New Fantasy RPG Campaign Worlds?

D&D needs a new name, a fresh face, and lots of room to explore in the setting of its next incarnation. Right now the Fortnite Island is probably more recognizable than Forgotten Realms. Homebrew is great, but Wizards of the Coast can’t really build an entire lifestyle brand based on homebrew, can they?

Giving some thought to worldbuilding again.

The other day I was looking over my bookshelves at many of the old, mostly D&D, campaign settings I used to run or at least borrow heavily from.

Dark Sun
Forgotten Realms
Kara Tur
Al Qadim

Sovereign Stone
Dragon Star
Kingdoms of Kalamar
World of Warcraft
Steampunk D20
Iron Kingdoms
Legend of the 5 Rings
Legend of the Burning Sands
7th Sea.

I think that was most of it. Each one of those campaign settings has at least one cool feature that makes it unique and entertaining. Some of them have been brought back for a run under 5E, still others continue to thrive on their own unique systems. What sticks out to me is that every name on the list was a pretty sweet release when it first came about. Plus I never met a campaign setting I didn’t like or at least give a chance.

What about new titles during the 5E years?

I might be alone in this, but Wizards of the Coast hasn’t dropped a new campaign setting that has stood out since… 3.5E? Maybe? Generic fantasy settings and homebrew are great and all. Sure, there have been some pretty spiffy third party 5E supplements. But has there really been a brand new 5E setting that went much further than a big Kickstarter? Has there been one that everyone said, “I have to play this?”

Grim Hollow was talked about quite a bit when it first came out. Even Critical Role’s Exandria setting hasn’t made a huge splash the same way Planescape did. Yes, CR is popular, but what about Exandria? Even as overplayed as Forgotten Realms was, there was still some wiggle room to find adventures and people talked about it.

As a side note, I might not love Golarion as the setting for Pathfinder, but King Maker looks pretty sweet. If I ever have money again, I so want to invest in the new King Maker and run it. Paizo is at least trying to build something cool. It’s the closest D20 has come to Birthright in a very long time.

If WotC is complaining about “under monetization” then why do they keep rehashing the same old material?

Yes, we’ve heard the spiel out of WotC about how they want to monetize the player base. We know Dungeon Masters supposedly spend all the big bucks on books and supplements. (We kinda have-to because not only are we running things, but because sometimes shifty players like to quote out of poppy new rulebooks…) We also know from history that DMs tend to be the ones to buy campaign settings.

WotC has an inkling of a good idea right under their noses and I’d bet they haven’t thought much about it. Eberron was a 3.5, 4E and 5E setting. But for 5E, they released a player’s guide outside of the main Eberron setting book. They did the same maneuver for Ravnica, too if I remember correctly. Basically the player’s guide was a somewhat toned-down version of the larger campaign guide to give players enough information to make characters and play in a lush world without having to read all of the DMs lore, stats, and NPC info. It’s a good idea for players to have, save work for DMs and costs about half what the setting book cost. Win-Win, in my opinion.

Eberron breathed new life into that old 3E D&D brand. People went bonkers over the submission contest leading up to WotC discovering Keith Baker. Truthfully, I think Keith was onto something. They keep bringing it back. It’s a solid setting even if it’s not exactly traditional Western medieval fantasy. But maybe that’s exactly what is needed.

When do we get a new “official” setting?

Heck, when is somebody going to drop a new “official” fantasy setting for D&D? I know what I’d like to see in a fantasy setting, but there’s a lot going on and I’m still not sure it would ever catch on. Yay homebrew, but it would be nice if several thousand people had the book (or boxed set) in hand and were discussing it. When are we going to go online and see full message boards talking about campaigns and official lore drops from this new setting? When is something going to catch on that even makes D&D Adventurer’s League have to branch off?

This radical-ish new approach to D&D becoming a lifestyle brand is lacking seasoning. There’s no real flavor beyond “Nerds roll dice.” This new movie comes out. Where’s it set? In Dungeons & Dragons.

Okay, where’s it set within Dungeons & Dragons? In, uh… D&D world? D&D Cinematic Universe? Does anyone remember the original D&D movies “cinematic universe?” Please dispose of your own barf bag when finished, if it’s even that remarkable.

The car commercial featuring the kids from the 1980’s cartoon had more clout than the D&D movies. Pretty sad. I’ll take Venger and Tiamat over Damodar and that uh, mage guy Jeremy Irons any day, though. At least the cartoon had a storyline.

They really, desperately need a new setting for D&D.

I’m sure Ed Greenwood would love it if Forgotten Realms becomes the star campaign of yet another edition of the game with One D&D. Personally, I think FR has been flogged to death. I’m sick of Elminster and that Drow named Fritzz or whatever. (LOL.) It’s been done to death. Everyone has to much stake in the old properties of FR, Greyhawk, and Dragonlance to work as a flagship campaign setting.

One D&D’s writing team had better be thinking long and hard about a brand spanking new campaign setting beyond “generic fantasy.” A lot of games do generic fantasy as a setting with their shiny, cool, sleek, well-tested rules systems. Go ahead and name a few. I’ll wait.

I say new D&D not-edition, then new fantasy world setting that highlights the iconic trademarked D&D monsters. If WotC wants stuff to put on a t-shirt, video game, TV show, movies, and D&D the toilet paper, then come up with a never-before-seen campaign world. And it needs to have room to explore. There is no point in adventuring in the same stale campaign world that has been limping along in every edition since the 1980s.

Right now the Fortnite Island would work better than Forgotten Realms. I mean, “forgotten” is right in the title and who wants their game to be forgotten? At least most gamers recognize Fortnite and maybe know a little about it. Unreal Engine is the new digital landscape of D&D, btw.

I have more ideas, but I’m keeping them for my homebrew and maybe published campaign setting. Thanks for stopping in. I appreciate you!

Somebody Ordered a Warhammer.

Your character is not Thor. This is not Mjolnir. Invoke the true power of this weapon at your character’s own risk. For use with Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG or other d20 fantasy RPG.

Someone asked for more magical warhammers. So, here we are.

1. The Hammer of Lightning Bolts. (You are NOT Thor.)

This +1 magical warhammer automatically returns to the wielder when thrown.
When the hammer strikes a target it deals an additional 1d8 lightning damage (Fortitude DC 12 to avoid this effect.)
On command, it produces Light as per the spell.
The hammer’s real power comes into its invocation. When invoked, Once per Day, it calls down a bolt of lightning where designated within 100′ that does 6d8 damage (Reflex Save DC 14 for half)
Invoking the hammer’s full power comes at a price. Roll 1d30 and consult the table below:

1 Hammer evaporates into thin air instantly and reappears randomly elsewhere never to return.
2-11 No side effect.
12-13 A cloud appears above the user’s head for a day. It reflects their emotions.
14-17 Hammer is struck by lightning for 3d8 damage, DC 10 REF save for half.
18-19 A cloud of charged lighting appears around the user, constantly shocking them for 1 point of damage for 1d4 rounds.
20-23 A large cloud appears around the target. It causes 1d3 points of lightning damage as it shocks him for 1d4 rounds.
24-27 The hammer’s wielder is enveloped in a field of lightning. The electricity inflicts an additional 1d6 damage and transfers a charge that does an additional 1d4 damage to the target and anyone in a 10′ radius wearing any sort of metal.
28-29 The hammer’s owner/wielder is blasted by a massive lightning bolt. It inflicts an additional 4d8 damage and shocks anyone within 15′ with metal on them for 2d8, DC 10 REF save for half.
30-31 The character’s nervous system is turned into an electrical superconductor. It inflicts an additional 3d8 damage and the target is electrocuted, suffering an additional 1d8 damage each round until he makes a
DC 10 FORT save at the start of a round.

Cartoon Villainy at its Finest.

I love designing season villains or Big Bad Evil Guys (BBEG) in the same fashion as Cobra Commander or Rita Repulsa. Is it any wonder I love Renegade Studios so much?

I grew up on Hanna-Barbera and Hasbro cartoons.

Any time I hear a villain in any cartoon utter the words, “Get them!” I can’t help but laugh. I grew up watching Super Friends, Space Ghost, Herculoids, Captain Falcon, Spiderman and his Amazing Friends, Johnny Quest, and a whole host of other cheesy cartoons of the 1970’s-1980’s. Cheesy American cartoons aside, I also remember Robotech, Voltron, and G-Force. Of course, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention GI Joe, Transformers, Thundercats, and the only live action series of the bunch- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Then Warner Brothers broke the mold with Batman: the Animated Series, Superman, and Justice League cartoons. They had real plot and fewer dopey teenagers and dogs that sounded like Scooby Doo. Oh, I watched Scooby, too.

“I’ll finally have my revenge!”
(Image courtesy of <a href="http://By <a href="//;action=edit&amp;redlink=1" class="new" title="User:Peace is contagious (page does not exist)">Peace is contagious</a> – <span class="int-own-work" lang="en">Own work</span>, <a href="; title="Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>, <a href="">LinkWikipedia.)

I’m mentioning all this because I’m working on Power Rangers RPG stuff, and it brings back fond memories.

One thing that has always influenced the way I look-at/write for RPGs are those old school, kinda cheesy, easily defeated villains that have an endless supply of lackeys and minions. I also dig the ones who get captured at the end of one cartoon only to show up two episodes later with an all new crazy plan. Admittedly, it’s harder to explain to players in an RPG, but as long as they understand it’s going to happen and it’s part of the genre, we’re good.

The Power Rangers RPG is somewhat similar to Cartoon Action Hour: Season 3. I like both and they have the concept of genre emulation down. (Editor’s note: I really wish Spectrum would develop CAH:S3 more. So much sourcebook potential there.) Both games play heavily on certain tropes. Power Rangers could easily be rolled into CAH:S3 as a set of toys. (You have to know CAH to fully get the logic.)

The Power Rangers pattern is an easy one to follow.

As cheesy villains go, Rita Repulsa had more longevity than most and got smarter as time went on. She’s almost as powerful as Zordon made her out to be originally. Shocking.

We still have that kind of cheesy “Get them!” mentality from the big bosses such as Rita and Zed. They send some poor lackey out who encases everyone in magical bubblegum and a bunch of putties to guard him. The putties end up getting blown to pieces and the lackey gets defeated in his small form only to go Mega mode and have to get put down again. The really lucky ones get teleported away and revived. In later episodes, some of the lackeys/lieutenants manage to survive for a few episodes. Woo. Neat.

One of the best features of a series villain is that they manage to adapt and come back in later series (somehow.) The challenge I find in RPGs is how to do this without making the PCs feel like their actions didn’t count for anything. Goons, lackeys, and lieutenants can stay dead, sure. But what happens when the group offs the series BBEG? What if Darth Vader, Cobra Commander, or Rita Repulsa died way ahead of canon?

Here’s where alternate timelines and other reality shifting tomfoolery enter. Okay, the group killed the BBEG in Episode 7 accidentally-on purpose. Oops. Who’s to say the next poor sop to take up the mantle won’t be better at the job? Or the lieutenant that takes over won’t be better at staying alive and worse at scheming. (Talkin bout you, Starscream.) Who’s to say some other villain from somewhere else in the canon won’t step up. (Remember Serpentor from GI Joe? Or Lord Zed in Mighty Morphin..?)

Food for thought. Sometimes it’s better just to arrest the Joker, bring Cobra Commander to justice, or allow Rita to escape. Let the BBEG fall out of the window during the last battle or have the ever-so-convenient teleporter on standby.

Alternately, as with many Power Rangers series of the past, second season leads to an even bigger, scarier and sometimes smarter BBEG. That of course leads us to shinier new toys in both toy and RPG industries. Woot! New equipment, bigger transformations, new powers, possibly even new NPCs. Good times.

Hope your week is going swell. I’m off to save the world from the weather dominator/take the kids to swim practice and make dinner. Stay hydrated. Stay safe. See ya soon.

Let’s Get Back to:

Let’s get back to less serious stuff, please?

Role Playing Games.

I’ll be honest, I was diagnosed with ADHD over a decade ago. I was medicated for it. Then I learned to meditate and got off of the medication. Most of the time it remains in check, but I still get sidetracked periodically.

Lately I’ve been concerned about what’s going on with world politics, LGTBQIA++ matters, philosophy, spirituality, and minor issue here at (my) home. I truly just want to get back to talking about mecha, Power Rangers RPG, my Fate Space/Horror game, and D&D. We might also be talking about some Dungeon Crawl Classics and a few other games.

Please don’t take this as a sign

That I don’t care about those more serious topics or that I’m trying to maintain the status quo. Please let me be clear: I do care about the serious stuff. I do care about my LGBTQ friends. I am still a very spiritual person at heart. I’m with you. I care about you.

But I also have to take care of myself. By taking care of myself, I’m taking care of my family, community, and helping others. Truthfully, the state of affairs in our world is starting to take a toll on my mental health. It’s sad, literally.

I’ve got my own share of personal matters to cope with right now, too. My unemployment ran out. I still haven’t found a paying remote job. SSDI fell through. (Round one. We aren’t done yet.) This blog keeps me sane.

I’d like to teach the world to game, not sing.

LOL! Only because I was told I have a singing voice that’s perfect for print. But seriously, if we could all sit down together with our beverages of choice and roll some dice together; maybe have a good laugh; that’d be just swell. I’d rather make characters not war.

Let’s pray peace breaks out and we can get back to having fun again. Let’s hope midterm elections prove successful in removing certain unruly elements from office before half the United States resembles Nazi Germany. Let’s leave the planet in better shape than it was in 100 years ago.

Thank you. I appreciate you. Take care.

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.

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 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.


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 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.

1d12 Weird Rumor Table

Just a fun d12 rumor table to use/re-use. No system attached.

Roll 1d12 when your group enters any small fantasy town and consult the chart below:

1. The town was built on top of a necropolis of ancient crypts, but the entrance has never been found by anyone who lived to tell about it.
2. The old, drunken derelict on the street is actually the richest man in town before he learned a dark secret and turned to drinking.
3. It’s not safe to wander out of town at night. There are frightening wild beasts roaming around after dark.
4. The mayor hasn’t aged in thirty years since she took power.
5. Every residence in town has one or more spirits living in/around it.
6. The old abandoned well outside of town is said to have magical wishing powers.
7. The hired help at the inn steal from guests while they’re sleeping. Plus the innkeeper waters down all the drinks to save on expenses.
8. On a clear night mysterious lights can be seen moving around in the sky above the town.
9. The town’s undertaker is actually a ghoul.
10. The local apothecary dabbles in this weird magic he calls, “science.” He has all sorts of “experiments.” Some of them are extremely dangerous.
11. A local cleric has been known to give gold to anyone who visits him. No one knows where all of his gold comes from.
12. The area is infected with wild magic from an accident. There used to be a wizard’s tower in the center of town before it vanished under frightening circumstances.

For added fun: Roll another 1d12.
1.- Not only is the rumor true, but powerful evil beings/dark magic is behind it.
2-5. Rumor is true. The group may wish to investigate for further details.
6-9 The rumor is convincing, but false. The group may believe it if they wish.
10-11. It’s false. No doubt about it.
12.The rumor is true with a twist. The person or phenomenon in question actually has beneficent (good) cause.

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