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!


Shadow of the Bundle

So for the last two years I’ve been playing, enjoying and working on products for Shadow of the Demon Lord. You can read my long review of it but that’s from a very critical standpoint. A description of it is that it scratches the same sort of itches of D&D but with the dark humour and simplicity of Warhammer, with fewer puns and more horror. So much horror.  Dark, grim, blood and shit stained horror dripping down the axe but you still have to lift it and kill the thing inside your wife…I’m sorry.

Right now you can get the game and a bunch of supplements on Bundle of Holding, with proceeds going to the Widlife Conversation Society. But despite these amazing games at such crazy low prices helping amazing charities support adorable critters, it gets BETTER.

Too good to be true? Read on.

While the Bundle is up, if you buy either the base or expanded level, AND also buy one of my products in the line, you get a bonus offer: I will design an NPC, cameo encounter or monster specifically for you and your game. You’ll have free reign to ask for whatever you want, and you’ll be the only person in the world with these rules.

You might like my expert adventure of fey folk, demons and desperate faith, The Flute of Farewell. Or you might like to know the terrible secret that hangs over the Freeholds of Nar, or what happens when you die and feel the Weight of the Underworld. Or explore the horribleness of dragons in Of Fire and Venom.

All you have to do is send me a copy of the confirmation email from Humble Bundle and from Schwalb Entertainment (or Drivethru RPG if you get your products there), and I’ll do the rest! Email them (and any questions) to

What will your final product look like? Here’s THE CUBE MAN.

It Is Still Forbidden

It Is Forbidden is still a powerful little game engine, and continues to surprise me. I had a request to run it at GX last weekend and someone beautifully suggested that our “bones” as I call them be game conventions. I’ve always said the game works in any setting, so I was mad keen to try it – and it worked like a charm. I had to scale it back to the “softer” option in the rules, where the rounds are Annoy, Insult and Injury, as Death seemed a little extreme, but otherwise, it worked great.

The Residents were the Computer Game Convention. The con was bountiful because it had heaps of corporate sponsorship but was harsh because of a lack of outlets. The Newcomers were the Boardgamers, who were happy to see that the con had a much more diverse clientele than boardgames have on their own. But the con was harsh because it was so very loud and busy.

The videogamers were strange because they dressed in funny clothes that took great effort, whereas the boardgamers barely remembered to pull their pants up to their nipples and put on their crocs. The boardgamers were strange because they looked people in the eye.

The videogame tribe were represented by the Vulnerable, a young boy dropped off for convention babysitting, and the Storyteller who passed on the lore, aka a web journalist who reviewed local cons. The boardgame tribe in our story were represented by the Provider, he who brings the games, and the High Priest, he who makes sure the tournaments run and the rules are followed.

In round one, the boardgamers set up in the wrong space, hogging all the powerboards, which was very annoying. Meanwhile the videogamers pushed past everyone in the table areas.

In round two, things got worse. The youtubers making hilarious con videos videotaped everyone and the boardgamers found that extremely intimidating because of the aforementioned lack of fashion. The videogamers meanwhile were running dance dance revolution right next to the seating area, and the boardgamers made them turn down the volume, which is not cool.

On the last day, tempers were high. Videogamers had promised their fans that they’d be able to try the hottest new VR tech, but it was so popular it dragged people away from tournaments they had promised to run or attend, so again, the board gamers took matters into their own hands and pulled people out of the line. Later, board gamers were busy putting things back into boxes so everyone’s games were intact and pristine but that meant they weren’t at the closing ceremony, which the videogamers took as a huge diss. And after all the insults, this would not stand. Punches were thrown and a melee broke out.

In the end, the journalist ended up going to the hospital with a broken jaw. The reviews on kotaku were damning – everyone knew this new con couldn’t control its staff or its fans. But the two tribes came together to talk peace. In the end, peace demanded separation: the con would try again next year, but with an iron curtain cast between the two hobbies, separated in two different building, each with their own sign up and their own rules. Coexistence only through segregation –  a sad, sad day for the gamers.

The Rules of The Videogamers were:

  • Thou Shalt Not Monopolise The Sacred Power Outlets They Must Be Shared With All
  • Thou Shalt Not Ever Turn Down A Gamer’s Volume Lest You Harsh His Intensity
  • Thou Shalt Never Ever Miss the Closing Ceremony For It Is Where We Show Our Brotherhood

As we can see this culture values sharing of resources and ritual, and has a strong sense of tribal honour that each individual inherits. To be gamer is to be loud and proud.

The Rules of the Boardgamers were:

  • Thou Shalt Not Violate Our Sacred Temples Where We Sit In Our Chairs And Quietly Concentrate
  • Thou Shalt Not Take Images of Our People For To Pimp Thine Image is To Shirk Ones True Nerdity
  • Thou Shalt Honour Thy Tournaments And Have No Obligations Before Them

This is a culture with strong rules of obedience and order, and a sense of aesceticism. To be gamer is to be honourable and pure.

Copies of It Is Forbidden are once again available as another pledge drive for Steve’s further education.


Where I’ll Be At GX Australia 2017

I normally post one of these for most cons, because I am a winding sinuous serpent who hops from event to event to panel to game like a flitty floaty mixed metaphor, and I give prizes for finding me. But now, I have emerged from my butterfly anti-cocoon and become a caterpillar who stays still: for much of the con you will find me at booth 12 (near the Nintendo display), shilling the fine RPGs of Half Monster Games AND the fine RPGs of Tin Star Games.

We’ll be selling our brand new single-player Western story game, The Tin Star, in gorgeous sepia toned parchment pages for that old-westy feel. Plus copies of Daughters of Exile and Afraid of the Dark. We’ll also be demoing our card games we have in development and if you’re very lucky we might run some It Is Forbidden.

I will also be moving about though, so when I’m not at the booth I may be found at:


I’ll be at the booth all morning (unless we get a game going in the RPG area, ask the RPG devs if we can!)

At 1pm I hope to attending How To Break Into the Industry in the Development Panel Roomn

At 2pm I hope to scoot over to the Auditorium to hear about how games can actually change people’s minds for the better, something I’m very big on

At 4pm there’s a panel in the Development Panel Room on Mental Health Representation in Games which they said they needed a moderator for and I am waiting to hear back so I might be there.

At 5pm I’m running my panel on masculinity, which you can read more about here.


At 1pm in Development Panel Room there’s a talk on Queering Your Tabletop which is basically a sequel to our panel on inclusivity in table top games that we did at PAX last year. The question came up: how do you show queer identities when there’s not a lot of sexual preference in a board game? Time to answer that!

At 2pm I may hang around there to see the companion piece to yesterday’s 2pm talk: Using Games to Build Empathy.

Is there a theme building? Yes. Games can change minds, in a way no non-participatory art can. In keep with this theme, anyone who comes past the booth on the weekend can get our free game THE DAY THEY CAME, which is a parlour game about escaping from your country when the nazis take over. I mean, the space nazis. This is SF, of course. It’s not real. It couldn’t actually happen.

And of course, we’ll be officially announcing Relics, our big new RPG coming in 2019.

What’s it about?

It’s about time you came and found out…