Owen KC Stephens' Tabletop RPG Truths #4

A few weeks ago I posted about Owen KC Stephens posting about the 'Real Game Industry' on Twitter, and then a followup a little later, and a third here. This is the fourth installment, as Owen is continuing to share his experiences of the tabletop RPG industry. You can follow along with the #RealGameIndustry tag on Twitter.

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  • Many ttRPG writers think overwriting an assignment by up to 50% is doing developers a favor. Most developers prefer turnovers be within 5-10%. Developers rarely have time to give feedback, and writers rarely have time to read pages of instructions in advance.
  • Even within a company, many developers handle very basic things differently. No one has time to figure out which of these methods is best. This is one reason companies don't have a public set of universal rules for how freelancers should handle basic issues.
  • It' not that the US ttRPG industry has no norms and standards. It's just that the standards include "For w-f-h, you'll have no idea what changes were made to your draft until you get a copy," and "There's no job security or clear path to advancement."
  • Even though I have known how it works for decades, it still hits me how MUCH more money RPGs could make creators (without even changing prices) if they sold 2k-3k more copies per SKU.
  • Social media makes it easy for trolls to magnify their voices and target harassment at creators. Dealing with them is depressing and tiring. It's also worth doing. Block. Ignore. Deplatform. And support your creators so loudly the trolls are drowned out.
  • Being able to write up enough about an idea or homebrew to have a rough draft you can explain to people is not only different from producing to-spec ttRPG material people can understand without you being around to explain, it's almost entirely unrelated.
  • The bigger the ttRPG company, the more it can and should consider how to acquire new ttRPG players. WotC produced D&D-branded children's books. Paizo has done boxed beginner sets. Smaller companies can't go that far, and mostly just target existing markets.
  • There are skills for ttRPG freelance writing that're invisible in the end product (e.g. writing a 110k word book of your ideas at your own pace is totally different from writing 110k words with a 90-day deadline while sticking to a publisher's project outline).
  • There are both people who can produce great ttRPG material but only when writing their ideas on their schedule, and those who can only finish things if a company gives them the outline and deadline. Some can do both, but it's not universal.
  • There are things that are going to be seismic shifts for how ttRPG business is done. In many cases, the shift has begun, it's just about how common the tools are. Cheap 3D printers. Smart speakers. VTTs. And factors such as pandemics and calls for equity.
  • In Aug 2000 I was at WotC's RPG R&D Gen Con dinner at Mader's. A more senior staffer noted it's wasn't what you knew that got you a WotC job, but WHO you knew. I said I hadn't known anyone. Smiling she said "Yes, Owen. You're the exception that proves the rule."
  • It seems totally reasonable for ttRPG companies to want to hire people with more credits and experience. OTOH, that reinforces the advantages of non-marginalized people who had an easier time getting into the industry. And that becomes self-perpetuating.
  • To be clear, that was 20 years ago, and I don't have the sense that's it's nearly as true nowadays. But it absolutely impacted who had access to that experience back when it was more true.
  • There are more people making a living through small ttRPG publishers, including 3pp, than with the big, well-known companies. Small publishing ttRPGs are most of the industry by participants, even if not by sales.
  • Anyone who claims creating good ttRPGs takes neither any skill nor experience has never tried to play a ttRPG written by someone with neither skill nor experience. There are people who do great with one or the other, but no one does well with neither.
  • Creating a brand-new RPG connected to nothing is a very different skillset than expanding an existing game, or making one as a tie-in to existing IP. There's overlap, of course. Some folks are good at both. Lots aren't.
  • It is obviously difficult for any one company or person to tackle systemic ttRPG industry issues, as they are systemic. Not making thing worse won't do it. Companies and leaders must actively work to make things better, even if there is risk and cost involved.
  • Over 20 years and multiple companies, when I have come to a manager with a concern about racism in ttRPGs I have sometimes been met with anger. Managers who reply with anger are training people not to trust them with issues, and therefor not trust them at all.
  • Sometimes my concerns about racism have been met with deference for tradition. Such as the title of the 3.0 D&D book 'Oriental Adventures,' which I voiced problems with. Not everything changes if you confront it, but almost nothing changes without confrontation.
  • Writing for leisure is very different from writing for work. A creator can be burned out on a project or even the whole concept of writing for someone else and still have plenty of capacity to write lots of other things. This has nothing to do with"Discipline."
  • If a writer is burned out on a project and can't work on it atm, fans being insulting or demanding has a 0% chance of causing the work to get done sooner. But in 100% of cases, anything but calm and polite feedback reduces the chances you'll see the thing.
  • Though it's NOT 100% true, I've noticed over more than 23 years in the ttRPG industry that extremely confident & haughty designers impressed by their own their talent, skill, and genius, often shouldn't be. Many of the geniuses are humble, doubtful, & cautious.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

macd21

Adventurer
Hard to see how anyone, after one decent google search, could think that. There are countless great maps for free. And the best quality maps I've seen, bar none, are produced by Oones, mostly for $1.95 each.

Any time I try to look for good maps online, I usually give up after trawling through a lot of garbage. Never heard of Oones before, but after a quick look I don’t see anything I like.
 

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Any time I try to look for good maps online, I usually give up after trawling through a lot of garbage. Never heard of Oones before, but after a quick look I don’t see anything I like.

Odd.

So how much are you spending on maps a month?

I go through as many as five or six a month.
 




It’s ugly, boring, and has an awful layout. It doesn’t look like a map of a cave complex, it looks like a map a ten year old would draw.

You must spend time with some interesting ten year olds. :unsure:

Me, I see a roomy layout suitable, after throwing in appropriate dressing, for a simple combat encounter. Like I said, I go through quite a few a month, and I try never to re-use them. That's a couple hundred a year.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I use a lot of free maps, but I supported Blando on patreon for a while because the maps were absolutely gorgeous. They looked incredible printed at scale using a large-screen printer and on a VTT. Also, the gridding was done correctly so that it was easy to line things up in a VTT. Further, Patreons could vote on the next map and make requests based on the level they contributed. Lastly, I really loved his work and wanted to support him so that he could still make maps available beyond commissioned work he does for books.

Another advantage of some of the map makers on Patreon is that they will collaborate with other creators and over each other's supporters packages of maps, tokens, flat-minis for printing, and even adventure material.

Other times I bought maps and the reason for it:

* some guy on Reddit was remapping all of Castle Raven loft from Curse of Strahd. He eventually made it available for a modest amount on Drive Thru RPG. I paid because it was better than what any of the major VTTs created, was gorgeous, and captured the flavor of the castle. The free versions he made available were not as nice and not as well-prepped for VTTs.

* I commissioned a map of my homebrew campaign world. Well, if you want someone to create a specific piece of art that captures your vision for a location, you generally have to pay or trade for it, unless you have a generous and talented friend willing to do it for free.

* I bought Mike Schley's Curse of Strahd map pack. It has all the location other than Castle Raven loft, which I printed on a large-format printer. They exceeded the quality of the maps in the book and allowed me to have at-scale battlemaps for CoS all pre-printed and ready to go. There would have been no way to get these legally other than by copying and blowing up the images from D&D Beyond or the books, which would look ugly, or by creating my own versions, which I didn't want to spend the time on, when I could just buy them.

* 0one games - the best PDF format maps I've seen. I love how they use layers to allow you to create the maps as you like them. Also fun to play on an old-school blue-line style map now and then.

* Kobold Press's Lairs book for their Tome of Beasts book. The maps in the PDF are all VTT ready and easy to print at scale. But this maybe isn't fair as it is a book of mini adventures, so you are not just buying maps.
 

Try out Heroic Maps or Forgotten Adventures or Seafoot Games. Cze and Puku are a bit more cartoony but one of the more popular mapmakers. I agree that 0one and Dyson Logos are just too basic and lacking to my liking.
 



Well this certainly turned into the Jd Smith I can't believe it's not butter.... I mean I can't believe people pay artists thread!

Sorry, I was just amazed artists are making that kind of money making maps. Given I'm always on the hunt for maps, it really caught my attention. I'll quit posting about it.
 

Hussar

Legend
Let's be honest. MOST artists are not making that kind of money. There are a few that are doing very well, some that are doing fine and the vast majority who are basically just hobbyists. But, given sites like Cartographersguild.org, there seems to be a fair number of people out there that are giving it a go.
 



Emirikol

Adventurer
These are insightful. Ive done a lot of volunteer writing, fanzine publishing, convention GMing, and administrating for Living stuff and it is fascinating to hear how it is simply on the other side of the curtain. Thanks Owen!
 

Really? Concerns about racism have been met with reactions of anger? Shock and surprise. :erm:
Memory is a fickle beast.

I do think it is worth noting that negative reactions stand out much more than calm, positive or subtle actions. It is the old universal truth that when the athlete or celebrity say: "My teacher(s) said I would never make it!" They mean one out of the hundreds. When they say, "When I was a senior in high school my coach told me I could do it... that was the first time I'd ever heard someone believe in me." They mean, they didn't hear it the other thousand times it was relayed to them. They weren't ready to believe in themselves, so therefore, it was dismissed. And when they say, "School was brutal. I was picked on relentlessly. The kids were so mean because I didn't fit in." What they mean is a small handful of kids were mean... 5 out of thousands.

Of course none of those things are acceptable. No one should be bullied, kids should be told they can be successful in whatever endeavor they attempt, and they should never be told they can't make it. But the point is clear - memory, particularly a memory that spans twenty years in a tough industry, might remember things from a very biased and skewed perspective when overall numbers are concerned. And rarely, I mean very rarely, do they ever take into account the other person's motives and state of mind at the time of said encounter.
 




Dire Bare

Legend
Memory is a fickle beast.

I do think it is worth noting that negative reactions stand out much more than calm, positive or subtle actions. It is the old universal truth that when the athlete or celebrity say: "My teacher(s) said I would never make it!" They mean one out of the hundreds. When they say, "When I was a senior in high school my coach told me I could do it... that was the first time I'd ever heard someone believe in me." They mean, they didn't hear it the other thousand times it was relayed to them. They weren't ready to believe in themselves, so therefore, it was dismissed. And when they say, "School was brutal. I was picked on relentlessly. The kids were so mean because I didn't fit in." What they mean is a small handful of kids were mean... 5 out of thousands.

Of course none of those things are acceptable. No one should be bullied, kids should be told they can be successful in whatever endeavor they attempt, and they should never be told they can't make it. But the point is clear - memory, particularly a memory that spans twenty years in a tough industry, might remember things from a very biased and skewed perspective when overall numbers are concerned. And rarely, I mean very rarely, do they ever take into account the other person's motives and state of mind at the time of said encounter.

Heh, I'm a teacher, and I've had plenty of kids say things like:

KID: "I hate school, all my teachers are mean and don't like me!"
MR. DIREBEAR: "Really, ALL of your teachers?"
KID: "Well, not YOU Mr. DireBear, you're cool."
MR. DIREBEAR: "Thanks! But what about Mrs. So-and-so?"
KID: "Oh, she's alright."
MR. DIREBEAR: "And Mr. Whazziface, what about him?"
KID: "Oh, he's really nice! He really helped me out with my math!"

And so on . . . .
 

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