RPG Twitter Be Like…

As much as I want to be love and light, I can’t abide by racist, homophobic, transphobic, pedophilic, abusive, hateful individuals in my life. I’m on a spiritual path and I’m very willing to forgive (*except on one specific thing I mentioned.) I abide by the Wiccan principle of DO NO HARM. If someone can’t follow that one simple rule, we’re going to part ways.

Not the KYBO fire UFO Twitter is. LOL!

So, I delved back into social media today on both Instagram and Twitter after a period of inactivity other than the occasional story post, retweet and blog notification. I liken being away to a social media detox.

(*I grew up in Iowa and live in Des Moines, btw.)

I actually recommend everyone take a break from time to time. It’s healthy. You’ll find time and mental health benefits you never imagined were there. I have my share of mental health issues. Trust me, it was a good cleanse to take a break.

Walked into kind of a mess on Twitter, though.

Photo by Mudassir Ali on Pexels.com

I make mistakes every day. Trust me. No need for a reminder.

I don’t look my followers over on Twitter as well as I should. Turns out my well-meaning desire to be a friend to all sometimes gets me backing some, uh, unscrupulous folks. Anyone can change for better or worse. I unfollowed some people today that need to work on the ‘better.’ It makes me sad because a couple of these bad actors put out some really good content, too.

But, as much as I want to be love and light, I can’t abide by racist, homophobic, transphobic, pedophilic, abusive, hateful individuals in my life. I’m on a spiritual path and I’m very willing to forgive (*except on one specific thing I mentioned.) I abide by the Wiccan principle of DO NO HARM. If someone can’t follow that one simple rule, we’re going to part ways.

People make mistakes. So do I. It happens.

We can correct. We can atone. All it takes is open dialogue. People can change.

I might be an Old Grognard, but I’m far from a grouch most days.

Curmudgeonly Grognard is NOT the same as hateful and intolerant.

Someone who I genuinely look up to posted something on Twitter that I took issue with. I immediately unfollowed him. Much to my surprise, (more like dismay,) he gave me a big, unsolicited, unprompted, very kind shout-out. Holy buckets! Needless to say I promptly followed again. Mistakes were made.

My mood was somewhere between “Back off!” and “Don’t make me become the center of a national headline.” Then the whole thing on Twitter happened and suddenly I wasn’t done with humanity any more. I can be curmudgeonly when I’m tired, in pain, and hungry, which I was at the time. I’m not always a grouch.

That’s where the Old Grognards of the RPG community get a bad rep. A lot of us grew up in a different generation. Back in our day racism, sexism, paranoia and -phobias were commonplace. (*Not excusable.) Some of us have learned/changed to be tolerant, accepting, patient, and more open to new ideas. Others have yet to come around, unfortunately.

It’s easy to lump all of us old, white, cishet guys together into one category. Most days, I fit into some or all of those descriptors. However, it doesn’t mean I fall into that category all the time. Yes, I get that many people have been dealing with discrimination, hate, and bias their whole lives. It hurt then and it hurts now. Treating people like shit is NOT okay.

In the end, I’m here to eat pizza and roll dice. Fun might even be had. 😁

Sure, we play all kinds of RPGs, minis games, board games, etc where violence is commonplace as long as it’s IN GAME! Hate and violence have no real place out in the real world. Kindness and understanding should be universal. If not love, then neutral understanding, please? We can do better as a species.

Whether it’s social media, gaming, or even here on my blog, I strive to be kind to people. I always try to state it’s my opinion. If someone doesn’t agree, it’s okay. Mine is not the only opinion. I’m cool with it. I never go online with the intent of rammining my opinion down others’ throats. We can always discuss.

Please be the change you want to see.

Please be kind to one another.

Above all, please be kind to one another. Be compassionate. Try to forgive.

I’m lucky. The Source/Universe/God got involved in my life. Yes, I’m a “New Ager.” It doesn’t make me more right or wrong on any given day than I was before. However, it did wake me up to many things. For example: love, compassion, and kindness go a lot farther than fear, hate or intolerance.

Every journey begins with the first step. I doesn’t matter who takes the first step. Let’s walk together, okay? If we can’t do that, can we at least walk quietly and go separate ways for now?

I’m not asking for world peace (but it would be nice.) If people want to disagree, that’s cool. I am open to discourse as I hope everyone is. But violence and hate are unnecessary in many cases. All it takes is one person asking, “How can we work this out?”

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being here. I appreciate you. Namaste.

One Roleplaying Game Fits All?

Trying to make one system of RPG rules fit every genre and campaign is like mashing a round peg into a square hole. It fits, kinda.

“Any system can do anything you want it to do.” — from TTRPG Twitter.

I’m leaving the name off of this because I’m not trying to cause problems in the community. This person is technically correct. But in the interest of discussion, I will say there is a larger continuum to consider here.

From a tactical or strategic wargame perspective, no. Absolutely one system doesn’t work for everything. Typically, many RPGs don’t translate well to wargames/miniatures warfare. Ironically D&D came from the miniatures game Chainmail, which was a wargame. But if one tries to run epic naval battles with D&D 5E, for instance, it’s going to come up short on a mechanical level. One could just as easily create an entirely new game in the amount of time it would take.

Mashing the medium round peg into the medium square hole.

Why are we trying so hard to make D&D work for literally everything?

When it comes to RPGs, yes one can make any system work for just about any game. Yes, you can play virtually anything from stone age fantasy all the way through supers in space with D&D 5E. It’s possible because roleplaying doesn’t require some of the crunchier nuances that wargaming requires.

The whole thing comes down to how much time one wants to spend converting the game to work for one genre to another. How many hours does it take to rework D&D 5E into Call of Cthulhu in the 1920’s? Would it be easier just to buy another game? Would it be easier just to grab a set of more generic, universal core rules to do the same thing?

Yeah, it’ll fit with enough force.

Some game systems hold up to being manipulated better than others. D20 is the most common and debatably popular system as a core on and off for the last 20+ years. But it’s not always the fastest or most efficient when it comes to converting it into specific niches. For example Mutants & Masterminds looks almost nothing like D20 Modern, even though they’re both based on the same SRD/OGL.

I fall back on FATE and FUDGE for a lot of the quirky one shots or mini campaigns I come up with for certain niches because the conversion is relatively idiot proof. Their dice mechanics are simple and flexible for everything, especially combat. Character creation is pretty much the same from one genre to the next with a few minor adjustments. (FATE Horror and any game with supers takes a bit of tweaking.)

I will say that DriveThruRPG and similar websites offer a ton of options when it comes to generic systems. I’ve found a lot of gems such as Fantaji and GMD Core on there. Savage Worlds, the system that Deadlands RPG runs on, is also available. It is a good, crunchy generic system that has been adapted to fit several campaigns in multiple genres. That’s also where I discovered ICRPG which is exceptionally adaptable.

Time to get out the left handed monkey wrench.

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

So, it’s either spend potentially hours or days converting a d100 or d20 RPG into whatever genre or game you want. Depending on the complexity of the game one desires, the amount of crunch the players are going to want, and the specific mechanics for some settings (horror, for example.) OR one can simply grab a generic core system and have the whole thing knocked out in an hour or two with some minor adjustments on the fly. Some games are intended to scale into one size fits all.

At then end of the day, it’s a matter of how much time you as a GM and your players want to spend haggling over character traits, historical data, combat mechanics, scale, and dozens of other factors. Personally, I like to get the right tool for the right job. If a preexisting game covers the bases, I’ll grab it and use it. Your mileage may vary.

Thanks for being here. I appreciate your support. Have a fabulous weekend!

Some Lesser Known Alternatives to D&D Fifth Edition

This is a short list of lesser known, less discussed generic rules lite RPGs. If you like D&D, but want to try something new, these are worth a glance.

D&D 5E is a great game and a wonderful introduction to the hobby of roleplaying. Here are some new ways to branch out:

FATE by Evil Hat Productions
  • Index Card Role Playing Game aka ICRPG from Runehammer Games. This is a simple set of rules similar to D20/D&D. It has fewer things to keep track of, which is why your whole character fits on an index card. It’s handy for multiple genres, but excels at fantasy.

    The print copy of the Master Edition is available from Modiphius. I’ve bought into the Second Edition of the game and I absolutely love it! It’s easy on the GM and fun for everyone in the group. If you like the items and monsters in D&D, it’s definitely worth looking at ICRPG.
  • FATE. from Evil Hat Productions. This game has a lot going for it and cool artwork. If you love the roleplaying element of D&D, then this is probably a good system for you.

    It’s easy to learn, easy to run and has cool dice. Honestly, any D6 can work, but their plus, minus, and blank dice are pretty cool. It’s another rules lite game where you can go as in depth or as vague as you’d like. I love it for its simplicity and adaptability as a writer and as a GM.

    I’ve discussed FUDGE on my blog before here. It’s FATE only simpler and a little more adaptable yet. You can literally play any world or campaign you can imagine or steal from. Best part is- It’s FREE! It’s a little older, but very fun.
  • ICONS by Steve Kenson. This is my go-to superhero game these days. It’s got some elements of FATE in the ease of play and dice mechanics. The character creation and abilities have been expanded upon a few times during its run as the Assembled Edition.

    As Steve Kenson once admitted, it’s not even the first RPG he’s ever designed. It’s not even the first superhero RPG he’s ever written. Mutants & Masterminds is a classic and genre-defining game worthy of mention elsewhere. ICONS is a labor of love, as far as I can tell.

    The thing I love most about ICONS is it takes most of the mechanical elements away from the GM so all we really have to focus on is good storytelling. It can be played as campy or as serious as the GM and group desire. The Dan Houser artwork is loveable and very comical.

    While it is a superhero game at heart, I’ve seen ICONS adapted to some pretty interesting subgenres within supers/comic book gaming. Just because it’s intended as a four color comic book world, doesn’t mean it can’t adapt to sentai anime, fantasy supers (He-Man,) spacefaring heroes, or steampunk dystopian post apocalyptic roleplaying. (*Yeah, that’s a thing.)
  • What’s Old is N.E.W, N.O.W, and/or O.L.D. from EN Publishing. There are actually three core books in this series depending on which genre you might be interested in. OLD is fantasy. NOW is modern. NEW is science fiction. All three combine to get some very interesting genres/campaign settings.

    EN World is a D&D fan site from back in the day. Morrus, WOIN’s creator, is a crack game designer on top of everything else he does. He’s definitely got his hands full on any given day. I sometimes wonder how he does it all.

    The mechanics of WOIN are simple enough. There is a ton of free online support for the system. Much like FUDGE and Open Legend, you can pretty much piece the game together for free if you want to. Character creation is about as complicated as D&D 5E, but with fewer homebrew sourcebooks.
  • Open Legend by Brian Feister and Ish Stabosz. Like FUDGE, this game is community based and basically FREE. It’s another generic system that does fantasy extremely well. You can certainly emulate other genres with it, as shown in the core book. Mixing genres is easy and practically encouraged.

    I was attracted to this game because of its, well, openness. If you want to create your own sourcebook for it, they encourage it! Just make sure credit is given where due. It takes the idea of Open Game Licensing to a new level.

    Again, it’s a fairly rules lite, easy to learn game. If you can master D&D 5E, Open Legends is easy and fun to pick up. It’s got the wholesomeness of Essence20 and similar games going for it. Roll 1d20+other dice vs Target Number. The spells and equipment are a bit more fluid in this system. It really does look like what a generic set of core rules should look like.
This is what the Open Legend website has to offer. They really go all out.

This is the first of these D&D alternative articles I’m working on. There are so many games that don’t get enough press or really any press outside of the company’s own meager promotions that I think they deserve some press here and elsewhere. I intend to discuss some lesser known game companies in my next article in this series. Lots of indie publishers deserve more screen time.

Until then, stay safe. Stay hydrated. Be good to one another. Thank you for being here. Please go out and try something new today!

Let’s Talk About D&D Edition Wars Part One.

I promise I will not intentionally raise anyone’s dander with these articles. Truth is, all editions of the game have their loveable strong points.

This is right up there with Star Wars vs Star Trek in terms of internet forum “debates.”

Let’s face it, debating on the interweb is like running on a treadmill backwards. No matter how far you think you’re getting, you’re still not going anywhere. You’re better off whizzing on an electric fence.

But seriously, debating politics would be more effective. We’re still here talking about D&D editions, but I’m having fun today. Have you seen BECMI? It’s what I grew up running. It’s a good basic edition of D&D, possibly the simplest definition of any RPG anywhere. It’s a solid game.

‘Twas a sad day when they took the “A” out of AD&D.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was arguably one of the best editions of the game ever created. It built upon the basic game and had all kinds of awesomeness going for it. It also had more professionally written modules than pretty much any other game I’ve ever seen. (*Professionally as in by the folks at T$R.) It also had a really nice combat system, a few class options that never came back, and some of the best RPG sourcebooks ever written. When most people talk about Old School Roleplaying, this is what they mean. Good times.

2nd Ed AD&D might be my other favorite edition of the game. The initiative system in this game is probably my favorite way of doing initiative that has never been duplicated except maybe in Castles & Crusades by Troll Lord Games. This edition removed some of the classes from the previous edition, but introduced Kits. Kits were fun.

Later 2nd Ed gave us some of the greatest RPG sourcebooks ever written. Encyclopedia Magic and the spell compendiums for priests and mages were amazing! I keep mind easily

*Side Note: If you keep your eyes open, sometimes you can score C&C Player’s Handbook for free.

Then 3rd Edition and the OGL happened.

I own more books for 3rd Ed and 3.5 than the rest of my collection combined. I love 3.5. It also had the best computer program. The world of third party source material would see a golden age. Very good times indeed.

I think some of the best campaigns and campaign worlds hatched from 3rd Ed. I just received my copy of Iron Kingdoms RPG recently. IIRC, that started in 3rd Ed, skipped an edition, and picked up steam again in 5th. (See what I did there? Steam? LOL!)

3rd was also where Eberron started. I remember submitting my pitch to WotC. The anticipation on announcement day was so thick and I was on pins and needles the whole time. Alas, I did not make the grade. My campaign world may never see the light of day. Who knows?

3rd is also where D20 Modern and a few dozen other spinoff d20 based games came from. The most notable is probably Pathfinder. Personally, I think PF came about because 3rd Ed fans didn’t want to let the edition go. Although it might be a D&D spinoff, it’s still an outstanding RPG.

Mutants & Masterminds is another d20 based game that arose from those days. It has also evolved considerably from its humble roots into one of the most famous superhero RPGs of all time. It really shows how much mileage was possible from the OGL.

My favorite d20 based games were conversions of other classics. Boot Hill, Deadlands, 7th Seas, Traveler, and even World of Darkness joined the d20 revolution. One could probably look on Spycraft somewhere in that mix, too. I was sort of Top Secret S.I. only modernized. We also got a d20 Star Wars, which was amazing to run. (I miss that game so freakin much.)

Dungeon Crawl Classics started out as third party modules for 3rd Ed. It grew into its own rulebooks and campaign world. Even though it has more of that OSR vibe going for it now, it was an old school riff off of 3rd Ed back then.

We’ll talk more about Third, Fourth and Fifth editions later. Have a happy and safe weekend! See you soon.

Old School Somewhat Conflicted GM

It’s sad to think some people lean on OSR style games to justify the same old attitudes of hate, fear, and separation in the real world.

This is now my third take on this article.

I keep getting partway into this particular subject and then bailing out. This is mostly due to the fact that I am concerned about offending someone. I want you all to know I am grateful you are here. Thank you!

I see something of a conflict between new and old gamers, at least on social media.

This usually takes place in the form of the D&D edition wars. Some people learned the game in Fifth Edition. Some of us have been around since BECMI or even White Box D&D. And of course every edition in between then and now has its own rabid fanbase.

Some designers even miss the old editions so much that they’ve redrawn the old rules in newer books. Collectively this is called the OSR movement or “Old School Renaissance” I usually say Old School Rules or Old School Revival. It’s all basically the same idea. Someone takes the original Basic, First Ed AD&D or Second Ed AD&D and puts it back out under their own banner with a few minor adjustments here and there.

The conflict “is not what you think” as one of my favorite YouTube channels likes to say.

The biggest problem I’ve seen lately seems to stem from one of two sources. “Old” gamers who have gotten frustrated with all the immense rules changes and add-ons in 5E who want to go back to simpler times. This is in contrast to the 5E players who have grown up in a more social and political environment who see the older editions as inherently racist, homophobic, or transphobic.

I’m going to pick on @matthewmercer for a moment only because I know good old Matt won’t ever read this or comment on it. (I’m too far below his station.) “The Matt Mercer Effect” as it is called causes tension and sometimes divide at the table because us “Old Grognards” have been running D&D for literally decades without a camera on before Critical Role came around. I’m not saying anyone’s take is better or worse. But sometimes it is a bit daunting to compare one’s own game to the shiny TV/Internet version of D&D. Honestly, I think a lot of new players are intimidated by anything that isn’t D&D 5E or Pathfinder 2E.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com
Please understand: These are my observations and opinions based on said. Please run your game at your table your way.
Also, I do not hate Critical Role, Matt Mercer, or anyone else for race, gender, political orientation or sexual preferences. Let’s focus on love, please.

Someone mentioned that most of us “Old, (bitter,) Grognards” hate Critical Role. I see a degree of pretentiousness on both sides and it makes me sort of sick to my stomach if I’m being honest. The “new kids” seem to think that only actual play podcasts like Critical Role are “real roleplaying.” All of us old guys shake our heads when we watch these younger pups with their political correctness and handholding ways. (I get that I sound divisive and dismissive there, but I’m trying to make my point.) Both sides are right and wrong at the same time.

I’m going to be blunt for a moment. The RPG industry was built by old, mostly cishet white guys. HOWEVER, that is not to say it has remained that way or has to remain that way. If the last couple of years have taught us anything it’s that the industry can change. People can change. We’re evolving.

1977 D&D is not even remotely the same animal as 5E D&D. If Gary Gygax and Matt Mercer could swap places for a day and each run the other’s game, I daresay people would be crying and running out of the room from both tables with bruised egos and hurt feelings all around. D&D’s origins are steeped in ___phobic or ___cist behaviors. Again, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

14 year old me was confused by the race relations table in AD&D Unearthed Arcana.

Please hear me out on this one. A LOT of older D&D games contain a high degree of racial tension between the Humans, Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings (The demi-human races that used to have their own classes.) and the “dark races” such as the Orcs, Goblins, Drow, Duergar, and Draconians. The origins of those racial tensions go all the way back to Tolkien and WotC is just now getting around to really changing the basic premise behind races in D&D which I will save for another article.

I’m sort of ashamed to admit it, but I’m a big fan of some of the older campaigns that had some pretty ugly racial blunders in them. My beloved Oriental Adventures, Birthright, and even good old Greyhawk were pretty much a product of an older way of thinking about race. I prefer to keep the stuff I love from those settings and toss out the rest. That’s just how I do it, not that it’s for everyone. There is never a good justification for hate when it comes to race, religion, gender, sexual preference, etc. So, just don’t.

So, yes, OSR gets a pretty bad reputation, mostly from people who use it to justify the same old, tired, closed, narrow mindsets that include hate toward other members of real world human society. It’s really sad to think that we’re in a global age of communications and people can still be stuck so far in the past. On the bright side, we have to learn sometime. Many of us have evolved in our way of thinking as it applies to people in the real world and in games.

On that note, I’m signing off for the night. Please keep praying for peace. Please be kind to one another today. Please keep gaming. Gaming is good. Thank you for being here. I appreciate you.

What to Charge Part 3

“Darn kids, get off my lawn!” (while shaking fist angrily.) Let’s talk about how bad it used to be trying to break into the RPG industry. “Wait, those are my kids…”

I used to want to work at a game company.

Remember T$R? Remember the RPGA? How about Dragon or Dungeon magazines? What about West End Games, Mayfair, Flying Buffalo Games, FASA, Alderac Entertainment Group, or GDW? While some of them may be around nominally, they are not the RPG powerhouses they were back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Some of them are gone entirely while others are back doing a fraction of what they did back then.

Time for me to tell a few stories of Ye Olden Times in the RPG Industry. See, back then, when I was a starry-eyed teenager growing up in small town Iowa, I really dreamt of working for a game company. That’s still my big dream. I’m not doing it to become a millionaire.

Some myths were shattered early on.

I asked around a lot during my college years about how to get started as a writer in the RPG industry. The most common answer I received back then was to put out submissions to anyone and everyone who would take them as much as possible (**FOR FREE**) until someone took notice. This usually meant writing modules for the RPGA for D&D and/or a small handful of other games, most of which were T$R properties. If one got a foot in the door for a small magazine or the RPGA’s publication, Polyhedron, one had a chance of getting printed in Dungeon (very rarely) or Dragon (More likely.) From those humble beginnings, one then had a vague chance of getting noticed by an established game company and a portfolio could be constructed. From there, real money could possibly be earned.

For those familiar, this is also the old tried-and-true formula for the publishing industry at large. Newspapers and magazines have functioned this way for decades, taking advantage of college students and freelancers having to “work their way up through the ranks.” What sucks is that it’s merely a system perpetuated by seniority. It worked that way for them, so obviously it has to work that way for everyone.

Gary Gygax had to start somewhere, right? I understand if you start a company and you want to keep making money, there have to be standards. A lot of hard work went into early game giants such as T$R, Games Workshop, and the Judge’s Guild. Many RPG companies went from a small family business in a cottage industry to major powerhouse with a few major successes. Then, many of them fell apart completely because of one or two poor selling products, bad investments, divorce, or selling canned beer in the office vending machine. (True story.)

Needless to say, a few things became apparent to my starry eyed younger game designer aspiring self. First, I probably wasn’t going to get rich selling RPGs. Second, it’s hard as heck to get a foot in the door in anyone else’s franchise. Third, no one’s hiring without a portfolio built on blood, sweat, and free tears. Last, starting one’s own company is fraught with peril and should be considered a last resort.

Things are changing?

Technology is scary for some, but not me.

Okay, I’m somewhat skeptical about this, but I’m told a couple of the authors of a major D&D supplement, Strixhaven, were hired straight out of college. Great for them. That’s not what I’m used to seeing in the industry. Maybe WotC/Hasbro has turned over a new leaf? I’m not holding my breath just yet.

I know. It’s the old Grognard coming out again. I could say, “By golly, we had to give a pound of flesh and a quart of blood just to get rejected again, so these kids should too. Everyone should be as miserable as we are.” Again, that’s how we’re used to the industry working, up until technology changed dramatically.

The RPGA is defunct last I heard. Polyhedron has definitely gone the way of the dodo. Dragon Magazine hasn’t been a thing in years. (Dragon+ looks like it might be going away, too.) Dungeon is pretty much gone except in back issues. Really, RPG magazines in general have defaulted to small time electronic publications. Then again, look at the magazine industry as a whole.

Maybe WotC, Paizo and a few others are hiring people off the street to write RPGs. I’ve seen more rise through the ranks of DMsGuild and have offers extended to them than I’ve ever seen a job ad posted anywhere, ever.

We’re not still living in the Stone Age, though. Websites like DriveThruRPG, Patreon, Ko-Fi and Itch.io have emerged that allow product to be sold or even donated usually in pdf or another electronic format.

Some friends on RPG Twitter have a good thing going.

Idea!

I’m new to Twitter. I avoided it for years, especially during a certain Republican’s administration. Some of my new friends on RPG Twitter seem to have quite a successful formula going.

They’re producing super short RPGs- a couple of pages with streamlined, light rules and selling them at Pay What you Want or extremely low prices on platforms that don’t take out huge fees. They’re also putting out a lot of free stuff and promoting themselves well. So far as I can tell, it seems to be working.

Once a foot is in the door using one of these small engines, the writer can then optionally move onto larger, even freelance writing projects or move up to larger sites. I love and admire some of these fine folks. It seems like a good way to go.

I may be following suit, but I’m not sure yet. At some point the freelance question is going to come up again. The RPG industry is more oversaturated with product and talent than ever. Competition for the coveted positions is tougher than ever. The industry is booming thanks to promotion from Critical Role and other actual play podcasts.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” –Snake Pliskin, Escape from LA.

Needless to say, I’m kind of still on the fence with this whole thing. Hey, it took me three articles to get here. I believe that writing job still exists. I may never get to write Star Wars RPG stuff for WEG, but it’s possible I can put out something fun for any number of other game systems, genres, or specific properties.

I ain’t getting any younger, but then again, the RPG industry was basically started by guys who more-or-less match my description. I ain’t giving up any time soon. They might be wheeling me into the old gamers home someday, dice, pencil, notebooks and whatever game we’re on in hand, but I ain’t giving up.

What to Charge Part 2

Stiff competition, a serious lack of fulltime permanent positions, and the veritable mountain of starting your own company makes me wonder, is it worth it? Do I charge the $.03 and get a job that could have paid triple or more? Will I just be adding to my mountain of flush letters?

So, you want to pursue your lifelong dream of being an RPG writer like I do?

True story, I’ve wanted to write for an RPG company like T$R or West End Games since I was in high school. Hey, that was the 1980’s. Those companies were huge back then. You hopefully get the idea.

Nowadays, we have this neat-o thing where a lot of companies use an Open Gaming License or OGL which means you can create content for someone else’s intellectual property as long as you follow their guidelines in the OGL. Their guidelines are usually referred to as a System Reference Document or SRD. (For example, if it’s in the Player’s Handbook, but not in the SRD, it’s best to leave it alone.)

What this translates to is the ability to make cool stuff and publish it on Itch.io or DriveThruRPG/DMsGuild, etc as long as you follow the rules set out in the OGL for whatever game you’re wanting to work with. We’ll call that the “New Age” way of doing it. The old way will be detailed in another article.

The major disadvantage to publishing your own work on someone else’s platform is:

They tend to take a percentage of the profits. More if you want to make use of any kind of Print On Demand services. POD is another headache in and of itself when you factor in formatting and shipping. It’s pricey on a good day. This means you have to up your prices or lose approximately 30% or more of your profit.

It makes it very difficult to produce quality Pay What you Want and resist the temptation not to just slap a flat fee onto it. I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years and my first couple of products might be PWW, but honestly if I’m producing everything on my own, I’d rather make money. PWW is oftentimes synonymous with “Free” in my experience.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen about publishing your own material to DriveThruRPG is, “Don’t do it for the money. Do it to have enough credit to buy your next gaming book.” I feel that’s sound and fair advice. Sell 50 copies of an rpg module at $.99 and get my new copy of Onyx Sky give or take shipping. Hope I didn’t put too much time into that module. Then again, it has to be good enough to sell 50+ copies.

Another deterrent to writing for the industry in any capacity is competition.

Yeah, I’m fond of the phrase in the Law of Attraction and coaching communities that “there is plenty for everyone.” It’s true, but the RPG industry is a vast sea of ideas. Unfortunately, when it comes to fantasy rpgs, there is a TON of overlap. I’m actually surprised there aren’t more copyright and intellectual property lawsuits than we hear about.

Competition is incredible enough as an independent publisher. Even after you jump through all the hurdles and hopefully haven’t committed plagiarism accidentally, chances are there are handfuls or even dozens of similar products on the market. We’re reinventing the wheel regularly in most common rpg subgenres such as fantasy, horror, superheroes, and science fiction.

I’ll talk more about the old paradigm of getting hired at WotC or Paizo in depth elsewhere. It might slowly be changing, but I’m not holding my breath just yet. Still, for every one of those good openings, there are probably tens if not hundreds of applicants in varying degrees of experience. It’s daunting, to say the least. I know people like to say it’s changing, but is it really? I’m not so sure yet.

So, if I don’t want to jump through all the hoops of running my own indie company and permanent, full time jobs in the industry are scarce; what does that leave? I guess there’s freelance writing. Even as a freelance writer, RPGs are still part of the publishing industry. Much like news and magazines, freelance writers are very much a dime-a-dozen. It’s very much an employer’s market.

Again, competition for jobs can be pretty stiff. On top of that, freelance writers are going to have to likely have to pitch new ideas to prospective employers or fit their work into a fairly tight box in terms of creativity. If that’s a problem, the age old answer is: start your own company. Otherwise, you’re locked into the mercenary world of freelance writing or art.

While it’s still easier than back in the day, it’s pretty daunting to start one’s own company. Many who start their own company will fail, sadly. Crowdfunding falls through. People have to work a “regular” job to pay the bills aside from rpg writing. Life happens after a company is born that takes away from writing/gaming efforts.

Art can be very difficult to come by. As a writer I regularly dream of finding that one mythical unicorn of an artist I could work with for a project or two just to get my work out there. Unfortunately, artists need to eat, too. Again, competition for artists in the RPG industry can be pretty stiff.

Back to the original question: What to charge?

I used to think $.03/word was reasonable for starting writers. Turns out three cents doesn’t go as far as it used to. To someone trying to break into the industry for the first time, I used to think FREE was reasonable. Now it turns out $.10/word is considered a workable wage for rpg writers.

I think it’s complicated. I’m not entirely sure ten cents per word really is the going rate. I’ve seen it work for life coaches. They go from charging $80 to $200 or more per session and suddenly their business takes off. But it can go the other way, too. Raise the rates too high and suddenly business goes to cheaper coaches. (Quality not withstanding.)

Stiff competition, a serious lack of fulltime permanent positions, and the veritable mountain of starting my own company makes me wonder, is it worth it? Do I charge the $.03 and get a job that could have paid triple or more? How much should the module/sourcebook sell for? $.99? Maybe $9.99? More? What percentage am I willing to accept? What about royalties? Will I just be adding to my mountain of flush letters? Gah! So many factors!

More on that in the third and final installment of this series. We’re going to jump in the Way Back machine and I’ll explain what it used to be like trying to get hired by RPG companies and how it really hasn’t changed all that much. I’ll also talk about what some of my friends on Twitter are doing to try to work around this mess.

What to Charge? Freelance RPG Writers’ Dilemma Part 1.

I’ve become somewhat enmeshed in the discussion of how much a freelance rpg writer should charge. I’m not trying to get rich, but its a subject near and dear to my heart.

We recently had a major discussion on #ttrpgTwitter about what freelance writers should charge.

One company, name withheld, got in a heap of trouble because they insisted on keeping the rights (no royalties,) paying $.01/word, payment 30 days post publication, pdf or print copy, and apparently went off on the writer while in the editing phase. I can’t even begin to describe what all is wrong with this from a writer’s prospective. It’s a big ole kick in the pants.

Signing off the rights to something actually doesn’t upset me that much. It used to even be written into the OGL for D&D if I remember correctly. WotC could literally usurp something you wrote for their system and not give you a dime in royalties. I’d have to look to see if it’s still there, but I’m not worried about it.

One of the first things you learn in Journalism school is that once you submit an article as a freelancer, it’s gone. You can’t sell it to someone else unless you have permission from the first buyer. Yeah, you can still put it in your portfolio along with the publication and date, but you certainly won’t be selling the article to another publication and what are royalties, again?

Artists in the TTRPG sphere actually have it a bit rougher, if you ask me. Getting paid is tough. Getting paid a fair price for your work? Even tougher. Plenty of competition, though. Again, pretty much forced to sign the rights away and what are royalties? Yeah. Ouch.

It would seem being a corporate staff writer is the way to go.

I would like to remind everyone that Paizo’s writers did just form a union. Honestly, I’m not sure how much good it did anyone? I’ve seen a few pieces from/about union members that looked like, “Rah-rah, yay look at our shiny new releases. Ain’t it great.”

Which is not what I would expect from unionized workers necessarily? Like, I’m pretty sure UAW still has people who are angry as hell at “Da Man,” long after a favorable compromise is reached in any give negotiation. I might be wrong?

Union issues aside, it has been suggested by some that going to work for $20 or more per hour at a large game company such as WotC might be the best way to earn a fair wage and still get to produce cool stuff. Again, attention should probably be paid to one’s contract in terms of royalties, etc. Most corporations are weasel-y enough not to be paying one after work is submitted. That’s how big companies get big and stay big. But, hey, they can afford to hire kids straight out of college, too… (I might be just a touch jealous, but more on that later.)

Hasbro/WotC has a huge advantage when it comes to writers. They have a MASSIVE pool of writers for 5E in the form of DMsGuild. They can scoop someone up and keep them however long they want basically. Most of us would say “Heck YES” to that opportunity without negotiating terms too heavily. Yay money, right?

Working a steady job as a writer also has its advantages for both parties. Big companies can afford to print a few books that flop without losing the family farm. They also don’t usually have to rely on crowdfunding such as Kickstarter and all associated headaches when developing a new project. They can also kick a writer to the curb on a moment’s notice for whatever reason they want, basically. (Loosely put.) It’s pretty much an employer’s market, especially right now.

Competition used to be stiff for a decent job in RPGs back in ye olden days when Gygax was still at T$R. Has it changed? Yes! There’s way more competition for writing jobs now. Take one look on DriveThruRPG and DMsGuild. There are hundreds of writers nowadays.

Pay? pfft! I can spread peanut butter between two common MtG cards. Benefits? Willing to go pretty low on those just to get in the door. Overtime basically for free? Why not? Crappy work environment? “Can I still keep my job?” Street cred with all the gaming geeks of the world- PRICELESS!

So, you want to be a freelance RPG writer?

After all the sweetness that is working a corporate RPG job, unless you’re Mike Mearls, Tracy Hickman or Ed Greenwood for example, you probably won’t get to set your own terms. And that’s nowadays! I’m going to cover the old school version again in another article. So why not start your own company or become a freelance writer? Plenty of people have.

I’ve really been debating more about this by the day. Self publishing a regular book is tough enough. At least you really only need to produce, edit, find cover art, format, promote, advertise, and cut a deal with one or more publishing outlets. Easy, right?

RPGs require a few additional steps. Find a system you like or create your own. (Yes, you really can reinvent the wheel on this one.) Then, you need some degree of interior art and probably some cartography. Have you seen the 1st Ed AD&D line art and graph paper maps? That’s not going to cut it if you really want to make the big bucks. Then there’s playtesting, crowdfunding, publishing, possibly printing and doing all of the promotion/advertising.

How do I see fixing this situation? IFF you don’t want to publish your own TTRPG work of art, you’ve going to have to work out a deal with an indie publisher or a small company as a freelance writer.

More to come on this topic in Part 2. This rabbit hole runs a lot deeper than one might imagine. The #ttrpg industry is historically fraught with complications for indie publishers and freelance writers/artists.

Freedom Day! February 2020 v2.0 Edition

It’s going to get better. One of the toughest lessons in Law of Attraction is learning when the Universe is testing us. Also, learning from past experiences that keep repeating themselves is important. The Universe likes to ask, “Are you sure? Are you really ready for this awesomesauce thing you’ve been manifesting?”

I only wish I was kidding.

No surprises, really.

Remember the year 2020? Have any of us forgotten it yet? So far, this year is starting to remind me of 2020 in all of its shitastic glory.

I’ve reviewed, revised and rewritten this site. That’s as close to a breakthrough as I’ve truly had this year. I feel like we’re connecting more, reaching you, a more receptive audience, and growing together.

Then there’s the rest. The Icky Cough-Coughs came to visit in the middle of January and ate up two weeks of our lives here at the Craigmile house. It was not fun times. All of us came through it okay, which is a huge plus. Just when ya thought you were done with quarantine, though. (Eyeroll.)

The beginning of the year also brought us Governor Kim Reynolds meddling about in Iowa Workforce Development. Iowa has a massive shortage of “skilled” jobs, but nothing requiring a college degree. Nothing like a Bachelor’s degree in two majors just to have IWD tell me they’ll be happy to retrain my fibromyalgia-having ass to become an arc welder or a dental hygienist. (That shit ain’t happening.) But I still persevered through all the added hoops necessary to keep my unemployment check coming.

Then this week, I got shot down for a job I really had my sights set on. That hit right in the old depression, worse than anything in months. While I was recovering from that and a pain flare, I got a love letter in the mail from IWD. My unemployment money is due to peter out this week. We knew this day would come, but it doesn’t take the sting out of it.

Plus a lot of little things keep popping up like the kids’ grades. Minor household disasters are one of the latest things on the shit list. (Okay, a chunk of our garage literally fell off the other day.) Just for fun, I accidentally chipped a tooth the other day, too. One of these days my student loans are going to come due.

Let’s not forget it’s also an election year. Russia and the US are doing their damnedest to not go to war with one another or however that works. Let’s not forget the trucking, uh disaster, in Canada. The mass news media has more garbage and propaganda than ever to spew. I wasn’t even going to touch on this, but it does come up around here occasionally. Every once in a while my wife also goes rant mode over something a school board does any given place in the US. This whole book banning/burning thing makes me ill.

Chillin. Waitin for things to improve.

It’s going to get better. One of the toughest lessons in Law of Attraction is learning when the Universe is testing us. Also, learning from past experiences that keep repeating themselves is important. The Universe likes to ask, “Are you sure? Are you really ready for this awesomesauce thing you’ve been manifesting?”

My answer is always, “Give me a couple million dollars and let’s find out, okay?”

Hasn’t happened yet, but any day now. Right? (Nervous chuckle.) Until it does, or something equally wonderful, I have gratitude for the blessings in my life. I am grateful for new friends, especially on #TTRPGTwitter. I’m also grateful for my Earthly teachers new and old. I’m grateful for the wealth and prosperity that flows into our lives easily, endlessly and copiously every day. It’s the whole notion of living in the dream fulfilled.

The dream shifts and evolves.

Maybe this is why my vision board is not posted anywhere but in my head and on the internet. My big dream is to be a successful RPG writer/game designer. I intend for my kids to be well taken care-of. I want my wife to be happy. I’m pretty satisfied as long as all of that is in motion.

Would I love to be rich? Sure. Am I focused on being happy regardless? Yeah. Most days. Growing beyond contentment into joy is the pinnacle of high vibrations. As we all know from LoA, high vibration pulls us closer to manifesting our highest and best intentions.

I appreciate all of you. Thank you for sharing this space. More to come.

Let’s Talk About FUDGE-ing It!

Here’s the awesome fact about FUDGE: It can be used to substitute for ANY RPG System. I’ve seen people adapt preexisting character sheets from other games into FUDGE. You can be as ridiculously detailed as you want, or as easy going as you need with this game. Not only does this game suggest ways to deal with attributes and skills, but it actively encourages you to borrow from other games! Is that amazing or what?

FUDGE is a derivative of FATE from Grey Ghost Press.

As of this writing it is still available FREE on Grey Ghost’s website. I highly recommend everyone go get a free copy of this game and see what it can do for you. I know a couple of other GMs that swear by this system for a lot of things.

This is the title page of FUDGE.

It’s a little older TTRPG, but I think every GM who has ever gotten frustrated with another game system should really give it a look. It’s also a great jumping-in point if you want to design your own RPG from scratch. It’s kind of like GURPS only far less crunchy and as easy to learn as you want it to be.

FUDGE has elements that will look familiar from other games, or possibly we wish they did.

[Editor’s note: I’d give a nickel for good old Matt Mercer to plug this game, but WotC would probably have a conniption fit.]

Here’s the awesome fact about FUDGE: It can be used to substitute for ANY RPG System. I’ve seen people adapt preexisting character sheets from other games into FUDGE. You can be as ridiculously detailed as you want, or as easy going as you need with this game. Not only does this game suggest ways to deal with attributes and skills, but it actively encourages you to borrow from other games! Is that amazing or what?

I was talking to a very wise friend of mine today about converting a well-known mecha and magic rpg into FUDGE. You can use the scaling in FUDGE to cover everything from superheroes to giant space robots. Magic is but a footnote here, too. Yeah, there’s spells and then there’s scaled up spells!

Much like FATE and other universal core systems, you can customize everything.

Sure, borrow from D&D if you like. Or, if that’s not your jam, as may be the case with several members of the community these days, you can make up all your own skills spells, items, and powers. This game encourages players and GMs to get together and combine their brain powers into a giant… well, you get the idea. Grow your game world and campaign the way YOU want to see it.

Like the Elves in Pathfinder? Great, use em. You like the Wolfen in Palladium? Great, add em in. It takes seconds to stat most things up once you’ve been playing FUDGE for a while. Jedi? Easy. You’re literally a couple of power suggestions away. Magic sword? Easy. (Almost as easy as ICRPG, but we’ll cover that another day.) Basically, if you can describe it, you can build it.

Please be thoughtful when building items, spells, and such. GMs will still want to keep some kind of balance, probably… We’re funny that way, us GMs. We want you to have fun, but please don’t one-shot all the monsters with your Wand of Orcus Fireball cannon-thing? Please? That Tarrask had a family. (Typo intentional to protect the innocent.)

Fair warning, combat can be super deadly or a bit abstract depending on how your GM wants to play it. If Mr Tarask steps on your character, well, that might be a Superb wound and back to character creation you go… Much like firing an anime style missile volley onto the Snurfs village. (You get the idea.) Pelting a mech with snurfberries and little tears will still prove futile.

One thing I should mention is that with the way this game comes together, you can use it to emulate many different genres. Space Opera like Star Wars is a good example. You don’t have to go through every book and movie and stat out every single creature and vehicle unless you really have that kind of time. It works superbly for anime style play; being as bold and outrageous as you’d like. You can also emulate Toon style slapstick comedy with just a few rules modifications. Whatever you come up with, you can FUDGE it.

It is so remarkably easy and fun to build things with FUDGE. Please go check it out. I had forgotten how much I love playing around with these mechanics and I love any excuse to pull out my FATE dice.

Hope your week is going well. Please, stay safe and be kind to all you meet out in the real world. (No Snurfs of any kind were harmed in the making of this blog. Their little mushroom houses grew back with a little magic. All is well.)

%d bloggers like this: