Monster of the Week: Continuing the Conversation

I’m loving Monster of the Week more every day. This game is well-designed and has so much to offer new Keepers.

Monster of the Week by Evil Hat Productions.

MotW is a fascinating RPG.

I really dig this game, but it’s taking a little bit of getting used to. Specifically, the Keeper’s section. I’m probably going to have to run a couple of mysteries before I get the hang of the system.

I still feel like it’s a little stiff and rigid from the Keeper’s side of the table. Then again, I’ve always felt that PbtA in general is a push toward GM-less roleplaying. As I say often, if that’s what you’re into, go for it.MotW would be a tough run without a Keeper because someone has to come up with all the cool monster and plot stuff, right?

I keep coming back to Page 131.

I actually think MotW is great for new GMs (Keepers.) They give you a play-by-play how to way to run a game session. They give all kinds of really solid advice on running a #ttrpg. The core book gives two mysteries and walks the reader through how to run them.

How awesome is that if you’re brand new? I would have loved this back in ye olden days. I’m still wrestling with it mentally now. It’s like learning to run a game all over again.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It’s the same thing I’m already used to doing, but I never referred to it as “using moves.” Up until this came up, I never had a strict list of principles to stick with in order to run the game.

My long standing way of setting up a campaign (*Oops! Not supposed to say, “campaign” any more. Now they’re “plot points.”) So, my long standing way of setting up plot points is episodic in format. I plan 24 sessions/games. At one episode per week that’s about half the year give or take. It rarely works that way, but that’s how I plan it.

My original planning for this game was to set up 24 episodes with pretty specific agenda. So, I hit rewind. It’s going to be more of a sandbox now, kinda like I planned Power Rangers RPG campaign. (Which is also still in the works, btw.)

I’m going to build a set of case files that the group can fall back on for clues and in-character advice. They’re following a group of three hunters that have vanished or moved off grid for mysterious reasons. Not really X-Files, but more like Giles’ school library in early Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The group’s mystery files won’t cover every mystery, though.

I already know who the first season BBEG looks like and what they’ve got going on. We’re going to touch on some real world conspiracies and paranormal events. I already know who most of my Bystanders, Minions, and Monsters are going to be. I have most of the behind-the-scenes stuff worked out. I think we’re still going to do episodes, but they’re going to be more like story arcs and done similarly to the way they’re described in the MotW core rules.

They have a very nice template worked out for writing mysteries. They walk the reader through all of the steps of mystery creation. It’s brilliant! Other game companies could learn from Michael Sands.

In short, with any game system, harvest what you like, pass on the rest. There is no one set way to run a game, as many, many of us have said. I’m personally just struggling to learn and adapt to the PbtA way of doing things.

I’m going to be dropping some of my mysteries on here, since I’m not expecting my players will read my blog. Bwah Ha Ha. I’ll put trigger warnings on the really gruesome stuff. I have an in-game calendar of events in my head, depending on which hooks get a bite. <“evil” Grognard Keeper noises.>

Thanks for being here all. I appreciate you! Have a great weekend!

Birth of a Dungeon Crawl?

DCC/MCC project is intended to be a work in progress. I’ll be posting one or two dungeon rooms at a time here on my blog, useable in OSR games. I’m also looking at popping out some items, spells, classes and races for both DCC and MCC.

I’m contemplating a new series of articles.

I recently got turned onto Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) and Mutant Crawl Classics (MCC) by Goodman Games. DCC has been around in its current form since 2012, but its roots extend back to the good old 3rd Ed D&D days. (*Editor’s Note: I still have many of the old modules and treasure them dearly.) DCC in its current printing is very much in the vein of Old School Revival (OSR) as it looks a LOT like old B/X D&D. (*Editor’s Note: I’ve written more about it here.)

MCC is a little newer (2017?) and is a throwback to Metamorphosis Alpha/Gamma World in so many ways. It also reminds me a little bit of Palladium’s Rifts with its mix of magic and technology. DCC and MCC are fully compatible with one another, which is awesomesauce when designing creatures. While I’m not huge on post apocalyptic genre games in general, I like MCC because of its old school charm and simplicity. It also uses the same character funnel 0 Level play as DCC only AD Terra style.

One thing that really jumps out at me about both DCC and MCC is the incredible amount of third party support that exists for both games. Goodman even goes so far as to list many of them in their books. I have not begun to dig through the various websites to look for what am looking at creating. I have ideas for several character classes/races. Much like other OGL endeavors, I’m certain anything I come up with is going to resemble material that already exists somewhere.

It will be a work in progress.

Similar to my Power Rangers RPG campaign, my DCC/MCC project is intended to be a work in progress. I’ll be posting one or two dungeon rooms at a time here on my blog, useable in OSR games. I’m also looking at popping out some items, spells, classes and races for both DCC and MCC. Anything I put on the blog is always free to use anywhere. I might eventually cobble together an entire book for pdf publication on DriveThruRPG or my Ko-Fi Page.

My plans from there in regards to OGL endeavours is to either do more on DriveThruRPG or possibly consider starting up something on Patreon. There are a staggering number of RPG startups out there. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s going to set my work apart just yet, but I’m going to do it anyway. Because DCC/MCC are an OGL venture, I may eventually veer off into other systems such as D&D or ICRPG.

What can I say? I love RPGs. I love monkeying with different systems.

Thank you for being here. I appreciate you. More to come. Take care. Have a great week. Game on!

Mixing the Genres

Some concepts mesh very well together. Others require a bit of work on the part of the designer, such as Spaghetti Western Mecha. It is possible, however.

I think we all do this to some extent.

My personal favorite is Cybernetic Kung Fu Mecha Jocks in Space. Not surprisingly, the Lords of Kung Fu actually appear in several of my RPG campaigns. I’m a big fan of martial arts movies and TV. Of course, that fits right in with anime and before you know it, everyone’s at the party.

Let’s list most of the major RPG genres:

  • Fantasy. (Low, Middle, or High magic.)
  • Horror. (We’ll come back to this one…)
  • Science Fiction. (Low, High or Fantastic Tech, Hard Science, and Space Opera.)
  • Superheroes.
  • Cyberpunk/Shadowrun.
  • Anime. (Most commonly mixed with something else such as Mecha.)
  • Modern. (Crime, Military, Spies.)
  • Post Apocalyptic.
  • Western.
  • Steampunk. (I might be stretching a bit with this one…)
  • Comedy.
  • Catch-All. (Games such as RIFTS that defy most other categories.)

I’m sure I’m missing one or two that will dawn on me mere minutes after I hit “publish” on this article. I think of all of the categories Fantasy is probably the one most people are familiar with and have the easiest time getting into. Elves, dragons, swords and sorcery are the stuff many tales were made of long before we started rolling dice to them.

Dungeons & Dragons has become synonymous with fantasy roleplaying games.

But it’s only one system of literally dozens. D&D is one of the grandparents of the industry, but there are a handful of other games worthy of mention in another article. Fantasy genre mashes up well with a lot of things, like the humble potato. Almost everything blends with fantasy in some way.

However, the company that started D&D also pioneered into other genres. Where would we be without Boot Hill, Metamorphosis Alpha, Top Secret SI, and Marvel Superheroes Roleplaying?

Ravenloft was probably the first D&D module to really feature a mix with horror as a genre. We have the mighty Strahd Von Zarovich and his minions in Ravenloft. Players figure out very quickly that they can’t just hack and slash their way through, really bringing out some of that fear element. Not to mention good old Strahd is a vampire and all.

Coming back to Horror as a genre…

I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of old White Wolf games. Vampire the Masquerade being probably the biggest standout for games that churn my stomach. I liked Werewolf a lot. Mage and Hunter were sort of okay-ish. The rest could go rot in a pit for all I really care. I just wasn’t into all the twisted weirdness that came with some of it. Even games like Beyond the Supernatural, Chill, and Don’t Look Back, Terror is Never far behind kinda turned me off of the genre a little.

Vampire, actually most of the old World of Darkness stuff does one thing exceptionally well- faction politics. But, at that point is it really horror? I mean, you can change Vampire’s clans over to political parties, corporations, or even magic guilds leaving the backstabbing and scheming to be just as intense.

Horror is one of those big Session Zero red flag “No” squares for a lot of people. Most of us have had trauma in the real world and don’t necessarily want to play around in gore, fear, paranoia, or even jump scares. Horror elements in any game should definitely meet the approval of the rest of the group before they are implemented. I’ve had a couple of experiences where they weren’t, expectations didn’t mesh, and trauma followed. I highly caution the use of horror with almost anything.

Anime is a good genre to blend with almost everything.

Many anime stories inevitably fall under some other category; especially fantasy, cyberpunk, mecha, and superhero. It is very easy to take almost any campaign, add a ruleset that includes bold, flashy maneuvers, intense action scenes, complicated relationships, and put it into the Anime category. I see Anime as a sort of attitude in gaming more than a specific genre.

The other fun thing about anime is bringing some unlike concepts together in art. Cowboys in Space? Fantasy martial arts superheroes? How about Post Apocalyptic Steampunk Spies? Anime is super flexible.

Almost anything can end with “In space.”

Think about it. (*Editor’s note: I love doing this!) You can take almost any campaign setting known to RPGs and end it with “In space” and it will take on a whole new meaning and perspective. It also gives clever GMs an excuse to recycle old modules.

I sometimes think Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had it easiest. Take any plot from any TV show ever made and set it in space. Feel like a western? Well, these “aliens” over yonder have a heap a trouble with them space horse rustlers. Next week we’re fighting an imperialist socialist dictatorship over on Planet Beta Nine. We’re overcoming real Cold War tensions with starships and space stations the next week. The week after that our captain will fall in love with a beautiful elf-like maiden while battling orcs and amnesia on a fantasy world.

Science Fiction, space and time travel in particular, lend themselves exceptionally well to crossing over and amongst everything. Think about all of the things shows like Red Dwarf and Dr Who accomplished. I hear most Brits consider Dr Who to be a national superhero.

Space Opera focuses less on science and technology and more on plot and characters. Star Wars is a blend of science fiction, fantasy and martial arts. All of the subgenre stuff supports the characters and the plot.

I’m probably going to revisit the concept of blending genres again farther down the line. This article was mostly intended to get the creative juices flowing. The one amazing thing about tabletop roleplaying is that almost anything can happen and usually does.

Thank you for being here. Hope you have a great week.

Multiversal Misadventures

Reality is fluid. Different reality timelines are created with every decision. Chicken and waffles for lunch? Somewhere in the Multiverse you became Vegan. Somewhere in the multiverse, a version of you is a billionaire.

It’s becoming more common in RPGs.

One of my favorite comics of all time is Crisis on Infinite Earths because I read a lot of the comics before and after the big change happened in the 1980’s and I’ve tried to follow most of the DC reality shifts since. There have been many. More recently Marvel has gotten into the act with all the Infinity Gauntlet business. Okay, so it’s been a few decades. Anyway…

I used to bemoan Star Trek for their reality/time screw plots. The only true reality mix-up of the Star Trek: Next Generation series that I truly enjoyed was All Good Things Parts 1 and 2 and that was the end of the series. Dr Who was a different story because monkeying with the timestream and reality is the Doctor’s main thing. Yet Star Trek is a far easier game to run for me.

But I see this coming up more and more in RPGs these days. Power Rangers RPG from Renegade Studios actively encourages players and GMs to change the canon storyline and mess with major villains. Power Rangers has alternate realities built into its canon. My first campaign takes place on Earth 129, where Rita and Zed won’t be making an appearance right away.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing in the real world, it’s not just science fiction.

My wife thinks I’m nuts, but at least I’m harmless.

I promise, my coffee isn’t spiked and the mushrooms on my pizza are very normal. In the spiritual community especially, we talk about higher timelines. Try to imagine an Earth where the dinosaurs never became extinct. Or maybe a certain US president was never assassinated. Or maybe an Earth where the alternate version of you insists on eating toast for breakfast every day.

If this sort of thing appeals, please look up The Mandela Effect. Some of us remember certain products having a different label. The Berenstain Bears had a different spelling. Nelson Mandela died in prison following a hunger strike. Basically, some of us get certain history facts “wrong” because we remember it differently. I experienced one of these shifts directly once and it was brief, but incredibly intense. Deja vu is another example of this effect.

Another similar theory is parallel to the movie The Matrix. If you look up David Icke, he explains it well. Basically our reality is a simulation from an extraterrestrial or extradimensional beings, or possibly humans from the future trying to prevent global catastrophe. It’s a bit deep for some. Whenever you hear someone talk about “a glitch in the Matrix,” alternate reality theory is what they are referring to.

Back to RPGs for now.

A good friend of mine once ran a Star Wars campaign where the PCs killed Darth Vader and stopped the Emperor in his tracks after the first Death Star was destroyed. Reality shifts can be fun in some RPGs because it makes the PC’s actions matter much more to the overall story, which is ultimately what we all want as role players.

The same GM and I were also building a Mutants & Masterminds game where a city was leveled by a nuclear blast. A terrorist supervillain went supernova and wiped out a sizeable number of mainline story characters, so the PCs were going to have really big shoes to fill. Picture something akin to Marvel’s New Mutants taking over for the Avengers. Like I said in the beginning, this kind of thing happens in comic multiverses all the time.

More later. Or at least in my current reality timeline. (Wink wink.) Have a good week.

Day 20: Dream

The internet has long been my vision board. This is how I picture retirement, some day after the kids have all graduated.

#FlashFicFeb although this is only “fiction” because I’m not presently experiencing this reality in a purely physical sense.

Day 20: Dream #FlashFicFeb

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

I intend to live in a cabin; near a lake; in the woods; with a view of the mountains; where I can sit in a hand built wooden chair next to a stone fire pit where I cook many delicious meals. I will befriend as many animals as I can. I will walk around the lake at least once per day.

I want to be within an hour’s walking distance of a small town. Other than electrical and water, my cabin will be mostly off the grid. I only need to go into town to use the WiFi occasionally and buy supplies. I might get one of those fancy recumbent tricycles if I get tired of walking. My car is going to be parked and probably covered most of the time.

I want to enjoy fresh air at night outdoors as often as possible. I want to watch the sun rise and set next to the lake. I’ll watch the geese and the ducks come and go. With some luck I’ll even get to see the deer occasionally, and maybe a raccoon. I don’t hunt or fish anymore, so they have nothing to fear from me.

I might become more of a vegetarian than I am now. I plan to make pizza, chili, maybe some eggs now and then. I’ll roast corn, zucchini, potatoes, and onions over the fire pit. I’ll pop popcorn in a pan. I can’t go fully vegan because I love cheese, eggs, and butter too much.

My days will be filled with writing roleplaying games and novels. My weekends will be filled with conventions for roleplaying games or Ufology. I’ll never need to go on a spiritual retreat because the cabin will be far enough from traffic that I can rest and meditate without noise from traffic or other nearby houses.

I want to be able to fall asleep occasionally in my chair next to the fire pit with a blanket over my legs for added warmth. I’ll meditate regularly in almost any weather. My cabin will have a solid roof and a wood stove for cold, rainy nights.

I might get a cat for company. Otherwise, I don’t really need or even want a lot of companionship. I’ll still upload my blog. I’ll e-publish most of my stuff, anyway. It’s not that I don’t like being around people, I just want as much peace and quiet as possible.

Don’t pinch me. I don’t want to wake up. This is real for me.

Photo by Spencer Selover on Pexels.com

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.

Pushing My Luck for Free

Fanfic still gets plenty of mileage in most genres/tv shows. I know other fans tend to scoff at one another’s fanfic efforts. I get that sometimes it’s not super popular. I know it’s somewhat frowned upon to insert one’s one characters into canonical works. I like pushing the boundaries with creating my own works in someone else’s world, though. Wait until GI Joe RPG comes out…

I’m leaving the Diablo conversion on the back shelf for now. Although DCC with Diablo characters… aw man. So tempting… I notice Matt Mercer got to run a session or two in Sanctuary. I’m jelly.

Power Rangers RPG will keep showing up on my blog FOR FREE! I’ll never offer a paid product unless by some freak chance I get the nod from Renegade Studios/Hasbro. Otherwise, if I hear from someone’s legal team, it all comes down. Morph em while you got em, I guess.

I’ve got a lot of great ideas…

For other peoples’ intellectual property, unfortunately. For example, Power Rangers RPG is something I’d love to develop all kinds of cool content for. But how far can I go before I start getting blowback from Hasbro and their army of rabid legal dogs? I’d love to do a Diablo 2 or even Diablo 3 conversion for Dungeon Crawl Classics or even 5E D&D.

The magic word: FREE

The oldest RPG content dilemmas involve money, time, and copyrights/trademarks. Two of these are the oldest problems in the world that we even discuss in world design and campaign design. The other issue revolves around the fact that we tend to live in a greedy, litigious world here on Earth.

Money and time are probably the two most valuable assets in existence anywhere at any time. Art costs money. Printing costs money. Marketing takes time if you’re on your own and/or money if you hire it out. Crowdfunding only does so much good.

People gotta eat and pay bills. Honestly, I hate it. And don’t get me wrong, people deserve to be paid well for their efforts. I’m not trying to make a dime off of anything in the RPG industry that’s not my own original content. I just want to occasionally do things FOR FUN! Not profit. Not so much as a single penny.

Unfortunately, free projects, aside from being a labor of love, have to be done on the artist’s own time for fun. That means it takes away time from projects that could be making money. And if you compile a “regular day job” on top of writing/art/cartography/marketing efforts, pretty soon you run out of time for the fun stuff. I’m not suffering from that problem currently, but I am all too familiar with it.

I just want to do things because, wouldn’t it be cool to play a WoW Warlock in an OSR style game? Wouldn’t it be cool to play a Diablo Necromancer in D&D again? (I loved the Diablo 2 books back in the day.) I want to make a massive monster table for Power Rangers RPG and give it away to the public for funsies.

I can do things for fun and free, but…

Alas, people like to profit from their intellectual property. If I ran a company like Hasbro or Activision, I’d want to make sure my people got paid and keep the lights on. And thank goodness we have the Open Game License for D&D. Without an OGL and the accompanying System Reference Document, we’d get into legal trouble just trying to make cool stuff and share it.

We live in a disturbingly litigious world and the RPG industry is well known for lawsuits. Some of them can be pretty dumb and have cost us some of the best content that could have been, but never was. Just in the last year we lost out on some premium Ravenloft villains because of a dispute involving some old T$R properties and Dragonlance. And there was much grumbling from fandom.

There comes a point where free doesn’t keep the ban hammer from coming down. Unfortunately, getting sued takes away time and money not just showing up for court, but the sweat equity invested in the project itself. My best advice legally when it comes to publishing anything anywhere- when in doubt; don’t.

But, with a little luck, I’m a small enough fish with a free site I won’t get noticed or smacked down by any of the big fish. I’m pretty reasonable, too. Sometimes legal trouble stems from people being too stubborn or proud to know when to quit. Here’s a good stop sign- If you’re in court as a defendant- it’s time to stop doing whatever it was that landed you there.

I’m going to keep going until I can go no further.

Fanfic still gets plenty of mileage in most genres/tv shows. I know other fans tend to scoff at one another’s fanfic efforts. I get that sometimes it’s not super popular. I know it’s somewhat frowned upon to insert one’s one characters into canonical works. I like pushing the boundaries with creating my own works in someone else’s world, though. Wait until GI Joe RPG comes out…

I’m leaving the Diablo conversion on the back shelf for now. Although DCC with Diablo characters… aw man. So tempting… I notice Matt Mercer got to run a session or two in Sanctuary. I’m jelly.

Power Rangers RPG will keep showing up on my blog FOR FREE! I’ll never offer a paid product unless by some freak chance I get the nod from Renegade Studios/Hasbro. Otherwise, if I hear from someone’s legal team, it all comes down. Morph em while you got em, I guess.

Keep plugging away. I’ve got some things I want to put up as paid projects that aren’t just fan-having-fun stuff coming up. The paid stuff is probably going to be Pay What You Wish until I’m somewhat established. Some day maybe we’ll be in the $1.99-19.99 range. I have dreams and goals. Some of it’s a long way off.

Hang in there. Have a great week. Please be kind and considerate to one another.

Updates

Today’s excerpt is:
Three shaggy, long-bearded men sat around the campfire after another long day of trekking through the woods in search of a legendary dragon and its treasure. It was that time of night, after dinner but before bed when tales of daring and epic deeds would be told. Each man, starting with Ulric will tell one thing that makes him more noteworthy than other men.

#FlashFicFeb is going well. Other things- 😬

Day 4: Legend. I had fun with this one. I want to do much longer stories based around some of these. It’s too much fun. Really.

Today’s excerpt is:
Three shaggy, long-bearded men sat around the campfire after another long day of trekking through the woods in search of a legendary dragon and its treasure. It was that time of night, after dinner but before bed when tales of daring and epic deeds would be told. Each man, starting with Ulric will tell one thing that makes him more noteworthy than other men.

I’m only putting up mostly excerpts for now until I decide which one will be submitted for publication. I’ll drop a folder with all of the finished stories on the site at the end of the month. One will be submitted to the Storytelling Collective for publication on DriveThruFiction as part of a compilation.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In other news…

I’m emailing my poor editor later to explain why I’m still woefully behind on a couple of D&D adventures. I might be overthinking things? Two weeks of Covid rampaging through the house didn’t help matters. I’ve also been having fun with unemployment issues and my own health. It might sound stupid, but sometimes being unemployed and home all day; doing housework is more taxing than working part time or even full time? Sounds crazy to me, but it’s how things have been.

I have lots of cool campaign ideas and plans for games floating around in my head, in my docs, and in my notebook. Lots more in the weeks to come. Also an update on my Power Rangers RPG campaign that I’m building for here at home. It’s gonna be fun for my family, at least. I’ve got lots of other stuff in the works as soon as this D&D project is finished, some of which I can’t even discuss yet.

So, please stay tuned. Have a lovely weekend. See you soon. 😃

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