Blog Archives

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.

Enjoyed This Post?
You can get more like it by joining my Patreon! Support me having the time to write things like this, and get the occasional bonus Patron-only content!

Shameless Plug!
I’ve launched my most ambitious project every: 52-in-52. Get a game product from me once a week for every week of 2020! Each product is given to you in 4 versions, one each for PF1, PF2, Starfinder, and 5e. None of these will be sold on their own before 2021, and if you preorder now, you get 500 bonus pdfs immediately!

Curious what the 52 products will be? Check out the free teaser catalog!

 

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.

(Do you enjoy the content on this blog? Why not become a patron, and support the creation of more free material! Or you could even become a sponsor, and get me to link to YOUR content!)

 

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.

Shamelessly Linking This To My Patreon

Giving someone money actually isn’t generally the best way to build an online relationship… but being a patron of mine DOES help me have time to write advice posts like this one!

 

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.

Patreon
If you find my line of Writing Basics articles useful, and you’d like to support the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!

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.

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 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 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!

 

 

Writing Basics: The Freelance Work Process

I’ve talked many times about ways I deal with writer’s block, burnout, and the hard work of creating game material professionally. What I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about is my normal writing process. Like, if I am feeling okay and tackling the day-to-day work of a writing career, what does that look like?

Today’s my birthday, and birthdays are a good time for some retrospection, so I want to look at how my full-time freelance process looks nowadays, especially after 5 years of going into the Paizo office 5 days a week. I’m talking here just about how I organize and tackle my writing–things like getting assignments, editing, and so on are outside the scope of this article. (Though if you want to hear more about those, let me know!)

Outlines

When I was first starting my writing career, I flat refused to use outlines. Outlines were, I felt, restrictive. Stifling. I didn’t know where my muse was going to take me, after all, so how could I outline it? Much better, I thought, to just begin at the beginning, and keep writing until I hit the end, and if that meant the project drifted all over the place, I could fix that in a second draft.

I was such a sweet, summer child.

Yes, you can fix things in a second draft. But the sooner you find problems, the easier they are to fix (and the less work you’ve done on things that are geing to get cut). So now I outline nearly everything. Often in very rough terms (maybe just listing out some potential headers), but enough for me to know where a piece is going to start, what it’ll cover, and how it will end.

I DO keep in mind my format, and this is a place where the years of being a developer for Paizo have really honed that skill. For example, if I know I want everything to break at the bottom of a page, I can do rough wordcounts to writing only as much as I need to do that. On the other hand, if something is going to be a 2-3 page pdf and never see print, i know it doesn’t matter nearly as much what my exact wordcounts are.

Prioritize, Schedule, Assess

Early in my career, I was often doing just fairly random magazine articles, and deadlines were pretty rough. I also usually worked on only one at a time, so I didn’t have to worry about priorities. Now I am often doing two-dozen things all at once, and some are for myself with loose deadlines, some are for myself with firm deadlines (like this article, since I promise Patreon readers a good-sized article every Monday), some are for other folks with loose deadlines (most of the things I produce for Rite are done when they are done… but they do need to get done!), and some are for other folks with hard deadlines (if Green Ronin or Paizo needs a thing by a set date, it’s crucial I adhere to that–there are lots of steps after mine that need time, and big books that go into the retail market get announced way before they are finished.

So I need to know what I need to work on TODAY to hit deadlines. I prefer to work on 2-3 different things per day, so i keep a running list of what deadlines are upcoming, how far along those things are, and I (ideally) check it every work day. I also have the free tacking program Asana, which I use to track projects so they don’t get totally forgotten if I put them on the back burner for a few days or weeks. That helps make sure that if Rogue Genius Games needs marketing text from me before a product can be made available for sale, I get that done in a timely manner.

If I have an idea I can;t begin yet, it gets noted so it’s not lost. i used to do that in physical notebooks. Then I moved to online files. Now, i use Asana.

Writing Time

The hope is to get 8 hours of writing done per day 5 days a week, and 4 hours 2 days a week. That actually usually takes me 12 and 6 hours, because when I find myself hitting a slowdown in my writing, I often take a short break to clear my mind. That may be 5 minutes on social media, or 15 minutes gluing bits of a model together, or 20 minutes on a computer game. Or a half-hour lunch break. The idea is to pause, rather than let my writing urge go completely cool, but distract my mind with something different enough that I can come back at it ‘fresh” in a bit.

But it’s important to keep a running track of how much work is actually getting done, and what is due soon. If I am producing plenty of words per day (I shoot for a minimum of 3,000 words/day, spread out over various projects) and everything is on-track to hit deadline, I don’t worry overmuch how many minutes I spend on non-work-writing. But if my production slows, or I have something behind schedule, I get much more serious about making breaks short and infrequent. I try to get up and do something else for at least a few minutes every hour, but if the muse has me head-down writing for 3 hours, I don’t interrupt that process.

The Space

I have a dedicated work space–a home office I share with my wife. It has my laptop, my reference books, chargers for phones, a place for my cat to sit within-reach but off my desktop, a few hobby-related items, and that’s it. No television. No chairs other than the office chairs. There IS a window, because getting some natural light is helpful to me. No microwave. When I look around, I see only things related one way or another to my writing, and that’s a big help for me.

Putting It All Together

For example, I began this article on Friday the 25th, based on an idea from my idea file I got from a friend on social media. I didn’t get much more done than outlining some headers. I took runs at it again on the 26th and 27th, but kept both short because I had a past-due project I needed to turn in on the 28th. OTOH I also took time out on the 27th to spend time hanging out at a friend’s house, because I had been working all week and the next day was my birthday.

But that meant this wasn’t done today… and neither was the past-due project. But the past-due was ALMOST done, so finishing it clearly took priority. Then a quick break to spend a few minutes with my wife. Since it’s my birthday and I have a 3pm phone call that is industry-related, i WANTED to play a game for 15-20 minutes… but I couldn’t take the time for that when my Monday blog post wasn’t finished yet.

So this became the next major priority, and I hammered on it until it was done. Now I can take a break, and then start on the NEXT most-urgent thing on my list. 🙂

Patron Support

All my articles are possible due to support from my patrons, and many are suggested by those patrons! If you want to encourage more writing basics articles, or just stick some money in a tip jar, check out my Patreon!

 

Developing To Spec: Part 8 (c) -Exhausting Sickening, Staggering, and Stunning

This is a continuation of Part Eight of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  — or just the finished feats (as they are written) here.

While we were going through the PF core rulebook feats in order, when we ran into the first critical feat, we paused in Part Seven to look at all of those as a whole, and we tackled Critical Focus and Critical Mastery. We’ve been going through the critical feats for the rest of the week, and since I think we’ve hit every corner case and design principle already, today we’re just going to do all the last four.

EXHAUSTING CRITICAL (Combat)
Your critical hits cause opponents to become exhausted.
Prerequisites: Critical Focus, Tiring Critical, base attack bonus +15.
Benefit: When you score a critical hit on a foe, your target immediately becomes exhausted. This feat has no effect on exhausted creatures. The exhaustion ends as described in the exhausted condition, or can be removed by any effect that states it removes exhausted.
If the attack already has a critical hit effect, when you score a critical hit you may apply its normal critical hit effect or the effect from this feat, but not both.

SICKENING CRITICAL (Combat)
Your critical hits cause opponents to become sickened.
Prerequisites: Critical Focus, base attack bonus +11.
Benefit: Whenever you score a critical hit, your opponent becomes sickened for 1 minute. The effects of this feat do not stack. Additional hits instead add to the
effect’s duration.
If the attack already has a critical hit effect, when you score a critical hit you may apply its normal critical hit effect or the effect from this feat, but not both.

STAGGERING CRITICAL (Combat)
Your critical hits cause opponents to slow down.
Prerequisites: Critical Focus, base attack bonus +13.
Benefit: Whenever you score a critical hit, your opponent becomes staggered for 1d4+1 rounds. A successful Fortitude save (DC 10 +1/2 your base attack bonus + your key ability score modifier) reduces the duration to 1 round. If you use this critical against a creature that is already staggered, the additional rounds add to the condition’s duration.
If the attack already had a stagger critical hit effect, you may add 1 round to the duration of the condition applied by this feat. If the attack already has a non-staggered critical hit effect, when you score a critical hit you may apply its normal critical hit effect or the effect from this feat, but not both.

STUNNING CRITICAL (Combat)
Your critical hits cause opponents to become stunned.
Prerequisites: Critical Focus, Staggering Critical, base attack bonus +17.
Benefit: Whenever you score a critical hit, your opponent becomes stunned for 1d4 rounds. A successful Fortitude save (DC 10 +1/2 your base attack bonus + your key ability score modifier) reduces this to staggered for 1d4 rounds. If you use this critical against a creature that is already stunned, the additional rounds add to the condition’s duration.
If the attack already had a stunned critical hit effect, you may add 1 round round of stunned condition to the stunned or staggered condition applied by this feat. If the attack already has a non-stunned critical hit effect, when you score a critical hit you may apply its normal critical hit effect or the effect from this feat, but not both.

.

And that’s the end of the PF critical feats! So next week we get to tackle… Exotic Weapon Proficiency (for a game system that doesn’t have exotic weapons), and metamagic feat (for a game system that doesn’t have metamagic!)

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 7-Critical Thoughts

This is Part Seven of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. The point of these is to offer practical examples of how I approach developing and writing supplemental rules for tabletop RPGs. Rather than just blather on about things as I think of them, I go over issues as I encounter them in a real-world example.

The goal of this project is to create the “Missing Starfinder Legacy Feats,” a Starfinder-compatible version of every feat in the PF core rulebook that doesn’t have an SF match. (We discussed the impact of having to do that, whether that’s a good idea or not, in Part One.)

You can find previous entries here — Part One , Part TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five, Part Six — or just the finished feats (as they are written) here.

Running through the “missing” PF feats from the PF core ruelbook in order, we’ve run into our first critical feat, Bleeding Critical. And that means understanding how critical hits work in PF, and in Starfinder, and forming a plan for converting critical-focused player options from the one system to another.

Starfinder handles critical hits a bit differently than most previous d20 games. First, only a natural 20 on the attack roll is a critical hit–there’s no “threat range” where a roll of 19, or even 18 may count as a crit. Second, there is no “confirmation roll” (many d20 games require a second attack roll that also hits the foe’s AC to make an attack a crit).  Thirdly, all damage is doubled — you never do x3 or x4 damage, and there is no category of damage that isn’t multiplied. And, finally, many weapons have critical hit effects — special effects (such as bleed damage, or setting a foe on fire) that only occur on a critical hit. In the vast majority of cases if a rule option gives a character access to multiple critical hit effects on a single attack, it also requires them to pick just one to apply. (There are exceptions to this, but they are rare.)

This series of changes means critical hits in Starfinder are less common, simpler to adjudicate, and often include more impact on combat that just doing more damage. Those impacts are all intentional, but it does mean that the design space for modifying how critical hits work has been significantly shrunk down.

So, when looking at critical feats from PF to convert over to Starfinder, we need to make sure we don’t violate any of the core ways Starfinder handles feats. We can play with the formula some, but we need to not change the value a feat gives to combat effectiveness, and not create rules with too much weight to be justified just on some feats.

So the first two critical feats we run into are Bleeding Critical and Blinding Critical. But since we know it can be useful to apply development consistently, it’s worth looking at all the critical feats to see if they can all be converted using the same design philosophy. So, they are: Bleeding Critical, Blinding Critical, Deafening critical, Sickening Critical, Staggering Critical, Stunning Critical, Tiring Critical, Exhausting Critical, and two related feats: Critical Focus and Critical Mastery.

Since we want to work with the critical rules within Starfinder we also go over critical rules in the core rulebook, and find that Improved Critical has been converted over, and gives a bonus to critical save DCs rather than expanding critical threat range. That saves us some work from converting the feat from PF, but it also takes one potential design choice for “missing legacy” critical feats off the table. We also note what critical hit effects already exist (in all the official Starfinder books, since we don’t want to duplicate or invalidate any official supplemental rule material).

Since Critical Focus is a prerequisite for all the critical feats in PF, it makes sense to try to convert that first, and use it as a prerequisite in the Starfinder conversions.

(As a brief aside, I don’t think there’s any need to create a sub-category of “critical feats” as a new descriptor of feats in Starfinder. They’ll all be combat feats, but none of the core rules are ever going to reference them since this is 3pp material, and they aren’t in the Starfinder Core Rulebook. As a result, we’ll need to include any special interactions we want in the feats anyway, removing the one benefit of having a new category of feats that all follow some universal rules).

Now in PF, Critical Focus gives you a bonus to your confirmation roll when you have a critical threat. That mechanic doesn’t work in Starfinder, but the *concept* of criticals happening more often is still a valid design space. Of course we know we can;t have a feat double the number of critical hits a player gets — that would quickly become the no-brainer go-to feat of number crunchers.

But Starfinder does have ONE example of making a critical hit effect more common–the plasma immolation soldier gear boost.

“You are expert at setting things on fire with plasma. If your attack roll with a weapon in the plasma category is a 19 (the d20 shows a 19), and the attack hits your target, the target gains the burning condition. The condition deals 1d4 fire damage if the weapon has an item level of 1st-6th, 1d8 if its item level is 7th-14th, and 2d8 if its item level is 15th or higher.”

AND that sit outside the normal restriction of one critical hit effect per attack. So, can we use that for Critical Focus?

CRITICAL FOCUS (Combat)
You are trained in the art of causing pain.
Prerequisites: base attack bonus +9.
Benefit: If your attack has a critical hit effect, when your attack roll is a 19 (the d20 shows a 19) and the attack hits your target, you may apply one critical hit effect from the weapon to the target. You do not also deal double damage, and any effect that would prevent a critical hit from effecting the target also works against this critical hit effect.
Special: If you have the plasma immolation gear boost, when using this feat you can activate that gear boost if your attack roll is an 18 and the attack hits your target.

That works pretty well. It can have the same flavor text as the PF version, and gives a character more critical hit effects, without doubling how often the character gets to do double damage. And we built in a benefit for soldiers with plasma immolation, so this feat doesn’t weaken the benefit of that class-specific gear boost.

Then looking at Critical Mastery, we see in PF it allows you to apply multiple critical feats to one attack. That doesn’t make a lot of sense for Starfinder, but since Starfinder does normally limit you one critical hit effect per attack, there is a similar design space available.

CRITICAL MASTERY (Combat)
Your critical hits can cause multiple critical hit effects.
Prerequisites: Critical Focus, gear boost class feature, base attack bonus +14.
Benefit: If your attack has more critical effects available to it than you are allowed to apply on a critical hit, you may increase the number of critical hit effects you apply on a critical hit by 1. For example, if you attack a foe with a weapon that has bleed, knockdown, and stagger critical hit effects, but you are normally required to select one when you score a critical hit, you may instead select two.

We aren’t being as restrictive on the prerequisites with Critical mastery as PF, since we are limiting it to people with a specific soldier class feature and a +14 attack bonus, rather than to 14th level fighters as PF does, but that’s in keeping with Starfinder’s less prerequisite-intensive feat system.

Okay, so since we’ve covered the broader critical hit feats, we can NOW go back and look at Bleeding Critical.

Tomorrow. 🙂

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!