Kickstarter RPG Reward Level: Validation – Chris Pramas of Green Ronin Publishing’s Thoughts on Breaking into the Game Industry

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.

Green Ronin Publishing Logo

Green Ronin Publishing Logo

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.)

Green Ronin Publishing - A Song of Ice and Fire

Green Ronin Publishing – A Song of Ice and Fire

Blogger

“[…] 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.

Celltar Drumthunder. Art by Egg Embry

Celltar Drumthunder from Ember Design Studio’s Yrisa’s Nightmare and Rats in the Street. Art by Egg Embry

“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.

Green Ronin Publishing - Mutants & Masterminds

Green Ronin Publishing – Mutants & Masterminds

Freelancer

“[…] 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.

Green Ronin Publishing - Fantasy Age

Green Ronin Publishing – Fantasy Age

Publisher

“[…] 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.

* * *

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!

* * *

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.

* * *

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:

  • Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com
  • Ember Design Studios’ Yrisa’s Nightmare for 5e and Pathfinder available at DriveThurRPG.com
  • Ember Design Studios’ Rats in the Street for 5e and Pathfinder available at DriveThurRPG.com

Vanity Press: What Kickstarter RPG Rewards Are Available? – The Dread House and Salt in Wounds Tabletop Setting

I want to freelance in the tabletop role-playing game industry. To get there, I’m buying a resume of writing credits via Kickstarter rewards. So far, I’ve largely bought into D&D 5e. But the RPG industry is wider than D&D and I want to add as many systems to my resume as I can. That makes these projects of interest to me.

"Fascinating." - Mirror Mirror Robert Jeffrey

“Fascinating.” – Mirror Mirror Robert Jeffrey II

 

* * *

 

The Dread House (Pathfinder/5th Edition/Call of Cthulhu) by Hammerdog Games

 

Kickstarter campaign ends on Saturday, October 29th, 2016 at 3:00 EDT in the afternoon.

 

Their pitch:

 

The most haunted house in the world, presented with multiple storylines, in multiple time periods, and for multiple RPG systems.

 

Dry leaves crackle under your feet as you make your way up the hill towards the dark manse, your path lit by a bold harvest moon. The taste of rain is in the air and you hear a distant peal of thunder. The townsfolk begged you not to come up here. Not tonight. Especially not tonight.

The Dread House

The Dread House

 

You reach the grounds as storm clouds slip across the moon, darkening the yard. You make your way carefully to the front door but find it barred from the outside. It would take a crowbar and some muscle to get in this way. The windows are high off the ground but seem breakable. You test your theory with a large rock, and the glass shatters as the first bolt of lightning slashes across the sky. You climb up and through the broken pane, carefully turning and lowering yourself to the floor of the room inside. The townsfolk may be afraid of this place buy you aren’t.

 

“Good Evening” says a deep strong voice that makes you whirl with shock. Your eyes search the darkness but you see nothing. A flash of lightning verifies to your eyes that you are alone.

 

“I trust you will be staying?” says the voice. “Excellent, it’s been a long time since we’ve had company.” Lightning flashes again. The drawing room is empty of everything but old furniture. You turn and scramble to the window, ready to leap through it and to the ground below. But the window isn’t broken any more. Somehow it’s healed.

 

You stop to puzzle this impossibility for the briefest of moments. That’s all it takes. The voice in the darkness gets you, and nobody hears you scream. You should have listened to the townsfolk. You should have come better prepared…for The Dread House.”

 

Egg’s thoughts:

 

The Dread House is a series of adventures set in different eras that utilize different systems – Wizard of the Coast’s D&D 5e, Paizo’s Pathfinder, but, most important to lil’ Egg Embry, Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. Call of Cthulhu is not on my resume. Add to that the concept – a haunted mansion that exists from medieval times to present – offers a growing tale and world to explore. Character’s actions from one era can be felt in the next. The vanity press offer – “an adventure, encounter, or monster in the Dread House” – combined with the chained nature of these adventures will, I hope, allow me to write something a little longer than many of my Kickstarter vanity press pledges.

The Dread House's Gentleman Ghost

The Dread House’s Gentleman Ghost

 

Their vanity press rewards:

 

“$150 or more

Architect of Dread

 

An undead professional, you seek to further your career even after death. You gain a copy of The Dread Wedding and all PDFs. You will participate in the development process of an adventure, encounter, or monster in the Dread House. No prior experience is required but the more experience you have, the more you can contribute. You will gain a credit as a developer. [Freight Extra]”

 

* * *

 

Salt in Wounds Tabletop Setting for 5th Edition & Pathfinder by J. M. Perkins

 

Kickstarter campaign ends on Thursday, October 27th, 2016 at 2:03 EDT in the afternoon.

 

Their pitch:

 

A gore splattered, monster-fed, city based dark fantasy setting for your favorite Tabletop RPGs.

 

Salt in Wounds is a fictional city; a detail-rich dark fantasy setting designed specifically for tabletop roleplaying games (although it can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates intricate works of imagination). More specifically, Salt in Wounds is a city whose culture, economy, and existence is beholden to the reality of the giant, regenerating kaiju called the ‘Tarrasque’ which is imprisoned within the city center so it can be butchered over and over again.

 

Salt in Wounds City Map (Rough Draft)

Salt in Wounds City Map (Rough Draft)

There are few monsters in role playing games more iconic than the Tarrasque: the ‘end game’ boss that’s been terrorizing high level characters (and delighting players) for decades. The Salt in Wounds setting takes the beast in an entirely new direction: as the perpetually slaughtered ‘natural’ resource that has been feeding the population & fueling economy of the sprawling metropolis of Salt in Wounds for the last two centuries.

 

Since 2015 I’ve been fleshing out the city, its inhabitants, and setting the stage for adventure: first on the Ennie nominated gaming website Tribality and then on its own page www.saltinwoundssetting.com. I’ve written fiction, created monsters, and worked hard to create a compelling, incredible world just begging for exploration & play. Here’s just a sample of some of the work that’s already been made public about Salt in Wounds:

  

Now, with your help, I want to take my mishmash of ideas, player options, lore & creatures and turn it into a proper series of books & supplements that will inspire your Pathfinder, 5th Edition, and other gaming for years.

 

Egg’s thoughts:

 

Salt in Wounds. Any city with a title for a name (like King of Prussia, Pennsylvania) screams out, “Visit me!” more than, say, one of the early titles of my home city, Marthasville [Note – Marthasville, where Superman and Batman get on like chocolate and peanut butter.] Title alone states this is an engaging product. J M Perkins has a fully realized city with enough real estate to share some pretty views with the public. The reward – design one of the 13 main families in the city for both D&D 5e as well as Pathfinder – has curb appeal. This reward could lead to a dynasty write up, information about their home, magic items, and NPCs. Lots of potential to show your RPG writing skills.

Salt in Wounds. I spy a Tarrasque.

Salt in Wounds. I spy a Tarrasque.

 

On the other hand, by the time I noticed this one all of the rewards were gone. Fiddlesticks. I believe the individuals that chose this one picked a great vanity press option. I cannot wait to see the results.

 

Their vanity press rewards:

 

“Pledge $250 or more

Binder-Lord

 

You rule Salt in Wounds, and you get everything listed above, three additional pieces of Sway, and design considerations (see text below for more information).

 

INCLUDES

  • Name the Harpoon Release Command Word
  • Help Design a Meridian House
  • Swag x 6

 

Limited to only 11 (there are 13 Aristocratic Meridian Houses, and two Binder-Lordships have already been claimed by patrons) you get all the above rewards + an *additional* 3 pieces of Swag (for a total of 6 pieces of Swag) and you get design considerations for your chosen Meridian House, invitation to an exclusive design session hangout, and you select the legendary ‘command word’ of your house’s immoveable harpoon. Legal possession of this command word grants Binder-Lords their authority within the city of Salt in Wounds and can be used to actually free the Tarrasque.”

 

* * *

 

Closing thoughts:

 

The Dread House offers the chance to add Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu to my list of vanity projects. Sold. Salt in Wounds lives up to its name because it looks amazing but all of the writing rewards are spoken for. Regardless of my salted wound, I think both of these projects are going to be fun. I’m looking forward to seeing how they progress.

 

* * *

 

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:

 

Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com