It’s Friday the 13th, a day long associated with misfortune and evil spirits… and urban legends.
So, what would such a day look like in an RPG? Let’s examine 4 different ideas, in 4 different game systems–Pathfinder 1st and 2nd edition, Starfinder, and 5e.
On blood night, the moon takes on a dull reddish hue that lasts through the night. Blood night is always in autumn, but exactly what night it occurs is based on a complex set of rules only heirophants really seem to understand. What is known is that when a blood night occurs on the night of a full moon, the bad luck is far worse.
From sundown to sunup, any attack that normally only threatens a critical hit on a natural 20, or 19-20, instead threatens one on an 18-20. Additionally, attack rolls made to confirm critical hits gain a +8 circumstance bonus
When the ancient Cyclops Calendar begins the month of Maze on the week of a new moon, that is the day of the Minotaur’s Moon, when the Bull Man works to kill the small and weak. Goblins, in particular, greatly fear this.
On the Minotaur’s Moon, everyone has Doomed 2.
The kasatha and shobad calendars do not normally line up, being from different worlds with different year durations. But both have a “wyrd” day that is observed in grim reserve, and every few years those days happen to overlap by a period of 11 to 17.5 hours.
During that “which weird,” all Reflex saving throws take a -4 penalty.
When the Imperial Calendar gets a full day off from the Seasonal Calendar, a day must be added to adjust the beginning of Spring. This day is seen as a gate through which evil dead spirits can speak into the world to so discord for one say, and weaken the resolve of heroes, and is known as Lichgate.
On Lichgate, when making a Wisdom saving throw, you roll twice and use the lower result as if you had disadvantage. However, if your unused result is enough to resist the effect, you only suffer the consequences of the failed saving throw for 1 round. After that you shake off the evil spirits that weakened you, and are no longer effected. But if both die rolls are failures, the effect’s duration upon you is doubled.
Want More in Four?
If you enjoy seeing one concept done in 4 different game systems, check out the 52-in-52 subscription, where once a week, every week in 2020, you get a new game product which is released to you in four versions–for PF1, PF2, SF, and 5e.
Here’s a teaser of content yet to come this year in the 52-in-52 subscription!
Want to Support the Blog?
Like getting free blog content 5 days a week? Want to suggest other things I could do here? Join my Patreon and help me have time to do this writing for the cost of a cup of coffee each month.
This is the sixth in my series of class-focused d20 Design Diaries. I suspect I only have a couple more posts to go on this topic, but we’ll see how the topics actually shake out (and what kind of feedback I get).
If you followed class design steps in the order I have written about them, we’ve settled on an appropriate and interesting class concept, set up the right class progression tools, made sure we are following (or at least only breaking by intent rather than by accident) the game’s style and etiquette, looked at how many options you want for each level of your class and how that impacts complexity, and discussed spell access and progression.
But we still need to talk about spell lists. Specifically, do you give your new class access to one (or more) existing spell lists, or make a brand-new spell list? And, it turns out, that.s a pretty complex question that depends very much on the game system you are using.
So, you know, let’s start by saying studying what that system does and how it handles those questions.
Also, it’s very important to know if you are building expansions classes that are in addition to a *core* set of pre-existing classes or are building a whole set of classes from scratch. Most of the advice here is directed at the former case. If you are in the latter situation, there may not even be pre-existing spell lists for you to borrow from. In that case you’ll need to make decisions about how many class lists to build from scratch, and the following advice may still be applicable to that decision.
Certainly the more you want a spell list to have a very strong theme tied to the class’s concept, the more you should consider a unique class spell list. The more you want the spell list to interact and grow well with other publisher’s content, the more you should consider using an existing class list.
In Pathfinder 1st edition, classes have access to a hodgepodge of class-specific lists, sharing class lists, and mixing class lists. The bard has its own spell list for example (though the skald later gains access to it as well), while the warpriest just has access to the cleric list (though it gets most spell levels later in its own level progression, when they are less powerful compared to the challenges being faced). Both sorcerers and wizards use the sorcerer/wizard spell list, though it has specific spells only one of the classes can take. Hunters get both druid and ranger spells (and gain access to ranger spells much earlier than rangers do, potentially making them more powerful compared to the challenges faced when you first access them), but inquisitors have a unique spell list.
Counting only official classes, no alternate classes, and only actual spell lists (as opposed to formula lists for alchemists and investigators), by the end of its run Pathfinder 1st d had 16 separate spell classes. On top of that, all of the class spell lists are defined as being arcane, divine, or occult.
In that environment, it seems insane to create a brand new unique class list. First, there are tons of lists with different themes already. Second, each of those lists has been expanded by so many supplements (official and otherwise) that any new lists is either going to fill a small book on its own, or have many fewer options than the 16 existing lists. Further, if someone is adding content from other publishers, those 3pp spells won’t even know to suggest what new spells should be on your unique class spell list.
By the same token, by the time a game has 16 unique spell lists, it’s hard to claim a 17th will be the bridge too far for design weight.
Pathfinder 2nd edition, as a counterexample, has only 4 spell lists. Absolutely every class has access to the arcane, divine, occult, or primal spell list. Some classes can pick what spell list they access based on other class features (such as the sorcerer), and many classes have access to a very small number of “focus spells” unique to their class. This includes both classes with access to a traditional spell list (such as the bards and their occult spells), and classes with no other spell access (such as champions). While it would be possible to build a whole 5th spell list (akashic magic, perhaps, or runic magic), this would likely only make sense if designing multiple classes that accessed it, or perhaps writing class variants of existing classes that accessed your new magic type. However, adding a small number of focus spells to any new spellcasting class, but otherwise tying them to one or more of the 4 existing lists, seems an excellent way to both benefit from that class having unique and flavorful spells of its own (new focus spells) and benefiting from ties to a growing standard spell list that other books and companies can expand. Pathfinfer 2nd ed also has things such as spell rarity which could be used to create “new” spell list options (such as creating a magister class that has access to common spells for multiple lists, but can never gain uncommon or rare spells).
By contrast Starfinder goes the opposite route, and give every spellcaster their own unique spell list.
Starfinder only has 3 official spellcasting classes so far of course, and each also has the same level of spell access and spells/day. That certainly sets an expectation for players that a class focused on spellcasting would likely follow the same path. There are many potential reasons to not go that route (if creating a mechanic/technomancer hybrid class, the Dronemancer, that only had access up to 3rd level spells, it might well make sense for it to have the technomancer spell list), but again the key point is to know what tools are at your disposal, and study how the core game (or similar games, if you are starting from scratch) use them.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed also gives each class its own spell list (at least in the Player’s handbook), including the sorcerer and wizard, who shared a spell list when the sorcerer was first introduced in 3rd edition. There is greater variety in both spell access (paladins and rangers only get up to 5th level spells), and how the class uses spells (warlocks and wizards have very different game mechanics dictation how they interact with and use their spells). The larger number of lists makes it more likely that you can match a specific class’s theme with an existing class list or combination of lists, but it also drives home player expectation in much the same way Starfinder does.
As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that whether a game has dozens of class spell lists or just three, d20 games almost always have some basic spells that appear on multiple (or even all) spell lists. the most flavorless and utilitarian spells are often there, from detect magic to light. By the same token, most such games have at least a few types of spells that are kept off specific spell lists, in the tradition of “clerics don’t cast magic missile, wizards don’t heal.”
But honestly, that’s another whole blog post worth of commentary.
These Design Diaries are among the most popular of the things I wrote, but they are also the biggest, hardest, and most time-consuming to create. If you want to keep seeing them, I encourage you to join my Patreon. Just a few dollars a month can make the difference between me having the time to tackle these larger, in-depth design articles, and sticking to shorter, simpler topics.
So, you have a finished draft of a game project. You’ve checked that it meets your wordcount requirements (neither too much nor too little off the mark – I try to hit within 5% of the exact wordcount total, and I consider being off by 10%–whether over or under—to be a failure to hit wordcount), the formatting is what your publisher has asked for (so if you used ANY table function of your program, you have replaced it with what the publisher’s style guide calls for), and you’ve hit all the required topics.
Now what? Now, you get ready for revision.
Revisions can have a number of steps for game writing, depending on the project, time, and circumstance, but here are some common types. A project may have all of these, just a few, or none… though try to avoid not even having time for a reread.
The best way to get a good revision on your own is to put your writing down for a couple of weeks, work on other projects and then, when it’s no longer fresh in your mind, reread it from the beginning. You are likely to catch a few places where the wording got muddled, or you didn’t type exactly what you were thinking. But you may also find some more systemic problems, such as discussing concepts in length before introducing them in brief, or contradicting yourself because ideas evolved as you wrote them (or you wrote two parts of the same section days apart, and misremembered what you said the first time).
This is also a good time to play developer with your own material. Do you see a simpler way to express the same idea? Is a rule system too complex for the value it gives the game? Is an option obviously overpowered, or under-powered, and you can see a way to fix it? Does something you thought was awesome now seem dull? This is a good chance to fix all those issues.
And if you aren’t sure about something? Just flag it for your developer/editor/producer. Leave a comment explaining your thought process and concern, and that you weren’t sure one way or another. Having comments and thoughts from the author can be a huge help when a developer is first tackling a project, and it shows you’re cognizant of potential issues in your work, but trust the people you are working with. While you are at it, put notes in about anything else that might be useful for your developer. A list of resources that need to be mentioned in a OGL section 15. Which bits of continuity are canon (and where you found them), and which are new elements you made up yourself. Anything that’s an Easter Egg (or even clearly inspired by existing IP—homage CAN be fine, but let your publisher know what you are riffing off of, so they can make that decision for themselves).
If at all possible get at least SOME playtest in of any gameable elements. An adventure can be easy to do a quick playtest of—grab some friends (with your publisher’s permission to have people you are sharing the unpublished material with, if under NDA or similar restriction) and run through it once. Single stand-alone elements such as spells or feats can be trickier, but having people other than you use them in character builds can show if they are unexpected synergies, or are valued much more or less highly than similar options. Larger elements, such as entire character classes, can take months to properly playtest, but at minimum it can be useful to run a Rules Rumble playtest – have one set of players make characters without access to the new rules, and a second group make characters required to use the new rules, and pit them against each other.
If you find any glaring issues, fix them. If you find potential issues, leave comments for your developer/editor/producer.
It can be useful to have people you trust take a look at your work to highlight any potential problems they see. Again, if you are under NDA or similar constraint, get your publisher’s permission for this. Sometimes projects with multiple freelancers working on it provide a way for those freelancers to go over each other’s work as it is created, which can be a great resource (but be sure you give back – if someone gives you useful feedback in that kind of environment, read through their stuff too). You don’t have to take a Beta Reader’s opinion over your own of course, but do consider their point of view. If a Beta Reader says something is unclear, for example, then no matter how obvious it is to you, you know it’s unclear to at least SOME other people.
Publisher feedback is extremely important on any project they have the time and energy to give it to you, which is my experience isn’t that often. Ultimately if you don’t work with your publisher on their feedback, you may not get published. But the degree of how important this is varies from ‘crucial” to only “very important.”
Most freelance work written for the tabletop game industry is done Work for Hire, which means once you are paid you have no further rights to the work. You aren’t even considered the creator, for copyright purposes. When I am working on that kind of project, if the publisher gives me feedback, I consider it part of my job to incorporate that feedback, even if I disagree with it.
I ALSO consider it part of my job to point out why I think bad feedback is bad, but in the end if this is something for which I am providing content using someone else’s sandbox, and I have been hired to fill a certain amount of it with the kind of sand they want, I consider my job to be to give the publisher what they want. I often call this kind of work “content provider” rather than “author,” to remind myself of what my end goal is.
Things are slightly different if a publisher is partnering with you to publish something you retain the copyright to. It’s still crucial to consider the publisher’s feedback—one presumes you picked this publisher to be the venue for your work for a reason, but if it’s ultimately your project any feedback should ultimately be your call. (Though, you know, check your contract. Preferably before signing it.)
The point of a First Draft is to get it done. The point of a Revision is to get it right. This can vary from tweaking a few things to realizing you have to tear out the heart of what you have written and start over (which can feel a lot like tearing out your own heart). In tabletop RPG design you often don’t have time for more than one revisions (though a developer may be coming along behind you to make another, out of your sight), so try to get as much feedback as you can, then apply what you have learned, make notes…
And move on to the next project. Never finishing revisions is a form of never finishing, and it’s often said “Game designs are never finished, they just escape their designers.”
Don’t be afraid to change things in revision, but also don’t be afraid to leave them alone if you think they’re good.
Heya folks–I am back to being a full-time freelancer. Which means, every word I write has to justify itself in time taken vs. benefit to my freelance career and/or money made.
So if you found any of this useful and you’d like to support the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!
Just a couple of dollars a month from each of you will make a huge difference.
“Are there REALLY more than 500 pdfs in the Bonus MegaBundle, for just $30?”
513, in fact.
- 3 Things Made From Crabmen.pdf
- 4HP Alien Races Sokura.pdf
- 4HP CCBase Class Engineer.pdf
- 4HP CC Abstraction Golems Expanded.pdf
- 4HP CC Animated Traps Expanded.pdf
- 4HP CC Pakuvresh.pdf
- 4HP Celestial Character Options.pdf
- 4HP Character Options – Gods in the Void.pdf
- 4HP Comedic Character Options.pdf
- 4HP Even More Horrifically Overpowered Feats.pdf
- 4HP Gruesome Aberrations.pdf
- 4HP Gruesome Constructs.pdf
- 4HP Gruesome Fey.pdf
- 4HP Gruesome Oozes.pdf
- 4HP Hybrid Base Class – Renegade.pdf
- 4HP Hybrid Class – Blasphemer.pdf
- 4HP Hybrid Class – Fury.pdf
- 4HP Hybrid Class – Shifu.pdf
- 4HP Hybrid Class – The Psychemist.pdf
- 4HP Hybrid Class Possesed.pdf
- 4HP Hybrid Class The Montebank.pdf
- 4HP Living Items.pdf
- 4HP Mature Character Options.pdf
- 4HP Minmaxed Monsters.pdf
- 4HP Monsters Under the Bed.pdf
- 4HP More Comedic Character Options.pdf
- 4HP Mythic Archetypes.pdf
- 4HP Mythic Kingdoms.pdf
- 4HP Mythic Magic Expanded.pdf
- 4HP Mythic Magic Items.pdf
- 4HP Mythic Path Transcendentalist.pdf
- 4HP Technomagic – Hybrid Magic Items.pdf
- 4HP Venerable Character Options.pdf
- 4HP Vule the Living Planet.pdf
- 4HP Yet More Horrifically Overpowered Feats.pdf
- 4HP Young Character Options.pdf
- 5 Hellfire Feats.pdf
- 55 Minor Armor Upgrades.pdf
- 55 Minor Spell Variations.pdf
- 55 Minor Weapon Modifications.pdf
- 5e Classes The Godling.pdf
- 5e Menagerie Griffmeras.pdf
- 5e Menagerie Horrors of the Aboleth.pdf
- 5e Menagerie Howl at the Moon.pdf
- 5e Menagerie Oceans of Blood.pdf
- 5e Options Rogue Archetypes Shadow Warrior.pdf
- 5e Trash Gryphon.pdf
- Advanced Options – Alchemists Discoveries.pdf
- Advanced Options – Cavaliers’ Orders.pdf
- Advanced Options – Cavaliers.pdf
- Advanced Options – Extra Evolutions.pdf
- Advanced Options – Inquisitors Judgments.pdf
- Advanced Options – Slayer Talents & Lethalities.pdf
- Advanced Options – Warpriest Blessings.pdf
- Advanced Options – Witchs’ Hexes-Revised.pdf
- Advanced Options-Fight Like A Pirate.pdf
- Adventurers Handbook.pdf
- Annals of the Archfiends – Phosonith – The Cruel Charmer.pdf
- AO Patron Hexes.pdf
- Bullet Point #1 Five Dragonscale.pdf
- Bullet Point #19 Death Mage Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 10 Feats of Fear and Fearlessness.pdf
- Bullet Point 10 Feats of Hammer and Thunder.pdf
- Bullet Point 10 Mage Armor Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 10 Monster Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 10_Subschool_Augmentation_Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 12 Fighter Bravery Alts.pdf
- Bullet Point 12_Rogue_Trapfinding_Alts.pdf
- Bullet Point 13 Witch Hexes.pdf
- Bullet Point 13-Dwarven-Questing-Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 14 Halfling Burglar Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 15 Fantasy Taxes.pdf
- Bullet Point 2 Alt Leadership Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 3 Simian Races.pdf
- Bullet Point 3 Stone Golem Templates.pdf
- Bullet Point 3 Supernatural Abilities.pdf
- Bullet Point 3_Simian_Races.pdf
- Bullet Point 4 Ghostbusting Items.pdf
- Bullet Point 4 Invisibility Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 4 Raise Dead Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 4_Death_Mage_Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 5 Dragonscale.pdf
- Bullet Point 5 Fireball Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 5 Handy Haversacks.pdf
- Bullet Point 5 Haste-Slow Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 5 Machinesmith Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 5 Meta-Combat Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 5 Mount Steed Spell Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 5 Silver Weapon Magic Properties.pdf
- Bullet Point 5 Unseen Servant Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 5 Witch’s Daggers.pdf
- Bullet Point 5_Control_Water_Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 6 Anachronistic Armors.pdf
- Bullet Point 6 Antimagic Field Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 6 Archon Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 6 Feats for Summon Spells.pdf
- Bullet Point 6 Godling Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 6 Jester Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 6 New Exotic and Martial Swords.pdf
- Bullet Point 6 Nonmagic Weapon Qualities.pdf
- Bullet Point 6 Spell-Less Ranger Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 6 Teleportation Spell Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 6-Mythic-Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Bard Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Cure Light Wounds Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Feats For Flying Foes.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Feats for Sword and Board.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Feats for the Undead.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Magic Firearm Properties.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Magic Missile Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Shadow Assassin Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Shield Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Sinful Feats of Gluttony.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Sinful Feats of Lust.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Spiritual Weapon Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Stupid Weapons April Fools.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Tendril Tentacle Spell Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 Time Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 War Master Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 7 War_Master_Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 7-Sinful-Feats-of-Pride.pdf
- Bullet Point 8 Animal Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 8 Barbarian Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 8 Dragonrider Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 8 Lightning Bolt Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 8_Barbarian_Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 9 Armiger Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 9 Witch Hunter Feats.pdf
- Bullet Point 9-Alchemical Bomb Discoveries.pdf
- Bullet Point Cold Iron Magic Weapons.pdf
- Bullet Point Legendary-Weapons.pdf
- Bullet Point Magic_Diseases.pdf
- Childhood Adventures.pdf
- CO The Feat Reference Document.pdf
- Codex Draconis – Black Lords of the Marsh.pdf
- Codex Draconis – Green Menace of the Woodlands.pdf
- Codex Draconis – Red Tyants of the Mountains.pdf
- Codex Draconis – Satraps of the Deserts.pdf
- Codex Draconis – White Terrors of the North.pdf
- Corruption Codex.pdf
- CSP TA The Witch ML.pdf
- CSP Waysides Rock Bottom.pdf
- Dragon Companion Handbook.pdf
- Dynastic Races Compendium.pdf
- EMI Kyr’shin Unchained.pdf
- EMI Taka’shi.pdf
- EMM 1 Interval Spellcasting.pdf
- EMM 10 Brawler Archetypes.pdf
- EMM 11 Mysteries of Spring.pdf
- EMM 12 Malborgoroth.pdf
- EMM 13 Unchained Kangaroos.pdf
- EMM 14 Spells of Comedy.pdf
- EMM 15 Way of the Eight.pdf
- EMM 16 Mystic Scrivener.pdf
- EMM 17 Microsized Templates .pdf
- EMM 18 Motherly Options.pdf
- EMM 19 Gloom Discoveries.pdf
- EMM 2 The Skinsuit Ritual.pdf
- EMM 20 Esoteric Implements.pdf
- EMM 21 Unchained Fighter Options.pdf
- EMM 22 Mysteries of Summer.pdf
- EMM 23 Mesmerist Feats.pdf
- EMM 24 Patriotic Options.pdf
- EMM 25 Yroometji.pdf
- EMM 26 Black Blade Options.pdf
- EMM 27 Spells of Childhood.pdf
- EMM 28 Cleric Options.pdf
- EMM 29 Favored Enemy Focuses.pdf
- EMM 3 Childhood Feats.pdf
- EMM 30 Haunt Invocations.pdf
- EMM 31 Injuries and Scars.pdf
- EMM 32 School Day Options.pdf
- EMM 33 Mysteries of Autumn.pdf
- EMM 33 Unchained Monk Options.pdf
- EMM 34 Mysteries of Autumn.pdf
- EMM 35 Investigator Options.pdf
- EMM 36 Ghost Hunting Options.pdf
- EMM 37 Occultic Singularity Ritual.pdf
- EMM 38 More Unchained Fighter Options.pdf
- EMM 39 Pumpkin Kami.pdf
- EMM 4 Ley Line Qualities.pdf
- EMM 40 The Tall One.pdf
- EMM 41 Cult Classic Heroes.pdf
- EMM 42 Shapeshifter Options.pdf
- EMM 43 Bountiful Harvest Ritual.pdf
- EMM 44 Family Options.pdf
- EMM 45 Festive Armory.pdf
- EMM 46 Festive Options.pdf
- EMM 47 Yearbound Phoenix Ritual.pdf
- EMM 48 Unchained Favored Classes.pdf
- EMM 49 Far-Flung Races.pdf
- EMM 5 Kumiho.pdf
- EMM 50 Haunted Archetypes.pdf
- EMM 51 Arcane Discoveries.pdf
- EMM 52 Paladin Mercies.pdf
- EMM 53 Rage Options.pdf
- EMM 54 Alchemical Power Components.pdf
- EMM 55 Front Liner’s Options.pdf
- EMM 56 Mystery of Riddles.pdf
- EMM 57 Magus Arcana.pdf
- EMM 58 Bloodline Mutations.pdf
- EMM 59 Unchained Kangaroos, Dire Edition.pdf
- EMM 6 Mysteries of Passion.pdf
- EMM 60 Kitsune Kineticist Options.pdf
- EMM 61 Animal Teamwork Feats.pdf
- EMM 62 Mystery of Music.pdf
- EMM 63 Dynastic Armory.pdf
- EMM 64 Hecaviogos Levialogi.pdf
- EMM 65 Catfolk Options.pdf
- EMM 66 Eidolon Knight.pdf
- EMM 67 Animal Companion Archetypes.pdf
- EMM 68 Superior Alchemical Items.pdf
- EMM 69 Fey Shaman Spirit.pdf
- EMM 7 Deific Passengers.pdf
- EMM 70 Unchained Fighter Archetypes.pdf
- EMM 71 Wild Shape Variants.pdf
- EMM 72 Vessel Passengers.pdf
- EMM 73 Microsized Monsters.pdf
- EMM 74 Centaur Options.pdf
- EMM 75 Gculcilite.pdf
- EMM 76 Lost Children.pdf
- EMM 77 Unchained Ninja Options.pdf
- EMM 78 Allakhadae.pdf
- EMM 79 Unchained Bard Masterpieces.pdf
- EMM 8 Gnoll Options.pdf
- EMM 80 Arcanist Exploits.pdf
- EMM 81 Mutative Muck.pdf
- EMM 82 Age Shifting Options.pdf
- EMM 83 Dynastic Spells.pdf
- EMM 84 Kineticist Archetypes.pdf
- EMM 85 Transpositional Creatures.pdf
- EMM 86 More Unchained Bardic Masterpieces.pdf
- EMM 88 Creepy Creatures.pdf
- EMM 89 Everyman Races.pdf
- EMM 9 Sleeping Rules.pdf
- EMM 90 Occultist Panoplies.pdf
- EMM 91 Bloodrager Bloodlines.pdf
- EMM 92 Squishikin Options.pdf
- EMM 93 Soulless.pdf
- EMM 94 Familiar Archetypes.pdf
- EMO Kineticist.pdf
- EMO Paranormal Classes.pdf
- EMO Shaman Spirits.pdf
- EMO Unchained Fighters.pdf
- EMU Bards.pdf
- EMU Eidolons.pdf
- EMU Fighter.pdf
- EMU Teamwork Feats.pdf
- EMU Unchained Cunning.pdf
- Engines of Destructions.pdf
- Everyman Archetypes, Skald.pdf
- Everyman Archetypes, Swashbuckler.pdf
- Everyman Iconics Drake.pdf
- Everyman Iconics Kyrshin.pdf
- Everyman Iconics Shira.pdf
- Everyman Unchained – Eidolons.pdf
- Everyman Unchained Monk Archetypes II.pdf
- Everyman Unchained Monk Archetypes.pdf
- Everyman Unchained, Unchained Cunning.pdf
- Everyman Unchained-Skills and Options.pdf
- Everyman Unchained-Unchained Rage.pdf
- Faeries of the Fringe.pdf
- FTF 13 Evil Spells.pdf
- Genius Adventures – Spring of Disorder.pdf
- Genius Adventures – The Black Skull Laughs.pdf
- Genius Adventures – There’s Yer Problem.pdf
- Genius Guide to 110 Spell Variants Vol. 01.pdf
- Genius Guide to 110 Spell Variants Vol. 03.pdf
- Genius Guide to 110 Spell Variants Vol. 04.pdf
- Genius Guide to Air Magic.pdf
- Genius Guide to Another 110 Spell Variants Vol. 02.pdf
- Genius Guide to Apeiron Staves.pdf
- Genius Guide to Apprentice-Level Characters.pdf
- Genius Guide to Arcane Archetypes.pdf
- Genius Guide to Archer Archtypes.pdf
- Genius Guide to Chaos Magic.pdf
- Genius Guide to Crystal Magic.pdf
- Genius Guide to Divination Magic.pdf
- Genius Guide to Divine Archetypes.pdf
- Genius Guide to Dream Magic.pdf
- Genius Guide to Earth Magic.pdf
- Genius Guide to Exalted Domains of Light and Lore beta.pdf
- Genius Guide to Exalted Domains of Storms and Savagery.pdf
- Genius Guide to Exalted Domains of War and Ruin.pdf
- Genius Guide to Favored Class Options.pdf
- Genius Guide to Feats of Battle.pdf
- Genius Guide to Feats of Critical Combat.pdf
- Genius Guide to Feats of Divine Might.pdf
- Genius Guide to Feats of Immediate Action.pdf
- Genius Guide to Feats of Metamagic.pdf
- Genius Guide to Feats of Multiclassing.pdf
- Genius Guide to Feats of Psionic Might.pdf
- Genius Guide to Feats of Runic Might 2.pdf
- Genius Guide to Feats of Runic Might.pdf
- Genius Guide to Feats of Spellcasting.pdf
- Genius Guide to Feats of Subterfuge.pdf
- Genius Guide to Fire Magic.pdf
- Genius Guide to Gruesome Undead Templates.pdf
- Genius Guide to Hellfire Magic.pdf
- Genius Guide to Hoof and Horn Racial Options.pdf
- Genius Guide to Horrific Haunts.pdf
- Genius Guide to Horrifically Overpowered Feats.pdf
- Genius Guide to Ice Magic.pdf
- Genius Guide to Loot 4 Less 1 – Armor and Weapons.pdf
- Genius Guide to Loot 4 Less 10 – Fezzes Are Cool.pdf
- Genius Guide to Loot 4 Less 2 – Pretty, Pretty Rings.pdf
- Genius Guide to Loot 4 Less 3 – Hot Rods.pdf
- Genius Guide to Loot 4 Less 4 – Fantastic Footwear.pdf
- Genius Guide to Loot 4 Less 5 – All You Need Is Gloves.pdf
- Genius Guide to Loot 4 Less 6 – Cloaks and Daggers.pdf
- Genius Guide to Loot 4 Less 7 – Krazy Kragnar.pdf
- Genius Guide to Loot 4 Less 8 – Belt One On.pdf
- Genius Guide to Loot 4 Less 9 – Bell, Book, and Candle.pdf
- Genius Guide to Loot 4 Less Things that Make You Go Boom.pdf
- Genius Guide to Martial Archetypes.pdf
- Genius Guide to Mystic Godlings.pdf
- Genius Guide to Name Traits.pdf
- Genius Guide to Races of Fire and Fury.pdf
- Genius Guide to Races of Hoof and Horn.pdf
- Genius Guide to Races of Wind and Wing.pdf
- Genius Guide to Rune Staves and Wyrd Wands.pdf
- Genius Guide to Simple Monster Templates.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Archon.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Armiger.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Death Mage.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Dragonrider Revised.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Godling Ascendant.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Godling.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Magus.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Mosaic Mage.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Order of Vigilance.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Shadow Assassin.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Talented Cavalier.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Templar.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Time Thief.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Time Warden.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Vanguard Revised.pdf
- Genius Guide to the War Master.pdf
- Genius Guide to the Witch Hunter.pdf
- Genius Guide to What’s in my Pocket – Part Deux.pdf
- Genius Guide to What_s in my Pocket – Part Deux.pdf
- GG to Bravery Feats.pdf
- GG to Feats of Spellcasting II.pdf
- GG to Gruesome Dragons.pdf
- GG to More Horrifically Overpowered Feats.pdf
- GG to More Ranger Talents.pdf
- GG to the Dracomancer.pdf
- GG to the Hellion.pdf
- GG to the Magister.pdf
- GG to the Riven Mage.pdf
- GG to the Shadow Warrior.pdf
- GG to the Talented Ranger.pdf
- GGT Domain Channeling II.pdf
- GGT Domain Channeling.pdf
- GGT Expanded Class Options.pdf
- GGT Gruesome Giants.pdf
- GGT HOMFeats.pdf
- GGT Homophone Spells.pdf
- GGT More Barbarian Talents.pdf
- GGT More Bard Talents.pdf
- GGT More Cleric Talents.pdf
- GGT More Simple Class Templates for Monsters.pdf
- GGT More Witch Talents.pdf
- GGT Mythic Subpaths.pdf
- GGT Simple Class Templates for Monsters.pdf
- GGT the Cruorchemist.pdf
- GGT The Opportunist.pdf
- GGT The Talented Barbarian.pdf
- GGT the Talented Bard.pdf
- GGT the Talented Bestiary PDF Webview.pdf
- 2GGT the Talented Bestiary PDF.pdf
- GGT the Talented Cleric.pdf
- GGT the Talented Druid.pdf
- GGT the Talented Otter Dragon.pdf
- GGT the Talented Witch.pdf
- GGT Variant Multiclass Rules.pdf
- GO Masters of Time.pdf
- Heralds of the Apocalypse.pdf
- HH 002 Spellpoints Expansion.pdf
- Houserule Footnotes Spell Point Feats.pdf
- Houserule Handbooks Spell Points.pdf
- Houserule Handbooks Spellpoints Compilation.pdf
- Into The Veil.pdf
- Kitsune Compendium.pdf
- Krazy Kragnar Magic Staff Emporium.pdf
- Krazy Kragnar’s Black Market Magic Items.pdf
- Krazy Kragnars Alchemical Surplus Shop.pdf
- Leadership Handbook.pdf
- Lunar Knights.pdf
- Microsized Adventures.pdf
- MM A Council of Genies.pdf
- MM Bulette Points.pdf
- MM Draconis Arcanus.pdf
- MM SS Giraffenomicon.pdf
- MM SS Pumpkin Stalker.pdf
- MM The Swarminomicon.pdf
- MM Troops.pdf
- MO Core Mythic Class Features.pdf
- MO Mythic Base Class Features.pdf
- MO Mythic Dragonrider Class Features.pdf
- Monster Menagerie – Construct Companion.pdf
- Monster Menagerie – Covens of Chaos.pdf
- Monster Menagerie – Demonic Harlots.pdf
- Monster Menagerie – Horrors of the Aboleth.pdf
- Monster Menagerie – Howl at the Moon.pdf
- Monster Menagerie – Kingdom of Graves.pdf
- Monster Menagerie – Kith of the Harpy Queen.pdf
- Monster Menagerie – Lurkers in the Dark.pdf
- Monster Menagerie – Threats from Beyond.pdf
- Monster Menagerie – Winter Ravagers.pdf
- Monster Menagerie Griffmeras.pdf
- Mythic Fighter Class Features.pdf
- Mythic Menagerie – Rise of the Goblinoids.pdf
- Mythic Options The Missing Core Feats.pdf
- Night of the Starbird.pdf
- Occult Options 1.pdf
- Oceans of Blood.pdf
- Paranormal Adventures.pdf
- Paranormal Classes.pdf
- PF Trash Gryphon.pdf
- Psychological Combat.pdf
- Races Revised – the Kitsune Clans.pdf
- Ranger Options – Knacks of Nature.pdf
- Ravagers of Time.pdf
- Relic Files – From Beyond the Stars I.pdf
- Relic Files – From Beyond the Stars II.pdf
- Relic Files – Treasures of Camelot I.pdf
- Relic Files – Treasures of Camelot II.pdf
- Relic Files – Treasures of Camelot III.pdf
- RF Manticore Power Armor.pdf
- RF Treasures of the Earth – Svarduun.pdf
- RP Kyubi Paragon.pdf
- RP Noble Aspirant.pdf
- SA Laser Grenades.pdf
- SA Shotguns.pdf
- Samsaran Compendium.pdf
- SC Coordinated Combat Feats.pdf
- SC Horrifically Overpowered Feats.pdf
- SC Legacy Cavalier.pdf
- SC Legacy Dragonrider.pdf
- SC Legacy Gunslinger.pdf
- SC Technomancy Manual.pdf
- SC Toonimancy.pdf
- SFA Cannibal Clowns from Outer Space.pdf
- SFA Deluxe Drider.pdf
- SFA Sluagh.pdf
- SFS Psychic Space Cats.pdf
- SGP A Brace of Pistols.pdf
- SGP Argonax the Mad.pdf
- SGP Power Word Spells.pdf
- SGP Races Revised The Kobold Kings.pdf
- Skill Challenge Handbook.pdf
- Sorcerers Options Beyond Bloodlines-1.pdf
- Starfarer’s Codex Witch Legacy Class.pdf
- The Clockwork Wonders of Brandlehill.pdf
- The Genius Guide to More Cavalier Talents.pdf
- The Genius Guide to More Fighter Talents.pdf
- The Genius Guide to More Monk Talents.pdf
- The Genius Guide to More Rogue Talents.pdf
- The Genius Guide to the Death Knight.pdf
- The Genius Guide to the Relics of the Godlings II.pdf
- The Genius Guide to the Relics of the Godlings.pdf
- The Genius Guide to the Talented Cavalier.pdf
- The Genius Guide to the Talented Fighter.pdf
- The Genius Guide to The Talented Monk.pdf
- The Genius Guide to the Talented Rogue.pdf
- The Pirate Haven of Blackrock.pdf
- Ultimate Charisma.pdf
- Ultimate Occult.pdf
- Ultimate Options – Arcane Discoveries.pdf
- Ultimate Options – Grit and Gunslingers.pdf
- Ultimate Options – Power of the Ninja.pdf
- UO Bardic Masterpieces.pdf
- UO New Magus Arcana..pdf
- UO Story Feats.pdf
- VC Radical Pantheon.pdf
- VC The Black Knight.pdf
- Veranthea Codex – Lost Legends of Urethiel.pdf
- Wind and Wing Racial Options.pdf
- Yuletide Terror.pdf
In part one of my recent ongoing series of articles looking at converting every feat from the PF Core Rulebook that doesn’t already have a namesake in Starfinder to the Starfinder game system, I mention that if you think a project you are being hired for has bad decisions behind it, you should bring those to your publisher. I also mention that once you agree to do the job you should do it, without offering any exceptions for cases where you have moral or ethical concerns about completing the work. these can be tricky waters to navigate, but it’s worth discussing some best practices for bring your concerns to your publisher/editor/developer/producer.
Some of the following examples are going to sound extreme, and I don’t want to give the impression that every project is filled with objectionable, harmful, short-sighted material you have to fight back against. But I can’t pretend it never happens, and obviously it’s when the stakes are highest that this is both the most important, and the most nerve-wracking.
Also, I am aware of my own shortcomings enough to know I don;t always see the ways in which material can be harmful. So if you are writing for me, and you have concerns? LET ME KNOW. Push back. Point to this article if you want some back-up. I ASKED you to tell me if I’m requesting bad ideas from you.
As always, I’ll also note that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. Also, I come at this as a writer, developer, and publisher, as those are the kinds of roles I have filled for RPG creation. Artists, graphic designers, editors, and layout artists face similar challenges at least as great, but my advice may not work as well for them.
Try Not To Create Any Surprises
Ideally when working on a project you’ll have access to an outline and a general vision of the project prior to agreeing to write for it, so if you have any concerns you can bring them up early on. For example, if a project’s outline suggests covering topics you don’t feel are appropriate for an RPG, you can discuss that at the beginning with your contact. Even if that means you backing out of the project because you just can’t get on the same page as the publisher, it’s much better for all concerned if you do that early.
If your project is going to involve a lot of discrete bits, it’s worth scanning those for potential trouble spots extremely early in the process. For example if you are asked to do expanded write-ups on six cities, go through the existing material at least briefly as soon as you can. If one of the cities is mired in material you see issues with (whether those are as simple as it having a stupid name or as complex as having an explicit social set-up filled with stereotypes you find harmful), bringing those to your contact as soon as possible both allows everyone plenty of time to try to figure out a solution (while the rest of the project moves forward), and proves you’re taking your responsibilities seriously.
The closer you are to deadline, the less flexible your publisher is likely to be. While that is often because the publisher places money over your concerns, it’s worth remembering they have mouths to feed as well, and people counting on them. That doesn’t excuse making money on harmful material, but it is worth remembering if you’re trying to build a working relationship.
Of course sometimes things develop you could not have foreseen. You may only be contracted to write part of a project, and when you see someone else’s section it’s full of material you have issues with or, worse, it changes the context of your own material in harmful ways. Or you might be shown cover art you dislike so much you don’t want your name associated with it. Or you might get developer feedback that explicitly asks you to alter things in a way you have problems with. The point is that the sooner you can raise a flag, the easier the process is likely to be for all concerned.
There’s A Thing Line Between Asking for Clarification and Passive-Aggressive
A great first step when something from the publisher seems like a bad idea is to ask for clarification. Going back to my series of articles as an example, if a publisher told me to convert *every* missing PF feat from the core rulebook to Starfinder, I’d pretty quickly ask if they meant even feats that refer to rules that don’t exist in Starfinder and already have their basic concept covered, like Exotic Weapon Proficiency. The publisher might come back and agree that some feats don’t need conversion.
However, once I get told that yes, EVERY feat needs to be converted, constantly asking if that’s the case even if the end result is dumb, or even if that means confusing people, or any other objections, I’m moving beyond just asking for clarification. Once you have your answer work with it, for better or worse.
If the answer means you can’t work on a project for personal or ethical or legal reasons, at that point just say so.
Be As Polite As The Situation Allows
Ideally, you’ll always be in a place where you can be polite and considerate to your publisher. If nothing else, with luck you’ll have some idea what kind of material the publisher produces before working for them (or even pitching them ideas) and will have just avoided anyone who is going to ask for things you think are stupid or problematic.
Even just five years ago, I’d have made this advice to ALWAYS be polite. And, honestly, my privileged and luck have meant I have always had that choice (though I haven’t always used it, to my regret). But I have seen other writers put in situations where I confess, polite might not convey how serious an objection is.
I strongly recommend defaulting to as polite as you think you can possibly be, and reserving more stringent language and complaints for serious legal or ethical objections, but that has to be your call.
Explain Your Concerns
Saying “this piece of art is terrible” isn’t helpful to a publisher. Be as specific, and as nonjudgmental, as the situation allows for. Does the art depict the 8-armed Klyzon species as having 6 arms? Are the colors so muted and fuzzy that from 2 feet back it just looks like mud? Does the Klyzon look EXACTLY like a character from the Trek Wars animated series? It it’s tattoo of a symbol with real-world religious or political meaning? Is the Klyzon man a horrific monster in full armor, and the Klyzon woman a near-human with tiny horns wearing sexualized attire?
Specific details on what is your concern, and why it concerns you, helps move quickly to seeing if improvements or resolution can be found.
If there is a broader social issue in play, it may help to link to resources education on that issue. Yes, this is asking you to do extra work, and that’s both unfair and not your ethical duty. I offer the suggestion because I have found it effective, but you have to decide how much effort you’re willing to put into any issue.
If you can think of an easy way to address your concern, pitch it. Publishers love solutions to problems, especially compared to problems they have to spend time working on themselves.
In fact if approving your solution is less work than figuring out some way to get what the publisher originally asked for, the publisher may just agree to save time and effort.
Try To Do It All At Once
This isn’t always an option, but a publisher can much more easily deal with a unified, concise list of 7 issues with a project, than getting a new issues brought up 7 different times during production.
Pick Your Battles
There’s nothing wrong with noting you think a sketch of a monster you are writing up is too goofy to convey the theme of menace and fear you have been asked to write… but that’s also not something I’d ever take beyond the bringing-it-up stage. The publisher has people they trust to make publication decisions, and they are unlikely to take your freelance opinion over that of their staff or trusted contract producers.
Even when mentioning concerns, it can be worth it to note when you are just bringing something up for consideration, (and will finish your work as agreed, on time, to a high standard of quality even if nothing changes), and when you think there is a serious issue you need to find clarification on before you can continue, or that you fear may impact the value of your work.
To Thine Own Self Be True
I wish I didn’t even have to cover this, but that’s not the world we live in. Your own sense of ethics, morality, and right and wrong should take precedence over giving a publisher what they want… to whatever degree you decide you’re willing to pay the price for making a stand.
It’d be nice to claim you’ll always be rewarded for doing the right thing but again, that’s not the world we live in. Only you can decide what to do when legal obligations (such as a contract), financial obligations (such as looming rent payments), and moral obligations (such as creating work you think might harm others) aren’t in alignment.
But I don’t personally think advancing your career, or getting one freelance paycheck, is worth feeling you have made the world a worse place. Be honest with yourself, and make the best call you cab.
Don’t Assume The Publisher Is Making a Change Until They Say So
Some freelancers will write in they have a concern, propose a solution, and then immediately continue their writing as if their proposal had been accepted. In some cases this has included things such as saying a topic can’t support 1500 words, so they are going to write 1100 words on it, and 400 words on some new topic.
Don’t. Do. This.
The project outline and remit hasn’t changed until the publish says it’s changed.
Be Clear On Your Position
I never recommend starting with ultimatums or even making threats, but especially once you have voiced a concern, if you are dissatisfied with the publisher’s solution, it’s worth talking about how you would like to proceed.
You may just note you won’t want to take similar projects in the future. You might ask that your name be taken off a project. You might need to ask for extra time because you feel the scope of the project has shifted or requires more research than you expect.
I personally have never, on ethical grounds, backed out of a project without the publisher’s approval once I had signed a contract. But I’m not going to claim there are never circumstances where that might be the moral choice. Myself I’d always finish wordcount and turn a project over by deadline, even if I had to write something that wasn’t exactly what was asked for because I have conscientious objections to what was asked for.
I have asked a publisher if they would approve of my walking away from a contract for various reasons, and had them agree to it. In general, that means I don’t get paid for work already done (which the publisher then cannot use), and that’s often the cost of doing business.
Don’t Freak Out
As a socially awkward introvert with depression, I know it can be overwhelming to tell a publisher you think they need to change their concept. But it happens, and most publishers are used to it, and many even appreciate it. By being prompt, polite, and specific, you can generally get a dialog going on issues without having to take on a huge emotional burden.
I’ve talked many times about ways I deal with writer’s block, burnout, and the hard work of creating game material professionally. What I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about is my normal writing process. Like, if I am feeling okay and tackling the day-to-day work of a writing career, what does that look like?
Today’s my birthday, and birthdays are a good time for some retrospection, so I want to look at how my full-time freelance process looks nowadays, especially after 5 years of going into the Paizo office 5 days a week. I’m talking here just about how I organize and tackle my writing–things like getting assignments, editing, and so on are outside the scope of this article. (Though if you want to hear more about those, let me know!)
When I was first starting my writing career, I flat refused to use outlines. Outlines were, I felt, restrictive. Stifling. I didn’t know where my muse was going to take me, after all, so how could I outline it? Much better, I thought, to just begin at the beginning, and keep writing until I hit the end, and if that meant the project drifted all over the place, I could fix that in a second draft.
I was such a sweet, summer child.
Yes, you can fix things in a second draft. But the sooner you find problems, the easier they are to fix (and the less work you’ve done on things that are geing to get cut). So now I outline nearly everything. Often in very rough terms (maybe just listing out some potential headers), but enough for me to know where a piece is going to start, what it’ll cover, and how it will end.
I DO keep in mind my format, and this is a place where the years of being a developer for Paizo have really honed that skill. For example, if I know I want everything to break at the bottom of a page, I can do rough wordcounts to writing only as much as I need to do that. On the other hand, if something is going to be a 2-3 page pdf and never see print, i know it doesn’t matter nearly as much what my exact wordcounts are.
Prioritize, Schedule, Assess
Early in my career, I was often doing just fairly random magazine articles, and deadlines were pretty rough. I also usually worked on only one at a time, so I didn’t have to worry about priorities. Now I am often doing two-dozen things all at once, and some are for myself with loose deadlines, some are for myself with firm deadlines (like this article, since I promise Patreon readers a good-sized article every Monday), some are for other folks with loose deadlines (most of the things I produce for Rite are done when they are done… but they do need to get done!), and some are for other folks with hard deadlines (if Green Ronin or Paizo needs a thing by a set date, it’s crucial I adhere to that–there are lots of steps after mine that need time, and big books that go into the retail market get announced way before they are finished.
So I need to know what I need to work on TODAY to hit deadlines. I prefer to work on 2-3 different things per day, so i keep a running list of what deadlines are upcoming, how far along those things are, and I (ideally) check it every work day. I also have the free tacking program Asana, which I use to track projects so they don’t get totally forgotten if I put them on the back burner for a few days or weeks. That helps make sure that if Rogue Genius Games needs marketing text from me before a product can be made available for sale, I get that done in a timely manner.
If I have an idea I can;t begin yet, it gets noted so it’s not lost. i used to do that in physical notebooks. Then I moved to online files. Now, i use Asana.
The hope is to get 8 hours of writing done per day 5 days a week, and 4 hours 2 days a week. That actually usually takes me 12 and 6 hours, because when I find myself hitting a slowdown in my writing, I often take a short break to clear my mind. That may be 5 minutes on social media, or 15 minutes gluing bits of a model together, or 20 minutes on a computer game. Or a half-hour lunch break. The idea is to pause, rather than let my writing urge go completely cool, but distract my mind with something different enough that I can come back at it ‘fresh” in a bit.
But it’s important to keep a running track of how much work is actually getting done, and what is due soon. If I am producing plenty of words per day (I shoot for a minimum of 3,000 words/day, spread out over various projects) and everything is on-track to hit deadline, I don’t worry overmuch how many minutes I spend on non-work-writing. But if my production slows, or I have something behind schedule, I get much more serious about making breaks short and infrequent. I try to get up and do something else for at least a few minutes every hour, but if the muse has me head-down writing for 3 hours, I don’t interrupt that process.
I have a dedicated work space–a home office I share with my wife. It has my laptop, my reference books, chargers for phones, a place for my cat to sit within-reach but off my desktop, a few hobby-related items, and that’s it. No television. No chairs other than the office chairs. There IS a window, because getting some natural light is helpful to me. No microwave. When I look around, I see only things related one way or another to my writing, and that’s a big help for me.
Putting It All Together
For example, I began this article on Friday the 25th, based on an idea from my idea file I got from a friend on social media. I didn’t get much more done than outlining some headers. I took runs at it again on the 26th and 27th, but kept both short because I had a past-due project I needed to turn in on the 28th. OTOH I also took time out on the 27th to spend time hanging out at a friend’s house, because I had been working all week and the next day was my birthday.
But that meant this wasn’t done today… and neither was the past-due project. But the past-due was ALMOST done, so finishing it clearly took priority. Then a quick break to spend a few minutes with my wife. Since it’s my birthday and I have a 3pm phone call that is industry-related, i WANTED to play a game for 15-20 minutes… but I couldn’t take the time for that when my Monday blog post wasn’t finished yet.
So this became the next major priority, and I hammered on it until it was done. Now I can take a break, and then start on the NEXT most-urgent thing on my list. 🙂
All my articles are possible due to support from my patrons, and many are suggested by those patrons! If you want to encourage more writing basics articles, or just stick some money in a tip jar, check out my Patreon!
New freelancers often wonder how much money they can make writing tabletop game material (or editing, or art, though those are different fields than where my primary experience lies). They’ll ask how they get paid, maybe inquire about a per-word rate, or flat fee, and think they are done, But knowing the per-word rate of a project is the beginning of figuring out how much you’ll make doing it, not the end.
And let me start by saying not everyone cares how much they make, and not everyone is going to depend on this money for their livelihood even if they do, and none of that matters when discussing what is reasonable to pay. Work deserves to be compensated, and you deserve to know how hard you are working for the money you make.
I don’t know that there is an “industry standard” for tabletop RPG writing. At this point in my career I am usually writing for 10 cents/word or a goodly cut of all income from a project. Over the past 20 years I have written for as little as 1 cent/word (counting only things that were non-charity, paid projects), and as much as 35 cents/word, but those are both outliers. (Before that I once took a project for 0.1 cents/word… I didn’t know any better. And that’s not my worst experience, to boot.)
Most people I am willing to work with pay no less than 3 cents a word, even to new writers. So, for purposes of this article, that’s the number I am going to go with.
But even knowing a project pays ‘3 cents a word’ doesn’t tell you how much you are making, until you know how many words it is, and how long that will take you, how many revisions you’ll be asked to make, and how long you have to wait to get paid.
If you can do 2,000 words in a 2-hour evening run? That’s $30/hour.
If it’s 1,000 words over 4 hours? That’s $7.50/hour.
But if revisions take just as long as the writing? Your hourly rate just got cut in half. And you’ll likely be paying self-employment tax (in the U.S. anyway, basically another 15% cut out of your income), and you won’t get any benefits as you would for a full-time hourly staff job, and if you have to wait until it’s published to get paid you may miss out on the potential for months of interest (whether by putting it in savings or paying off a credit card cost), or both.
Some of those answers you won’t know until the project is done. You can ask a company if they expect to request revisions (and definitely check your contract to see if it asks for revisions), and you can ask other freelancers what their experience with that company is in that regard (and on other issues too — it’s worth knowing if a company has a reputation for paying late, or killing projects, or changing the remit partway through… if you can, find fellow freelancers you trust and talk to them). But ultimately, any given project may be the exception to the general rule.
It’s also worth finding out HOW you are getting the money. By check? By PayPal (in which case, is a fee coming out of it, and if so who is paying that fee?) By international wire transfer from a different currency? Find out, and get it in writing. It can make a huge difference, especially if different currencies get involved.
The math is even more variable for things that pay your a percentage, and there are even more elements that can change things. Is your percentage of the cover price, or the cut the publishing company gets? this is a huge difference. for example, if it’s a $5 pdf on DriveThruRPG, and you are getting 25%, you need to know if that is 25% of the $5 cover, or 25% of the $3.25 the publishing company gets after DriveThru takes their 35% cut? Also, are you being paid off gross (all the money that comes in) or net (the profit, after all other expenses are paid), or some hybrid number (such as all the money the company takes in for sale price, but none of the money it takes in for printing POD copies or for shipping)? Are you paid monthly? Quarterly? For the life of the product, or just for the first year of sales?
And it wouldn’t be fair not to mention here that some publishers, writers, and pundits think percentage payments are unethical. I’m not one of them, as long as the freelancer is well-informed when making their decision. But I WILL say that since a percentage asks the freelancer to take more of the risk on the project (since sales could be dismal), I recommend only taking a percentage that you believe, based on your own market research, will on average pay more than the flat rate you would accept for the project. I take percentage projects myself fairly often, but am most likely to do so when I have more creative control. If I pitched the idea, or I am developing it to my taste, or it’s a case where a publisher has told me they’ll pay me for anything I ant to write (rare, but it has happened from time to time in my career), I am more willing to take the risk with the publisher, as opposed to when I am given a hard outline and have fewer creative choices to give input on.
On the question of how fast you write, that answer may not be the same for you for every kind of project. I can write new rules content and essays (like this one) MUCH faster than I can write long adventures. Short adventures seem to be an average between those two. Worldbuilding varies for me wildly–sometimes the ideas and descriptions flow easily, and sometimes it’s a grind. And the better I know a game system, the easier and faster all the writing is for it.
You should also make sure you aren’t having to spend money in order to do the writing for a project. Nowadays every company I work with will at least give a freelancer free pdfs of their material that is related to a project. but for licensed properties, this isn’t always as clear. I have had licensed projects I worked on that required me to have some geek encyclopedia not published by the company I was working for, and which they could not get me free copies of. I always increased my asking price by the amount buying such things would cost me, or made sure they were things I could borrow off a friend, or get from the library. If there are free resources, such as fan wikis, make sure your publisher considers them authoritative before depending on them.
You also have t consider if your writing project requires you to do any non-writing work that doesn’t pay any extra above the per-word rate. It’s extremely common for adventure writers to have to do sketches of maps of the locations within their adventures. Not final cartography, but maps with enough detail that the cartographer doesn’t have to make any decisions when rendering final version. This generally doesn’t result in any additional pay above the per-word rate, so if it’s 3 cents per word for 10,000 words plus three full-page map sketches, you are doing more work for the money than if you got 3 cents per word for 10,000 words with no sketches. You may also have to provide an outline, or multiple outlines, which create additional words you are writing you don’t get directly paid for. If the outlines are part of your normal process of writing that’s fine, but if they aren’t be sure to think about how long they took you when considering how much you earned.
It’s much less common, but sometimes publishers also want writers to do interviews, blog posts, marketing text, and so on. Some of those things you may see as career opportunities (the publisher likely isn’t making any money off you doing an interview with someone, and it can be good for your own visibility), but it’s worth knowing if those things are optional opportunities for you, or considered mandatory part of your job, which you should then count against the time it takes you to earn that assignment’s money. (Of course you don’t count any promotion you arrange for and do on your own against the money the publisher pays you — that kind of self-promotion is just part of being an active freelancer.)
Only when you know how much money you’ll get, how long it’ll take to get it, how long it took you to write a draft, how long you spent on revisions or outlining or mapping or art orders, and how long any mandatory promotions you engage in took, can you figure out how many hours you spent earning your per-word, royalty, or flat rate. You may not want to bother to do this with every project, but it IS worth tracking from time to time so you know if there are things that earn you more per hour, even if they have a similar or lower rate for the whole project.
And, of course, when talking about how much you can earn as a freelancer on top of knowing how much you make per hour, you have to figure out how many hours you can spend on it in a month, and then if you can fill all those hours with work at a rate worth your time.
But those are sub-topics for another week.
Sponsored By: The Know Direction Network!
Like all my blog posts, this one is supported by the backers of my patreon! In this case this post is specifically sponsored by the fine folks at the Know Direction network, who have podcasts, articles, news, and convention recordings about the game industry and general, and Paizo, Pathfinder and Starfinder in particular! “Pathfinder News, Reviews, & Interviews!”