Sunday, March 31, 2013

My First Full-Time Job

As I mentioned in my last blog, I got my job at Last Unicorn Games through a curious set of circumstances. Coincidence. Networking. Blind luck. And a measure of naiveté. Pull up a chair and sit down. It’s story time….

It was the mid-90s. I don’t recall the date, because it was a long time ago. And the drugs and alcohol sort of wiped out that particular fact. Anyway, the mid-90s. I get a phone call from Dustin Wright over at Chaosium. I was doing a lot of freelance work for them at the time…. So Dustin wants to know if I’d be interested in going to the Chessex Midwest retailer show. I don’t know if they still do this, but it was a show Chessex held for retailers where they’d invite manufacturers to show off their games and maybe drum up some business. I was living in Toldeo, OH at the time, and it wasn’t that far away. They needed someone to demo a game called Mythos, a trading card game for Call of Cthulhu. Of course I’d love to go. It was a chance to see a distributor.

First, let me say up front – it was an eye-opening experience. Chessex had just finished building their new warehouse. It had a marble foyer. Because a warehouse needs a marble foyer. Guess that Magic: the Gathering money was really rolling in. Anyway. Whenever I poked my head in what was supposed to be the offices where the salesmen worked, I always saw no less than three computers running some kind of game. Not sales projections. Not spreadsheets. Games. I remember thinking “must be nice.” The warehouse itself was stuffed with product; it was like a giant game store and I was in Heaven. I could pick up whatever I wanted at cost. They had tons of stuff that I’d never seen in stores before. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the implications of this. The other thing I learned over the course of the weekend was that the retailers – the alpha retailers who cared enough to show up – were actually just gamers who wanted a first look at the shiny new games. They really weren’t interested in being pitched. They just wanted the swag bag.

Now, I’m an inveterate, and unrepentant, smoker. So I would often go out on the loading dock to smoke. This is how I met Christian Moore, which would turn out to be a fateful event. Christian was there because he was pitching the Heresy and Dune TCGs. Now, I love Dune. I’ve read it a dozen times. I’ve been thinking about reading it again lately, but I just read it last year… And I thought Heresy, while not a great game, had a lot of neat ideas. So we smoked and talked about Dune and Heresy. We swapped phone numbers, because Christian said he might have something for me on which to work.

A few days later, Christian called. He swore me to secrecy, and revealed that LUG was about to acquire the rights to Star Trek. Not just The Next Generation, but all of it. See, Paramount hadn’t wanted to license the rights for years, because they didn’t really like the FASA version of the TNG supplement they produced for their version of the game (admittedly, it was based on one season, so what could they do?), and they’d had a mess with the Starfleet Battles guys. Somehow, Christian and crew convinced them to license what at the time was the second largest media license to a bunch of guys who’d done a game called Aria. I know, right?

Christian wanted to know if I could recommend anyone for the position of line editor. See, at the time, I had a reputation of being a decent writer, who turned his stuff in on-time and fairly clean. I was part of a small circle of "go to" guys. So I knew a lot of people. Freelancers. Editors. 

Sure. I mentioned some freelancers whose work I admired. Gave him their contact information. Hung up the phone, figuring I’d get some freelance work out of it some day. He called back a few days later. Seems no one was interested, and he wanted more names. Okay. I gave him some more names, this time editors with whom I worked. Again, I figured I was building good karma.

He calls back about a week later. Nope. No one was interested. The job required you relocate to LA, for one thing. Because you had to be close to Paramount Studios. (In fact, I would eventually visit the lot about once a week. It’s weird when you just know your way around a movie lot; “Yeah, it’s past the Brady Bunch movie set, then make a left at the game show. When you see Klingons smoking outside, you’re there. Let’s meet for lunch at the commissary with the giant wall of Oscars later….”) The other thing was that LUG was completely untested when it came to RPGs. Did I mention Aria? For all anyone knew, the game would be a disaster, they’d lose the license, and you’d be stranded in LA.

“Too bad you’re not a Star Trek fan,” Christian said to me.

Wait. What?

Christian. I’m a HUGE Star Trek fan. I watched the show since I was three. I forced my cousins to watch the show every day after school (when they wanted to watch The Brady Bunch). When I was 8, I used to crawl out of my bed at 1am to watch Star Trek on channel 11 (WPIX). In college (George Washington U, if you’re interested), all studying stopped to watch TNG. We actually played the crappy version of TNG that FASA put out. “Christian, while I’m talking to you, I have a shelf full of Playmates toy phasers behind me. I have every version, plus toy tricorders. Are you NUTS?!”

I was on a plane out to LA the next week.

And that’s how I got my first full-time job in this business. If I hadn't gone to the Chessex Midwest show, been a compulsive smoker, met Christian, taken a risk on an upstart company... Oh, the twists and turns, the connections and random events, that conspire to bring you to where you are in life. It's like a roadmap that only becomes clear when you stop and look behind you. The map can't tell you where you're going, only how you got there. 

Life in Miniature

It's been awhile since my last update, mostly because I've run into an existential crisis. Which mostly involves me sitting around my apartment gorging myself on chocolate chip cookies. So, in order to get myself moving again, I'm going to turn to the one constant in my life -- writing. Today, I'm going to share my other passion when it comes to gaming. Miniatures.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've loved miniatures. For example, when I went on the obligatory class trip to the Museum of Natural History (and it's really great to grow up in NYC, by the way), all the other kids were oohing and aahing over the giant dinosaur skeletons, but I was over by the dioramas. This became a pattern throughout my childhood. Historical battlefield? I'm over at the dioramas (often making "pew-pew" noises under my breath). The Ben Franklin Museum in Philly? Dioramas. I went to Ford's theater to the Lincoln museum; I thought it would've been better with a diorama of the assassination... I made my dad take me to Traintown USA outside of Lancaster, PA (the largest model train display in the country). Five times. 

So I'm walking down Main Street in Stroudsburg, PA, where I spent part of my misspent youth, one sunny afternoon and I pass by a window display filled with dioramas. There was a dude killing a dragon. A sorcerer conjuring a demon. A squad of serpentmen attacking. These were obviously dioramas, but not the kind that I'd ever seen before. These were dioramas of my psyche. I was 12. I went into the store to see what was up. It was a game store. The Encounter. 

The store owner, Mark Kielpinski, told me the dioramas in the window were for a game called D&D. And you could have your own figure for your character. He showed me the wall of miniatures. I was hooked. I left with my first miniature. It was a knight from Citadel Miniatures (back when they actually produced stuff for other games, before the Warhammer madness. Yes, I'm that old). I was to come back a few days later to give the game a try. This is how I made my best friend in High School, John Higgins (Hi, John!). But to make my point, I got into gaming because of the miniatures. 

It wasn't long before I was painting and converting my own miniatures. It drove my mother crazy. First of all, because I wasn't outside playing. This was before videogame consoles, when this was actually the expected norm for kids. Second, because I'd come bouncing downstairs with a newly finished miniature to show her, and she couldn't see them. She needed a magnifying glass. She never understood how I could work so small. (Then, the Chinese discovered that children were great at painting small details, and an industry was born). 

Hello. Were you talking to me? 

The pack is scratch-built. From four different kits.
I consider this a mediocre paint job....
When I discovered miniature wargaming, I was hooked. I have four armies for Warhammer 40K. Space Marine, Tau, Dark Eldar, and Necron. It was awesome that you could build your own armies -- just like the dioramas in museums -- and then play with them! It's that diorama quality that continues to haunt me. Whenever you see a gaming table, it's always half-painted terrain that's just plopped on the table. Because it's modular, and meant to be moved around, it tends to be, well, modular. Unbased. No rubble. It's not in situ. That's what I've always chased after. 

You can ask my friends and compatriots from LUG. I would bring in a terrain piece for our game night, and it was museum quality. I'd easily spend a month on a building. Constructed from cardboard. With details. Like the factory that had catwalks, ladders, machinery on the floor, and surrounded by industrial cast offs and whatnot. I can make credible-looking palm trees using wire, and bandages soaked in a plaster solution... In fact, all of my terrain ended up at Zombie Planet, where it's been slowly destroyed through use. 

I don't understand the point of building an urban ruin without sticking a dumpster in the alley, or maybe some trashcans. Where are the streetlamps? How about the crushed cars? It's my dream to actually make a museum-quality battlefield that you could fight on. Like maybe a miniature version of Rummel from Saving Private Ryan....

So it was a natural fit when Alyssa Faden asked me to get involved with Torn Armor. As usual when these things happen, she basically said something along the lines of "too bad you don't like miniature games," to which I replied "are you nuts?!" This is also how I got the job at LUG. Ask me about it some time. 

What I liked about Alyssa and Jack's original concept is that the game was designed to play fast. Pick your unit cards based on a gold point value, go get the miniatures associated with the card, throw down. It uses boardgame-style movement to keep things, well, moving. The miniatures themselves are stunning, and often stuff you just can't find elsewhere. And as you can see from the picture, adding terrain to this bad boy isn't that hard at all. 

The glass of wine comes extra
I urge you to give the Kickstarter for this game a look. There are only three days left before it closes out. And, at the $150 pledge level, you get a mountain of cool miniatures, like the minotaur brothers, plus a Clockwork Dragon from Reaper, plus a terrain set. And a bunch of other free stuff like maps and terrain hexes. 

I'm currently planning on fielding a Maychia Comal army, because hoplites are boring. But don't tell Alyssa this... I've been making notes for an elven army that's insane. That's one of the perks of being a game designer. You get to bring your insane ideas to life. 


Did you like this blog? Then how about doing me a favor and clicking on the link of the pretty girl on the top right of the screen and making a donation to her IndieGogo fundraiser. It's for a good cause. In fact, if you click on the link, the pretty girl will tell you what it's all about and why you should donate. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Geometric Shapes of Joy

Recently, I’ve been writing a lot of advice to freelancers. Because the highest number of hits I’ve ever gotten was for Freelancer Best Practices. That and the Natalie Portman thing. But we already discussed how that’s not going to happen again. Ever. I figured you all might like some advice about how to actually write, and about what to expect in the way of payment. I even tried to get a conversation going by being a bit provocative. No dice.

And it’s about dice that I’d like to talk today. See, I love dice. I think you do, too.

Like every gamer on the planet, I have a giant bag of dice. There are all kinds of sets in my dice bag. I even still have the dice that originally game with Villains & Vigilantes when it was sold as a boxed set. You had to take a marker to ink in the numbers. So, here are my random thoughts on dice, in no particular order.
  • Whenever I play a new character -- if he gains traction in my mind, if he lasts more than two sessions, if I grow attached to him – I get a new set of dice. Just for that character. Preferably dice that communicates something about the character. I’m playing a dwarf fighter? Then he needs some new dice, maybe something in “stone” or “metallic.” Usually, we stop playing the game soon after.
  • My friend Nicole just got a new set of dice, and she uploaded a picture of them to Facebook. I was envious. Those are some nice dice. And, what prompted this article.
  • I’m not a fan of games that only use one kind of die. Even though I’ve designed a couple. Games that only use d6s or d10s just aren’t as much fun to me. I want to use ALL the dice. Make me roll 1d4 for dagger damage. I want to pick up that 2d8 for bastard sword damage. In fact, making me roll handfuls of dice is even better. What’s that? Roll 4d6 for your attributes? Sign me up.
  • I’d play craps at the casino, but they don’t let you roll enough dice. Also, I think they should let you use 12-siders. Just a thought. 
  • My favorite die in the bag is, in fact, the 12-sider. The bastard die that no one uses. I'll look at a game and say "needs more 12-siders." 
  • I am not the kind of person who swaps out a die when it doesn’t roll well. If I roll crappy with a particular 1d20, I don’t chuck it across the room and pick up a different one. Sure, I’ve got twenty 20-siders sitting in front of me. But, darn it, I’m going to make this die roll well.
  • I spent the last day of GenCon last summer trying to get all the drow dice WotC was giving away. They’re white, with purple engraving, and a neat border. I’m still missing the 4-sider. I’d also like to have another 10-sider (for rolling percentile) and three more 6-siders (for rolling attributes).
  • When Games Workshop released its new version of Warhammer 40K, I bought every single dice set they offered. The standard 6-siders. The objective dice. The vehicle damage dice. All of them.
  • In fact, if you offer a specialized dice set for your game on Kickstarter, as an add-on or stretch goal, I’m 100-percent more likely to want to invest. While I really wanted to back Monte Cook’s Numenera because it looks like it’ll be a fantastic game, I desperately wanted the dice set he was offering. That, to me, was the deal clencher. Seriously, I know they’re kind of expensive, but offer unique dice sets with your game. They’re cool.
  • If you put something on dice, I am way more likely to buy it. Today I picked up a set of nine dice with an entire deck of playing cards on them. I don’t know why. I don’t play poker or anything. But I like the idea of rolling dice for a card hand. I also recently bought something called Story Cubes; the dice have pictures on them, and you’re supposed to roll randomly and make up a story out of what you roll. SOLD! 
  • Once upon a time, I was playing an elven sorcerer. I picked up a set of elven fortune-telling rune dice, because they looked really cool. They were a set of five 6-siders with different elven runes on the faces. It came with a translation sheet, so you’d know what the made-up runes meant. So whenever the group was faced with a decision, I’d “consult the bones” and roll the dice and make up some fortune about our prospects. I was never right, but it was a fun little prop. I lost those dice years ago, and can’t find them again.
  • Artisan Dice is offering dice made from metal or exotic woods. I desperately want a set of dice made out of teak, but that’s a $100 pledge level and I can’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on a set of dice. Kinda. Sort of. Maybe…

Which leads me to my last confession. I’ll empty my dice bag on my desk for no reason at all, and admire my dice. I’m like the Gollum of dice. My precious. My precious. I’ll fondle them. I’ll pick up a handful and let them drop, just to hear the sound. It’s like I have a giant bag of plastic jewels, and like a dwarf with sack of rubies, I’ll just stare at them covetously…. I may need a support group of some kind.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Format and Style -- The Ruthie Edition

Well, it's official. I'm an idiot. 

All this time, I've been pushing you to contribute at least $10 to Sara Bakay's IndieGogo campaign, when all this time you could've contributed at little as $1. This is what happens when you assume. I assumed the big red button on the right of her IndieGogo campaign page was dead, when it was actually hot. Click on it, and it takes you to a page where you could donate whatever amount you want. So if you liked anything you read here -- if it helped your own work or just found it entertaining -- just click on the picture of Sara Bakay on the righthand side of the screen and donate something.

You still gotta donate at least $10 to enter the contest where you win my services for free for one week. I'm stubborn that way.

On to the blog. Today's installment is the Ruthie edition. I'm a sucker for biblical names. Previously, I've written about the importance of working from an outline, and I've alluded to the importance of knowing the form and structure of a game product. Ruthie, according to her comments in the previous blog, raises questions about both. 

First of all, she asks the salient question "what if my editor doesn't give me an outline?" This happens. I've gotten frantic phone calls from frustrated editors who literally said "just write me anything about orcs!" Or I've gotten assignments where there simply wasn't an outline. Maybe the editor was too busy. Maybe he or she trusted my judgment. Or maybe they felt the topic was so simple that it didn't need one. What happens when you don't get an outline? How do you follow the editor's instructions? 

Simple. You write your own. 

Recently, I was working on a game, and this situation occurred. Write about a barter economy. No money. Oh, and don't put the equipment in monetary terms, like a gold piece value. That last instruction was a bit of genius, because whenever I've seen barter covered in a game they do that. And you just end up using the equipment lists with their gold piece value. "It says here a sword is worth 20 gp of stuff, so just give me 20 gp and lets get back to hacking and/or slashing." 

Since I had no outline, I wrote one. Why are we using barter in the game? Why is there no money? (Those two combined tell the reader why we're even talking about the subject. You will barter in the game for these reasons.) What is barter? (Define the system.) How do we barter in this game? (What are the game rules?) What things can we barter, and what is their value? (Duh.) 

Second, you've got to know the form and structure for the kind of writing you're doing. Notice how as I  outlined the above, I followed a certain structure. I didn't, for example, start with a giant list of equipment, and then explain the system. Each piece builds upon the previous section. If you read games, this should be second nature to you. 

But it's the same for any kind of writing. There is a particular structure to a romance novel, a horror short story, a script, and (yes) even an insurance newsletter. You have to know the expectations and demands not only of your reading audience, but also the genre for which you are writing. Everything has "genre conventions." Writing an academic piece is different from writing a game. Writing an insurance article as though it were a romance, while innovative, will get you a rejection letter. 

This is why the editor expects you to know his or her game. It's not just so you know the setting and rules. He's also expecting you to familiarize yourself with the company's editorial style. In all honesty, I can't read a game "for fun" anymore, because I'm picking it apart in my head. Not in a derogatory way. I find myself trying to figure out why they did what they did, even down to the style and language. So, Ruthie, if you want your editor to stop sending you your articles back, you should read what you submitted and compare it to what was printed. Read this insurance newsletter and try to figure our the editor's style. Then, write that way. And, let's be honest, the editor will never stop asking you for rewrites. We're bitter, over-worked wretches. It's why we all drink. 

Anyway, I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. It's perhaps the most miserable experience in my career, and also the one that taught me the most. Often, those two are the same thing. 

I was hired by the great Phil Brucato to write something for the Mage companion. He wanted a piece on using real-world occult and religious symbology in Mage. He wanted it rooted in the real world. It seems too many Mage players were focusing on the game-y aspects, and not on establishing a coherent occult system for their Mages. For example, if you're playing a sophisticated dilettante who dabbles in Enochian magic, then there's a system in place for that. It's called Enochian. There's a reason Enochian magic (yes, it's real) uses the symbols it does, and places them in so-called magic squares. So, your Enochian Mage should whip out his Seal of Solomon when he wants to perform magic (instead of saying I have four dots in "bite me"). That's what Phil wanted. 

At the time, I'd just finished a lot of work for Chaosium, specifically in real-world magic. It was for an ill-fated game called Nephilim. So this was right up my alley. I knew exactly what Phil wanted. Unfortunately, I didn't actually read Mage. The style of a Chaosium book is very different from the Mage style. So I wrote what amounted to an academic article on real-world magical symbols. That was Chaosium's style. 

Phil calls me back (this is when people still used phones) and asked me to liven it up. Make it less like a thesis. Ok, I do a second draft. I address the reader directly. I do a bunch of other stuff. I submit it, and Phil calls back again. Nope, still not what he's after. He's going to send me my chapter with his comments via FedEx.

Now, take a moment to think about that for a second. Phil was a busy guy. I'd done two drafts already, and he was asking for a third. Most other editors would've just yanked the project away. But he took the time and effort to red-line my chapter, and then send it back via expensive overnight express. He spent a lot of time, effort, and money on little old me. I don't think I can thank him enough. 

When I opened that FedEx, the first page looked like Sweeny Todd wiped his razors over it. Covered in red ink. And it went on, and on, and on. I flipped through the pages and became despondent. I was a crap writer (which jim pinto will tell anyone for free). It got so bad that around the middle, Phil just got tired of writing comments and wrote "smooth" and frowny faces next to things he didn't like. I was miserable. 

I wrote a third draft. I don't know if Phil ever used it. I think maybe two paragraphs of mine made it into the book. But I learned a lot from the experience. The most important of which was "familiarize yourself with the editorial style." Writing for Chaosium is different from writing for White Wolf which is different from writing for Deadlands. 

In answer to your questions, Ruthie, you write your own outlines, even for the stories. You familiarize yourself with the style, tropes, and language of the genre, format, and editorial style. You read, dissect, and internalize. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hopping on the Treadmill

Today, I’m going to make a direct appeal to you. You people out there are reading this blog – all 19 of you – and you’re enjoying it. Or not. Whatever. But, this is not translating into support for my friend Sara Bakay. So I’m going to make this a quid pro quo. If you like something you read here, if something I designed has ever entertained you, then I urge you to make a donation. Hell, if you’re just tired of reading about her, then make a donation, just to shut me up about it. Simply click on her picture and contribute. 

Previously, I discussed just how crappy the pay is for freelancers in this industry. To recap, just in case you missed it: it’s crappy. You’re going to be doing a lot of work, and make less than a Chinese factory worker in Shenzhen. Seriously, you might consider it, because at least when you finally commit suicide it’ll be reported in the media.

So, the question is: Why do we do it? Or, more appropriately, how did the industry pros you know and love end up “making it”?

Undoubtedly, there are people who are successful at it. They move up in the ranks and become the Monte Cooks and Kenneth Hites of the industry. I made it. So why can’t you?

If you want to go that route, you should know that it’s going to be a tough slog. Basically, the industry pros you admire so well got to where they are because of some combination of the following (often all them).

They worked hard: I love Steve Kenson’s work. Steve does a lot of stuff for Green Ronin these days, for their Mutants & Masterminds game. Steve’s been a friend for years. I was happy to give him work when I was line editor for both Star Trek RPGs. It was a joy to see a file from him in my in-box.

Steve also worked his ass off. It wasn’t uncommon for him to be working on three projects at the same time. He booked his schedule tightly. Literally, he’d finish something for me, and the next day he’d be writing something for someone else, and by the end of the week he’d be writing for a third contract. If I asked him to write something, he had to work it into a busy schedule (which is how I know this, because he’d whip out his calendar and talk me through his schedule. For the month.).

If you want to make it to the upper echelons of the hobby games industry, you’re going to have to hustle. You’re going to be writing so much, for so many different people, that you may lose track of which game it’s actually for. If you have open time in your schedule, that means you’re not making money. You’re going to have four projects on your desk, and one is going to bleed into the other. Then, you’re going to have to manage those contracts – “if it’s Tuesday, then I’m working on Pathfinder. Or is it Vampire? Whatever. Same thing…”

Volume, Volume, Volume: I met Steven Long when I started working at LUG. I’d never really heard of him before then, mostly because of the above (I was writing my butt off). I was simply too busy to notice. So we fly Steve out to LA at part of the design team, I think because Andrew Greenberg recommended him. Or was it Danny Landers? Anyway. He comes out to LA, and we sit him down at a computer, and we ask him to write something. It was done in 20 minutes. Wait, what?

It’s a standing joke among industry insiders that if you give Steve a 6,000-word chapter to write, he either hands it back to you in 15 minutes OR he gives you 20,000 words at the end of the day. Your choice, really. In the time it’s taken you to read this, Steve has written a 35,000 words. I see his status updates on Facebook, and he routinely posts stuff like “wrote 20,000 words about Horus’ nutsack today.” He’s inhuman.

If you want to make it in this business, you’d better be a writing machine. There is no such thing as “writer’s block.” Writer’s block is a fancy, writerly way to say “I’m feeling lazy today.” When I worked at LUG, I was expected to churn out 5,000 words per day. That’s on top of the numerous emails I had to attend to. And my editing. Imagine having to write 5,000 words per day. Every day. For years. It grinds you down. 

Let’s put it his way. I have a friend who’s in college right now (Hi, Ashley!) and she routinely complains about having to write 1,500 word papers on her favorite TV show. That would take me about 20 minutes. And that’s with smoke breaks. I burp and 1,000 words come out. I once wrote a term paper for a friend (yes, I know, cheating. Go report me.). It had to be five pages about prejudice in the restaurant workplace. I wrote 15. With citations. In about four hours. And I was drunk at the time. It took me more time to edit it down than it did to write it. She got an A.

They followed instructions: As much as this is a grindstone for you, it’s even moreso for your editor. I used to have a calendar on my desktop at LUG with a colored bar for every project running from its start date to its end date. Most days looked like a rainbow. I was supposed to be outlining one book, editing a second book, writing a chapter for a third book, and proofing the layout for a fourth book. So writers who followed instructions (like Steve Kenson or Kenneth Hite) were like gold.

I’ve covered this before, but to summarize: write what you were asked for, write it following the rules of proper grammar, and turn it in on time.

I don’t want to break the pattern I’ve established (bonus points if you can see it), but I can’t really name names. I had one writer who turned in stuff that ended in mid-sentence. The sentence would just. I had one who didn’t read the outline I sent him, so the submission bore little resemblance to what I asked for. One guy wrote only in sentence fragments. “A giant bird. Really dangerous. Death from above.” None of that helps me, the editor. I may as well have hired a chimp.

Here’s another thing I don’t think you guys realize: We all talk to each other. I’d get a call from Bill Bridges asking me if I knew anyone who could turn around a 5,000 word chapter fast. Or I’d call John Wick and ask him what he knew about someone who was asking me for a job. Or we’d all be sitting in a bar at Origins, and we’d be swapping stories, and I’d remember when someone said “that dude’s a pain, he’s late, and he writes like crap.”

(This may, in fact, be why I don’t get much freelance work anymore. I suspect I’ve been blacklisted….)

They brought their A game: I like working with Mark Carroll and his wife Jen Baughman. And Chris Harris, too. They all share similar traits. In addition to being able to follow instructions, they all bring their A game. I’ll take Mark as an example here. What do I mean by “A game”?

When Mark writes something, he doesn’t just “phone it in.” He tries to bring you original ideas. Interesting ideas. Now, at this point, there are no new ideas in hobby gaming. Those tropes have been thoroughly raked over. The one-eyed dragon. You all meet a mysterious stranger in the a tavern. The evil wizard. We’ve seen it all before. But Mark tries to bring you interesting combinations of those tropes. The Hero who’s actually a psychopath who just happens to keep killing all the right people (the bad guys). Or the Villain who’s not so bad after all, he just keeps making bad decisions.  

Mark also understands why he’s writing what he’s writing. In other words, he knows the structure of a game, and the purpose behind each element. If something doesn’t do the heavy lifting, doesn’t do its part, then he eliminates it. Put another way, I once had a writer submit a number of encounters for an adventure. Each one made sure to include the light source in the room. Where the hidden magic items were. The tactics the NPC would use in a fight… Only problem was, it was for a town. Are we going to randomly slaughter the town’s baker? Do we need to know that he has a +5 vorpal sword hidden in the back? What the hell is a baker doing with a vorpal sword in the first place?! I needed a different kind of encounter.

Lastly, it’s a common saying in writing that you have to be willing to kill your darlings. You have to be willing to cut something you lovingly crafted if it doesn’t fit the project. I submit to you, in order to be a successful freelancer, you must be willing to sell your darlings, for two-cents per word. That really cool idea you have, that will make the company thousands of dollars – like the githyanki, for example – you’ve got to be willing to give that up for pennies. Just take pride in the fact that it was you who created the githyanki, and move on. If you’re not willing to do that, you’re not bringing your A game.

So, you’re not discouraged by my previous post about your crappy pay. You’re going to do it anyway. You’re going to make it, and be the next Monte Cook, Kenneth Hite, or Steve Kenson. Great. If you can work on several different projects in rapid succession, easily churn out a lot of words, follow instructions, and bring new, interesting ideas to the party, then I urge you to get on that treadmill and run. That’s how you become an industry pro in this business.

* For those of you who are interested. This is 1,694 words. I wrote it in an hour and 22 minutes. With two smoke breaks.