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Your Developer as a Resource, 1. Running Short

If you are a freelance writer working on a ttRPG assignment, your developer (or editor, publisher, producer — whatever title the contact person you have for the assignment uses) can be a valuable resource. After all, they want you to produce something that meets their needs, so they are motivated to help you give them the text they want.

So if you are having problems with a project, it’s a good idea to write to your developer and see if they can offer advice or guidance. If you think you need to deviate from your outline, it’s absolutely crucial you talk to your developer first. You don’t want to be constantly bothering your developer with issues (they’re paying you to do work for them), but when you are having trouble that is going to impact the quality of your project, better to ask than not.

One common issue that can come up is feeling you have been asked to provide more words on a given subject than the subject needs, or can even support. If you are “running short” on a section, there are better and worse ways to rach out to your developer about it.

Here are some examples:

Good: “I’m having trouble finding enough material to fill out 5,000 words on Halfling Battle Toast. I could use some guidance.”

Better: “I’m having trouble coming up with enough material to fill out 5,000 words on Halfling Battle Toast without just padding it out in obvious and unhelpful ways. If we could expand the topic to cover all halfling war-based baked goods, that would give me a wider range of things to cover. Alternatively, I could do 2,500 words on this, and add 2,500 words to the section on Dwarven Axe-Beer. Or if you have ideas for what I am missing in the Battle Toast section (current draft attached), I can fill that out. How would you like me to proceed?”

Bad: “It is not possible to write 5,000 words on Halfling Battle Toast, so you need to tell me if I am just turning it in short, or if I can use those words elsewhere.”

Worse: “Here is the turnover. I took 2,500 words from Halfling Battle Toast, which didn’t need that much, and used them in other sections.”

Worst: “Since you assigned my more words than needed for Halfling Battle Toast, I moved 1,500 of them to the Monsters of the Bakery section, and contacted your CFO to have my contract reissued for 1,000 fewer words.”

And, yeah, all of those examples are fictional, but they are based on actual ways I have seen different freelance writers handle the issue of being short on wordcount.

Also, sooner is better for something like this. Don’t wait to tell your developer you are short on a section 2 days before the due date. The more time you give them, the more flexible they may be to help you get your section done, and get paid for it.

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Letters from a ttRPG Dev to a Freelancer, 5. The Polite Inquiry about Work.

This entry in the Letters from a Dev series is adapted from a direct message I sent to a freelancer I had a good relationship with, when they asked how to contact other developers and ask them for work.

They hadn’t needed to contact me for work through formal written channels, because we had arranged the first freelance writing they did for me at a convention when they were introduced to me by a mutual friend and had since then discussed the next thing they’d do each time they finished the last one. We also became friends, and often chatted in nonformal online venues, so it was easy for them to ask me if there was anything upcoming they might get to work on.

But given it is best to have multiple venues to get work from when you want to be a full-time freelancer, and the relatively high turnover in the ttRPG industry, it’s a good idea to branch outfrom just one person who may assign you projects. That left this freelancer wondering –if they wanted to contact someone OTHER than me for work, what were best practices for doing so?

My response, in a Facebook Messenger window, form the basis for the following:

“First, do NOT contact people on Facebook or Twitter for ttRPG work unless they specifically say somewhere that is okay. I’m fine with it, but many other developers and publishers are not. And if someone has said they want all inquires to come in from some official email, or follow a specific format, and you don’t do that you;ve already not put your best foot forward. If you can’t follow those instructions, why should the developer think you’ll follow the instructions of a writing assignment.

That goes with the next important point, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. If you want to contact someone at Paizo about writing or them, read their forums first. Look for the “about us” section to see if there are emails you should use, specific people you should write to, open calls you should try for first, and so on.

After that, do not use form messages. Customize for each developer. If you are on good, friendly terms with them, you can keep it super short and informal, but still on-point and professional. For example:

“Hi Owen!

Hope you are doing well.

I just finished a Project for another developer at Paizo, and wanted to let you know I have availability if you have anything coming up to be assigned. I’d especially love to get to work on some worldbuilding or adventures, but am happy to take any project that could use another writer.

Thanks!

Freelancer Name
Freelancer Email
Freelancer Web Site or Other Social media Link if you have it”

If you don’t already know the developer quite well, especially if you have never worked for them or anyone else at their company of on their game line, you should be both more formal, and more informative. Such as:

“Dear Mr. Stephens,

My name if Freelancer McFreelanceface, and I am a freelance ttRPG writer. I have worked on numerous d20-based games, and the Halfling War Cheese boardgame. I’m a fan of Pathfinder, especially the Player Companion line, and wanted to reach out and see if there was any projects coming up you might be interested in having be write some part of. I am especially skilled with adventures and worldbuilding, and am familiar with your formats for both, but am also happy to take on any part of any project.

If there is an open call or tryout procedure coming up you think might be a better place for me to start doing things for Paizo, I’d be happy to do that first.

Thanks for your time,

Freelancer Name
Freelancer Email
Freelancer Web Site or Other Social media Link if you have it”

Also, make sure all those things are true! If you haven’t cracked open a lot more than one game book from a company, you likely shouldn’t be reaching out to them for freelance work.

Also, if you have other devs or editors or publishers you are on good terms with, or other freelancers, hit them up for suggestions, recommendations, and even references. Always keep the ask at a level appropriate with your actual connection and level of experience with them, but it’s generally cool to ask if someone knows if a publisher is looking to hire freelancers, and if anyone knows who to get in touch there and how. (And, sadly, to learn if anyone has had bad experiences with anyone you should watch out for, though as with anything, you have to decide how to weigh such concerns.)”

My personal rule of thumb is once you ping someone, if you don’t hear from them or they seem open to the idea of you working for them but note they don’t have anything at the moment, it is appropriate to drop them a note again in 90 days. Some people are okay with more frequent pokes (I have people prod me about things I have said I’d LIKE to get around to doing with them once or twice a week, and if done politely that doesn’t bother *me* at all), and if anyone ever replies with something like ‘I’ll contact you when I have something,” that’s a good sign to politely reply that you look forward to it, then stop cold contacting them.”

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Writing Basics: Saying No

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Polite and Maybe Formal

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

Be Honest

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

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

Open With Thanks

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

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

Be Clear

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

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

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

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

Sign Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read It

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

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

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

Check your NDA

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

Promote Your Credit

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

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

Add It To Your Credits Sheet

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

Investigate Interviews

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

Move On

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

A little of that is fine.

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

Don’t Take Reviews to Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However:

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

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

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

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On Sticking To Word Counts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guest Blog: Stan! on “It’s Never Too Late to Chase Your Dream”

Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. This one is by Gaming veteran and cartooning luminary Stan!

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

Heya, folks! I’m Stan! … yeah, one name with weird punctuation … yeah, there’s a story behind that … but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because Owen said that he could use some pinch-hit blog posts and he figured I’d have something interesting to say. I guess we’ll see about that.

Those whose gaming memories stretch back more than fifteen years might recall that I used to have my name on a bunch of products and had a bit of a reputation for work done on D20 Modern, Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game, Dragonlance: Fifth Age, Legend of the Five Rings, and a bunch of other lines and titles. I did game design, wrote novels, and drew comics … heck, I even got nominated for awards in all three categories. But of my own volition I moved on to other types of work—a fair bit of it in the managerial side of gaming, but also doing the kind of writing work where my name doesn’t go on the cover of the product.

Since 2005 I’ve been doing “English Adaptation” for various manga published by Viz Media. Basically, I take literal translations of the books and smooth the scripts out so that they’re fun to read and fit in the pre-existing word balloons. By my count I’ve done adaptations for more than 200 volumes that include titles like Ultraman, Gundam, Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, Demon Slayer, Monster Hunter, and probably a dozen more. I’ve also been doing voice-over scripting for various computer games whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Suffice it to say, I’ve had a pretty good career so far doing a lot of really cool things. And yet … of all the cool things I’ve done professionally, there’s one that gives me more satisfaction than the others and still calls out to me to spend all my time in that pursuit—cartooning. For whatever reason, that is my true passion. And as cool as it is to be able to make a living doing game design, or writing … and as much as I do love doing those things too … no matter what I’m doing, I’d rather be cartooning.

To be honest, I struggled with that for a while. I mean, how ungrateful was it to get a “dream career” and still find yourself wanting something more? After all, I was able to do cartooning AND get paid for it … sometimes. And gaming and writing were definitely passions of mine. How could I want more than that? And after pondering that in a self-flagellating kind of way, here’s what I came up with:

No matter where you are in life, you’re always going to dream about where you’d like to be next!

And as a corollary:

Once you know what your current dream is … it’s never too late to chase it!

During the pandemic year I’ve spent as much time as possible doing cartooning of various sorts—single panel cartoons, illustrations, caricatures, and sequential art stories. And after much hemming and hawing I’ve finally pulled the trigger and launched a Patreon so I can create a community of folks who want to support my cartooning and encourage me to do even more of it.

Having a Patreon reminds me that if I want my dream to be real, I have to WORK at it … and it shows me that there are people out there who want me to succeed. I have to push myself to keep producing work at a regular pace and to hopefully keep honing and improving my skills. I have to be responsible to me AND my patrons to make sure that I’m not just fiddling around (though some amount of fiddling around is part of the package … as it is with any creative work). My Patreon is still in in its initial months, and already I’m feeling the difference it’s making in my life. I only hope that continues.

If you want to join in, I’ve got a little reward for those who join in as founding members of my Patreon community—a group I’m calling the “Stan!dard Bearers.” I’d love to have you join us. But more than that, I hope that what I’m doing can inspire you to take the time and effort to pursue your own dreams. No matter where you are in life … no matter what your dream may be … it’s never too late to CHASE it down and make it real.

Because once you catch it … you may find there’s an even BETTER dream calling out to you! And you can chase that, too!

Stan!

Patreons

You can support Stan!’s Patreon here!

And, as always, you can support Owen K.C. Stephens’s Patreon here!

Formatting the Drop-In Town, Part 1

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

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

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

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

Map of Appletree Pond by Dyson Logos

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

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

Map of Twin Norkers by Dyson Logos

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

Art by ratpack223

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

Art by Unholy Vault Designs

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

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

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Guest Blog: Dustin Knight on Breaking In

Heya folks!

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

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

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

Write Now.

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

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



But what about me?

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

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

Ok, But When Did You Break into the Industry?

Paizocon 2019. Roll Credits.

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

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

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

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

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

So How Did You Do It?

Write Now.

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

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

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

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

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

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Guest Blog: Alex Augunas Talks Breaking In to the ttRPG Industry

Heya folks!

Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. This one is by Alex Augunas, a friend and business partner of mine, and talks about how he broke into ttRPG writing, and eventually publishing.

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

Hello, I’m Alex Augunas. You might know me as Alexander Augunas, the Know Direction Network’s Everyman Gamer and the voice of Xvi on Stellar, a Starfinder Actual Play Podcast. Or Alexander Augunas, a Paizo freelance author responsible for creating insane amounts of content in various Core Rulebooks, Player Companions, Organized Play scenarios, and more. Maybe Alexander Augunas, owner of Everybody Games LLC. Probably Alexander Augunas, “That guy who likes foxes too much.”

Owen and I have been friends for a long time. While everyone who is even remotely in a sector of the Tabletop RPG Industry that’s adjacent to 3.5 D&D knows Owen K.C. Stephens, I think we first met professionally in when he first took over Paizo’s Player Companion with Monster Summoner’s Handbook. At the time, Patrick Renie had just left Paizo, leaving Owen to transition over from being in charge of the old Pathfinder Modules line to the Pathfinder Player Companion line, and he liked my spell work in Monster Summoner’s Handbook so we started working together more closely. (I’m the madlad who wrote the spell that lets you blow up your summoned monsters from that book.) That ended up leading me to getting an offer from Owen to work on the Weaponmaster’s Handbook alongside David N. Ross, and Paizo fans adored my advanced armor trainings so much that whenever Owen needed someone to write some wild and brand-new alternate class feature for Pathfinder 1E, he often had me do it. I penned the only bloodline mutations for sorcerers and bloodragers, advanced versatile performances for bards, advanced armor trainings for fighters, and a few things I’m probably forgetting. Then when Owen transitioned from overseeing Player Companions to being Design Lead of what would become the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, he had me pen significant chunks of Blood of the Beasts (literally my dream assignment) and outline Psychic Anthology.

So, how did I get there? Honestly, if you’ve heard one designer’s story about how they broke into the Tabletop RPG industry, then you’ve heard one story. Everyone’s got a unique tale to tell, and mine is basically about me getting duped into writing several hundred pages of Pact Magic content. Imagine, if you will, a younger me (I emphasize “younger” because Owen likes to remind me that compared to “an old fart” like him, I’m a “young’un”). I’m fresh from College, trying to make my way in the world as a substitute teacher (that literally went nowhere) with a lot of time on my hands to kill. I’m what you call an extroverted introvert, i.e. an introvert that learned how to fake being extroverted fairly well in order to be a teacher. So I would get come from work and just not want to be around anyone after having to manage a classroom of screaming kids all day, aged 5 through 12 or so. One day while I was crashed at home, I got an e-mail from one of my College gaming bodies; this was the group that originally introduced me to Pathfinder. He knew I was a huge fan of 3.5’s Secrets of Magic (I actually wrote a pair of pretty sick Prestige Classes involving Pact Magic on the Giant in the Playground Forums for a Prestige Class content back in the day), so he passed along this pact magic supplement written by Dario Nardi for 3.5 called Secrets of Pact Magic. I was instantly hooked; Dario took the core concept Wizards of the Coast published and took it a few steps further, adding style and panache that I became instantly obsessed with. But I had left that 3.5 lifestyle behind; I was a Pathfinder fan now, and I wanted Secrets of Pact Magic for Pathfinder. So I did what any normal person would do and translated a few pages of Dario’s initial work into Pathfinder-compatible designs and e-mailed them to him.

“Hey Mr.! You should update your book to Pathfinder. Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing!”

Now, most people don’t know Dario Nardi. He’s a neuropsychologist by trade, and man he neuro-played me.

“Oh, this is fascinating! Care to show me more?”

Five months later and I had written a 100-page manuscript that became Pact Magic Unbound, Vol. 1. I still remember calling a family meeting where I pulled my parents into the room.

“H-Hey. I know you don’t like that I don’t go out and socialize more and I don’t hang out with my friends as much, but now that my book’s done I thought I should probably tell you that I’m going to be a published author in like five weeks when the print proof of the book arrives at our house.”

Needless to say, my parents were stunned. Here they thought they just had a shut-in son when in reality, their boy had gone and made a book! Cheers all around, and no one ever yelled at me for staying inside all the time again. Hooray! From there, my career can be described succinctly by a quote from Jerry Smith of Rick and Morty.

Someone way smarter than me once said, “There is no confidence like that of a mediocre white man,” and in my case that’s absolutely true. Because literally, I saw companies I liked and wanted to write for, asked them to pay me to write for them, and while some said no, others said yes. That is literally all I did. My first Not-Dario assignment was for a now-defunct company where I wrote Amazing Races! Kitsune. (That product line got bought by another company, and I’m no longer credited for my work there. That happens sometimes.) After that, I asked the absolutely sublime Creighton Broadhurst if I could write villages and other rules content for him, and he said yes! My absolute favorite things to write for Raging Swan Press were villages; I wrote a half-dozen of those easily. They were all interconnected and there was a kitsune hiding in every village. And Creighton, bless the man, who normally puts himself out there as this old-school traditionalist let me publish each and every kitsune I asked for.

From there, I built myself up to the point where I was ready to write for Paizo, and my time came when then-Editor-in-Chief Wes Schneider posted a comment on the forums about always wanting new freelancers and I jumped on it! Only remember, I was/am a mediocre white man with absolutely no sense for how professionalism in an industry I literally wandered into by accident works, so instead of doing something intelligent like writing an e-mail or preparing a cover letter, I literally just messaged poor Wes Schneider on the Paizo website, at his Paizo forum address, and asked him for work.

DO NOT DO THIS. I AM DUMB QUITE OFTEN.

Wes, being the wonderful man he is, politely redirected me to his e-mail where we could chat. He asked for some references, I sent him some rules and some villages and my favorite short story that I wrote for Pact Magic Unbound, Grimoire of Lost Souls Vol 2 (yeah that happened between Vol 1 and this). I don’t know which of those things made him design to gift a plebian of a freelance author such as myself with a chance to write in a Pathfinder Player Companion, but he did and now I’m here, hooray!

So, here’s what’s what.

Let’s say you’re someone new, someone who really wants to break into the Tabletop RPG Industry. That’s cool, yo! Let’s say you think you can’t. That’s wrong, yo! The wonderful thing about writing is that, given time to find and perfect one’s voice, literally anyone can do it. Writing is a craft that one hones and improves over time, and while one might have a predisposition for the pen and paper (or for the keyboard and Microsoft Word as it were nowadays), it’s certainly not a divinely bestowed talent that only those who rolled a 46 on life’s Random Talent Generator table at birth receive. Study other people’s writing and design, practice making your own, and allow yourself the time to learn and grow, and you can do it too! I guarantee it.

 So hey, maybe you kinda liked me and my writing from this article and want to show me some support. (Or maybe you hate me now and really want to make me feel badly about myself by giving me MONEY, as if I would know what to do with such niceties!) You can follow me on Twitter @AlJAug, or my company, Everybody Games, @EBGamesLLC. I SWEAR I’m not related to the old EB Games chain (although I DID get one angry Tweet from someone who thought I was). I have a Patreon, where I’m working on designing my own Roleplaying Game, Eversaga, at a glacial pace. You can learn more at https://www.patreon.com/eversagarpg. I also have a website for my company, http://www.everybodygames.net, where you can find links to all my TTRPG products. And hey, since this is Owen’s blog, did you know that Owen and I are partners, so every product of mine that you buy Owen gets some money too? It’s pretty nifty, so you can support us BOTH by buying neat game products from me!

Thanks for listening to me ramble, and I’ll chat with y’all again soon. I have a Kickstarter project in the works, and Owen’s given me the okay to write an article about it! Until then, Ciao!

Alexander Augunas

The Everyman Gamer and Publisher of Everybody Games

As always, you can support this blog by joining it’s Patreon!