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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.

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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!

Writing Basics: How Much Will You Make?

New freelancers often wonder how much money they can make writing tabletop game material (or editing, or art, though those are different fields than where my primary experience lies). They’ll ask how they get paid, maybe inquire about a per-word rate, or flat fee, and think they are done, But knowing the per-word rate of a project is the beginning of figuring out how much you’ll make doing it, not the end.

And let me start by saying not everyone cares how much they make, and not everyone is going to depend on this money for their livelihood even if they do, and none of that matters when discussing what is reasonable to pay. Work deserves to be compensated, and you deserve to know how hard you are working for the money you make.

I don’t know that there is an “industry standard” for tabletop RPG writing. At this point in my career I am usually writing for 10 cents/word or a goodly cut of all income from a project. Over the past 20 years I have written for as little as 1 cent/word (counting only things that were non-charity, paid projects), and as much as 35 cents/word, but those are both outliers. (Before that I once took a project for 0.1 cents/word… I didn’t know any better. And that’s not my worst experience, to boot.)

Most people I am willing to work with pay no less than 3 cents a word, even to new writers. So, for purposes of this article, that’s the number I am going to go with.

But even knowing a project pays ‘3 cents a word’ doesn’t tell you how much you are making, until you know how many words it is, and how long that will take you, how many revisions you’ll be asked to make, and how long you have to wait to get paid.

If you can do 2,000 words in a 2-hour evening run? That’s $30/hour.

If it’s 1,000 words over 4 hours? That’s $7.50/hour.

But if revisions take just as long as the writing? Your hourly rate just got cut in half. And you’ll likely be paying self-employment tax (in the U.S. anyway, basically another 15% cut out of your income), and you won’t get any benefits as you would for a full-time hourly staff job, and if you have to wait until it’s published to get paid you may miss out on the potential for months of interest (whether by putting it in savings or paying off a credit card cost), or both.

Some of those answers you won’t know until the project is done. You can ask a company if they expect to request revisions (and definitely check your contract to see if it asks for revisions), and you can ask other freelancers what their experience with that company is in that regard (and on other issues too — it’s worth knowing if a company has a reputation for paying late, or killing projects, or changing the remit partway through… if you can, find fellow freelancers you trust and talk to them). But ultimately, any given project may be the exception to the general rule.

It’s also worth finding out HOW you are getting the money. By check? By PayPal (in which case, is a fee coming out of it, and if so who is paying that fee?) By international wire transfer from a different currency? Find out, and get it in writing. It can make a huge difference, especially if different currencies get involved.

The math is even more variable for things that pay your a percentage, and there are even more elements that can change things. Is your percentage of the cover price, or the cut the publishing company gets? this is a huge difference. for example, if it’s a $5 pdf on DriveThruRPG, and you are getting 25%, you need to know if that is 25% of the $5 cover, or 25% of the $3.25 the publishing company gets after DriveThru takes their 35% cut? Also, are you being paid off gross (all the money that comes in) or net (the profit, after all other expenses are paid), or some hybrid number (such as all the money the company takes in for sale price, but none of the money it takes in for printing POD copies or for shipping)? Are you paid monthly? Quarterly? For the life of the product, or just for the first year of sales?

And it wouldn’t be fair not to mention here that some publishers, writers, and pundits think percentage payments are unethical. I’m not one of them, as long as the freelancer is well-informed when making their decision. But I WILL say that since a percentage asks the freelancer to take more of the risk on the project (since sales could be dismal), I recommend only taking a percentage that you believe, based on your own market research, will on average pay more than the flat rate you would accept for the project. I take percentage projects myself fairly often, but am most likely to do so when I have more creative control. If I pitched the idea, or I am developing it to my taste, or it’s a case where a publisher has told me they’ll pay me for anything I ant to write (rare, but it has happened from time to time in my career), I am more willing to take the risk with the publisher, as opposed to when I am given a hard outline and have fewer creative choices to give input on.

On the question of how fast you write, that answer may not be the same for you for every kind of project. I can write new rules content and essays (like this one) MUCH faster than I can write long adventures. Short adventures seem to be an average between those two. Worldbuilding varies for me wildly–sometimes the ideas and descriptions flow easily, and sometimes it’s a grind. And the better I know a game system, the easier and faster all the writing is for it.

You should also make sure you aren’t having to spend money in order to do the writing for a project. Nowadays every company I work with will at least give a freelancer free pdfs of their material that is related to a project. but for licensed properties, this isn’t always as clear. I have had licensed projects I worked on that required me to have some geek encyclopedia not published by the company I was working for, and which they could not get me free copies of. I always increased my asking price by the amount buying such things would cost me, or made sure they were things I could borrow off a friend, or get from the library. If there are free resources, such as fan wikis, make sure your publisher considers them authoritative before depending on them.

You also have t consider if your writing project requires you to do any non-writing work that doesn’t pay any extra above the per-word rate. It’s extremely common for adventure writers to have to do sketches of maps of the locations within their adventures. Not final cartography, but maps with enough detail that the cartographer doesn’t have to make any decisions when rendering final version. This generally doesn’t result in any additional pay above the per-word rate, so if it’s 3 cents per word for 10,000 words plus three full-page map sketches, you are doing more work for the money than if you got 3 cents per word for 10,000 words with no sketches. You may also have to provide an outline, or multiple outlines, which create additional words you are writing you don’t get directly paid for. If the outlines are part of your normal process of writing that’s fine, but if they aren’t be sure to think about how long they took you when considering how much you earned.

It’s much less common, but sometimes publishers also want writers to do interviews, blog posts, marketing text, and so on. Some of those things you may see as career opportunities (the publisher likely isn’t making any money off you doing an interview with someone, and it can be good for your own visibility), but it’s worth knowing if those things are optional opportunities for you, or considered mandatory part of your job, which you should then count against the time it takes you to earn that assignment’s money. (Of course you don’t count any promotion you arrange for and do on your own against the money the publisher pays you — that kind of self-promotion is just part of being an active freelancer.)

Only when you know how much money you’ll get, how long it’ll take to get it, how long it took you to write a draft, how long you spent on revisions or outlining or mapping or art orders, and how long any mandatory promotions you engage in took, can you figure out how many hours you spent earning your per-word, royalty, or flat rate. You may not want to bother to do this with every project, but it IS worth tracking from time to time so you know if there are things that earn you more per hour, even if they have a similar or lower rate for the whole project.

And, of course, when talking about how much you can earn as a freelancer on top of knowing how much you make per hour, you have to figure out how many hours you can spend on it in a month, and then if you can fill all those hours with work at a rate worth your time.

But those are sub-topics for another week.

Sponsored By: The Know Direction Network!

Like all my blog posts, this one is supported by the backers of my patreon! In this case this post is specifically sponsored by the fine folks at the Know Direction network, who have podcasts, articles, news, and convention recordings about the game industry and general, and Paizo, Pathfinder and Starfinder in particular! “Pathfinder News, Reviews, & Interviews!”

 

Developing to Spec (Part 5): Corner Cases (with Starfinder Missing Legacy Feats)

This is Part Five 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 Two, Part Three, Part Four — or just the finished feats (as they are written) here.

We’ve tackled a lot of PF feats that would be useless or annoying if translated directly into Starfinder, using methods ranging from exploring alternate design spaces within the same rule systems to creating brand-new benefits that are at most vaguely conceptually connected to their PF versions. Today we get one really easy feat — Arcane Strike — and one really difficult one — Armor Proficiency (Medium).

Let’s start with the easy one.

While Arcane Strike doesn’t exist in Starfinder the core concept–take an extra action, do extra damage, actually works just fine. Even the scaling of +1 damage, going up to +5 at 20th level, it okay. There are only really three issues. First, if we leave it a swift action, you could use Arcane Strike and the boost special weapon property in the same attack on the same weapon, and unlike PF, Starfinder has lots of multiple-target, area-affect weapons. Those two things together (use a swift and a move to add Arcane Strike and boost to an area effect weapon) are “corner cases” — they don’t apply to the most common types of attacks — but the result in those cases might be too good to just translate the feat directly.

However, if we switch the swift action of PF Arcane Strike to a move action for the Starfidner version, we prevent double-dipping, and essentially have a simple version of boost spellcasters can add to the area weapons they tend to be proficient with.

The third issue, which is a bit less of a corner case, is that operative melee weapons and small arms already have some significant enhancers within the game. So much so that they are limited to smaller damage dice and half the damage bonus from Weapon Specialization. Which suggests half the benefit of an extra action will cover that issue.

So:

ARCANE STRIKE (Combat)
You draw upon your mystic power to enhance your weapons with magical energy.
Prerequisite: Ability to cast spells as a class feature.
Benefit: As a move action, you can imbue your weapons with a fraction of your power. For 1 round, your weapons deal +1 damage and are treated as magic for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction and damaging incorporeal creatures. For every five caster levels you possess, this bonus increases by +1, to a maximum of +5 at 20th level. If the weapon is an operative melee weapon or small arm, it gains half the normal damage bonus (minimum +1).

And that brings us to Armor Proficiency (Medium). Which doesn’t exist in Starfinder… because Starfinder doesn’t have medium armor. If ever there was a case to go back to your theoretical boss and ask for an exception to the rule that every feat in the PF core rulebook has to be given a Starfinder equivalent, this is it!

So, let’s assume they said no. You HAVE to include this feat. What are our options.

Well, you could add medium armor to Starfinder. But if we compare the weight of those rules to the benefit for a single feat, it’s clearly not worth it.

That leaves us in a pickle. There’s no good design space, and there’s no justification to create a new design space just for this one feat. So, how do we fulfill our mandate that REQUIRES us to include this feat?

If you can’t make something that’s awesome, at least try to make something that isn’t harmful.

In this case, we clearly need something that’s better than just light armor proficiency, but not the same as heavy armor proficiency. We could do something that gives you some of the benefit of heavy armor proficiency, but not all of it. But then we need to add at least some minor additional benefit, because otherwise you could just grab Heavy Armor Proficiency. So we could let you use powered armor too, though not to its full benefit. And then we’d have to detail what happens if you DO become fully proficient with heavy armor…

Sigh. It’d be so much easier to just not do this, but a remit is a remit.

ARMOR PROFICIENCY (MEDIUM) (Combat)
You have some training with heavy and powered armor, but have not mastered them completely.
Prerequisite: Proficiency with light armor.
Benefit: You can use heavy and powered armor as if you were proficient with it, but take a -2 penalty to all attack rolls you make while doing so. You are not considered to be proficient in heavy or powered armor for purposes of any prerequisite.
Special: If you gain proficiency in heavy armor and have a base attack bonus of +5 or more, this instead becomes Powered Armor Proficiency.

That’s… not terrible. If you lack the Strength minimum needed for heavy armor but really wanted to wear it and didn’t care too much about attacks, it could be useful. Or, if you have a feat that you WANT to use to get Powered Armor Proficiency but can’t because you don’t have the needed base attack bonus yet, you could take this and then upgrade when you can. Those are also corner cases–most characters won’t fall into those categories–but since anyone else can just ignore this feat, that qualifies for not doing anything harmful to the game balance.

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! If you want to see more of these types of instructional how-I-do-the-work-of-a-professional-RPG-developer, or any other of my kinds of content, please join my Patreon to support their creation and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Starfinder Missing Legacy Feats (Part 1)

This is Part One of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. You can find other entries (Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part NinePart Ten, Part Eleven), or just the finished feats (as they are written) here.

The point of these is to offer practical examples of how I approach developing and writing supplemental rules for tabletop RPGs. “Developing to Spec,” as it were. Rather than just blather on about things as I think of them, I go over issues as I encounter them using a specific Starfinder-related project as a real-world example.

The job of a freelance game developer (or writer) isn’t always to do the thing you think is the best, or the most fun. Sometimes, it’s to do the best, most fun version of the thing you are being paid to create. You may think that core idea is a bad one, but if you agree to do the job, you are agreeing to fulfill its design goals. You can (and should) suggest the design goals might not be good ones (you are being paid for your opinions and talents, by all means be a strong advocate for your opinion), but in the end the people paying you deserve to get what they ask for if they aren’t convinced by you.

And there absolutely CAN be good business reasons to do a product that has a concept that isn’t the most fun, or more useful addition to a game. If you have moral or ethical objections to that concept, the right answer is to refuse to do it at all. If you just think it’s not a great idea, and you agree to do it, your task is to make the best version of that product you can.

Sometimes, the results can surprise you.

So, let’s look at some concrete examples of developing an idea that, at least at first blush, isn’t fun or smart.

Let’s do the Starfarer Missing Legacy Feats.

Here’s our remit: Create Starfinder-compatible versions of all the feats that are in the PF Core Rulebook, but not in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

There are some obvious issues here. the two games are different, despite sharing a lot of the same DNA. And many feats are “missing” because they’ve been simplified or replaced. In fact, we run into this issue with the VERY first “missing” Legacy feat: Acrobatic.

Acrobatic is one of the PF feats that gives you +2 to two skills: Acrobatics and Fly. There’s no need for that feat in Starfinder, because Skill Synergy covers it and more. (And the skill DC math is different, the bonus structure is different, and there’s no Fly skill, and… lots of reasons, but Skill Synergy is the most obvious).

So, we are required to have an Acrobatic feat, and it’s a terrible idea for it to do the same thing. So, as a developer or writer where do we start? Well, I always like to go read the rules we’re dealing with, so it’s time to read Starfinder’s Acrobatics skill.

Here we see the skill has 4 tasks: balance, escape, fly and tumble. We don;t want to give numerical bonuses to any of those (because that would interefere with the balance of skill DCs in the game), and we want to give benefits that feel ‘acrobatic,’ and apply to both being acrobatic and flying.

Looking at fly first, we see you normally have to take a move action to hover, or if you have perfect maneuverability you can do it without making a check, or as a swift action if you make a check. But taking a swift action still prevents a full action in Starfinder. So, here’s a place we could have a benefit — allow you to hover as if you had perfect maneuverability even if you don’t, and allow you to hover without using any action without making a check if you do have perfect maneuverability.

So, that means we need some similar benefit for one or more of balance, escape, and tumble.

With balance, you need to make a check if you take damage, so we could allow someone with this feat to ignore that requirement.. but that’s pretty corner-case so more is needed. Escape is a standard action, or a minute for restraints, so we could make that faster. Tumble requires you to not be encumbered… but that makes sense. It also requires you to move at half speed as a move action, so there’s a place we can give some benefit for the feat.

And as a last step, we need to check all other feats and class abilities to make sure none of them already do the things we are now considering making feat benefits.

Then, we pull the whole thing together, as follows:

ACROBATIC
You are particularly talented at balancing, flying, and tumbling.
Benefit: When using the Acrobatics skill for the following tasks, you gain the listed advantages.
Balance: You do not have to make a skill check to maintain your balance if you take damage.
Escape: You can attempt to escape from a grapple or pin as a move action. You can attempt to escape from restraints in half the normal time.
Fly: If you do not have perfect maneuverability, you can attempt to hove as if you did have perfect maneuverability. If you do have perfect maneuverability, you can hover without making a check and without taking an action to do so.
Tumble: You can make an Acrobatics check to tumble as part of any action in which you move, and do not have to move at half speed to do so.

So those are all situational, minor benefits–but there are four of them, they are all linked to the same skill, and none of them alter the balance of skill check math in the game. Overall, not a bad feat!

Next comes Acrobatic Steps… which is built on Nimble Moves. Starfinder has a feat called Nimble Moves, which is better than PF’s Acrobatic Steps, but our remit requires us to create Acrobatic Steps, so…

ACROBATIC STEPS
You can easily move over and through obstacles.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Nimble Moves
Benefit: As long as you are not encumbered or overburdened, you ignore the effects of difficult terrain.

Which brings us to Agile Maneuvers, which has a similar, but potentially more complex set of issues. Which we’ll tackle tomorrow!

PATREON
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Career Planning. “Now What?” (Part Two)

I’m at a major crossroads in my career, and not one that looks like I expected it to just a few weeks ago. So, I ask myself an important question in this second post of two on Career Planning (you can read Part One here).

We covered step 1, process your new reality, and step 2, review. So that brings us to:

3. Look Forward

I often open advice sessions with other people with “Where do you want to be in two years?” It is, for me, a perfect amount of time. Far enough ahead that you can discount immediate but temporary inconveniences such as a sprained ankle or massive looming deadline, close enough that you can visualize the time between now and then. For other people different timeframes might make more sense, but my 5-year plans very rarely go anything like as planned, and when looking forward 6 months or less I am often skewed towards immediate issues that aren’t necessarily representative of what I am going to face in general.

So, where do *I* want to be in 2 years? As I make a list of those things I find, unsurprisingly, that a lot of them involve money.

And money involves a budget.

Budgeting isn’t any fun, but it’s a crucial part of a freelance career. If I am going to successfully reach any of my goals, many of which involve things like buying a house and paying off student loans, I have to be able to account for more than just my immediate bills. Freelancing if often filled with feast-or-famine incomes, where you get paid for several things over the course of 2-3 weeks, and then nothing to speak of over 2-3 months. It’s important to do more than just cover the rent and groceries. You need to be able to sock away for emergencies, long-term needs, even retirement.

That just isn’t likely to happen without a budget.

You also need to consider what skills and contacts you should improve to meet your two-year goal, whatever it is. Do you want to have a published novel? Then you better both be writing is NOW, and talking to anyone you can about how to get it published. Want to have your own game company? I recommend working as an assistant to someone else who has one, so you can learn the ins and outs by watching and helping, before you have to figure it out by doing.

The review is also the time to have an honest talk with yourself about what your weaknesses are. Are you bad at adventure writing? You can either plan to just avoid having to do that, or to get better at it, but you won’t know that’s something to take into account unless you are aware of it as a weakness.

You also need to be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. Impostor syndrome is rife in this industry… as is the Dunning–Kruger effect. Combating those in yourself is tricky–it’s always easier to see bias in others rather than yourself. I recommend both trying to describe how you would expect someone who gets the kind of work and responses you do objectively to see at least ho you are seen by others, and to ask people you trust who are more successful than you to give you their honest assessment of your pros and cons.

The whole point here is to be able to look forward from a grounded place of information about yourself. You don’t need to beat yourself up or gild your own laurels, but if you don’t have a rough grasp of where you ARE in your career, it’s very tough to plan a course forward.

It may be worth considering what kinds of jobs you have already done and think about which ones you’d like to do more of. My article “Developer? Designer? Who is the What Now?” may be helpful for thinking about different kinds of tasks within the writer end of the TTRPG industry. If you are more focused on art, editing, or business and planning, those are still useful distinctions to know, but you should consider what kinds of sub-divisions your own career has revealed.

Try to boil all your “looking forward” ideas in 3-5 bullet-points of 1-2 sentences each. If two bullet points look similar, see if you can blend them into one slightly broader bullet point.

My first run at that list of ideas looked like this. I offer it only as an example — your list should definitely look different, based on where your career is, and where you want it to go.

*Make enough money to cover more than just the necessities, including health care, buying a house, retirement planning, and the occasional vacation.
*Expand my professional skillset to be able to take advantage of any text-based or business-related aspect of the game industry, including working in different game systems,  being a manager, and overseeing licenses.
*Build my online and social media presence to make it easier to directly reach fans and potential employers, possibly including doing more videos, streaming games, and redesigning my website to be more modern.
*Build income streams separate from per-word writing, possibly including growing RGG, doing more royalty-based projects, and patron support (such as my Patreon, which supports this blog and gives me time to write things like this article-Join Now!)

Now that you have an idea of where you are, and where you want to go, it’s time to:

4. Make Plans

This is going to be one of the vaguest sections of this article, because your previous steps should already be leading you to a different destination than mine–possibly a different destination than I could even think of. So making plans to get you from where you are to where you want to go in your career should look very different than getting me where I want to go. But I do think there’s some high-level advice that can still be broadly useful for making plans.

The first is: schedule your time, then fill it.

It’s very temping to do this the other-way ’round: to find things to do, and then go looking for time to get it done in. And at a casual or hobby level, that’s fine. If you mostly want to just post a few articles on free sites and occasionally get paid for a bit of work that drops in your lap, you probably can just schedule things as they come along. There’s nothing wrong with that by the way–I strongly suspect more TTRPG words get written each year by people who enjoy it as a hobby than those who see it as a side-gig or want it to be a full-time career.

But in my experience, if you want to step beyond that, you’ll eventually need to do the hard work of carving out time from everything else, and then filling that time. If you don’t have enough work to fill the time you set aside? Then it’s time to use the spare time to work on some RPG Pitches. If you don’t have enough time set aside to do all the work you’ve gotten?

Then it’s time to take a hard look at whether you need to set aside more time, write faster, or work less. For any of those answers, you may end up trying to Survive on 5 Cents/Word (or Worse). Good luck, sincerely.

As you set aside time, make sure some of it is saved for making contacts, pitches, and seeking better opportunities, and that includes opportunities for self-improvement. Work and learning opportunities may just fall into your lap sometimes, but there’s almost always more work you can get if you go hunting for it, and that often includes better options. If you want regular income, for example, you may need a regular gig writing articles, or running a Patreon, or being a part-time contract employee of a game company. Some of those things you can set up yourself, but that takes time too.

This is often the hardest part of planning a career. While there are now formal education opportunities to get involved in gaming (and not all of them are focused on computer games, and many of the skills are fungible even so), nearly everything I know about being a game industry professional came from working with people smarter, more talented, and more experienced than I was. My time on-staff at Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, and Paizo taught me there is something I can learn from everybody in the industry, even people with much less experience than me. I needed to be open to the opportunities to learn from them, and that often required I take the time to consider why they wanted to do something differently than I planned to. Yes, deadlines are often tight and there is a time and a place to be a strong advocate for your own vision and experience, but never let that cheat you out of a chance to learn a new resource, skillset, hard-learned lesson, or even just a new point of view.

So, look not only at what work you can do, but what doing that work may mean in terms of advancing your career. There are people in this industry I will always work with if I can, because I always learn from them. I try to challenge myself to take on things that put me out of my comfort zone, and set aside extra time to get those uncomfortable things done.

Sometimes that means an opportunity doesn’t pan out, and that can be especially painful if you gave up something stable for it, and/or were depending on it for a major part of your income. It’s good to note these things (like in future rounds of processing and reviewing your new reality), but it’s not a reason to not try new things. You’ll need to balance potential risk with possible reward, and I can’t tell you how much risk to take for what reward level. Just be realistic with yourself, and never take a risk you can’t survive going badly if you don’t have to.

So, with those steps in mind, what am I looking at for plans to carry my career forward? I’m not going to go into ever deep detail, for obvious reasons, but I think it’d be a bit of a cheat not to wrap this up with some concrete examples of where this process has lead me. So:

I’m the Fantasy AGE developer for Green Ronin. This is a part-time contract position, working with some of the smartest and most experienced people in the TTRPG industry, and it’s a stable source of some income every month. That hits a number of my goals, from working with new game systems to being around people who can help me be better at a wide range of TTRPG industry tasks. I’ll be looking for more similar opportunities, but I am super-stoked at making this part of my long-term success.

I’m focusing more on my Patreon, including posting a new goal promising videos and bonus content if it hits $1500/month. It was, to be honest, extremely scary for me to consider a $1500 goal, but my $700+ goal having been met, I have to take that risk. And if it turns out the public doesn’t want what I am offering for that level of patronage? I’ll re-assess, and try again. I see this as both a way to seek semi-regular income to help meet my financial goals, and to force me to learn and offer new things to stay connected and relevant to the ever-changing TTRPG market.

I’m setting aside more time for Rogue Genius Games. There are types of projects I have never dared tackle with my own little gaming company, and forcing myself to try them is another way to exp[and my skillset. And of course writing more of my own products also means having more royalty-based projects, which is a good way to build income streams that aren’t exclusively one-time per-word money.

Fiction. I am going to do it, this time. I am terrified.

More traditional freelance. I need the money in the short-term, and the contacts in the long-term. So I am throwing my doors open to new publishers, new projects, and new game systems. Time to prove I am more than a d20 game mechanic guy.

So, for the moment, in broad strokes, that’s it for me. I’ll compare my results to my needs and plans (especially my income vs my budget) every 90 days (and more frequently if things are obviously out of whack). And every 6 months or so, it’ll be time to do the whole process again — process, review, look forward, and plan.

It’s a never-ending process, but that’s okay. I never plan to stop having a career, so I can afford to take time to adjust and rethink as needed.

In fact, I can’t afford not to.

 

Career Planning. “Now What?” (Part One)

I’m at a major crossroads in my career, and not one that looks like I expected it to just a few days ago. So, I ask myself an important question in this first post of two on Career Planning.

It’s a question that comes up all too often, and that there’s not much guidance for. Not “how do I break in,” or “how can I do a better job,” but the much more basic “now what?”

It’s a place I have found myself many times over more than two decades, but to be honest I thought I was done asking it for a while. When I took a full-time staff position with Paizo, my expectation was that I’d be there at least a decade. But you can’t always predict what opportunities come along (or how they’ll turn out), and you need to analyze them based on your current situation, not your best guess from 5 years ago.

Sometimes you just need to take stock and see if your current, stable situation is doing what you need it to, or if improvements could be made. Sometimes you move across the country because your spouse got an amazing job that ceases to exist after 90 days with almost no warning.

So, my Paizo job made the “now what” question irrelevant only on the macro scale. I still needed to have a plan for growth within Paizo (and becoming Starfinder Design Lead was a huge step for me in that regard), and I had to keep an eye on what I was doing as side-gigs (which is one reason I had to shuffle those so often–side gigs must be treated with respect, but they can’t take so much effort they damage your performance on your main career path), but in general I knew where the next set of paychecks was coming from, and who I was going to be doing most of my work for over the next 6 months, and where I would be sitting my butt most often.

I do not regret deciding my family’s needs were no longer in good alignment with Paizo’s opportunities for me, though I am going to miss not only the stability it afforded, but also the friends I have made and the amazing coworkers I have learned from and grown with. And, obviously, I didn’t expect my move to turn out the way it did and would have handled things differently if I’d thought this result was possible in this timeframe. But the fact is I am in Indiana now, and while I expect Paizo to continue to be part of my career for the foreseeable future, that situation is a freelance relationship rather than a regular paycheck.

I moved without a full-time situation preplanned for myself, and the stable job I thought would remove the pressure of needing to spin up my career quickly has turned to vapor. So I come to a place creative careers often do.

I have to ask myself, “Now what?”

I’ve done this before, of course. When I was laid off from Wizards of the Coast in 2001. When 3.5 came out, and 4e, and Pathfinder 1st ed. Both when I joined up with and then was bought out from Super Genius Games. When I was offered a regular gig doing Freeport for Green Ronin, and when I left that. When I started Rogue Genius Games, and became involved with Rite Publishing. Each of those moments came just before, or just after, that crucial questions about what’s next.

So, how do you answer that question? It takes some analysis, some planning, and some guesswork.

1. Process Your New Reality

Ideally your new reality is what you were hoping for, such as when I got a full-time job with Paizo. I had that rarest of unicorns — a full-time job (with benefits) in the game industry. But even in that case, I should have taken more time to settle into that new position, after 13 years of full-time freelancing, before I took on any additional projects. I thought that since I knew how long it takes me to write and produce game content, and I knew how much of that Paizo expected from me, I knew what my new reality was like. But there’s a big difference between being a freelancer and going to an office 5 days a week, and while I’d held a staff job before, more than a decade of changes in technology and best practices, and working for a different company, meant I wasn’t as prepared as I thought.

I adjusted, and it was fine. But it would have been better if I had gotten a feel for things first, and considered how to augment that situation afterwards.

However, if your new reality is caused by sudden, unexpected, terrible changes of circumstance, processing it may have a very different set of needs. If you have had the death of a partner or colleague, gotten laid off or fired, had a license pulled, or otherwise experienced a swift and unforeseen major setback, you have some emotional needs you need to deal with before you make big plans.

You can’t rush this. It’s going to take the time it takes, and that’s that. However, you can set some boundaries and expectations for yourself. I recommend giving yourself at least a few days, but also to maintain your route work and duties. Of course I am a depressive introvert, so I need to take specific steps to make sure my mental health is cared for, and I can’t give other folks specific advice how to do that.

My point is, take care of yourself and don’t make any huge decisions you don’t have to in the first few days of a big, negative change. And if you need more help than that, get it. Huge life changes are tough, and the most important part of your career is you.

2. Review

For me the first thing I do when I am at a crossroads is look backward.

It can be hard to properly assess projects and jobs while you are doing them. Since hindsight is supposed to be 20/20, the moment when you aren’t sure what to do next is a great time to look back over the past few years, and analyze what things went well, and which ones didn’t. This isn’t just about money, or ease of work, or satisfaction, though all those things should be considered. I also like to ask myself, if I knew then what I know now, would I still do the same things I did in the past few years.

I consider this a post-mortem, rather than a time to kick myself or dig up regrets. Often there was no way to know what unrelated things might make a great opportunity turn out terribly, or save a disaster from being much of a problem. But often there were subtle signs I could have paid more attention to, and thinking about what they might be helps me catch them in the future. I also want to analyze what I learned, what I enjoyed, what I made good money on… and what I feel burned out about, what opportunities I missed, and what I feel like has begun to put me in a rut either creatively, or in my career.

For example, I was between projects in 2012/2013, when Lou Agresta asked me if I wanted to write for the Heart of the Razor Adventure anthology for Razor Coast. Now, writing adventures is more work for me than the same word count of worldbuilding or rules expansion, so I often skip it. But, I realized I hadn’t written an adventure in years, and a number of people in the industry had begin to refer to me as a “rules guy.” So I accepted, to change up  my perception in the industry, and get myself out of a rut. (And it won an ENnie, and within a year of it coming out Paizo was asking me what adventure I had done recently I was most proud of… and I had something great to point to!)

On the other hand, right NOW I have written two adventures in the past 3 years (one yet to be released), and I don’t feel like it’s a good time for me to be working on slower products that aren’t (currently) an underserved area of my career. Different point in my life, different answer.

In a week we’ll look at Part Two, where I discussing looking forward, and making plans.

Part of My Plan is Patreon
Heya folks–I am back to being a full-time freelancer. Which means, ever word I write has to justify itself in time taken vs. benefit to my freelance career and/or money made.
So if you found any of this useful and you’d like to support the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!

Just a couple of dollars a month from each of you will make a huge difference.

 

Writing Basic: DO NOT USE TABLE FORMATTING

This is SUPER basic, and SUPER ignored, but I promise you, it’s true. (And as with most of my writing basics, here I am talking about tabletop game writing for someone else to publish.)

Unless your editor/producer/publisher specifically tells you to?

DO NOT USE TABLE FORMATTING IN YOUR FINAL DRAFT.

It is of NO use to the developer, editor, or layout artist. It is, in fact, a huge pain in the butt.

Yes, MAYBE you need to get things in neat columns to make sure your table says what you want where you want it.

But when you turn it over?

Note what is a table title, what is a column head, and what is table text, and then put ONE TAB between EACH COLUMN ENTRY. (As always, check to see if your publisher has specific or different requirements.) Do NOT use your word processing programs table function.

Like this, but with [tab] replaced by an actual tab.

[Table Title]An Example Table

[Table Column Heads]Writing Level[tab]No. Of Wrong Tables[tab]Editor Cursewords

101[tab]14[tab]14

102[tab]6[tab]12*

201[tab]0[tab]0

*Because a 102 level writer should know better.

Yes, it’s a minor thing.

But getting minor things wrong makes you take more time and more effort, and thus more money and frustration, for publishers to want to hire you.

Patreon
Heya folks–I am back to being a full-time freelancer. Which means, ever word I write has to justify itself in time taken vs. benefit to my freelance career and/or money made.
So if you found this useful or entertaining, and you’d like to support the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!
Just a couple of dollars a month from each of you will make a huge different.

Life in Evansville… So Far, So Good

I have heard recently from three different friends who all said three different other friends are “sure” I hate it in Indiana, here in the Land of the Brain Eaters.

I don’t.

I’m actually settling in really well. Yes, I am sometimes lost, depressed, disconnected, moody, or in a black doldrum so dense nothing, not even cheer, can escape.

But… that’s just me, folks. I have civilian PTSD. I suffer clinical depression. I am a socially awkward introvert. None of that was going to stop because I moved to the last place in the US where you can buy a fried brain sandwich any day of the week.

I mean… maybe once I eat my first brain. I’m saving that for a special occasion.

But honestly, I am doing better than I expected, by a long shot. I have only ever lived in central Oklahoma and the Seattle region (well, and one semester in California when I was in kindergarten). Ever time I have moved, even just to a new neighborhood in the same town, it has taken me months to get comfortable. Sometimes years.

Here? I’m already pretty comfortable.

Some of that may be how I moved–for me the most grueling part was packing things up during the 5 weeks I was still in Redmond after Lj had flown out to Evansville. But that meant our possessions, including my bed, were already in place when i arrived. There was a space for me before I got here. Yes, about half of what I own is still in boxes, and we’re still figuring out which kitchen drawer has the spatulas, and the movers lost some of our furniture and ruined more–but none of that is part of Evansville. It sucks, but it’s just life.

Gen Con was shortly after my arrival, and while driving to and from the Con in a few hours was a new experience, the Con itself is familiar. The Con Crud I got was new — just a little sore throat and a tad too much mucus, combined with a fatigue that kicked my ass for three weeks. So some of the vibes people seem to have picked up may have been annoyance with how little energy I had.

The culture here is one I understand. It’s not the same as OK or WA, but it’s similar to both of them in a way. No one looks at me funny when i say ‘yes, sir” or “thank you, ma’am,” most food is fried *or* bar-b-que *or* Asian fusion, there are multiple multiplexes, lots of delivery services, and a dizzying array of test kitchen restaurants.

Roads are largely laid out on a grid with 90-degree turns and packing lots shared between businesses. Things are flat, though not Oklahoma flat. There’s real thunder, so far on a nearly-weekly basis. The sun comes up and goes down at reasonable times.

I miss my Seattle friends… but I still chat with them online. I miss my OK friends… but I just saw them last month. I enjoy being closer to friends who live in IN and adjoining states, and I expect I’ll make new friends. And if I don’t, that’s okay too.

And WOW are things cheaper than Seattle. Like, stunningly cheaper. That takes a LOT of stress off.

My wife Lj and I have begun figuring out what life here is going to be like. We took our first ever yoga class–a chair-based one, for beginners–and I think that’s going to be a huge part of the future. It’s less than 15 minutes from our apartment, we clicked with the class and instructor immediately, and it had an immediate positive effect on us. I have come to think of it as physical therapy for being human. As I claim back strength and flexibility lost to years of stress and sitting, I’ll be looking at next steps, but this first step feels very *right*, and useful, and sustainable.

I’m already in a Pathfinder game, so that’s good. 🙂 I have also already begun to carve out the new shape of my career. I’m the Game Design Expert at Lone Wolf Development, I have a real plan to produce some fiction in a way I never have before, and I have more things as settled deals which just aren’t ready for announcement yet.

There will be dark times ahead, of course. That’s a fact of my life — I am at war with my own brain, and I take that war with me anywhere I go. But I don’t think those battles will be harder here than they were elsewhere. Yes, my support network is more virtual and less direct now, but then my sources of stress are also reduced. Yes, there are some big financial challenges we put off until after the move, but we are in a good place to tackle those. A lot of the things I thought would happen now look like they aren’t going to, but I knew not all of them would–just not WHICH ones wouldn’t. And, at least at the moment, I am sanguine with my prospects.

And for a while at least, there’s a whole city to explore. Will we go to the giant bridge club building? Visit one (or more) of the many minigolf courses? Pick a “favorite” restaurant, or game store? Go back to taking the occasional evening drive in air that cool but not cold?

Find the elusive Red Cathedral? Or Storm Arsenal? Fight the Brain eaters… or join them?

I don’t know.

But I look forward to finding out.

ABOUT PATREON

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When You Run The Company, Nothing Takes “Just 10 Minutes”

Just coming off Gen Con, which gave me an opportunity to talk shop and history with many of the titans of tabletop, I want to offer some insight on what it’s like to be a manager, owner, or major executive employee at a tabletop game company.

I’ve worked on staff at Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, and Paizo. I’ve freelanced for a dozen other companies, and know many of their owners and executives very well. I’ve helped start, run, and shut down game companies. I’ve been doing this in different roles for more than 20 years.

This insight isn’t about one company. Nor is it about my own time constraints (in general my role is game creation and NOT these kinds of tasks)

This is about the tabletop RPG industry as a whole, as it has been for decades, in many different capacities, for many different companies.

First–you never have free time, or enough time. There is always an event coming up. Sometimes people have to walk away from one almost-week-long event that took 2 months to plan for to get on a plane to fly overseas for another such even. Sometimes people work 5-6 weekends in a row at events, conventions, sales meetings, open houses, and so on. Sometimes you have to work 30 8-10 hour days in a row.

And the people who do that work also have things that have to be done every weekday, every week, every month. It’s 40 hours of work if you are lucky, AND weekends of work (especially during March-August, the half the year we refer to as con “Season”), AND THEN emergencies that are time-sensitive and cannot wait.

And it’s a rough industry. Most of the game companies I bought things from 20 years ago don’t exist anymore. A lot of the ones I bought from 10 years ago don’t exist anymore. Even those that are still around sometimes suffer layoffs, or long periods where things are so risky that a single bad decision about which license to sign, which partner to anger, which friend-of-a-friend you annoy, which print run to cut back, which book to publish, can sink a company.

It’s high-stakes, high-stress, high-time-consumption, all the time.

I absolutely am not telling anyone they are not allowed to ever feel like a company isn’t giving them enough attention. But when there are serious problems, it’s wrong to think the company owners or senior staff are showing disrespect or proving they “don’t care about customers” because they “won’t just take 10 minutes and discuss some information.”

The people who make the decisions who keep the doors open at a tabletop game company can’t do anything regarding major problems off-the-cuff.

It’s never “just 10 minutes.”

And, again, I’m not currently dealing with any of these huge issues in my role at any company right now.

But I have in the past.

I know when I have had issues with licenses with other companies, when I was in other positions, I have had to not just decide “What do I want to say,” but:

“Do I need to warn my partners, who are also partners of a company i am having issues with, before I make a statement about that company’s issues??”

“Do I need to run this by my company’s owner?”

“Do I need to run it through our legal council?”

“Do we need to have a meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page about what has happened, and what our plans are?”

“Do I need to have editors go over my statement so it is clear and concise?”

“Would I rather take the 2-3 hours of collective time it is going to take to do this, or to sleep at least 6 hours tonight?”

And when the people who run these companies are too harried to make the right business decisions? People lose their jobs.

It’s not just a game, or a badly produced entertainment product for the people who depend on these jobs for health insurance, retirement income, and rent.

The thing you claim will be easy to give you?

Done right, it’s never just 10 minutes.

Done wrong, it can tank someone’s job.

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