Chris Pramas of Green Ronin Publishing (publishers of Fantasy AGE, Mutants & Masterminds, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, and D&D 5e’s Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide among other role-playing products) wrote a post about how to break into the game industry. It is an excellent piece covering the practical ways to become a game designer. I recommend reading it for all of his thoughts.
Chris’ blog, falling at the end 2016, is an apt sounding board for a year-end review. For what my experiment – purchasing role-playing game writing opportunities via Kickstarter to build a resume and advance from RPG wanna-lancer to RPG freelancer – I want to compare the parts of his article that relate to my process as a gauge for how well I am doing.
Where is Chris Pramas at as 2016 closes? President of Green Ronin Publishing with a slew of games he’s designed and the awards to testify to their quality. He has two-plus-decades of experience seeing freelancers break into the game industry. With his position in the industry, his thoughts will make an excellent progress marker.
Where am I at the end of 2016? I’ve leveled from fan-with-a-plan to fan-acting-on-a-plan with a few pleasant RPG credits and I was invited to join this blog. With my day job and life leaving limited time to work on creative pursuits, I’ve enjoyed this year as I ramped up my skills and consistently met deadlines.
Let’s compare my plan to Chris’ suggestions. (All quotes are pulled from Chris Pramas’ article.)
“[…] create a blog and write about games.”
I started buying vanity press RPG writing credits in mid-2015 and started blogging about the results fourteen months later. To spread out the blog’s content, I have not covered all of the writing opportunities I have bought to-date. At the close of 2016, I have 10 Kickstarter RPG writing credits (published or forthcoming), 1 RPG art credit, some RPG work-for-credits, 1 trip to Gen Con, and a comic book mini-series pitch approved. I’m not out of the wanna-lancer stage but I’m taking baby steps to get there. With content and a consistent theme for my blog, 2017 should be a good year in my journey to freelancer.
“This costs virtually nothing […] writing regularly is good practice.”
While blogging does cost “virtually nothing”, the route that I chose, buying RPG writing credits, does have a cost. Being financially invested heightens my interest in finding time to make this happen. It’s less about wouldn’t-it-be-nice and more about I-need-to-make-that-money-back.
The same thought process applies to regular blogging. Having a blog that runs two to three Tuesdays a month, while not a hard deadline, helps to build deadline “muscle memory”. It also makes the most of the money and time I’ve invested in these by turning each Kickstarter into a part of the narrative of my quest.
“[…] I suggest writing actual game content. […] pick a game or two that you like and start writing material for it. […] Design some monsters or magic items. Write a short adventure. Make some NPCs with adventure hooks. If you start creating useful content, you can develop a good reputation in the game’s community. This may eventually lead to freelance work.”
The beauty of buying a RPG writing assignment is being given a small, specific project to develop that you know will be published. As Chris suggests, I am developing a monster or a magic item or whatever the assignment is. However, instead of putting it onto the internet and hoping that gamers and publishers see it, I am putting these short projects into successfully crowdfunded RPGs that will be read by editors and fans. It is Chris’ advice turned up to 11.
“At the very least you are developing a body of work that is easy to show off. If a developer asks you for a writing sample, you’ll have ready material for that.”
My plan has always been two birds with one Kickstarter pledge. Bird one is, of course, the writing and credits themselves. The opportunity to be handed an assignment from a publisher, work for them, get published, and, hopefully, open a door to become a RPG freelancer. As Chris suggests, I have submitted my published work as writing samples. Bird two is to blog about the experience and build interest with gamers for the product I’m in and the work I’ve contributed to it.
“Writing reviews can also be useful. It can show that you can think critically about games. Checking out a wide variety of game material is never wasted time either.”
Writing about the purchase and the creation process means, in a limited way, I get to review the product that I was in. With respect to these reviews, since I am not an unbiased observer, I don’t do an in-depth discussion. But, these blogs are a chance to bring up the product and cast a new perspective on it with some minor production information.
Some of the RPG assignments are for systems that I have limited experience with. My comfort zone is Dungeons & Dragons 5e. But, through purchasing assignments, I’ve added development work in Pathfinder, W.O.I.N., Call of Cthuhlu 7e, and touched on Castles & Crusaders. Doing this has exposed me to a growing list of game material, lockstep with the suggestion from the President of Green Ronin Publishing.
“[…] I’ve mentioned a couple of ways to break into freelancing already but there are others. Some companies do open calls from time to time. You will end up in a big slush pile but it’s a chance at least.”
In the year and a half I’ve been experimenting with this, I’ve only submitted for one RPG freelance assignment and that was under a month ago. Why did I wait this long?
- It’s easier to buy an opportunity because, through the logic of commerce, they have to work with you because they took your money. For freelancing, the reverse is true – You have to work with them if you want their money. That means their schedule, their style, their notes, their way. I want to make sure I’m ready to follow other people’s rules before I raise my hand.
- It seemed almost pointless to cold submit for projects with no resume. With no prior experience, I expect it would be a long while before anyone takes a chance on me. Now, I have some entries which have led to intern-esque opportunities.
- I mention time a lot because I have very little of it that I can spend in front of a computer writing. That situation has improved recently so it is time to try these type of opportunities.
“You’ll also find game design competitions out there. You may not win—you probably won’t, in fact—but good work can get you noticed and may result in freelance opportunities. Once you get a gig, the most important thing to do is hit your deadline. If your developer asks for revisions, do them in a timeline fashion. It is better to do solid work on time than produce something of sheer genius months late.”
Through the Kickstarter for Kobold Press’ Tome of Beasts for 5e, about 100 backers and I submitted monsters for consideration in their book. Twenty were selected. Mine was not one of the selected entrants. However, I did get quality feedback from Wolfgang Baur and Dan Dillon on the design that improved the monster. Dan shared that mine was in contention for one of the final two slots (as were about 20 others). I lost but, based on their thoughts, I was not hopeless. Taking their advice, next time I’ll have a better idea of what to do.
“[…] The biggest game changer though is crowdfunding. […] I’ll just note here that sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo make it possible for game companies to overcome the biggest hurdle most of them face: funding. […] Just do your homework before trying your first crowdfunding campaign. There is much to absorb about the process and the best practices of crowdfunding […]”
While I’m not racing to be a publisher, what I am doing would not be possible without crowdfunding and their decision to offer writing opportunities as rewards. Without those two things, I do not believe I would have a path to become a freelancer.
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I only touched on some of Chris Pramas’ article. But based on it, I’m doing a number of the right things and I’m doing them my way. 2016 has been a successful year in terms of dipping my toe into the game industry. As I head into 2017, I have more products coming out and other irons in the fire. I am ready to make 2017 the Year of the Wanna-lancer!
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I want to thank my gaming buddy, Sir Leland Beauchamp, for sharing Chris’ article with me. And Chris Pramas for sharing his insights with the world.
As the year closes, I want to thank Erica and our nieces and nephews for making every day worth living, my parents for their spirit of independence, the members of the Tessera Guild for letting me play in their sandbox, Michael Phillips at Midcity Comics for all of the good conversation and motivation, all of the RPG publishers that I have had the privilege to work with and all of the wonderful content that they’ve produced, and Michael Bugg‘s RPG group that keeps me in-character. Without each of you, 2016 would not have been a success for me.
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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer
Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by: