Secret of My Success, Part Two

Last week we covered Be Brilliant (impossible), Be Prolific (difficult) and Be Furious (nuanced). Today we’re going to talk about the easy one. The one I was always able to do. And the one that’s stood me in the best stead, and given how much I’ve fucked up the other three, the one that’s kept me in work and made me a success.

And the one that people screw up every damn day. And the moment they do, you lose interest, and you don’t want to work with them now or ever again, because who cares how brilliant they are. It’s the one that matters more than anything else. The shining light that sets you light years beyond your competition.

It’s Be Professional.

What does that mean? It means show some respect to the craft, the business and the people around you. It means show up, have a good attitude and do the work you’re asked to do. Show up, do the work. Do the work. It sounds crazy, but it’s the heart of it all.

It means when you submit stuff, follow your writer’s guidelines and your brief TO THE LETTER. It means hit your word count EVERY TIME. It means hit your deadline EVERY TIME. And if you ever can’t do any of these things because of a problem in your life, you let them know as soon as possible and do everything you can so that your problem does not become their problem.

It means taking your redlines and not complaining. It means accepting, every time, that the editor is always right (and on your side). It means making sure you don’t get so Furious it hurts your work flow. It means being part of a work flow, in a way that keeps the system flowing, and not gumming up the works. The easier you make everyone else’s job, the better, because their job is just as important as yours. That means knowing what their jobs involve so you can help out and appreciate them. If you don’t know, find out.

If you’re being hired, it means knowing what rates you’ll accept and what you won’t (again, if you don’t know, find out) and talking the turkey of money and contracts right from the start. If you’re hiring, you’ll want to do the same. Being vague or talking about hopes and dreams just slows things down. Cut to the chase and get down to business. Nobody is helped by beating around the bush. Be clear and be constantly communicating.

I’m going to be in the position to offer people work soon so here’s some tips of the kind of things I like to see too, that marks you as a professional – even if you’ve never worked professionally before.

  • Be already doing the job you want to do. If you want to write RPGs, start writing them. Or reviewing them or writing up your campaign world or your play-throughs or your rules options. If you want to do it for money, do it for free first. I don’t mean for other people, but for yourself. It helps also if you’re doing stuff for the game you are passionate about. I got my work with Buffy partly because I showed up when called but partly because I was already winning hearts by reviewing every product they put out.
  • Have a web portal. I need to see what you’re writing/have written. I’d like to peruse it. Having a web portal lets you collect your links in one place. It becomes your virtual resume. Of course, your web portal should also include your resume. Don’t have any professional work? List your unprofessional work that we talked about above. Websites are free to get it and come with widgets to make them pretty. Get one. Don’t wait until you have something to put on it, I know, that’s an easy mistake to make. Just one thing is enough. And if it has a blog option OH LOOK YOU CAN WRITE A BLOG, which gives you the first thing.
  • When asked to submit, send a cover letter with a link to your web portal, a copy or link to your resume, and a sample. Now, I’ve been terrible vague and I know that sucks and it’s rare in the RPG industry but some companies are going to be like that. We want to see if you can write. A sample should be at least 200 words, no more than a 1000 words, and it should be polished, and it should be prose, but other than that, if we don’t specify, we don’t care. So don’t ask. Just give it some context in the cover letter – but don’t apologise. Try not to draw attention to what you lack, we’ll find those anyway. You’re worried it’ll look false but focusing on your strengths shows us you want to do the job.
  • Finally, don’t bug people once you’ve done all this. As I said above, part of being professional is respecting other people’s job and making sure you don’t make that job harder. Nobody owes you time and consideration of your vast and powerful writing skills; anyone looking at such skills and evaluating their quality and suitability is doing you a favour. So make sure you try to cut down on their work by providing what they asked for and then going away. You can absolutely ask questions but if they haven’t specified any requirements in an area you can assume they have no preferences in that area. If they haven’t told you anything about said evaluation, assume they haven’t decided anything yet. If they haven’t explained the project, they probably can’t. If they’re asking for general keenness, they’ll understand if you later find out the project is about how much your mom sucks that you decide to back out. Nobody is going to hold it against you if you change your mind or things change when information changes, we assume that will happen.

Or at least, the professional folk won’t hold it against you. Because of course professionalism cuts both ways. As a freelancer, you should be looking at which companies are the most professional: which ones respect you the most, which ones support you doing your job, give you the information you need readily so you can do what needs to be done as easily as possible, and respect the work you do. Find those companies and work for them because they’ll respect the same qualities in you, and those will be the best relationships you’ll have. But don’t work with non-professionals, even on your favourite project. It’s not only that it will suck, but it can reflect poorly on you also: you’re worth more than that, and you should know that. A professional knows his own worth as well as everyone else’s.

Keep writing and keep showing up.


Secret of My Success, Part One

Or, How to Succeed in the RPG Industry while Trying Very Very Hard.

For a variety of reasons I want to look at how to succeed in this industry, as much as I know, and as much as I can pay that knowledge forward, now that I have been something of a success, in my own definition thereof (which is not everyone’s definition).

About eight years ago I was on a panel with Robin Laws and he described the four things you needed to do to become a big name in RPG design. Note it was to become a BIG name, a big success, working full time kind of deal. The less you want to do that, the less this applies. He had four principles: Be Brilliant, Be Prolific, Be Furious, and Be Professional.

Be Brilliant we can dispense with straight away. Because you can’t control it. You can work hard, read widely, push yourself, read Strunk and White but this isn’t up to you. It is a variable which determines how successful you will be but not a variable you can control.

Be Prolific is also a variable which is hard to control. It is 100% true though. RPGs, like most writing fields, is a machine that feeds on volume, and the most successful writers in the industry are always the most prolific. There are ways to modify how prolific you are: you can push things out of your life, reorganize and re-prioritize. Learn patterns and systems that help you get it done. But some people are more prolific than others. Some people WANT to be more prolific than others – it depends on what kind of writer you want to be. But there’s always going to be the Gareth Ryder-Hanranhans  who write three books while raising triplets or the Rob Schwalbs. Which to say, being prolific is not something you can always control, some of it is inborn. Some of it, for me, is medical. I’m a depressive, I can only work a few hours a day before my body packs it in.

So brilliance is up to the ages and prolific is hard to control. That leaves be furious and be professional. We’ll do the former here and the latter next week.

Be furious. What does that mean? By furious, what Robin meant was be constantly working. Go for everything. Get in everyone’s face. Hustle.

Furious was one that scared me. I was not, when I heard that, a very agile writer or adaptive writer. I’m a depressive. I suffer from qualifying anxiety where I don’t do things because I don’t think I deserve to – after all, only clever writer people can write things, so why bother. Meanwhile fighting my demons would drive me crazy if I worked too hard. I had to learn that hustle has two sides, and bad hustle helps nobody. I also, as in the link above, don’t want to work on everything in the world.

Furious is also the monkey on my back, the way the demons get in. I’m a picky kind of person and I actually don’t like most games (or most anything), and that can leave you feeling isolated and a jerk normally, and out of touch when it’s your own industry. Furious is the voice that whispers you’re not good enough when you hear about something but can’t participate, and that you’re not plugged in enough when you don’t hear about it. Furious will make you sign up to write games you hate and then leave you caught between staying even though it’s crushing your soul or leaving and exposing your soul to the harsh truth of failure. Trying to be furious can literally kill you.

What’s important is to find, as with prolific, the level and style of furious that works for you. I’m a slow reader and I’m broke and I’m not interested in most games so for me, being furious is not going to mean me reading all the hot new RPGs. I can’t get out of Australia and travel is usually beyond my means so furious can’t mean getting to every event there is. I was shy as hell so I spend years teaching myself how to schmooze so I can be something like furious when events do happen.

But I have skills already in place. I’m on the net all the time, and I love to tweet. And while I’m not interested in every game, I’m interested in what people are doing, and what people like. So I can be furious by pimping people’s stuff. Linking the product to the people who want it. I can write reviews and commentary which illuminate hidden gems and their subtle strengths. I can write a blog about my gaming and my writing and finding my path in them. I can share about my struggles with mental illness and creativity online. All of these things are ways I can add to the industry and the hobby – and that, people, that’s what being furious is.

It’s also about passion. It’s about giving a damn. Not just about the hobby, but the people in it. So much of hustle is having a good heart. Tell someone you love them. Tell them you like their stuff. Hand them a coffee or give up your seat. That’s not sucking up, it’s buying in. People notice those things, and they pay into the bank. Caring about the hobby also counts. Are you the guy with every single book for a game line? Did you stay up three days straight finishing that one campaign? That’s fury too.

It can also be a clear vision. Lots of people have a game in their head but if you’ve got a game in your head you’re always running, that’s different. Even more so if you’ve written it out and self published it. Or written up a supplement or world for that game you like. One young designer told me he had a plan to be working full time by year X. That’s fury too.

It is passion. Passion, I like to say, is the only virtue that matters. Boldness counts too. Goethe said boldness has power and magic in it, and it does. That doesn’t mean build castles in the air and have unrealistic fantasies. It means coming with an attitude of can-do and will-do. Committing. Buying in. Signing on. Using your entire ass as Ron Swanson says.

As Peter Capaldi said, almost everything in life is showing up and having a good attitude. The second one is really what furious is: living that good attitude, as hard as you can. Fury will kill you if you let it, but if you find your own kind of fury, it will set you free.

But showing up? That’s the other half. That’s be professional. That’s next week.




Wonder Woman Post Credits Scene

There wasn’t one, so I wrote one.

INTERIOR. DAY. We’re back in the clothing store. ETTA waits patiently by the changing rooms.


So the Foreign Office says you’re definitely a foreign dignitary and I should be calling you Your Royal Highness…


(from behind curtain) You will call me Diana, please.

The curtain shoots back. DIANA is a vision again, but with one problem, she’s in a gorgeous svelte white brocade, best for a garden party.


Oh! Oh, no, oh, that’s my fault, I’m sorry Your – Diana –




Black. Black. All over. And – a veil.






In my country we wear white (going back into the change room). We beat drums, light great bonfires and we sing. You must help me, Etta. We must do everything right. Everything correct. As is due for a soldier and a hero who has fallen.


(Etta looks downcast)


(coming back out in the brown suit) But what is the matter? He is to be glorified amongst your heroes, yes? I know there are too many slain in this war for a statue –


(almost crying) But you see miss, he’s a spy, and it’s different. They don’t count the same as soldiers. They can’t do an official burial.


(takes her hand and sits her down) What do you mean?


It’s Official Secrets, you see. If he’s buried with honours word goes in the paper and there are agents here and in Germany, if they got wind of it –


But the war is over


ALMOST over. And – Steve had contacts. Agents in Germany. If anyone sees his face, and knows he was a spy, everyone he ever worked with would be in danger.


(ruefully) Of course.


We’re getting, well – a small ceremony. Just you and me.




His mother’s, she’s in America, she’s very old, she can’t travel. And the man from the foreign office, and perhaps someone from the American Embassy. Mr Churchill wrote a letter –


Sameer? Charlie? The Chief?


They couldn’t get here even if it were safe. They’ve gone to ground. The Germans don’t want anyone to know about what happened in Veld, they’re killing anyone who – (she trails off into tears. Diana holds her tight. A beat.)

I suppose there’s a lot like this now. Just the women, left alone, when their boys don’t come back.


(kindly) But we are not alone, we are together.


(nods happily) Well. Until you go back to your island, anyway.


(deadly serious) Etta Candy, I swear to you: you will never be alone for the rest of your life.

(She clasps Etta’s hand with great intent, one warrior to another)

SMASH CUT back to credits.

Dragons of the Demon Lord

Another product by me, collaborating with Rob, for the Demon Lord, this time on dragons. And drakes and everything with long snakey bodies and big gnashy teeth. Includes the demon dragon, the death dragon and the SPINY NIGHTMARE.

I wanted to add beasties that lived in the dragon ecology but they were cut for space. So here they are for you, for free. What’s crazy enough to cling to the private parts of a dragon?



Puppy Dog Tales

20 years ago this week I was first published – in the amazing arcane magazine. I decided then I would give myself ten years to get published in an RPG.

11 years ago this week I got my first freelance job, writing about skaven for WFRP 2nd ed, from Rob Schwalb (which makes it serendipitous that it is coming back again!) Made it with one year to spare!

This week is my 20th anniversary of working in tabletop games. I think I also made my first card game 20 years ago too. 1997 was a good year. It was called Election and people liked it a lot because the cards were funny, but it was a bit wonky in mechanics – it was never worth attacking other people’s platforms when you could just improve your own.

And now, to celebrate all this, and to celebrate me getting 1000 followers on Twitter, I created this amazing one page party game. (EDIT: someone was a bit confused about my wording – the human tells the story, the dogs do the barking when they hear what they like, hope that’s clear now!)PuppyDogTales Enjoy!