Blog Archives

Guest Blog: Life As a TTRPG Freelance Artist

Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. This one is by Gaming veteran, artist, and writer Jacob Blackmon!

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.

I Started Drawing Because I Can’t Spell Worth Shit…

OR…

My Life As a TTRPG Freelance Artist

By Jacob E Blackmon

Let’s just start by saying, I love my life. I love being an artist in the tabletop game community. This job has allowed me a freedom of living that I never imagined possible. I seriously cannot think of any job I would rather be doing right now.

As the same time, it has also been the occasional financial burden, when the art commissions slow down and money gets tight. That is something one has to learn as a freelancer in any market. There are highs and lows (or “feast and famine” as some say), and one never knows when they will come… so be sure to have a good savings account.

My name is Jacob Blackmon, and I have been a freelance artist in the tabletop rpg community since 2009. I’ve only been doing the gig as a full time thing since 2013. Given that I was born in 1977, this has been a very small – but significant – portion of my life. I’ve been gaming since 1989, and I never even considered using my art skills as a ttrpg artist.

For the longest time, I wanted to be a comic book artist, hence my distinctive style. This style has served me well… and also been a curse, as there are some companies that refuse to work with me, because I don’t have that traditional “painted fantasy” look. And that kind of rejection is certainly going to apply to the big-name companies (Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, etc.), who only use that “painted” style of art, so I know I will never get jobs with them. Which is too bad, because I would love to see my name in one of their books.

But my success is not measured in what books I have not been in. It is measured in the books where I HAVE contributed my art. And those are MANY! The third-party ttrpg industry is a massive community of wonderful and passionate people. These are the folks I consider my peers… and quite, often… my friends. Despite this familiarity to which I speak of them, it is important to maintain a professional attitude when working with such people. They expect every bit as much professionalism from their freelancers – artists and writers includes – as any of the big name companies.

Deadlines are a serious thing, and can make or break a company, especially in the post-COVID days. During the CV19 days of 2020, the gaming community seriously suffered. If you were not Wizards of the Coast, you saw your finances drop significantly. This is why deadlines are so important to keep in mind as a freelancer. We need to make sure we get our work done in time, so the company can get their product out.

I have seriously lost count of many projects have come my way because another artist decided they didn’t want to work on a project and did not communicate this fact until after the deadline posted by the company. This is a serious breach of trust and of professionalism. If a freelancer can’t make their deadlines, the company will stop going to that person in favor of those that will. So, meet your deadlines. This is, seriously, THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE IS CAN GIVE ANYONE! Meet your deadlines!

I can count, on one hand, how many times I have failed to make a deadline. And, when it has happened I always let the company whom I am working for know that I will miss the deadline before it happens. That is the second key: communication. Just like in life, love, family, and relationships, one needs to maintain communication with the people they are working for. Let them know the progress of the art assignment. Have you started on it? Yes? Let them know that.

During the art process, I usually have several stages of communication with a client.

  1. Beginning – When first starting on the art.
  2. Early stages – When my first rough draft concept is ready, I send them a copy via email (sometimes through another PM service, if they prefer, but emails is always the true professional way to do it!). When a rough draft is approved, I move on to…
  3.  Line work – This stage shows the clean version of what had been the rough draft, giving the client an idea of what the final piece will look like. It is also the last time a client will really have to make any serious changes to the pieces. I mention this, because once we start to add color, shading, and highlighting to an illustration, it becomes MUCH harder to make alterations.
  4. Coloring – For me, this is both the base coloring stage, plus shading and highlights. This is often the final stage, as alterations after this stage are incredibly difficult.

Each of these stages has me sending the client an email of what is going on with the piece. Once the final piece is approved, that’s the best time to send an invoice and get paid! The best clients pay immediately (“I do the job, I get paid.” – Mal Reynolds, Firefly), but some clients may have to hold those payments until they themselves get paid through another venue. This is why it helps to make sure to have a steady stream of clients at the same time. That way, not only can an artist transition from one piece to another, while waiting for one client to respond to the latest email; but also so that the artist has a nice steady flow of income. One client may not be able to pay their bill immediately, but the other should be able to. And that keeps a bank account happy, bills paid, and food on the table.

There are a couple of suggestions I have to maintaining a steady supply of clients, as well as netting new clients in the future. These were things I had to learn along the way in my own freelance art career, and some were told to me by others. So I am teaching them to you, as well…

Get an online profile! Make sure you have a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. Make sure you have an online gallery where potential clients can see your art.

Have a rate sheet! Make sure you know how much to charge for your work, and make sure it is equal to how valuable your time is that you put towards your work. Don’t short-sell yourself, just to make clients happy. Save the price discounts for “friends and family.” Make sure to always charge your friends and family. Don’t give them free art, unless YOU choose to do so. This is your JOB!

THIS IS YOUR JOB! Be a professional. Meet your deadlines. But, at the same, time treat it like a job. Take time off, including regular breaks during the day (don’t sit in the chair and look at social media; stand up and move around… make yourself a light snack.. socialize with your roommates), break for lunch, and when you have put in your 8 hours…. STOP WORKING!

The last bit of advice I can give to a potential artist who wants to work in the ttrpg community is to also be a ttrpg gamer! You cannot imagine how much time it save a client to have an artist already be familiar with the various games and art associated with said games. No one has ever had to describe to me what a “peryton” is, as I already know what they are supposed to look like. This saves both you and the client a ton of time and descriptive text.

Go! Draw! Have fun and make money doing it!

Speaking of which, please support me on Patreon: patreon.com/jacobblackmon

Jacob Blackmon

Gallery: deviantart.com/prodigyduck

FB: facebook.com/jacob.blackmon.56

And as always, you can support this blog at Owen K.C. Stephens’ Patreon!

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!

Guest Blog: Dustin Knight on Breaking In

Heya folks!

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

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

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

Write Now.

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

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



But what about me?

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

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

Ok, But When Did You Break into the Industry?

Paizocon 2019. Roll Credits.

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

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

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

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

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

So How Did You Do It?

Write Now.

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

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

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

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

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

Patreon

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

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

Fighting Fire (Elementals) with Fire (Damage)

Heya folks! Gaming veteran and cartooning luminary Stan! wrote a response-with-counterproposals to my blog from last Friday, which I am delighted to present to you here as another Guest Blog!

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.

On Friday, Owen wrote an interesting and provocative post suggesting that Fire Elementals Shouldn’t Be Immune to Fire. As so often is the case, I was gobsmacked by the brilliance of this simple game design heresy. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like the idea would be improved with a little tweak. When I brought it up to Owen he said, “Fine … write it up!”

Damn it, Owen!

Demons and Devils

Owen’s first suggestion was that since demons and devils were placed in Hell as punishment for their evil natures, it makes sense for they themselves to share the eternal torment that the souls they tend suffer. His suggestion was that these creatures are merely immune from being DESTROYED by hellfire because they are immortal spirits. While that made some sense to me, it also made me wonder why in that case they wouldn’t be eternally on the EDGE of death, burned to near cinders but unable to succumb.

My counterproposal: In addition to being unable to be killed by fire damage, demons, devils, and other similar creatures get a new trait so that at the start of their turn, they heal all fire damage they have suffered. That way they are fresh at the start of each turn, and then get burned all over again. And if you target them with spells or other sources of fire damage, they have to take that too … they just can’t die from it, and they’ll heal it all back when their turn comes along.

In Their Element

The second half of Owen’s pitch was that Fire Elementals not be immune to fire in the same way that we creatures of flesh are not immune to fists, suggesting instead that they are adapted to their natural habitat and “see routes through the flames” so as to avoid taking damage. I suppose partly this comes down to how one envisions the Plane of Fire, but for me there are no routes “through the flames,” they are omnipresent. And my interpretation of creatures native to that plane is that they are cozy and comfortable when in the presence of natural occurrences of their element (sitting in a campfire is like a soothing bath for a Fire Elemental, likewise a Water Elemental is total at home in any amount of water).

My counterproposal: While elementals are sanguine when faced with their natural substance, they are still vulnerable to magical, chemical, and alchemical variations of it. So a fire elemental could be fine fighting in the middle of a burning house, but it’d take damage just like anyone else might from a <ital>fire bolt, fireball,</ital> or burning oil. It would be impossible, of course, to set a fire elemental on fire for ongoing damage … but the initial blast or splash sure hurts.

Patreons!

You can support Stan!’s Patreon here!

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

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!

Guest Blog: Darrin Drader Talks Rathorn

Heya folks!

Recently I have invited several colleagues to submit guest blogs for me to highlight. The first one is by Darrin Drader, who I have known (and occasionally worked with) for around 20 years.

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.

Introduction

Owen has invited me here to his blog to talk about my new Patreon project—Rathorn: Savage Adventures. In the interest of brevity, I’ll get the link out of the way right now: https://www.patreon.com/Rathorn Also in the interest of brevity, I’ll specify that it’s pronounced Ra-thorn, not Rat-horn. The entry tier for patronage is $3 a month, and what you get for backing is a monthly novella, or episode, consisting of a minimum of 50 novel-length pages. There are higher backer tiers for those who are interested. The first payment will come out on June 1st, at which time the first two episodes will be posted. You will have access to both at that time, and then you will gain access to one new episode per month.

Origins of Barbarism

Early this year, Jason Eric Nelson of Legendary Games invited me to write a 5e compatible supplement called Battlemasters & Berserkers. It just so happened that this aligned with a fiction project I was already working on. The two went together perfectly, so of course I accepted the offer. The fiction is Rathorn: Savage Adventures, a novella consisting of six chapters and about 20,000 words, or roughly sixty novel-length pages, and it was made available as a Kickstarter add-on. It did pretty well too.

The cover of Rathorn: Savage Adventures

An alternate “collector’s” cover.

That was never intended to be a standalone piece. But let’s go back to the beginning of the story first.

One of my best friends introduced me to D&D back in 1984. I was eleven years old at the time, and to say I was absolutely blown away by the game would be an understatement (I would later work for Wizards of the Coast, and work on several titles for D&D, including the Book of Exalted Deeds, Forgotten Realms: Serpent Kingdoms, Forgotten Realms: Mysteries of the Moonsea, and more articles than I can remember). Rathorn was a barbarian character dreamed up in the fall of 1988 shortly before a gaming convention in Spokane, Washington. By that time I was already reading and being heavily influenced by D&D tie-in fiction, so I began writing stories about him and his half-elven sometimes companion named Whisperfoot. By the time I graduated from high school and moved on to other things, I had filled a three-ring binder with stories.

Now obviously, those stories weren’t publishable. I’ve worked on my fiction for my entire life, and I didn’t publish any of it until about ten years ago. It’s a skill that takes a long time to develop, and in all honesty, a lot of people who try their hand at it find it much more difficult than expected. Anyway, I’ve always rather liked the characters, and sometimes considered doing something more with them. I made a Facebook post a while back, and none other than Peter Adkison chimed in and encouraged me to lean into it and do something new with the characters (I mean, who am I to argue with the man who started Wizards of the Coast?). What I ended up deciding to do is rewrite those stories from scratch—and I really mean scratch, because that three-ring binder ended up not making a move several years ago. In truth, these aren’t going to be faithful replications of the original stories. I’m thirty years older now than I was then, so these will be reimagined from a more mature and experienced point of view.

The Barbarian Sub-Genre

The promotional blurb for the Patreon reads as follows:

He came from the northern barbarian clans to claim vengeance against those who stole from his village and killed his best friend. But once entered, leaving civilization is far from easy. A hundred years removed from the fall of the Androsan Empire, fortunes are forged on the plunder of ruin, while lords from across the lands plot to reclaim lost glories, and death is merely is one blade away. These are the tales of Rathorn (Ra-thorn). Warrior. Barbarian. Adventurer.

If the premise sounds a bit like another barbarian from the golden age of pulp, you aren’t completely off-base. Then again, there’s something timeless and universal about that character archetype, which is one of the reasons Barbarian is a class in the Player’s Handbook. Currently, that famous  mighty-thewed warrior is making a comeback via Marvel comics, and a new TV show in the works for Amazon original programming. But there are other barbarian characters in fiction, such as Skharr the Death Eater by the excellent Michael Anderle, who will soon be releasing his sixth book in the series. Others include Wulfgar by R.A. Salvatore, Cohen by Terry Pratchett, Fafhrd by Fritz Leiber, Stoick the Vast by Cressida Cowell, and of course Khal Drogo from George R.R. Martin. In other words, barbarians are a full sub-genre of fantasy literature unto themselves.

The Patreon Model

The Patreon model of fiction challenges both readers and writers to reimagine fiction as being more like a TV show than a movie. Traditional novel publishers used to restrict authors to one book per year, even if the authors are more prolific than that. In that way, novels are sort of like movies. They have high production values, they come out at a slow pace, and they tend to do things you can’t do in TV (though due to higher budgets and more affordable special effects, this is becoming less and less the case all the time).

By comparison, the short story can best be described as a tempest in a teacup. They’re so short that they’re meant to be read in one sitting. They are often published in magazines or anthologies, which means they don’t get their own covers. Also, due to the fact that they’re submitted to multiple outlets, the same author’s stories often have little to no continuity. In other words, while they’re their own art form, short stories aren’t the best type of vehicle for telling a continuing story. They aren’t like a TV show or a movie. Maybe they’re best likened to a short film.

The novella is a bit of a hybrid between the two, and it’s what an episode of Rathorn is. At 20,000 words, most people aren’t going to read the whole thing in one sitting. In fact, each novella is about a quarter the length of your average novel. Each one tells its own story, but it’s easy to string them together to tell a larger story over time. They can have unique covers, but like traditional TV shows with reliably consistent opening credits, they might all share one cover, each only differing in the title of that episode.

I first experimented with the continuing six chapter novella when I started writing Star Trek fanfic (yes, professional writers do sometimes write fanfic. Sometimes they even do it under their own names). The idea was to imitate a single episode of Star Trek in terms of scope and content in prose fiction. I ended up being very pleased with the final result, as were my readers, who found it to be long and meaty enough to be a satisfying read, while not being so long that they might give up on it because it’s too long or something new catches their attention.

As it turns out, the novella is the perfect length for Patreon because unlike a novel, it’s entirely possible to do the writing, get it through editing, and release one on a monthly schedule. Don’t get me wrong. It’s also possible to write a novel in a month—I wrote Nuclear Sunset: Legacy of Ruin in three weeks—but doing that consistently every month is very difficult. In fact, the only person I know who managed a schedule like that is Matt Forbeck, who ran a Kickstarter, earned enough to take a year off of his day job, and released one novel each month.

The World

Rathorn doesn’t exist in your typical Howard inspired sword and sorcery setting where civilization is almost always wicked and magic is inherently evil. Rathorn is very much a part of The Cobalt Kingdoms, which is a 5e setting I’ve been slowly developing over the past several years. While it does draw on some ancient world motifs, it’s closer to your baseline D&D setting. In fact, the setting itself is one of the important features here.

This is a sneak peak of the current unfinished map of the northwest corner of the Cobalt Kingdoms

As someone who used to greatly enjoy Forgotten Realms fiction, I was pretty disappointed when Wizards of the Coast decided to mostly stop publishing tie-in fiction. My goal with Cobalt Kingdoms is to create a new shared world. In other words, once the campaign setting is out, it will be open. Other writers and publishers will be able to create their own gaming products and fiction royalty free. If they follow the content guidelines and it’s of professional quality, their works can become recognized as canon.

The Puppy Dog Close

For those of you who have never done sales, the puppy dog close is where you basically beg the customer to buy the product you’ve been demoing. You say things like, “Hey, I really need this sale because I’m under my sales goal for the month, my boss is threatening to fire me, I have a kid at home and I really need to pay the rent. Whether that was actually true varied from salesperson to salesperson, but it is a remarkably effective closing technique.

So here’s my story. Three years ago I started my own small business in my hometown which happens to be seasonal. Covid has completely shut it down. In fact, there’s a very good chance it’s not going to reopen at this point. Our finances are not looking good. I have a wife and kids at home, including a five-year –old daughter, and an autistic stepson who is extremely low on the spectrum. Right now, writing is the only source of income I have, and because I’m a freelancer, it varies from month to month. This Patreon is my attempt to achieve a steady, regular income from the one thing I’m good at—writing. If you’re reading this and you can spare the cost of one cheeseburger a month in exchange for a regular dose of fantasy fiction, I would be forever grateful to you.

Patreons!

You can support Darrin Drader’s Rathorn Patreon here!

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

Guest Blog – Luis Loza on How to Break Into Writing for the Tabletop Game Industry

This is advice from ttRPG writer, producer, podcast runner, and Paizo developer Luis Loza, responding to someone asking how to break into writing material for tabletop ROGS. It is collected from a Twitter thread, and posted here with his permission.

“I tell everyone that’s interested in freelancing that the best thing they can do to get started is just get to writing. If you’ve done homebrew material, get a blog in place and start putting that stuff on there. One of the most important things you can share is a writing sample. If someone can’t see anything you’ve written, they can’t judge any of your work. It doesn’t matter if it’s been published or not, just as long as you have something to show.

From there, the most important thing you can do is try to replicate existing official material as much as you can. Take a note of when things are bolded or italicized or the order of listings in a monster stat block, for example. The more you can closely replicate the existing material, the more you’ll get a feel for the game’s specific style and it will go a long way to prove that it’s worth taking a shot on you. If your material uses language and formatting that matches 5E, but you want to work on PF2E, that material won’t do you any good. Write for the game you want to be paid to write for!

From there, find someone to contact about work. There are third party publishers like that are constantly producing material and they might be a good start. Maybe chat with @Owen_Stephens about publishing with Rogue Genius Games? If you’ve done the work of getting your work *somewhere*, you can reach out to them and provide your writing samples to show your skill.

Also, get to talking with other people interested in writing. I recommend checking out Freelance Forge for a community willing to look over your stuff, give you more tips, and get you some possible connections for work.”

Thanks for the shout-out, Luis!

People who are interested can also check out my thoughts on the game industry, business of games, writing basics, and the freelancer life here in this blog, if interested.

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