot of Gen x-ers, I grew up with cartoons that were strongly tied to toy lines — G.I. Joe, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, and so on. But before those, I got exposed to a lot of content that drew from varied sources and traditions. It’s impossible to understand my creative influences and impulses without knowing where it started, which had two primary sources — pulp novels, and animated tv shows. I’ll look at pulps later, so for today it’s a quick rundown of some of my earliest animation fandoms.
Astro Boy: My first anime, in the super-early 1970s. I can’t remember any specific episode from that time, and I vaguely recall it was broadcast locally at like 6am weekday mornings.
Battle of the Planets: I encountered this before Star Blazers, and as a youth was a huge fan (though even a a child I knew there was something odd about the animation quality difference in the 7-Zark-7 sequences). As I grew, this fandom did not grow with me. I have seen the original Gatchaman and later iterations of it, and despite how much I loved many of the elements as a child, it just doesn’t speak to me anymore.
Fat Albert: This fandom did not last, and in fact became painful for me. But my conceptual love of protagonists working out of junkyards starts here. I was always obese, even as a pre-teen child, and Fat Albert was the only obese hero on TV who was shown as part of a powerful physicality rather than Nero Wolfe-like sitting genius, and was never mocked or belittled for his size, which he could use to his advantage.
The Herculoids: I think this is my earliest science-fantasy fandom — before Thundaar the Barbarian or He-Man, there were the Herculoids. I didn’t get to see them on first run, and their syndication schedule wasn’t something I ever managed to sync up with, but whenever I caught an episode, I was enrapt. This, of course, is another example of me loving pulp concepts in multiple formats.
Johnny Quest: Did I mention I love pulps?! Well, the original 1960s series is a big part of why. And while the show absolutely has flaws worthy of criticism, it was also formative in my love of action adventurers who face a weird world of hidden threats without superpowers, and while trying to make the world a better place. Also, dinosaurs and hurky robots.
Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies: Originally shorts shown before movies, these classic Bugs Bunny et al cartoons were staples on TV as I grew up… and were my introduction to classical music. The run from 1944 to 1969 still amuses me when i see them today, and I was enrapt when they came on TV in the 1970s and early 80s. I very much never had the same reaction to similar cartoons of the era, such as Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, Yogi Bear, Droopy, or Mickey Mouse (though I would watch them when nothing else was on).
The Marvel Super Heroes: This was the first TV show based on Marvel comics characters, made in the 1960s. In a series of 7-minute segments, it told stories about Captain America, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Mighty Thor, and the Sub-Mariner. My love of powered armor, which was bolstered by the Lensman and Starship Troopers novels, was absolutely influenced by the Iron Man segments of this show. At the time I also dug Thor and Hulk super-hard, but those faded as a grew to be more in keeping with my generic like of superheroes. For whatever reason, the Sub-Mariner never interested me. While I would watch the better-known SuperFriends later in life, it never held the same appeal for me.
Popeye: As a child, the B&W Popeye cartoons were something I looked forward to every afternoon, after school. Popeye felt like a modern Aladdin to me, and a pulp adventurer who could stand next to Tarzan, Thuvia, and Sherlock Holmes. I grew out of this fandom, with the 1980 live-action movie (which I did enjoy) pretty much serving as the capstone on my interest in the character, though i do still have a fondness for the squinty hero.
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?: This is the original Scooby-Doo, in 1969 and 1970, and then in reruns forever. My first procedural fandom. Despite having a talking dog, there mystery in this was never, ever supernatural. This show literally taught me to be skeptical, and also got me interested in horror concepts (though it was not itself truly a horror show). It also taught me that the villain is often driven by pure greed, and evil can be pretty unimpressive, while trying to build its own reputation. these lessons have remained relevant my entire life.
Speed Racer: My first vehicle crush was the Mach 5, and I was watching this basically as soon as I could turn on the TV by myself. My love of Speed Racer lead directly to my love for the Car Wars line of games, and while I adored the US live-action movie, and have a huge nostalgia for the original anime, it’s not an active fandom for me these days.
Star Blazers: I watched this in the early 1980s, and was exposed to it just before I encountered ttRPGs. I became, and remain, a lifelong fan of nearly all versions of this. The Yamato/Argo was an obsession of mine for much of my life, and I can still be made to cry by watching some sequences from any of its iterations. More than Star Trek, more than Star Wars, equaled only by my Lensman fandom, this was my biggest early scifi mania.
Star Trek: The Animated Series: I watched these, either first-run or super-early syndication. I remember liking them better than TOS, which was in reruns, which is likely because I was stunningly young, and they were shorter–but maybe also because they could do more visually odd characters and creatures.
Thundaar the Barbarian: My first post-apocalypse fandom, and one of my earliest science-fantasy fandoms. I watched these first-run, and loved them. Yes, it’s a pretty obvious mash-up of Conan and Star Wars with nonsensical backgrounds of a ruined civilization, but what’s wrong with that? Thundarr is why I got into Gamma World, and it remains something I would love to see a good reboot of (and would hate to see a bad reboot of…). You can trace and interesting line from Thundaar to Blackstar to He-Man… and I liked each of those a bit less than the one before it. 😛
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Today is my 3oth wedding anniversary with my lovely wife.
And it’s time to tell the story of my longest-delayed vengeance.
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It’s been a dark year.
A dark 14 months, in fact, as my year-of-very-bad-things began in Sept 2019.But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to be thankful of. And while its a tad cliché, I DO like taking these national moments to take stock of my own wealth of blessings and support and good fortune, and put off worry and gnashing of teeth over the very-real problems until tomorrow.
I have a roof over my head, I am secure in my next meal, I have a tight social bubble of friends I have known for 20-37 years. I have a loving wife, a dear housemate, a supportive family, and a panoply of friends who are no less great just because I only get to see them online at the moment. Many of my friends are so kind, generous, and supportive it staggers my well-exercised imagination.
I have a career that, though not free of hiccups, I am genuinely proud of, and that I believe makes a positive difference in the world. Many of my friends are part of that career, from bosses to work-for-hire producers, but even beyond those in my work life I deal with many of the smartest, kindest, most ethical people I have ever met.
And I have you, a community of geeks, gamers, thinkers, writers, players, weirdos and outcasts, who have embraced me in a way I would scarce credit had I not seen it, and felt it, over and over for years, and repeatedly and strongly during the rough past year.
And I am thankful.
It is less that I am thankful despite it being 2020, and more that I am extra thankful because it’s 2020.
When I was first getting involved in RPGs in the 1980s, and then in the industry as a professional in the 1990s, people often noted that when discussing success and popularity of Fantasy VS Scifi, movies and TV always skewed much more towards scifi, and RPGs towards fantasy.
Not that there weren’t scifi RPGs and Fantasy tv shows and movies, but they were less common, less popular, and less successful.
And people wondered why.
Now, Fantasy has largely broken the TV/Movie barrier since 2000, and I attribute that to better budgets, effects, and acceptance of fantasy stories as interesting and varied. (And I believe some of that influence came from games… but that’s another essay.)
That still leaves the question of why scifi (and modern, and old west, and so on) ttRPGs simply are not as successful or popular as Fantasy ttRPGs.
It cannot just be momentum or nostaliga. The first scifi ttRPGs came hot on the heels of D&D, and by the time most people were exposed to them there were peltny of both. And ttRPGs have seen several resurgences since their first hitting the public eye, and every time fantasy ttRPGs come out on top.
(There are some AWESOME, world-influencing, trend-setting, society impacting scifi and modern ttRPG IPs. They are just less common than fantasy, and tier-to-tier less successful.)
This of course rasies the question of why. WHY are fantasy ttRPGs better accepted by the general gamer community than other genres of ttRPG?
So, this is my theory:
Players are more forgiving of fantasy.
Yeah, that’s pretty simple, but I have seen it over and over in more than 2 decades of professional game creation, and nearly four decades of play. This increased forgiveness comes in two primary forms.
First, people are comfortable blending a wider range of fantasy concepts together than they are blending modern or scifi concepts.
For example: If I want to play a Knight of the Round Table, you want to play a character inspired by Conan the Barbarian, Jan wants to play a character inspired by Lord Darcey, and Robin wants to play a character inspired by Arjuna, most groups can accept those characters can interact and still feel close enough to their inspirations to be satisfying.
However, if I want to play a character inspired by Captain Kirk, you want to play a character inspired by RoboCop, Jan wants to play a character inspired by Luke Skywalker, and Robin wants to play a character inspired by Char Aznable, chances are we can’t all play in the same game without the differences in our characters making our characters not seem close enough to be satisfying, or having to ignore smart choices in order to stay true to our sub-genres.
Similarly, if a game has special powers fueled by magic, more players accept that magic is not real, and doesn’t need to make a lot of sense and thus just accept the game rules, compared to the number of players who will shrug and ignore rules oddities in science fiction they don’t like.
A simple version of this is that in a game where a target can expect to be hit and damaged with a greatsword 8-12 times and survive (clearly very uncommon in the real world), many players can just accept it. If pistol rules are then introduced and someone can be hit and damaged with a 9mm handgun 8-12 times and survive, a large number of the players who were FINE with the greatsword rules now feel the pistol rules are so “unrealistic” they don’t want to play them.
So, additional scrutiny and less suspension of disbelief is leveled as non-fantasy settings, leading to groups (rather than individuals) gaining mroe satisfaction from fantasy ttRPG properties.
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All this week’s content will go up. 5 articles over the course of the week.
Just, not on Memorial Day.
I’m at a major crossroads in my career, and not one that looks like I expected it to just a few weeks ago. So, I ask myself an important question in this second post of two on Career Planning (you can read Part One here).
We covered step 1, process your new reality, and step 2, review. So that brings us to:
3. Look Forward
I often open advice sessions with other people with “Where do you want to be in two years?” It is, for me, a perfect amount of time. Far enough ahead that you can discount immediate but temporary inconveniences such as a sprained ankle or massive looming deadline, close enough that you can visualize the time between now and then. For other people different timeframes might make more sense, but my 5-year plans very rarely go anything like as planned, and when looking forward 6 months or less I am often skewed towards immediate issues that aren’t necessarily representative of what I am going to face in general.
So, where do *I* want to be in 2 years? As I make a list of those things I find, unsurprisingly, that a lot of them involve money.
And money involves a budget.
Budgeting isn’t any fun, but it’s a crucial part of a freelance career. If I am going to successfully reach any of my goals, many of which involve things like buying a house and paying off student loans, I have to be able to account for more than just my immediate bills. Freelancing if often filled with feast-or-famine incomes, where you get paid for several things over the course of 2-3 weeks, and then nothing to speak of over 2-3 months. It’s important to do more than just cover the rent and groceries. You need to be able to sock away for emergencies, long-term needs, even retirement.
That just isn’t likely to happen without a budget.
You also need to consider what skills and contacts you should improve to meet your two-year goal, whatever it is. Do you want to have a published novel? Then you better both be writing is NOW, and talking to anyone you can about how to get it published. Want to have your own game company? I recommend working as an assistant to someone else who has one, so you can learn the ins and outs by watching and helping, before you have to figure it out by doing.
The review is also the time to have an honest talk with yourself about what your weaknesses are. Are you bad at adventure writing? You can either plan to just avoid having to do that, or to get better at it, but you won’t know that’s something to take into account unless you are aware of it as a weakness.
You also need to be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. Impostor syndrome is rife in this industry… as is the Dunning–Kruger effect. Combating those in yourself is tricky–it’s always easier to see bias in others rather than yourself. I recommend both trying to describe how you would expect someone who gets the kind of work and responses you do objectively to see at least ho you are seen by others, and to ask people you trust who are more successful than you to give you their honest assessment of your pros and cons.
The whole point here is to be able to look forward from a grounded place of information about yourself. You don’t need to beat yourself up or gild your own laurels, but if you don’t have a rough grasp of where you ARE in your career, it’s very tough to plan a course forward.
It may be worth considering what kinds of jobs you have already done and think about which ones you’d like to do more of. My article “Developer? Designer? Who is the What Now?” may be helpful for thinking about different kinds of tasks within the writer end of the TTRPG industry. If you are more focused on art, editing, or business and planning, those are still useful distinctions to know, but you should consider what kinds of sub-divisions your own career has revealed.
Try to boil all your “looking forward” ideas in 3-5 bullet-points of 1-2 sentences each. If two bullet points look similar, see if you can blend them into one slightly broader bullet point.
My first run at that list of ideas looked like this. I offer it only as an example — your list should definitely look different, based on where your career is, and where you want it to go.
*Make enough money to cover more than just the necessities, including health care, buying a house, retirement planning, and the occasional vacation.
*Expand my professional skillset to be able to take advantage of any text-based or business-related aspect of the game industry, including working in different game systems, being a manager, and overseeing licenses.
*Build my online and social media presence to make it easier to directly reach fans and potential employers, possibly including doing more videos, streaming games, and redesigning my website to be more modern.
*Build income streams separate from per-word writing, possibly including growing RGG, doing more royalty-based projects, and patron support (such as my Patreon, which supports this blog and gives me time to write things like this article-Join Now!)
Now that you have an idea of where you are, and where you want to go, it’s time to:
4. Make Plans
This is going to be one of the vaguest sections of this article, because your previous steps should already be leading you to a different destination than mine–possibly a different destination than I could even think of. So making plans to get you from where you are to where you want to go in your career should look very different than getting me where I want to go. But I do think there’s some high-level advice that can still be broadly useful for making plans.
The first is: schedule your time, then fill it.
It’s very temping to do this the other-way ’round: to find things to do, and then go looking for time to get it done in. And at a casual or hobby level, that’s fine. If you mostly want to just post a few articles on free sites and occasionally get paid for a bit of work that drops in your lap, you probably can just schedule things as they come along. There’s nothing wrong with that by the way–I strongly suspect more TTRPG words get written each year by people who enjoy it as a hobby than those who see it as a side-gig or want it to be a full-time career.
But in my experience, if you want to step beyond that, you’ll eventually need to do the hard work of carving out time from everything else, and then filling that time. If you don’t have enough work to fill the time you set aside? Then it’s time to use the spare time to work on some RPG Pitches. If you don’t have enough time set aside to do all the work you’ve gotten?
Then it’s time to take a hard look at whether you need to set aside more time, write faster, or work less. For any of those answers, you may end up trying to Survive on 5 Cents/Word (or Worse). Good luck, sincerely.
As you set aside time, make sure some of it is saved for making contacts, pitches, and seeking better opportunities, and that includes opportunities for self-improvement. Work and learning opportunities may just fall into your lap sometimes, but there’s almost always more work you can get if you go hunting for it, and that often includes better options. If you want regular income, for example, you may need a regular gig writing articles, or running a Patreon, or being a part-time contract employee of a game company. Some of those things you can set up yourself, but that takes time too.
This is often the hardest part of planning a career. While there are now formal education opportunities to get involved in gaming (and not all of them are focused on computer games, and many of the skills are fungible even so), nearly everything I know about being a game industry professional came from working with people smarter, more talented, and more experienced than I was. My time on-staff at Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, and Paizo taught me there is something I can learn from everybody in the industry, even people with much less experience than me. I needed to be open to the opportunities to learn from them, and that often required I take the time to consider why they wanted to do something differently than I planned to. Yes, deadlines are often tight and there is a time and a place to be a strong advocate for your own vision and experience, but never let that cheat you out of a chance to learn a new resource, skillset, hard-learned lesson, or even just a new point of view.
So, look not only at what work you can do, but what doing that work may mean in terms of advancing your career. There are people in this industry I will always work with if I can, because I always learn from them. I try to challenge myself to take on things that put me out of my comfort zone, and set aside extra time to get those uncomfortable things done.
Sometimes that means an opportunity doesn’t pan out, and that can be especially painful if you gave up something stable for it, and/or were depending on it for a major part of your income. It’s good to note these things (like in future rounds of processing and reviewing your new reality), but it’s not a reason to not try new things. You’ll need to balance potential risk with possible reward, and I can’t tell you how much risk to take for what reward level. Just be realistic with yourself, and never take a risk you can’t survive going badly if you don’t have to.
So, with those steps in mind, what am I looking at for plans to carry my career forward? I’m not going to go into ever deep detail, for obvious reasons, but I think it’d be a bit of a cheat not to wrap this up with some concrete examples of where this process has lead me. So:
I’m the Fantasy AGE developer for Green Ronin. This is a part-time contract position, working with some of the smartest and most experienced people in the TTRPG industry, and it’s a stable source of some income every month. That hits a number of my goals, from working with new game systems to being around people who can help me be better at a wide range of TTRPG industry tasks. I’ll be looking for more similar opportunities, but I am super-stoked at making this part of my long-term success.
I’m focusing more on my Patreon, including posting a new goal promising videos and bonus content if it hits $1500/month. It was, to be honest, extremely scary for me to consider a $1500 goal, but my $700+ goal having been met, I have to take that risk. And if it turns out the public doesn’t want what I am offering for that level of patronage? I’ll re-assess, and try again. I see this as both a way to seek semi-regular income to help meet my financial goals, and to force me to learn and offer new things to stay connected and relevant to the ever-changing TTRPG market.
I’m setting aside more time for Rogue Genius Games. There are types of projects I have never dared tackle with my own little gaming company, and forcing myself to try them is another way to exp[and my skillset. And of course writing more of my own products also means having more royalty-based projects, which is a good way to build income streams that aren’t exclusively one-time per-word money.
Fiction. I am going to do it, this time. I am terrified.
More traditional freelance. I need the money in the short-term, and the contacts in the long-term. So I am throwing my doors open to new publishers, new projects, and new game systems. Time to prove I am more than a d20 game mechanic guy.
So, for the moment, in broad strokes, that’s it for me. I’ll compare my results to my needs and plans (especially my income vs my budget) every 90 days (and more frequently if things are obviously out of whack). And every 6 months or so, it’ll be time to do the whole process again — process, review, look forward, and plan.
It’s a never-ending process, but that’s okay. I never plan to stop having a career, so I can afford to take time to adjust and rethink as needed.
In fact, I can’t afford not to.
I’m at a major crossroads in my career, and not one that looks like I expected it to just a few days ago. So, I ask myself an important question in this first post of two on Career Planning.
It’s a question that comes up all too often, and that there’s not much guidance for. Not “how do I break in,” or “how can I do a better job,” but the much more basic “now what?”
It’s a place I have found myself many times over more than two decades, but to be honest I thought I was done asking it for a while. When I took a full-time staff position with Paizo, my expectation was that I’d be there at least a decade. But you can’t always predict what opportunities come along (or how they’ll turn out), and you need to analyze them based on your current situation, not your best guess from 5 years ago.
Sometimes you just need to take stock and see if your current, stable situation is doing what you need it to, or if improvements could be made. Sometimes you move across the country because your spouse got an amazing job that ceases to exist after 90 days with almost no warning.
So, my Paizo job made the “now what” question irrelevant only on the macro scale. I still needed to have a plan for growth within Paizo (and becoming Starfinder Design Lead was a huge step for me in that regard), and I had to keep an eye on what I was doing as side-gigs (which is one reason I had to shuffle those so often–side gigs must be treated with respect, but they can’t take so much effort they damage your performance on your main career path), but in general I knew where the next set of paychecks was coming from, and who I was going to be doing most of my work for over the next 6 months, and where I would be sitting my butt most often.
I do not regret deciding my family’s needs were no longer in good alignment with Paizo’s opportunities for me, though I am going to miss not only the stability it afforded, but also the friends I have made and the amazing coworkers I have learned from and grown with. And, obviously, I didn’t expect my move to turn out the way it did and would have handled things differently if I’d thought this result was possible in this timeframe. But the fact is I am in Indiana now, and while I expect Paizo to continue to be part of my career for the foreseeable future, that situation is a freelance relationship rather than a regular paycheck.
I moved without a full-time situation preplanned for myself, and the stable job I thought would remove the pressure of needing to spin up my career quickly has turned to vapor. So I come to a place creative careers often do.
I have to ask myself, “Now what?”
I’ve done this before, of course. When I was laid off from Wizards of the Coast in 2001. When 3.5 came out, and 4e, and Pathfinder 1st ed. Both when I joined up with and then was bought out from Super Genius Games. When I was offered a regular gig doing Freeport for Green Ronin, and when I left that. When I started Rogue Genius Games, and became involved with Rite Publishing. Each of those moments came just before, or just after, that crucial questions about what’s next.
So, how do you answer that question? It takes some analysis, some planning, and some guesswork.
1. Process Your New Reality
Ideally your new reality is what you were hoping for, such as when I got a full-time job with Paizo. I had that rarest of unicorns — a full-time job (with benefits) in the game industry. But even in that case, I should have taken more time to settle into that new position, after 13 years of full-time freelancing, before I took on any additional projects. I thought that since I knew how long it takes me to write and produce game content, and I knew how much of that Paizo expected from me, I knew what my new reality was like. But there’s a big difference between being a freelancer and going to an office 5 days a week, and while I’d held a staff job before, more than a decade of changes in technology and best practices, and working for a different company, meant I wasn’t as prepared as I thought.
I adjusted, and it was fine. But it would have been better if I had gotten a feel for things first, and considered how to augment that situation afterwards.
However, if your new reality is caused by sudden, unexpected, terrible changes of circumstance, processing it may have a very different set of needs. If you have had the death of a partner or colleague, gotten laid off or fired, had a license pulled, or otherwise experienced a swift and unforeseen major setback, you have some emotional needs you need to deal with before you make big plans.
You can’t rush this. It’s going to take the time it takes, and that’s that. However, you can set some boundaries and expectations for yourself. I recommend giving yourself at least a few days, but also to maintain your route work and duties. Of course I am a depressive introvert, so I need to take specific steps to make sure my mental health is cared for, and I can’t give other folks specific advice how to do that.
My point is, take care of yourself and don’t make any huge decisions you don’t have to in the first few days of a big, negative change. And if you need more help than that, get it. Huge life changes are tough, and the most important part of your career is you.
For me the first thing I do when I am at a crossroads is look backward.
It can be hard to properly assess projects and jobs while you are doing them. Since hindsight is supposed to be 20/20, the moment when you aren’t sure what to do next is a great time to look back over the past few years, and analyze what things went well, and which ones didn’t. This isn’t just about money, or ease of work, or satisfaction, though all those things should be considered. I also like to ask myself, if I knew then what I know now, would I still do the same things I did in the past few years.
I consider this a post-mortem, rather than a time to kick myself or dig up regrets. Often there was no way to know what unrelated things might make a great opportunity turn out terribly, or save a disaster from being much of a problem. But often there were subtle signs I could have paid more attention to, and thinking about what they might be helps me catch them in the future. I also want to analyze what I learned, what I enjoyed, what I made good money on… and what I feel burned out about, what opportunities I missed, and what I feel like has begun to put me in a rut either creatively, or in my career.
For example, I was between projects in 2012/2013, when Lou Agresta asked me if I wanted to write for the Heart of the Razor Adventure anthology for Razor Coast. Now, writing adventures is more work for me than the same word count of worldbuilding or rules expansion, so I often skip it. But, I realized I hadn’t written an adventure in years, and a number of people in the industry had begin to refer to me as a “rules guy.” So I accepted, to change up my perception in the industry, and get myself out of a rut. (And it won an ENnie, and within a year of it coming out Paizo was asking me what adventure I had done recently I was most proud of… and I had something great to point to!)
On the other hand, right NOW I have written two adventures in the past 3 years (one yet to be released), and I don’t feel like it’s a good time for me to be working on slower products that aren’t (currently) an underserved area of my career. Different point in my life, different answer.
In a week we’ll look at Part Two, where I discussing looking forward, and making plans.
Part of My Plan is Patreon
Heya folks–I am back to being a full-time freelancer. Which means, ever word I write has to justify itself in time taken vs. benefit to my freelance career and/or money made.
So if you found any of this useful and you’d like to support the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!
Just a couple of dollars a month from each of you will make a huge difference.
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’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.
I have one, here. Feel free to come sign up and support my online writing! I hope to use the next few weeks to get caught up, revitalize my online presence, and create some cool stuff! You can be part of that, if you want to. 😀