RPPR Game Designer’s Workshop: Everyday Hustlin’ in Game Design

PS21102_Firewall_500pxTalk with Caleb, Ross, and publishers about how to get started writing for games. With a few tips, you could be barely scraping by just like the pros! The goal of RPPR’s GDW podcast has always been educational. To that end, Ross and Caleb will do their best to give advice on “breaking into the industry” in a post-Kickstarter age. The conversation will focus on the more logistical, legal, and mundane business of freelancing in RPGs. On the publisher side of things, Adam Jury and Rob Boyle from Posthuman Studios are dropping by to lend their expertise. Prepare to be demystified, warned, clued-in, and tipped-off about the path to seeing your work get included in games. Questions are welcome and encouraged.

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  1. Enjoyed the cast, very informative. If I had one question, it’d be for Caleb. At what point being a relative ‘noob’ to RPG’s did you make the determination that you really really really had to write something, and what was the impetus?. I’m much more of a consumer than a creator, and couldn’t imagine really making that leap.

  2. This is extremely helpful, great panel.

    I’ve got a question for Caleb, too: Looking back at the No Security scenarios, why did you decide to self-publish them as systemless scenarios, instead of pitching them to a publisher like Chaosium/Pelgrane/Arc Dream/Golden Goblin etc.? Did you try some pitches and not get any bites? Or did you shoot for self-publishing in the first place? And if you could do it over again, would you choose to do it the same way?

  3. There were a lot of factors, which probably isn’t that helpful, but here it goes.

    I’ve always been writing. I got my Masters in Creative Writing, even knowing that I was planning to go into education. After my first year of teaching, my plans of writing on the side as I taught looked increasingly ridiculous. I fell into gaming with the RPPR crew. I always planned on running games in high school, but I could never assemble a group. I was pretty eager to try out GMing, if only because it gave me an excuse to write again that didn’t feel absurd and pointless. “Get ready for next week’s game” felt better than “write the great American novel” or whatever the hell I though I should be doing at the time.

    So the impulse to write had always been there. That’s why I made up my own monsters and mysteries rather than running pregenerated stuff. It’s always been more fun for me to make it up from scratch, but the needs of the game provided enough structure to get me working rather than dithering around with possibilities.

    I owe publication almost entirely to Ross and the fans. The support from the forums and on the comments for my early games was amazing and unexpected. Ross, out of his innate generosity (and his unquenchable need for content), pushed me hard to turn my early scenarios into something. He does that for all of the RPPR crew, but I am of the peculiar subset of people that simultaneously yearns to see my name in print, remains consistently naive as to the difficulty of doing so, yet possesses enough stubbornness to keep going after it becomes apparent how much friggin work it is going to take. So Ross and the RPPR fans pushed me in the right direction, and my type A personality took care of the rest.

    After No Security, I had accomplished more to get my work read in two years of RPPR than in six years of college. I don’t regret my schooling at all, but I’ve reconsidered my snobbish definitions of what counts as writing. The weekly game became an appointment which I had to meet. It kept me accountable, kept me working, and eventually that turned into the I-write-X-words-a-day-or-commit-seppuku necessary to pump out bigger stuff like No Soul Left Behind.

    And that’s my rags-to-slightly-better-rags story. Hope it helps in some way.

  4. @ Ethan

    I didn’t feel like I knew enough to pitch anything to any company. I still feel like a noob. The overwhelming majority of the industry has been playing tabletop games for like, thirty years. It’s not like I’m some total neophyte — at least I read some of the older books in high school at had some “closet drama” games in my head — but I’m still one of the youngest (in terms of years of experience) writers I’ve ever met. Chaosium has been around for like 40 years! And I didn’t want to use Lovecraftian stuff or bog myself down researching some publisher’s history, style guide, favorite color, etc. That kind of attention to detail is what it takes to get a look when passing out unsolicited pitches. I didn’t have the time or inclination.

    Plus, RPPR introduced me to Kickstarter. Crowdfunding was exciting and scary and different. I’d done the submit stuff/get rejected dance for years at that point. Skipping to end seemed like something too good to be true (it is; then you have to learn to be a publisher). I’d also recently gotten some non-RPG work published through another house, and I got paid for that job six months ago: clocking in at just under five years between submission and paycheck. I was not enamored with traditional publication at the time, though experiences with publishers like Posthuman Studios and Arc Dream have rehabilitated my opinion of freelance work.

    So yeah, I would definitely do it again. Hell, I AM doing it again with Red Markets. Nowadays, unless you are playing in someone else’s sandbox (like my love of Eclipse Phase leading me to write of Eclipse Phase), every creator is much better off going the DIY route.

  5. @Caleb. Since you won’t be “writing the great American novel” any time soon. At least that is how I understand your answer above. Have you given thought to “Writing the great Ecilpse Phase, Gothic Horror, DnD Fantasy or some other RPG related sub-genre novel” ?

    What about you Ross?

  6. Author

    There is one big advantage to writing for a publisher that self-publication does not have – you can turn your text in and let the publisher do the rest of the work. Self-publishing requires editing, graphic design, marketing, and a host of other skills to do with any proficiency. Anything you can’t do yourself you have to get someone else to do or go without.

    As for writing novels, I want to write one but I need to finish the stretch goals for Boiling Point first. I have 3 more PDF supplements to write.

  7. @Fridrik I believe Caleb mentioned at one point, and please correct me if I’m wrong, a novella tie-in with Red Markets.

  8. What was that economic histories podcast that Caleb listens to?

  9. I would also like to know about these economic podcasts Caleb is referencing.

    Great episode. Very useful.

  10. I mainly listen to Freakonomics

  11. Great podcast & comments to someone like me new to the RPG design/art (been playing for a while & looking to do more writing/layout/technical illustration to get into the industry). Yes I found after a while plus work that I suck at character art but fine with maps & game layout/technical stuff, just not a lot done for the game industry.

    Also agreed on having the KS stretch goals being mostly set beforehand, I love how Golden Goblin has done KS with their kickstarters on starting the project before it goes out then it’s just goals to improve the art or add things that are already ready. If nothing else put in the updates on how the additional funds will go to the next project already in the works so they know their money is continuing the good work.

    Question for the RPPR crew of Ross & Caleb & others, I’m rather diverse on favorite systems & settings. So do you have any suggestions to focusing a collection of written work/art to a specific setting (like fantasy/steampunk/modern horror/sci-fi/etc.) or just keep things as a variety of settings which might be better at showing flexibility with creativity or just not being tied to one kind of setting?

    (ps-I just have the client-knows-best mindset to art or writing so it’s tough to focus on stuff to show work for a sample of things to show in regards to something when I’m happy to take on whatever is thrown at me be it illustration/writing/layout.)

  12. Author

    Only show your best stuff but show variety if you can. I would try to avoid pigeonholing yourself because you never know what a client is looking for. Alternatively if you hate a particular type of art or writing, then don’t put it in your portfolio (like character art in your example).

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