I’m not saying this is a good version of this idea, or even that this is a good idea.
But it SHOULD be playable…
*There are three colors of pieces, white, black, and red.
*Black and white are both lines up on one side of the board, with the white pieces being the left half of each line, and the black pieces being the right half. There is no queen, instead both black and white have kings.
*Red pieces are set up normally on the opposing side.
*One player runs the white pieces, and one runs the black pieces. They work together, and are considered to be on the same side (for example, their pieces cannot capture one another).
*The red pieces represent the opposition, and their movements are determined randomly.
*White moves first. Then red. Then black. Then red. Repeat this sequence until a king is in checkmate, or normal rules of chess would indicate a draw.
*Number all of the Red pieces, 1-16, starting with the pawn on A7, running right to H7, then moving up to the rook on A8, and running along the back row to H8.
*On Red’s move, move it’s pieces by following these priorities:
1. If its Red’s King is in check, it takes a legal move to capture the piece placing its King in check (if this removes the King from being in check from any piece), block check, or remove the King from check. If multiple such moves are possible, Red prefers capturing a checking piece, then moving the King out of check, then using another piece or block the King. If multiple such moves exist determines which move it makes randomly.
2. If Priority 1 move does not occur, and a Red pieces is in a square where a black or white piece can capture it on the black/white’s next turn, and the piece can legally move to where that will not be true, it does so. If it can capture an opposing piece with this move, it does so (see Priority 3 if there are multiple pieces it can capture).
Otherwise it moves the fewest squares it legally can to move to a square where it cannot be captured on black/white’s next move. If multiple such squares exist, select which one it moves to randomly.
If multiple Red pieces can fulfill priority 2, move the one that is of the highest value. If multiple pieces of the highest value exist, move the one that can capture an opposing piece. If none can capture, determine which one moves randomly.
3. If a Priority 1-2 move does not occur, and Red has a piece that can legally capture a black or white piece, without exposing its king to check or ending in a square where a black or white piece can take it on their next move, it does. If there are multiple such legal captures, it takes the highest-value piece it can. If there are multiple such captures of pieces of the same value, determine which one it takes randomly.
4. If a Priority 1-3 move does not occur, and Red has a piece that can legally capture a black or white piece, without exposing its king to check, but doing so leaves it in a square that can be immediately taken by a black or white piece on its next move, roll 1 six-sided die. On a 1-3, the Red pieces makes the capture. On a 4-6, it does not. If there are multiple such captures possible, roll once to see if Red makes any such capture, and if it does use the rules from Priority 3.
5. If a Priority 1-4 move does not occur, and Red has only a single legal move, it takes it. This is true even if it is a move that was ignored during Priority 3.
6. If a Priority 1-5 move does not occur, roll three dice, total them, and subtract 2 from the sum. If the result is 1-16, and that Red piece is still on the board, move the piece matching that number. If that Red piece is no longer on the board, go to Priority 7.
6a. If the piece is a Red pawn, and it can move to the Black/White home row without ending in a square where it can be captured by a black/white piece on its next turn, the pawn takes the move and is promoted to a Queen. It retains its original numbering.
6b. If the piece can move to a square where it could take a black or white piece on its next move, it does so. If there are multiple such squares, it selects the one with the fewest black or white pieces able to take it on their next move. If multiple such squares exist, determine which one it selects randomly.
6c. If no move is indicated by Priority 5a, make a legal move that goes as far as that piece can go, in a randomly determined direction, that does not end with it in a square where it could be captured on black or white’s next move.
7. If the Red piece indicated by the die roll is no longer on the table, instead move the remaining Red piece with the closest number. If two remaining Red pieces are equidistant in numbering, go with the lower number if the result was odd, and with the higher number if the result is even.
7a. If the newly-selected Red piece can legally capture a black or white piece, it does. If this would expose its King to check, the King is moved in a randomly determined direction however many squares are needed to keep it out of check, in ADDITION to the Red piece making a capture. If there are multiple black/white pieces the Red piece could capture, use the preferences from Priority 3.
7b. If the newly-selected Red piece cannot capture a black./white piece with a legal move, it is moved in the following manner. Roll 1d6 and add one. This is the numbered row the piece moves to. Roll 1d6, with 1 being B, 2 C, 3 D, 4 E, 5 F, and 6 G. This is the column in that row the piece moves to.
If there is a black or white piece in that space that is not a King, it is captured, if there is a black or white King in that space, the Red pieces is captured. If there is a Red piece in that square, the higher value of the two Red pieces takes the square, and the other is capture. If the two red pieces are of the same value, determine randomly which one gets the square.
*If either the Black or White king is placed in Checkmate, or if both are ever in Check, Red wins. If the Red King is ever in Checkmate, black and white win.
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Okay, for gameplay reasons I am totally down with a “Common” tongue, as is frequently presented in RPG campaigns, especially fantasy RPGs.
But what IS it?
Without changing any rules at all, you can help give a campaign world some interesting backstory by explaining why there is a “common language.”
Here are 20 examples, built on tropes common to d20 fantasy games.
“When the mighty empire of Te Essar collapsed, its official language was already known to most of the world, and became the common language of trade and diplomacy.”
“The deity Commonos wished all people to trade stories, and gave them a single language in which to do so.”
“The eldritch Power Words, Glyphs, and Sigils used in so many spells require significantly study to use to their full mystic potential, but their common forms are easy enough to learn, and taught to populations worldwide as a method for seeking those with a spark of spellcasting talent.”
“The Plane of Shadow is a reflection of all that occurs on the Material Plane, including all language. The Shadow Tongue is a simplified amalgam of all mortal tongues, and can be vaguely understood by any literate person.”
“The Logos Prima was invented by a travelling bard centuries ago, and carefully designed to be easily learned by anyone, from any culture. It has a single, unified spelling and sentence structure, and avoids elements that make some languages more difficult to learn, such as tonality and gendered nouns, and has a simplified structure to allow it to be picked up quickly.”
“It’s a virus. Exposure to the sound, or the sight of it, allows it to creep into your mind, and infect your thoughts with its syntax, and vocabulary.”
“They come once in each generation, to every library and school above a given size. The Solresolut, the Inevitables of Communication. Immortal teaching machines, they offer the language of the Law of the Spheres to any who will learn it, then leave the laws themselves behind. Ignorance of the law is no defense, but every mortal is given a fair chance to learn them.”
“When the world was young, the Cyclops discovered art, and architecture, and language. They built mighty fortresses and huge henge that could predict the seasons. No one knows why these cyclopean ruins were abandoned, but their uses to ancient cultures to know when to plant, when to migrate, when the moon would eat the sun ensured that the basics of what was written upon them would be learned worldwide.”
“The angels spoke Enochian, the tongue of the heavens. Devils taught it to man, to ensure they would be ready to bargain for even more knowledge.”
“It turns out if a demigod archmage genie gets annoyed enough with translation errors in her mail order service, she’ll wish ‘there was one Common language almost everyone knows’.”
“The self-replicating Printing Press Golems nearly destroyed the world. But from their ruined movable type, a single common alphabet was born… ”
“Look, humans can interbreed with almost anything. If it;’s a less common or less popular combination, we just call it a half-whatever. half-dragon. half-angle. half-orc. If it’s happened enough to develop its own culture, it gets a new name. Minotaur. Centaur. Harpy. As a result, the most popular human languages are taught to a LOT of wondering offspring…”
“The first Riddle of the Sphinx was a grand mystery for centuries. It was taught in every academy, studied by every sage. Given how crucial context is to understanding and solving riddles, it’s native tongue was taught alongside it, to ensure no nuance was lost in translation.”
“When madmen worldwide all babble and scream in the same language, it’s worth knowing what that language is, and what they are saying.”
“The Grand Trickster demanded that all understand his jests, and the skalds sought out to ensure this could be so, though it take carrying his words to every corner of the world.”
“When the gods made mortals, they gave them language. That which best spoke of rock was adopted by the dwarves. That which best spoke of wealth was adopted by the dragons. And that which best spoke of toil was adopted by the workers, crafters, and servants of the world.”
“They come to every port and trading post, in creaking ships and caravans of twisted beast. They are known by their brightly painted masks they never remove, and overly-sweet perfume scents masking a hint of rotting flesh beneath their faded robes. They buy, and sell, and trade, and make many wealthy, but they do it all in just one language. If you wish to do business with the Traders, you must learn this common trade tongue.”
“In the first seasons, the beasts all knew two languages, which gave them dominion over the material world and the spirit realm. The tool-makers stole the common words of material dominion from the beasts, and became ascendant. Now druids guard the spirit dominion language closely, and forbid that it be taught to any but those of their own order.”
“The wind whispers, the river mutters. Fires spit and curse, and the earth groans. Early people could rarely master all of any elemental tongue, but ususally learned a few key phrases from each, forming them into a set of common words and phrases that were almost universal.”
“Common? You mean Khelvish? Sure, it’s common where you are from, in the lands between the Basalt Mountains and Shallow Sea. A few folks ’round these parts know it, too. But if you want to be able to talk to everyone in these parts, you’d best learn Fworven, or at least Low Glett.”
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Sometimes when looking to create superhero worlds or adventures, all you need is an idea to run with. It could be a jumping-off point, a villain, a dead hero to draw the protagonist’s interest… just something that feels like it comes from a comicbook sensibility but (and this is the hard part) without being a direct ripoff or sharing a name with any character from mainstream comics.
So, here are a bunch.
I can’t claim they are all entirely original–many are intentionally based on existing tropes–or even that the names aren’t used in any comic/supers stories. But I developed them independently of other sources, and casual searches didn’t show parallel development of note.
These are designed for you home games or to spark new ideas original to you (though if you have some potential commercial use, feel free to drop me a line).
Aberzombie & Glitch.
Annoying, immoral preppy necromancer and technomancer who manipulate magic they barely understand, while stylishly dressed. Note that being shallow doesn;t automatically make these villains. they could be the kind of allies you avoid… until you absolutely need their help. Or even neutral to greater conflicts, and just sometimes dragged in on one side or the other.
A heavy weapons vigilante, mercenary, or assassin who uses an AK.
A villain. A terrorist who takes the unscientific belief that vaccines are dangerous and to be avoided to extremes by killing those who perform/promote vaccines, and tries to prove they are ineffectual by spreading deadly contagious diseases among vaccinated communities.
A woman with classic “brick” powers (high strength and resistance to damage) and no fucks to give about other people’s opinions. She could be a dauntless hero, a bitter villain, a self-interested mercenary, or anything in-between.
A penal superhero unit of convicted criminals who can cut time off their sentences by performing high-risk missions for the government. Run by Captain Cannon, a hardass patriotic supersolider with a cybergun arm who does as he is told and rules over the ‘Fodder’ with iron discipline.
The Fodder are run by the Combine, and operate out of a mobile secret base ship called The Trough. Cannon’s Fodder are often B- and C-grade villains (and occasionally antiheroes, vigilantes, and heroes who ended up on the wrong side of something), but are quite a dangerous force combined with the gear the Combine can arrange for them, and Cannon’s tactical acumen and willingness to sacrifice the lives of his Fodder if that’s the only way to get the mission done.
Thus while you can use noteworthy villains for your campaign’s Cannon’s Fodder, you can also just grab any terms or names you think of to be the “current” team, repurposing any write-ups you already have to represent the B List. (For example, the Feb 2019 team might include Bear Man, Deadnought, Killer Kaiman, Layaway, Punching Judy, Sister Sirocco, Spotlight, and Tigerdrake.)
A highly trained spy and combatant, who has luck that increases as the chance of failure goes up.
A team of 5 teens who can transform into powered, color-coded versions of themselves. Anywhere from Power Rangers to Sailor Scouts. Could be heroes, villains, or just an annoyance.
A berserker who gains size, strength, and resilience (including to mental powers) as he becomes angry. Most likely an antihero.
A rogue genius pharmacologist who gains massive psychic powers when high. could be an antihero, a villain, or just an unreliable hero.
A pulp-era-style detective or hit man who is happy to pit his/her skills and a single common handgun (the “gat”) against whatever superpowers foes have.
What if the Punisher had Batman’s training, resources, and skills?
That would be Hardcore.
The Knackerman, or Knacker, is a supernatural force who clears corpses from roadways and public spaces, and repurposes them as revenants. Usually the Knacker just gives abused animals a chance to return and punish their abusers, or sometimes save a beloved human in trouble. But sometimes Knacker brings back cars, or toys… or people.
Can slow down anyone or anything, so all actions and reactions take longer.
A mastermind crime boss, who is known to also have powerful connections to legitimate political authorities such as mayors, judges, and law enforcement–though no one knows exactly what those connections are. the combination of ruthless underworld agents and corrupt politicians and agents and moles makes him (or her, regardless of the name), well, untouchable.
A massively overweight werebear. Might be a cuddly hero, but might also be a bitter villain jaded from years of mockery and abuse.
Psychic Stripling Samurai Snakes.
Five sibling anthropomorphic snakes with mental powers and samurai training.
(Some of these ideas are less original than others.)
The world’s best detective, an unassuming pulp-era style investigator in a trench coat and fedora. QED can take apparently unrelated facts and use them to describe events that must have occurred to cause the known facts, thus revealing things that seemed unknown or unknowable.
A feared, immortal assassin. When you truly need someone to suffer, you Get Rekt.
The Shark Brothers.
Card Shark, Loan Shark, and Pool Shark, three mobster brothers with bites that can sever gun barrels, each with their own specialty in crime.
The idea of someone who neutralizes mutant/metahuman powers is fairly common. This idea puts a slight spin on that, as someone who neutralizes all forms of magic.
A “family” of superbeings who are evolved and sentient magic items from mythology. Some, such as the swords Durandal, Gram, and Nothung, and the rings Andvarinaut and Draupnir, were forged directly by the sorcerer/smith Weyland while others, such as Fragarach, Mjolnir, Nemean, and Tarnkappe, were reforged/rewoven by Weyland to grant them sapience, sentience, and human forms.
The Relics are reincarnated if slain, so while some have been active and alive for centuries, others are born as aparently normal humans, and then begin to gain powers of the reliquary nature sometime between their 12th and 18th years. Relics are not as a group entirely good or bad. Some, such as Durandal, appear to always be driven to work for justice. Others, such as Draupnir, seem to always seek power and wealth above all else.
And all sense that they exist to serve some great purpose in Weyland’s plans… which he refuses to talk about, though he calls them his “true children” and often aids them if they are in serious danger.
The ancient nordic sorcerer/smith of Germanic myth, though his origins are neolithic and he has survived to the modern era. Forged or reforged the Relics, causing them to be true living beings. Wayland is not evil, per se, and isn’t willing to see the world devastated, but his own plots and plans that take place over a scale of centuries, and mostly doesn’t care about “petty” issues like crime and justice.
Generally opposed by his equally immortal, but not quite as skilled, son Verlandsson, who mostly just hates his father and wants to stop the elder’s plans whatever they are, whatever the cost. Verlandsson is sometimes aided by his grandfather Vade, a giant and sorcerer/smith, who mostly just wants to be left alone.
Able to send and receive any broadcast signal. Makes an excellent “Overwatch/Quarterback/Ally in the chair” character, for good or ill, but could also be a badass in their own right with equipment and skills any superhero-level human can achieve, plus the WiFi power. Or, could have a swarm of drones. Or, all of the above.
In ancient Rome, someone who was banished from civilization was marked with the brand of the Wolf’s Head, meaning they could be hunted and killed as if a rogue wolf. One of those branded criminals turned it into a badge of honor, forming the Church of Crime and becoming the first popelike Wolfshead of All Crime.
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I had a chance to sit down with the awesome folks of Nerdarchy at Gen Con 2018, and talk a bit about tabletop gaming, content creation, and the evolution of RPGs!
(And some thoughts on Starfinder RPG, Paizo Inc., 5th Edition D&D, Green Ronin, crowdsourcing, and more!)
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“I want to aim for his eye! So I can blind him, and kill him in one shot!”
“Okay, his eyes widen as he sees your malicious intent, and he throws up a guard. Make an attack roll.”
“What modifiers for aiming for his eyes?!”
“None. You’re always aiming for your foes’ eyes.”
“No I’m not! I’m just trying to hit. I want to do a lethal blow now!”
“You’re always trying to land a lethal blow, unless you do something special not to. It’s a fight. Your character is always doing their best unless you say otherwise. Your attack rolls already represent the very best attack your character thinks can land. Of course you want to stab him in the eye, or cut off his head, or pierce his heart. And that’s represented by the existing combat rules of the game. And when the foe goes down, that is when you succeeded.”
“But maybe I can do those things before that!”
“Sure. It’s called a “critical hit.” in this game. A “stunt” or special maneuver in other games.”
“But I want a SPECIAL chance to kill him in one shot!”
“Okay. Do you want every foe you ever fight to have a special chance to kill you in one shot, too?”
“You’re no fun!”
“If you want to try to be flamboyant in your attacks because that’s fun, I am fine with that. That’s why I said he reacted to your effort. And if this attack kills him, it’ll be because you ran him through the eye, and that’ll be awesome.
If you want to have a reduced chance to be effective because of what you are trying, feel free to not use your full combat bonuses.
If you want an increased chance to be effective because of what you are trying, once I allow that why wouldn’t you always do that? And every other PC? And every NPC?”
We covered some of the work you need to do well before you actually make a pitch to a game company in Writing Basics: RPG Pitches (Part One). Now we can go on to What to Pitch and When to Pitch It.
What to Pitch
Okay, so if you’ve gone and done the work we outlined in Part One, you have a number of game companies you know are publishing work for the game system you want to write for, and you know what kinds of projects they publish.
So, now it is time to pitch some things very similar to what they already do. Hopefully, there are projects you are excited about that are a good fit for one or more game companies.
If no-one is publishing the kinds of things you want to write, you have some tough decisions to make. Pragmatically, I recommend you get experience and contacts and a good reputation by pitching the sorts of things publishers are already interested in before you try to pitch unique projects no one else has ever thought of. The latter is amazingly useful if done well—but most publishers are going to be dubious about your ability to do something so nonstandard well until they have some idea of who you are and the quality and tenor of your work.
The best way to earn trust to do something outside the box is to prove you understand what the box is and why it’s there. Publishers gets weird and unusual pitches fairly often—everything from people who don’t understand the legal limitations of publishing (it’s hard to lose my interest faster than by pitching a project I legally can’t do, or that required me to do a lot of work on my end to get the legal rights so you can write a thing).
Once you have written a few things for a company that have turned out well, you can begin pitching more out-there ideas.
If you happen to have any special advantages or skills that make you the perfect person to write a pitch, be sure to include that info. For example, if you DO have the legal rights to do a licensed project that seems similar to what a game company is already doing, that’s something to mention early in a pitch. Make sure you’re actually right about that—for example if you have to have a friend who is a best-selling author and casually said they’d be fine with you writing game material set in their universe get that in writing (preferably with some details on timeframe, rights, royalty needs, and so on).
Or if you are pitching an adventure set in a sewer, and you have a professional wastewater civil engineering job, that’s worth mentioning.
When developing your pitches to suggest to a company you have never worked with before, come up with projects at the shortest end of the things that publisher does. You can include one longer one in a set of pitches, but in general something short is a great first project. It’s not asking the publisher to take as big a risk, and it’s not eating up as much of your time to create. Once you and the publish have a project or two together under your belts, you’re both in a better position to know if you want to work on longer projects together.
(Also, you can make sure the publisher is fulfilling their end of the contract before you get more work tied up with them. Do. Not. Work. Without. A. Contract.)
When to Pitch
Well, as soon as you have done your homework, and know your own schedule, and have a pitch written.
“But… but… gen Con and the GAMA Trade Show and the publisher’s announced schedule and my school year…”
Yep. Pitch now anyway.
Look, there is no “perfect” time to pitch. Your schedule, the publisher’s schedule, both of your sets of needs—those things are in constant flux. Shoot pitches out there asap, and then begin scheduling when you get replies back. If you have enough work booked for 6 months you can pause, but in general even if you have some work lined up it’s worth pitching new things—just be clear in your pitch what your timeframe likely is. Chances are you won’t hear back about your pitch for weeks anyway, and if your availability is different by then, just be honest.
I only included a When to Pitch section because people have asked me tons of questions about getting the timing of this right.
You can’t. Just do it. The time is now.
The Things You’ve Wanted Me To Tell You For 2,000 Words Now
Your success is going to depend a lot on how much you have read and absorbed all the notes and processes I’ve outlined up to this point, and on being persistent and not getting discouraged when the first company you contact turns you down. And the second. And the next ten.
But yes, there are some basic things you should do once you are actually writing and sending the pitch, and for those of you who have been wanting that list, you’ve finally reached that point in my advice. For all of these steps, remember what I’ve said about doing your homework, pitching things similar to what a company already does, and being ready to actually produce once you get a green light.
If at all possible, find the company’s “Contact Us” page, and use the appropriate email to send your pitch. If you can’t find that, contact them through other (public, professional) means and ask what their process is for accepting pitches. Read their whole website and Facebook page before you do that though—getting this right the first time is a much better impression on your ability to get details right.
Begin with an at-most 2-sentence introduction. If you have any connection at all to the publisher or company, mention it here but keep is SHORT, and don’t suck-up.
Pitch 3-4 projects each time you contact a company to see if they are interested in publishing something of yours. Try to make these different enough that if the company has a gap on its schedule, at least one of your ideas is a good match for their needs. Make sure the projects are all things you are actually interested in and able to write. (Some people try to have one “real” pitch and 2-3 terrible ideas they presume no one will choose to publish. Don’t do this.)
Your pitch should include the following information about each project:
A proposed title. This can be a great chance to prove you know their game product lines.
An elevator pitch description. (That is: if you found yourself sharing an elevator with a publisher and you mentioned you were a writer, and they said “Oh yeah? Got a project you’d like to write for us?,” the description of your idea that is complete but short enough to get out before the elevator finishes it’s ride is your “elevator pitch.” 2-3 sentences, top, and one is better.)
A length, in words. (Doing your homework on the company’s project should held you estimate wordcount based on the words in similar projects.)
A timeframe when you could complete it by, in weeks. If your timeframe has other limitations (“if I don’t get started by August I’ll have school, so writing will take long”) include that information.
Your flexibility on any of these points—but only promise what you can deliver.
Anything that is likely to convince the publisher that you are a particularly good choice to write the product in question. Again, be short.
Here’s a sample pitch, though in a real message I’d add 1-2 more project pitches.
Dear Rogue Genius Games,
I read your publisher’s blog article about game product pitches, and it inspired me to write to you to see if you had interest in some projects I’d love to write for you.
Title: Bullet Points: Halfling War Muffin Recipes.
Length: 600-1,500 words.
A 1st edition Pathfinder RPG rules guide that gives options for adding combat-effective and game-balanced baking-related abilities for players and GMs who want cooking-themed character abilities. Similar in size and scope to your existing Bullet Point projects that add rules for one theme, such as 3 Things Made From Crabmen. (This could also be expanded to be a longer Genius Guide-style project, more like the Genius Guide to name Traits.)
With my current workload I expect this would take two weeks to write once we decided to proceed, although if other freelance projects get greenlit first I might need to schedule more like 4 weeks.
I’ve written numerous OGL products for Pathfinder, and worked on Gingerbread Kaiju (an edible boardgame that included a gingerbread recipe in it), and have insights on how to make this both a useful game supplement and something that appeals to foodie gamers.
Thanks for your consideration,
Owen K.C. Stephens
(You can also put your phone number here, if you actually answer your phone. I don’t.)
And that’s it!
Now, go make a dozen more pitches, and while you wait to hear back about those, write for your Blog, Patreon, social media, make some videos… throw your creative spaghetti at the wall, and see what sticks.
Then make more pitches.
Also, Back My Patreon
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So, real talk.
The game industry does not run on motivation. It runs on hard work. The people I see who don’t grasp that, or who can’t accommodate it, don’t last.
It’s pretty easy to write when you’re motivated. That seems self-evident (it’s pretty close to the definition of ‘motivation’), and it’s one reason a great deal of writing advice talks about how to GET motivated, and STAY motivated. When that works for you, that’s great–I’ll take a motivated day of writing over an unmotivated day any time I can. Inspirations, muses, focusing techniques–these are all things that make game design and development much easier to actually do. They may or may not impact the quality of the end product, but they absolutely make it easier to get the work done.
But they are not the end-all, be-all of making it as a successful full-time professional.
I see people struggle all the time with making the leap from side-gig or hobbyist freelancer to growing professional, and a lot of that has to do with being able to operate without motivation. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobbyist or side-gig, I did it for years in the 1990s before I finally became a true full-time professional. Not everyone even wants to depend on the game industry for their full-time career, and I don’t blame them.
But if you DO want to make that leap, you are going to have to learn how to get work done, at a high quality, when you are not motivated to do so. When it’s just as hard as any other job.
I used to be asked fairly often how I got over writer’s block, and I’d glibly say I looked at my mortgage (nowadays it would be looking at my rent due). While that was clearly an effort to be funny, it’s also more true than I realized at the time. If I didn’t feel words coming to me easily, then I worked to get the words that were hard to produce. Because motivation was inconsistent, and as a game designer looking to make this my primary source of income, I couldn’t be inconsistent.
And in time, that became a skill like any other.
That’s not to say there aren’t tricks to use to get you through periods low on inspiration and enjoying the writing or developing process. Sometimes you can take a break from a project, and discover some other kind of game work is more fulfilling. Sometime you can subvert expectations or analyze what about a project you find lacking and, by addressing that, both become motivated and make the project better. Sometimes you can shuffle the order of things and do boring scut work–whatever that is for you, be it tables, paginations, formatting, outlining, finishing touches, whatever–when you’re not feeling creative to save the “creative” work for when your muse is working.
But sometimes, you just have to tackle the grind and get the job done.
I’ve discussed things related to this topic fairly often. I’ve talked about making sure the whole world isn’t your job, coping mechanisms for impostor syndrome, watching for signs of burnout, and even balancing the needs of burnout and the rent. I’ve also talked about working sick, which is closer to the kind of doing-the-job-when-you-don’t-care skill I’m talking about here, and what I see as the basics of game industry professionalism. And I’ve made lots of posts about coping mechanisms.
But I don’t think I’ve every just come out and said this:
“To be a successful, full-time professional in this industry, you have to do the work even when you are in no mood to do the work.”
And its corollary: “If you want people to trust you to be able to get the work of a full-time professional done, they have to have confidence in your ability to work when unmotivated.”
You don’t have to start there. But you do have to GET there, eventually, or you’ll hit a ceiling of success.
I have coping mechanisms for this, too, of course. I have no idea how universal they are, because this is a topic no one ever seems to want to talk about, until we’re huddled around drinks after-hours at a convention telling horror stories. So none of this may be useful to anyone but me. I offer them up regardless.
These may not help you do the work when you couldn’t care less, but you have to find SOMETHING that can.
So what do I use?
I talk to a trusted source, and see if they can spark some excitement. To be honest, this ENTIRE blog post comes from me not being motivated to write anything for the professional end of my blog this week, and talking to a trusted collaborator who suggested that itself was a topic I should tackle. And in this case, writing about lack of motivation was a perfect task for when I’m not motivated.
I try to change the conditions of my environment. Different-than-usual music, different diet drinks, different things on my desk–anything to alter the physiognomy of my work space. Even if I can’t spark motivation, I can alter the feel of the drudgery so it’s less wearying than the same thing over and over and over.
I work in bursts. Often I am better off writing for 20 minutes, no matter how bad or annoying or 5-degrees-off-true the words are, and then taking a short break. This works especially well if I am having trouble writing, but am still okay to develop existing words. By the next day, the work is existing text, and I can make improvements to the less-than-stellar work of the previous day.
That last one hurts. It means that, at the time I am doing the work, it feels like it’s not work worthy of me, or my employer, or the project.
But for a professional, sometimes what you have to focus on is that at the end of the day, it needs to get done. Every professional I have ever discussed this with agrees that sometimes, you just have to grit it out, so there adventure is finished, the book is published, the project can move forward…
The blog has content.
This is one reason editors and project managers and publishers talk about the value of a freelancer who hits their deadlines and stays in communication before they talk about awesome ideas and inspired writing. Obviously “great” is better than “adequate,” but adequate is better than greatness so late the company has gone bankrupt.
Without people who can do the job even when the muse is silent, inspiration doesn’t strike, and motivation is lacking, you can’t have a game industry. Once careers and house payments and full-time jobs and health insurance is involved, the product must get done, even if it’s not the most inspired entry in the field. And I don’t think we do anyone any favors to hide that fact. Sometimes this career is fulfilling and awesome.
Sometimes it’s what we have to do to fulfill our obligations.
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