Category Archives: Writing Basics

Writing Basics: Saying No

Early in my ttRPG writing career, I never wanted to say no to any project I was offered. Add free content to the “Netbook of Spells” for AD&D? Sure. Do unpaid reviews of multiple Alternity supplements? Of course. Read over a friend’s 75,000 word manuscript and offer edits and critiques? Always. Write a 128 page book on super-spies in WWII at 1/10th of one cent per word? On it.

While that method did work for me, eventually, I can’t recommend it. Looking back, I see so many times when saying yes pushed me away from being a successful game industry pro. And eventually, I discovered I had more projects offered to me than I could possibly complete.

Even after I knew I was at least marginally established within the industry, for a long time I used to say yes when I shouldn’t because I was afraid if I tuned someone down when they offered me work, they’d never offer me work again. Not only has that turned out not to be the case, I have had many more people tell me how much the appreciate my knowing my own limits to what I can produce in time (when I do know — it’s not like I don’t still get that wrong all too often), but agreeing to too many things makes it more likely I’ll do a bad job, or be late, or worse, and that will harm your chances of getting more work from the same people.

So whether you are fully booked, not interested, have ethical issues, or are just smarter than me, as your creator career takes off eventually you’re going to have to say no to someone.

For some people, that’s easy and natural. For me, it’s a source of social anxiety and worry. So, I have kept track of what refusals seem to have been taken well, and considered how I felt with rejections sent to me when I offered work to others. These are my best practice pointers on how to say no without creating confusion or bad feelings.

These are all keyed to assuming you are saying no in a written form, be that email, Discord, or direct message. Generally if I am offered work in person and I need to say no I’ll use similar structure, but I also often have to say “Ah… I am honestly not sure. Can you email me about it and I’ll get back to you?” (Because without my schedule and some time to think about it, I often am NOT sure. If I am certain it’s a no, I’ll say no. And unless I am 100% sure I can do it, I never, ever say something that might sound like a yes if it’s not written down. I prefer to go to email asap, because then there is a written record of what was and was not agreed to. And then, of course, to contract.)

Be Polite and Maybe Formal

I never want to be rude or abrupt in business communications, even with people I don’t like or plan to ever work with. This isn’t about obsequiousness, just clear, professional behavior. If I want someone to keep me in mind for the future, this helps make sure I don’t seem to be given a brush-off. If I don’t want to ever work with someone in the future, or actively dislike them, this helps make sure I don’t say something I would regret becoming public.

Be Honest

If I’m not going to accept an offer or work, or pursue a opportunity, I want to make sure I’m honest about why… or say nothing. If the question is I am too busy, saying so can open discussions of being more free in the future. If a given system isn’t something I am familiar with, that leaves open the possibility I’ll learn it. If pay is too low, saying so puts it in the employers court to decide if they want to offer more. If I think I am a bad choice for a specific game system or type of project, that can both leave open options for different projects and possibly lead to the employer asking me who I think IS a good option, which can lead to good networking possibilities.

If, for whatever reason, I don’t want to go into why I am saying no to something, I just give no reason at all. There’s nothing wrong with that, if you are being polite and professional.

Open With Thanks

Again, assuming I can do so honestly, I like to open most rejections by thanking the potential employer for considering me. This is often a case of saying, “Hello [Person], thanks for thinking of me for this.” If there’s more to it and I have some real context I would like to add, I might go into that for a sentence or so. “I’m a big fan of what you are doing with [Game Line], and really enjoyed [Last Release].”

I like to build relationships where I can, and even saying no is an opportunity to open a dialog and get to know someone.

Be Clear

Make sure if you are saying no that you actually say no, and only connect it to why if changing the why might mean a yes.

“It’d be tough to fit this in” is waffling, not saying no.

“I can’t take on another project with that deadline at the moment.” is saying no, but if the deadline was later then maybe.

“I need to pass on this project” is saying no.

Sign Off

I don’t know why, but I just feel better if I use some kind of sign off, be that “Maybe next time” or just a “Sincerely” before signing my name to a rejection. Again, I make sure that sign-off is honest (I don’t say “Maybe Next Time” if I am sure that no, I won’t be taking a project like this in the future, either). There’s a good chance this is just for me–that saying no to work is so foreign to my instincts that having a definitive end to a message doing so helps me not ramble on.

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Letters from a ttRPG Dev to a Freelancer, 4. Post-Publication Activities.

This entry in the Letters from a Dev series is adapted from a letter about what is, and maybe isn’t, a good idea to do after a project you have a credit in gets published and is available to the public. I’ve given similar advice to numerous freelancers, and prospective freelancers over the years (and even have a file on my hard drive that has some snippets of those to borrow from when I am asked about this topic), but I don’t think I’ve ever publicly published any significant portion of the advice itself.

I *try* to always open such letters with congratulations for getting published–creatives in this industry see criticism SO much more than praise or well-wishing, so I like to celebrate those moments of success if possible. Then, I break down my main suggestions for things to do with a project, now that it’s out in the world in its (presumably) final state.

“First, let me say that all this advice comes with a huge proviso — never follow these suggestions if they conflict with your own ethics, morals, best practices, comfort level, or mental well-being. For example, I mention looking for opportunities to talk about your work, including podcasts, but if your mental health will suffer from doing that, don’t. Similarly I suggest keeping praise for your publisher public, and criticism private, but there I am talking about things like typos, or inferences the publisher may not have meant. If you feel you have an ethical mandate to call out a publisher publicly for things such as racism, bigotry, misogyny, and so on, I am in no way telling you not to do that. No one is paying you enough to sell out your ethical code, and I believe we all have a responsibility to try to make the world a better place. Any such instance is going to be too complex for some general advice that doesn’t know all the nuances of that specific situation to apply in any more than the vaguest sense. You’ll need to take those actions you feel most appropriate and/or most effective. That might mean publicly raising your objections, at least eventually if private notes do not seem to be making any difference. It also might not.

I wish I could tell you that any criticism you make, publicly or privately, will be taken as a reasoned, well-intentioned, good-faith effort on your part to make the hobby as a whole better. And, some folks will take it that way. But at both the professional and consumer level, many may not. It’s a risk, and you need to be realistic with yourself about the impact of possibly blowback on your life. If you have specific concerns in this area, please feel free to ask me about them. If you want my private, confidential take on a specific situation I am happy to give it. I might even be able to help.

That huge caveat aside, my general advise for what to do when a product you have a credit in comes along is pretty simple.

Read It

Do this first. You never know what may change from your final turnover to the printed page, and there are two good reasons to find out. First, seeing how things you wrote have changed may give you a better idea what that publisher is looking for, which can help you get more work with them. It may even give you insight into haw to be a better writer. If you don’t understand why a change was made, a short, polite note to your contact who got you the contract for the gig and to who you turned over your draft isn’t a bad idea.

Second, if you begin talking about the book, you want to talk about what is actually in it, rather than what you turned over. You neither want to promise people something that has been removed, nor seem uninformed if people ask you questions about things you have no familiarity with.

I sometimes sit with a PDF of the final release on one screen, and my draft on the other, and look line-by-line at differences. Yes, it would be easier for a developer to send you feedback, but that’s all-too-rare in this industry.

Check your NDA

Assuming, of course, you have an NDA. (Check your contract.) Most likely once the book is out you are free to talk about it, but if it’s one part of a multipart project you may be surprised by what hasn’t been revealed yet. Again, if in doubt, a short note asking for clarification to you contact with the publisher normally goes well.

Promote Your Credit

This is a great chance to promote yourself. Make a post talking about having a credit. if there’s some interesting anecdote about the process, that may be worth including as long as it doesn’t put anyone in a bad light (though see the proviso, above). For most social media platforms, including a picture of the cover of the product is a good idea.

This can help get your name out into the industry, remind people you are alive if you are already pretty well known (I still do this, for example), and convince publishers you are a good partner that will help advertise their product once it is out, driving engagement and interest.

Add It To Your Credits Sheet

Ideally, you have a list of all your credits already. If not, time to start! You want to be able to tell people what you worked on, and how you were credited, in case it ever comes up. Seriously, there is a big difference between having one credit, having ten, having 100, and having 1,000. Start keeping track now if you aren’t already, and make time to keep it up to date as things are published. I personally have all the print products I have worked on as a Facebook album, and people finding that has lead to things like consulting work.

Investigate Interviews

Often podcasts and blogs are looking for content related to new releases, and you helped make this one! You don’t want to steal the thunder from the publisher (again, looking like a good partner makes it more like both this publisher and others will want to work with you in the future… but yeah, see the proviso above), but in my experience if you send a note saying “The podcast ‘Second Level Spell’ wanted to interview me about the Battle Pie rules I wrote for the Orkenpie adventure,” they’ll be enthusiastic in their support, and may even boost that on their social media.

Move On

I’m bad at this one, so I include it here. You may have no issue with it at all. When I look at my old work I can… obsess over perceived failings. I want to figure out why I didn’t do what the developer did, make sure I learn all possible lessons from the project, and consider all the ways I could have done a better job.

A little of that is fine.

But then it’s time to put it down, and move on. Of course you can do a better job now than you did then–we are all learning and improving all the time. Instead of worrying about what past-you got wrong, turn to what current you is doing that you can apply those lessons to.

Don’t Take Reviews to Heart

For a lot of people, this may mean just don’t read the reviews. I personally am unable to do that, so instead I try to restrict myself to weighing their opinions against my own. Did they find something unclear? Fair enough, do I see their point or not? Is it full of typos? Well, that might mean my turnover was too error-ridden for even professional editors to save it, I can look at that. Do they not like it? Okay, but that’s, like, just their opinion man.

Dissatisfied people tend to be much more vocal than satisfied ones. So if you have to read the reviews, take them with a huge grain of salt. And never let them get you down.”

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Random Idea Generation Methods. 1. The Reverse and Twist

Sometimes, I just need an idea to play with. I may need a starting point for a new project, or some color and side-thoughts for a bigger ongoing work. Often I just generate new random ideas as a palate-cleanser when I need a break from something I am grinding on. Other times I want to throw ideas out to other people, either for fun or to jump-start their creative processes.

Now if I am lucky, a random idea just comes to me when I need it. Or, if one comes when I don’t need it, I can jot it down with just enough detail to come pick it back up later.

But more often than not, i have to generate an idea, and when i have to come up with dozens at a time, I have verious methods I use to do that. Here’s one”

Reverse/Twist The Starting Point

This is one of my favorites, and it’s a good way to use inspiration without turning everything into a pastiche (or rip-off). The basic idea is to take the core premise of an existing setting or story you like, and make a major change to it. Then, you follow the permutations of your new set-up.

For example, take Moby Dick. It’s a captain’s obsession with getting revenge on a whale. It’s compelling, but it’s also been done and redone hundreds of times. So, what if we reverse a number of elements.

Our Captain is still a whale hunter, but he has not a care in the world. The Red Demon, which may or may not be a whale but is certainly a sea creature, seeks to destroy the captain as revenge for the captain slaying the Demon’s mother. We still have stories of obsession and revenge, but now our focal human point is ignoring the risks, his arrogance convincing him that even if the Red Demon is real, it’s a brute animal, and he has all the advantages of human civilization and intellect to overcome it if it ever finds him.

Now, the inspiration for that idea are pretty clear. That’s fine–the starting place of a story, setting, or even writing prompt is only a small part of the work of making something. But once you have that nugget, you can twist and add/alter as you see fit. Instead of a whale-hunting captain hunting you could have a famous ivory poacher, clearly a villain and an up-and-coming local warlord–who does worry about human threats (and perhaps kidnaps a journalist to tell “his side” of his story, giving us our narrator), but ignores local legends of a Red Demon elephant out to get him, even when other poachers are slain by it.

The further we get from the trappings of the original idea, the more our end product will be clearly its own thing.

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Letters from a ttRPG Dev to a Freelancer, 3. Bad Words

This entry in the Letters from a Dev series is adapted from a letter about doing research on words and terms you want to use in a game manuscript. I have sent variations on this same letter to numerous freelancers as part of their feedback, as it has come up surprisingly often.

(As an aside, it has come up so often I have considered making it part of a “packet” of advice I send to all freelancers I contract. The reasons I haven’t yet is twofold. First, while it comes up “often,” in the grand scheme of things that’s less than 1-in-10 assignments. Second, the more stuff I ask ALL freelancers to read, the more burden I am putting on then and the more likely it is they’ll skip some of it. Since 90% of the time freelancers don’t need this advice, it hasn’t ever actually made the cut for me to consider it crucial to ask everyone to read every time they work for me. So, instead, it goes here where people can check it out if they want to, and I can easily point to it if needed.)

Also, I want to say that when I refer to “bad words” in the title, I don’t mean morally repugnant words. I mean bad word choices, often for reasons we don’t realize, which is the entire point of this letter.

So, here’s the letter, taken from one specific example.

“On another matter, I want to recommend you get in the habit of doing an internet search every time you create a new word, or borrow a word from another language (even just archaic versions of existing languages) to use in your manuscript.

It turns out, a surprising percentage of the time “new” words are identical to existing words that have meanings and context very different from what we want be associated with the concept we are trying to name. Sometimes, we even run into trademarked terms that were created in various industries using the same sources of inspiration that lead to our “new” words.

Another risk is finding a term in a specific context and not checking to see if it has a broader or more common meaning that is very, very different. To wit, I see you used the term “Kanchō” as a classification of ninja spy. And, sure enough, if I go looking for “types of ninja” or similar online searches, the Kanchō-as-spy turns up fairly often.

However:

If I just do a search for the term “Kanchō,” by FAR the more common meaning is a highly inappropriate form of “goosing” common as an East Asian children’s ‘prank.’ And then, after that meaning, it’s used as the medical term for an enema in Japan. Neither of those conveys the implications we want for a ninja spy, and sources that use the word for a kind of ninja don’t generally warn of its more common meanings.

Also, I recommend you keep a “clean” browser for such searches, by which I mean one that hasn’t been tied to your search history and involves an algorithm trying to give you the results you most want to see. Sometimes Google is too good at guessing that I am doing research for game content, and skews its results towards those sources, rather than give me the most common meanings and context.

So in my experience, it’s best practices to carry out a search for any term or word you think up, or borrow from other languages or dialects. I have also come to consider this a form of due diligence when working outside my home dialect and experience, even if I think the terms I am using are new and fictional.”

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On Sticking To Word Counts

So, here is one of the very few things I ever told a room full of freelancers, that made one of them cry. (I felt terrible, btw).

“A note to freelancers, writing for print books. If I contract you for 10,150 words, and you give me 11,800, you are *not* doing me a favor. You are instead forcing me to figure out which 1,650 words to cut. Print books only have so much room, and while going over by 1%-3% isn’t a major issue (though I’ll love you more if you don’t), exceeding your word-count by 10% or more is creating a lot more work for me.

Don’t under-write by more than 1%-3% either!

Now for pdfs and blog entries, things are significantly more lax. But print products have finite space, and your writing has to fit in that space and look good.”

Apparently, one freelancer in the room had been told by a different developer, working for a different company, that overwriting by 10-20% was “always” good.

And there ARE things I contract extra words for. Mostly, crunchy, rules-heavy things with lots of chances to get it wrong. If I know I want 3,000 words of new spells of feats or specializations in a book, I often contract (and pay for) 4,250-or-so words, so I can cut needless extra verbiage and entire bad ideas (or badly executed ideas), and still have what I need.

But mostly? This is yet another way it’s important for freelancers to ask their contractors what is preferred, and have a high level of communication.

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Letters from a ttRPG Dev to a Publisher. 1. New RPG Marketing Consultation

This post is part of the “Letters from a ttRPG Dev to a Freelancer” line of articles, but in this case it’s taken from a consultation I was asked for from an RPG creator/publisher. The publisher kindly gave permission for me to use their question and my advice for this blog post (though a few details have been redacted). Since I did have to edit some of the info the publisher gave me that lead to the response posted below, keep in mind that this advice is for a specific publisher in a specific situation. I think it’s still fair advice, but it’s just one example of many ways you can try to build and market a new ttRPG line, and assumes you want to have multiple games using the same core mechanic, which is certainly not the case for every publisher and every game.

Here’s a paraphrased version of what I was asked:

I have created a new ttRPG system I am going to market and publish. It has a single, simple game mechanic that can be easily adapted to multiple genres and game themes. I figure a zine-sized book would be the best way to do it, since it’s VERY rules-light.

My question is, is it better these days to release it as a little book that has all the rules and tips for running various multiple genres with this system, or is it better to break it up into “the pastoral zine” “the horror zine” “the superhero zine”?

Here’s a cleaned-up version of my answer.

First, name the system. I specifically mean name the game engine itself, separate from any genre or setting-plus- rules-modifications for a specific theme. The “Chat RPG System,” or something like that. (I’m making names up as I go here, both for the specific game and various potential releases, but feel free to come up with better titles.)

Have the base, core rules written up so you can adapt and build off that core as needed.

Then for your first release, make it a super-tight setting Zine. “Pastoral Adventures, an RPG about Quiet Little Emergencies.” But mark it “Powered by the Chat RPG System.” It’s important here to pick a genre, theme, and style of game the Chat RPG system handles really well. Preferably something that plays off your rules-light system, and that is a good tonal math for how your core mechanic works.

Then see what feedback you get, what additional genres people ask for, and so on. If you find the Chat RPG system needs some core improvements, make those in your core rules documentation.

Then make your second ttRPG release. If people really seemed to want to add more grit and horror to “Pastoral Adventures,” and it’s a good fit, perhaps you put out “Shrieks in the Night, an RPG about Stories with Bloody Endings.” And also mark IT as “Powered by the Chat RPG System.”

Keep track, for your own use, how these use the Chat system differently.

Again, look to feedback and make any adjustments to the Core Chat you need to. See if support products for “Patroal Adventures” and “Shrieks in the Night” are popular.

Then you go with a third new “Powered by Chat” game. Perhaps “Patrols and Brooding, an RPG about Street level Heroes,” and, yep, mark it “Powered by the Chat RPG System.”

At that point, you can see if “Core Chat” has any fans asking for it, or it there is a community interested in other genres, themes, and ways to modify the Chat system. If so, you can release a “Chat CORE” book that brings all the rules together, and maybe expands on them and offers new genre tweaks. This is a particularly good place to support less popular, more esoteric genres, presenting them as examples of how you can use Chat CORE to make homebrew setting games. There may not be a general appetite for “TERMITE, Eat the Stats Quo,” a game about equality-minded insect colonies attacking the rotting elements of a tyrannical society’s buildings, but if you use it as a way to show how organization rules, toxic environment rules, and big project rules work with Chat CORE, you can both present a new, quirky setting and have a useful example of how to use Chat CORE to build settings that no publisher is likely to produce.

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Building New Things That Feel Iconic

I love making new fantastic things. Not just “fantasy” things, but amazing and otherworldly things you could find in supers stories, or ancient mythology, or scifi, or weird west tall tales, or all of the above.

I especially love to make new things that feel like they have a long, established, iconic niche even if they are brand new. Obviously that’s a great *goal*, but it’s extremely difficult to do without making something that’s just a pastiche. It’s also extremely difficult to know when you have succeeded.

I do have some tricks I try to apply. Firstly, I often find if I can’t explain a thing within the number of characters allowed by a Tweet, I don’t have a firm enough grasp of what the core of that thing is. Second, I try to think about what the base of a thing is, and what the expansion is.

For example, today I had an idea leap into my head (likely due to insomnia-induced fatigue toxions) which I described thusly:

Ghortal are 7-8 foot tall unguligrade bipeds with roughly bull-like heads featuring tusks and 2-7 curling horns. Immune to undeath, if infected their faces take on skeletal features as their aging slows and they gain occult power.
They have a strong clan structure.

The base of ghortal is clearly that they are a kind of minotaur-kin, though with tusks and more horns. But then the idea is expanded to give them a special immunity to undeath, and a reaction to undead exposure that’s unique to them.

Minoaturs are clearly iconic, and there are a lot of similar beast + biped creatures in myth and fiction. Bovine skulls being used as masks and symbols is also extremely common, so I wanted to find a neat way to combine those into my minotaurs-with-extra-pointy-bits concept to make ghortal new and more interesting.

As for how I know when I have succeeded — it’s always a matter of how other people take to the idea.

But it’s sure a good sign when a professional cartoonist is so taken by the idea, they do art for it. Relatedly, here’s art the amazing Stan! did after reading my ghortal post earlier today. 🙂

Image

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Formatting the Drop-In Town, Part 1

A lot of ttRPG projects I am working on right now call for a way to present information on a town setting designed to be dropped into any game. Most publicly know is “Little Hamlet of Villago” for the soon-to-be-rebranded-as 52 x 4 subscription service. There are also some Age Creator’s Alliance stuff I have in various hands with similar needs, and then things on the list off entirely-theoretical future projects.

So, I have been trying to figure out how I want these settings to present info for the GM. The idea is that these can be used as bases of operation for PCs, or waystops that anchor adventures, or as places to explore, or just items in a big sandbox. That means they need to have enough detail to be useful for GMs just wanting details to play off of and offer enough ideas for a GM and/or exploring players to interact with, but also flexible enough to fit other story ideas and worldbuilding elements in with the town’s material.

When I’m trying to create game information formats like this, I find doing some practice builds a useful form of outlining.

So, visual elements can help things like this a lot, so I’d want each Drop-In Village to have a village-scale map. For purposes of a test case, here’s one available for free commercial use from Dyson Logos, “Appletree Pond.”

Map of Appletree Pond by Dyson Logos

It’s a great map, and it would need a scale, labels for road names and numbers for the buildings and locations of note, but that’s easy to add. It’s also useful to think about, because linking those tags to the text they match is going to be important.

Ideally, key buildings would also have both a map of their layout, and art of their exterior appearance. Obviously that would be more expensive than most projects can justify, but let’s pretend we’re doing it for the moment. Again, for this example I’ll grab a Dyson Logos map of an appropriate building, though it may not perfectly match my map outline.

Map of Twin Norkers by Dyson Logos

Both exterior and interior art can help give the feel of a place. I’m not going to order custom work for a test case, but you can do a lot with stock art. Here’s a good exterior art piece to use for Twin Norkers, even if it’s not a perfect match of the map’s details.

Art by ratpack223

I don’t think I’d ever want to give a interior map, exterior art, and interior art of the same location unless there was some good adventure-driven reason to do so, but let’s pretend I would. Here’s a shot of the Twin Norker’s dining room.

Art by Unholy Vault Designs

So, before I even get to the text, I can see if I use all these options I’m going to be looking at 2-3 pages of info for a single location, which may well crowd out the setting and game information a GM needs.

One thing learned, I’ll leave this thought experiment here and talk about presenting text info next time.

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Guest Blog: Dustin Knight on Breaking In

Heya folks!

Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. This one is by Dustin Knight, who has written for me and for other publishers, and whose experience breaking into the ttRPG industry is 20 years more recent than mine. A lot of how I did it isn’t relevant anymore (“Write for all the print RPG magazines! Like, ah….”). I thought someone with more current advice might be useful to readers.

If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at owen.stephens@gmail.com.

Howdy, my name is Dustin Knight (aka KitsuneWarlock on Discord), the author of Fox’s Cunning at Know Direction and freelance author for Paizo, Everybody Games, and a contributor to Rogue Genius Games 52-in-52 program. You can find my 2020 work on my old blog. I’m an active member of the Venture Corps for Pathfinder Society and run the lodge here in Kent WA and I’ve begun doing live 30 min Twitch streams every Friday at 4 PM PST. When Owen asked me to write a blog describing my experiences breaking into the industry the first thing that came to mind were two words:

Write Now.

Becoming a tabletop game designer had been my dream since the 5th grade. Why did it take me almost two decades to finally write something other people would read? Sure, I was on many forums writing guides and discussing builds, even generating some content like fan-made Magic cards and rules for play-by-post roleplaying games. But nothing I could show a developer or publisher. Then I heard the best advice of my career: “Write (Now).

You don’t need a contract. It doesn’t have to win awards. It can be a blog or a twitch channel or a subreddit. Just get your content out there in a way that you feel comfortable sharing who you are with your future colleagues. It can be reviews, stories, interviews, game mechanics, or even just a tirade on some niche decade-old book you’re fairly certain no one even remembers! Get your content out there, take notice when people appreciate it, and give people more of what they want. You don’t need a special license, but if it helps feel free to print this out:



But what about me?

I knew since the earliest days of 3rd Edition that I wanted to be a professional game designer. But even back in Jr High I shelved the idea in the same headspace as winning the lottery. Even when I started designing my own games in High School, I felt like it was something I’d slowly work on my entire life and only ever pursue legitimately after retirement. I went into the Architecture program at CSU Pomona without realizing I was only doing it to challenge myself (and because I loved drafting maps for RPGs), and went on to Philosophy and Graphic Design with the side-dream of possibly breaking into the tabletop game industry as a production artist or art director. After some graphic design freelance work and a couple years of gig work, I moved from California to South Carolina and found real estate. And Pathfinder.

My childhood friends back in California were very much dedicated to 3.5e, so until I moved to the Carolinas I only had maybe a dozen opportunities to try Pathfinder. Being a “forever GM”, I was enticed by the prospect of being a player at the (relatively) local Pathfinder Society lodge in Savannah. I was hooked and quickly found myself a core member of the lodge, helping to organize games, going to conventions, and even playing games online. After countless nights discussing what character options were and weren’t allowed in Pathfinder Society, I was invited to volunteer my time to Organized Play as a volunteer. I started my blog back in 2018 to share some character builds and “review the AR”, literally going over all the new character options coming out for Pathfinder Society that players may have forgotten about during the substantial gap of time that existed between a book release and when the book was legal for Pathfinder Society. These posts became a smash success for highlighting new options that were challenging to parse using the official Additional Resources layout. Around the same time I started hanging out on the Know Direction discord, excited to find a Pathfinder community with an anime channel!

Ok, But When Did You Break into the Industry?

Paizocon 2019. Roll Credits.

In all seriousness, I moved to Washington in 2019 and responded to an invitation to play Pathfinder Society with the Australian lodge a couple days before to Paizocon. We were playing exclusively Seeker (high level) modules in preparation for the high-level tier of the final 1st edition special, Siege of Gallowspire. We were invited by Tonya Woldridge to visit the Paizo HQ for a tour, and the day before Paizocon I wrangled Alexander Augunas into playing a high level game at the convention site where I showed off what he lovingly called: “the most broken character I’ve ever seen.”

As the game progressed more and more people gathered around. By the time we were done, we had amassed a respectable cluster of industry insiders, including Mark Seifter and Owen K.C. Stephens (the Gamefather). I sat there dumb-struck as more and more authors showed up, paying their homage to the Gamefather as I quietly nodded and tried my best not to audibly gush in the presence of all these industry titans. That’s where I first pitched my Cards for Everybody to Alexander Augunas and scored my first assignment!

Some chance encounters with developers from Paizo during the convention and an appearance at the Freelancer panel got me on Paizo’s radar, and after some email correspondences with their developers I landed my first assignment: Wayfinder Origins!

Five months and four sets of feat cards later, Alex invited me to write a guest blog post on Know Direction. Little did I know at the time, but the network was using the guest blog week to test our mettle and shortly after invited me to become a member of the Know Direction network! Thanks to KDN my audience exploded and I suddenly found myself writing reviews, toolkits, builds, & even being featured live on stream with the rest of the KD Crew!

I now have an audience, multiple up-and-coming releases (including Lost Omens: Grand Bazaar, a Pop Culture Catalogue release with Everybody Games, and more 52-in-52 products), and the confidence to acknowledge everything I’ve written here without trying to sabotage myself with a dozen-and-one excuses for my successes.

So How Did You Do It?

Write Now.

(Has that sunk in yet? Okay, I’ll throw in some more useful advice while you wait for wordpress to install.)

1.) Accept that everyone has imposter syndrome. I first heard this from Kate Baker after I got my first Paizo writing assignment, and I wish I had learned it ten years prior. Owen wrote a great article on it in 2018 that’ll do the topic more justice than I ever could. (Yes, that was intentional.)

2.) Accept that there is always an audience. It might not be the next best seller on Drive Thru RPG, but if you have a genuine passion for something you go ahead and do it. You already have the inspiration for that passion project, and at worst it becomes another product under your belt.

3.) Accept your image. Back in 2018 I toyed with changing my username out of fear that I’d be considered “the kitsune guy”. Alexander Augunas talked me out of it, reassuring me that having that kind of identity is a priceless commodity. Most of us have some kind of online identity and profile. Embrace it! Heck, my first successful twitch video was my review of the kitsune ancestry!

Overall I’m extremely grateful for all the factors that came together to help jettison my career this far, and grateful for Owen giving me this space to reflect on my career and promote my work. You can follow me on twitter, follow my bi-weekly blog Fox’s Cunning on Know Direction, and check out my 30 minute Friday 4pm PST Twitch streams that alternate between RPGs & Card Games! I’m also an active participant of Super Smashfinder, Pathfinder Society and you can most readily message me on Discord!

Patreon

The Know Direction Network is one of the greatest source of ttRPG cotnent currently out there, and you can support them at their Patreon.

And as always, you can support this blog by joining my Patreon!

Letters to a Dev from various Publishers. 1. Post-Development Developer Checklist

This post is part of the “Letters from a ttRPG Dev to a Freelancer” line of articles, but in this case it’s taken from letters I have received from publishers and producers in my role as game developer. Since many freelance writers hope to become on-staff ttRPG game developers someday in their career, I thought looking at some less talked-about parts of that job might be useful.

Though the role of developer is often not well understood (or well defined), and varies from company to company, generally a ttRPG developer is seen as being responsible for conceiving, outlining, assigning, overseeing, and gathering the text for a ttRPG game book, and adjusting (or sometimes replacing) that text as needed to make sure is is uniform in tone, voice, wordcount, and theme; and meets the publisher’s standards for writing guidelines, rules language, and rule design. A developer is also generally the topic expert on question about that book for any questions about it that must be answered before some other person in the company to do their job (such as a marketing person, or customer service).

But there are more jobs that developers often have to do above and beyond anything involving just the text of the book.

This checklist is far from complete, nor does every company need every developer to do this for every project. But all of these are drawn from checklists I have been asked to follow in my duties as a developer for various published game books, taken from emails and physical checklists I have received from publishers. I’ve removed any identifying information, collated similar tasks described differently by different publishers, and added a touch of context where appropriate.

The Checklist

*Is the art order done? (Art directors generally actually assign the actual creation of the art, but the art director can’t know what art is needed without either the developer creating an art order, or reading through the manuscript themselves, and they rarely have time for that. Also, the developer often has to look at sketches to make sure they’ll meet the text and needs of the game.)

*Are the maps done. (As above, someone else usually orders them from cartographers, but a developer must make sure sketches for the cartographer are accurate, match the style of the company, and have all the needed text, things like a rose compass, scale, room markers, colors, and so on).

*Are the contracts handled? (The developer is often supposed to track that all freelancers get their contracts, and/or that all freelancers return their contracts, and/or that all freelancers have fulfilled the terms of their contract.)

*Is there back cover copy? (If the developer doesn’t write this themselves, they may be asked to give whoever is writing it bullet points of things to hit, and check the final for accuracy with what is in the book.)

*Is there a foreword/introduction/etc? (Just like back cover copy, sometimes the developer is supposed to do this, sometimes they just give info and check the end result.)

*Are the internal marketing text, ad text, catalog text, and solicitation text all written. (As with back cover and forwards.)

*Are the inside covers handled? (If they are supposed to be blank, great. If not… )

*Is any needed legal text done? (For example, if it’s an OGL product, a completed section 15 must be completed by someone.)

*Is the entire Table of Contents page updated (including the cover blurb, etc.)?

*Have any problems discovered during layout been addressed? (Sometimes, even if you make the wordcount right, a book solicited for 160 page pages turns out to be 150 or 170 once it’s laid out. Or monster entries designed to fill exactly one or exactly two pages go way short… or way long. Layout often does what they can, but if the text cannot be made to fit, it’s the developer who has to fix it by adding or cutting.)

*Are all credits correct? (Often books are done in text templates, and old credits may sit around and look “done” even if they are for a different book. Or someone may want their name listed in a specific way. It’s often the developers’ jobs to make sure the credits are correct and current.)

*Have supporting articles been written? (Not always, nor for every product, but it’s often the developers job. Same with interviews, podcast appearances, and so on.)

*Is the budget correct? (On-staff developers often have a specific budget, for both time and money, for the cover, the interior art, all text, all editing, and so on. Meeting that budget is then usually the developers job.)

There’s more, of course, depending on the product line, specific project, venue, publisher, company, and so on. But these are a big part of the most typical beyond-the-book’s text workload.

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