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

Kickstart the Character – Creation Process of Kaiya Blackmoore

It’s not just my fellow guildmate, Egg Embry, who has dabbled his toes into the Roleplaying Kickstarters. I have kicked in for a couple, here and there. Sometimes it was because of the game, sometimes because of the creators, and sometimes just because.

However, it wasn’t until Egg presented me with a fairly unique Christmas present last year that I ever got to participate in the creation side of the process. As he alluded to in his post “Kickstarter Reward Level: Vanity Press – Yrisa’s Nightmare and Rats in the Street“, myself, Egg, and our friend Leland all had the opportunity to come up with a trio of characters that would appear in Yrisa’s Nightmare.

Yrisa's Nightmare.

Yrisa’s Nightmare.

One of the things you tend to do when you roleplay, no matter the system, is create characters. Obviously you create the ones you are going to actually play, and then after you get them going you think of about 100 more that might be cool to play. I have folders upstairs of all the characters I’ve ever played in a game, but lost to time are the others who might have had backstories or perhaps some were just a collection of stats, never to see the light of day past some random afternoon or evening.

I like to think that this bit of daydreaming has come in handy for writing fiction. Novels normally have need of tons of characters – each the hero of their own stories. Perhaps some of those lazy Sunday D&D characters have gone onto a second life within some story without me even realizing it.

This was a little different, as this would be a character who needed to “fit” into the world Lucas Curell had created. And while it wasn’t stated anywhere that the three characters needed to be tied to each other, we felt like it might act as a cool Easter Egg for anyone reading the adventure.

***

Egg actually had his character, Celltar Drumthunder, mocked up by the time Leland and I came onboard. Here was a good-looking guy who travels from town to town playing his music wherever he can find a tavern with attentive patrons (or at least the kind who might part with some hard-earned coin). Of course, he repays their kindness by allowing them to invite him into their homes where he generally takes their most valuable of possessions. Through some form of magic, the people only realize it is gone, and not that Celltar might have taken it.

It was Leland who thought “I think it would be neat to brainstorm a connection between them, then make the character. If they blend together, it would add story.”

Would they be a gang? Or…

“One could be a bounty hunter looking for someone who is stealing these heirlooms.”

But then…

“Or maybe the lost love who is still under the spell.”

There was Kaiya right there. I took the lead on her character. Then a little later the thought of a Wererat was mentioned who would become “Sully” took shape (who Leland wrote up). And it was really there that the connection made some sense and how they tied together made some level of sense. The key points and connections were:

Sully:

A noble who was going to marry a noble woman.

He was cursed at their engagement by a thief.

Possibly mention he’s hiding from his ex-bride.

Celltar:

Cursed a noble at his engagement party.

Tried to use a spell to marry a noble woman.

Kaiya:

First groom was cursed, and they did not marry.

Almost wed to a bard who put a spell on her.

Rats in the Street. Featuring Wererats.

Rats in the Street. Featuring Wererats.

Now there was some concern that these types of connections might not work for Lucas. Perhaps it might be too overt. Maybe it just couldn’t fit in the world he was trying to craft. Heck, maybe we were trying too hard to put our own spin on these characters and doing the “group thing” was not a great idea. Still, we decided to work them up.

Worst case, we thought, we could use these characters for something else on our own.

The great thing about working with others on any kind of story/character/fiction is that you have someone to bounce ideas off of. People who can see something slightly different from you are able to do. And last, but not least, is that you have built-in editors to help make sure you’re not misspelling every other word. What followed was a series of back and forths among the three of us as we worked up a first draft, then a second, and then a final draft in a format Lucas was looking for.

Appearance – This is not only their physical appearance, but also trying to convey some level of insight into their actions. Sully might have been a “lost soul”, but he still held himself in a “regal manner”.

Personality – I’d say this one probably ties most to the actual roleplaying of the character by the Game Master. Celltar was “certain that the world owes him”. “Lazy, liar, and showman.”

Goals – These felt like something which would boil our characters down to their basic instincts. What did they want to do? And maybe how would they get there? To transform into someone they always wished to be. To restore themselves. To get through life as easy as possible.

Hobby – This was as simple as “drinking” or losing themselves in research.

In Yroden (where we lay our tale) – Here was our thoughts on how and why the character might be in Yroden (and thus how they might tie into the actual adventure). This was really the crux of the character and really would determine whether or not the character(s) would end up being used.

Now done, we sent it off and waited…

When Lucas responded he said he loved the interplay between them, but had a twist in mind for using them. Kaiya would actually appear in Yrisa’s Nightmare where the other two would get referenced. However, Sully and Celltar would get their proper appearance in the companion adventure Rats in the Street – especially since that one featured a gang of wererats.

kaiya-blackmoore

From the City of Brass Character Entry for Kaiya Blackmoore

***

And that, as they say, was that. The characters appeared in their respective stories, and my own hope is that some Game Master out there has not only spotted the connection, but worked it into his own story. Maybe Kaiya is out there helping fight wererats alongside some adventurers. Maybe Celltar has finally found the wrong person to charm. Maybe Sully has found a cure after all.

Maybe…

***

Kickstarter information:

Yrisa’s Nightmare, an RPG adventure for Pathfinder and 5e by Ember Design Studios
Raised $2,680 starting November 13th, 2015

If getting a NPC into an adventure is on your Christmas 2016 wish list, Ember Design Studios is running another Kickstarter and is offering two options to get your sailor NPC into the mix (see the 6th update on the Kickstarter). Sunken Temple, an RPG adventure for 5e, Pathfinder, & WOIN by Ember Design Studios
Raised to-date (this Kickstarter is still going at the time of this writing) $5,431 starting November 18th, 2016

sunken-temple

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Kickstarter RPG Reward Level: Vanity Press – Yrisa’s Nightmare and Rats in the Streets

“If I buy my way into RPG freelancing, will I ever be taken seriously?”

To obtain a job and be successful at it, generally, you need the applicable skills for that profession and you have to prove you possess said skills. I want to move from a role-playing game wanna-lancer to a freelance writer. My proof that I have those skills involves buying writing credits in RPGs via Kickstarter. Stocking my resume with vanity press entries. But if my resume is all vanity press, will that make me a laughing stock instead of someone to take stock in?

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Yrisa's Nightmare.

Yrisa’s Nightmare.

Before I dive too far into these thoughts, let’s touch on how the Kickstarter vanity press idea works? Some RPG Kickstarters offer rewards that let you submit content to their game. They offer an opportunity to write and you pay them for the opportunity.

Due to my schedule, this is ideal. It lets me write something with a low word count, typically a few hundred words like an adventure hook, a NPC, a location seed, a monster, or a magic item that will be printed and credited to me.

This is my journey to freelancer and it starts with selecting the Kickstarter RPG Reward Level: Vanity Press.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

For my first purchase, I participated in Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e where I provided a location seed in their campaign setting. Another opportunity that presented itself was Ember Design Studios’ Kickstarter for Yrisa’s Nightmare and Rats in the Street.

Yrisa’s Nightmare, an RPG adventure for Pathfinder and 5e by Ember Design Studios

Yrisa’s Nightmare is a supernatural mystery set in a viking fort town. Your characters arrive, supernatural attacks happen to them and those around the settlement, and your party either uncovers why these attacks are happening or they don’t get to leave. Ever.

Rats in the Street. Featuring Wererats.

Rats in the Street. Featuring Wererats.

Rats in the Street (5e) by Ember Design Studios

Rats in the Street is a city adventure in the same world as Yrisa’s Nightmare. This time, you’re facing a gang of wererat thieves and you have to piece together the clues to stop them.

Launched in November, 2015, both adventures come from Lucas Curell the creator of the online RPG tool, City of Brass. The concept – viking mysteries – interested me but I collect Kickstarter writing credits. To get my $75 they needed something extra on top of:

  • Print and PDF copies of Yrisa’s Nightmare for either Pathfinder or 5e – $25 via Kickstarter / $25.53 (taxes and shipping to me) via DriveThruRPG.com
  • PDF copy of The Song of Aracos for 5e – Kickstarter Bonus / $4.95 via DMsGuild.com
  • PDF copy of Rats in the Streets for either Pathfinder or 5e – $5 via Kickstarter / $4.95 via DriveThruRPG.com

That extra sauce that captured my wallet was the:

  • World Builder add-on – “Work with [Lucas Curell] to create an interesting NPC for the village of Yroden or nearby countryside.
    Remember, Yroden will be released using a CC BY-SA 4.0 license so only select this option if your comfortable with that. These characters will all be included in the web supplement, and in the finished adventure.”
  • Vanity press upcharge – $15 x 3 = $45
Celltar Drumthunder. Art by Egg Embry

Celltar Drumthunder. Art by Egg Embry

The opportunity to create an NPC expanded my resume from just a location seed to a character. I bought the ability to create three NPCs for Yrisa’s Nightmare. It was just before Christmas 2015 and these seemed like fun gifts for my RPG buddies, John “Cursed Sword” McGuire and Sir Leland Beauchamp. What did we do with three NPCs? We alluded to a shared history through them.

Lucas picked up on the shared backstory and saw a clever way to use the characters. He put Kaiya Blackmoore as an important NPC in Yrisa’s Nightmare. In that adventure, Sully and Celltar Drumthunder appear as part of the supernatural effects that drive the tale. In Rats in the Street, Sully and Celltar take on some of the larger NPC roles within the adventure. The characters unite these adventures through their shared easter egg (no pun intended) backstory.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

UPDATE – 2016-12-07 – John McGuire did a write up of his character and the process here.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

City of Brass

City of Brass

Credit where credit is due. Lucas took these characters, saw their backstory and potential within his world, and wove them into the fabric of his tales in Yrisa’s Nightmare and Rats in the Street. The steps to bring this to life – pay, bat ideas between John and Leland, write, draw, submit, read, smile – were all easier than I could have asked for. These adventures have been delivered and enjoyed. Vanity press RPG writer’s credit number two and RPG art credit number one complete! On to number three…

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

To my initial question, will I be taken seriously if my resume is all vanity press Kickstarter rewards? It was a worry. Then Sir Leland* and I went to Gen Con 2016, my first Gen Con. There we had the opportunity to meet Lucas and play through another adventure he created,  Bella’s Yarn (5e), another excellent adventure. I really liked playing mideval detective to solve that mystery. For his part, Lucas was awesome. Instead of treating me like a joke because I am trying to buy my way through the door he was happy to talk gaming, and Kickstarters, and RPG websites. He treated me like a welcome addition to the community. It cured my concern.

Will I be judged for my start in the industry? Likely. Will that be the end of my quest? No.

*The “Sir Leland” reference is because my buddy’s name is Leland Beauchamp – Amanda, Jeremy, John, Chad, Robert, the whole Tessera Guild, we all know Lee – anyways, in high school, he named his D&D knight, Sir Leland. Could you imagine if I tried that? Ser Egg. Only George RR Martin could pull that off…

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Sample NPCs from Yrisa's Nightmare.

Sample NPCs from Yrisa’s Nightmare.

Kickstarter information:

Yrisa’s Nightmare, an RPG adventure for Pathfinder and 5e by Ember Design Studios
Raised $2,680 starting November 13th, 2015

If getting a NPC into an adventure is on your Christmas 2016 wish list, Ember Design Studios is running another Kickstarter and is offering two options to get your sailor NPC into the mix (see the 6th update on the Kickstarter). Sunken Temple, an RPG adventure for 5e, Pathfinder, & WOIN by Ember Design Studios
Raised to-date (this Kickstarter is still going at the time of this writing) $4,273 starting November 18th, 2016

 

***

 

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