Owen KC Stephens' Tabletop RPG Truths

Multi-award winning game designer Owen Stephens (Starfinder, Pathfinder, Star Wars) has been posting a series he calls #RealGameIndustry on social media.


  • Most TTRPG game company's art archives are not well indexed... Or indexed.
  • Yes, the RPG book could have had ONE more editing pass. There would still be errors, you'd still complain, it would cost more and take longer, and not sell any better. And people would download it for free illegally because "it's too expensive."
  • Tabletop RPG books are not overpriced. They are specialty technical creative writing social interaction manuals. At double the current prices, they would not be overpriced. This is why most TTRPG creators leave the industry. Along with constant fan harassment.
  • Quality, effort, marketing, and fan fervor cannot change this. Ever. That's not to knock, or praise, D&D. It's just a fact.
  • Impostor syndrome is hugely common in the TTRPG industry for two reasons. One: Studying and modifying RPGs often appeals to socially awkward shut ins who become broken professionals. Two: There's a sense that if you were a REAL professional you could afford a house, and insurance, and a retirement account, but that's not true for 99.9% of TTRPG professionals.
  • People who are passionate about making games for other people, people who are good at making games, and people who are good at the business of game sales and marketing don't overlap much in a Venn diagram. Most game company failures can be attributed to this.
  • A TTRPG professional with enough experience and credibility to criticize the industry as a whole is normally tied to one company so closely that the criticism is seen as biased, or unwilling to do it for free, or too naughty word tired to care anymore. Many are all 3.
  • If you are a TTRPG creative, you aren't paid enough. Thus, if you find people listening to you and apparently valuing your words you owe it to yourself to make sure they know there is an option to pay you for them. Also, I have a Patreon. https://patreon.com/OwenKCStephens
  • There are beloved, award-winning, renowned, well-known TTRPG books with total print runs of 2000 or fewer copies. That did not sell out.
  • Most RPG creators cannot afford the upper-tier of RPG accessories. Colossal dragons, scale sailing ships, and custom-built gaming tables are not for those of us who create the hobby. We are too poor to enjoy even a fraction of the things our creativity sparks.
  • The ability to master a game's rules has no correlation to the ability to write clear or interesting rules or adventures. Neither has any correlation to being able to produce 22,000 words of focused, usable content about a specific topic on a set deadline.
  • There are 65 people in the Origins Hall of Fame. Most fans can't name 5 of them. Most creators can't name 10. They are overwhelmingly (though not quite entirely) white men.
  • TTRPG companies generally have no interest in your ideas for products. They went to all the trouble of starting, or staying at, an RPG company to publish their ideas, even if they need you to write them. They certainly didn't stay for the money or respect.
  • Asking RPG freelancers to publicly call out a publisher is asking them to reduce their tiny chance of making enough money in RPGs to survive. Sometimes it's a moral imperative. But it's always painful and dangerous. It's more dangerous for women and minorities.
  • Occasionally, male game designers who do streams or vlogs or podcasts find themselves disconcerted receiving unsolicited commentary about their appearance. It happened to me. Or, in other words, they get a tiny taste of what women in every field face every day.
  • Freelancers aren't paid enough by game company employees and managers, who themselves aren't paid enough by their companies, which don't make enough from distributors and stores, that don't make enough from customers. This never improves. It can get worse.
  • Fantasy and scifi art has sexualized women for decades, so many pro artists assume that's what you want. Explaining otherwise takes more words that describing the art piece. I had to go with "No skin should be exposed except on the face." It was 75% effective.
  • Most RPG work is "work-for-hire," This includes most work I commission from freelancers myself. This means that, legally, the writer isn't the author. They have no rights to it. No royalties. No say in how (or if) it is used. It never reverts to them.
  • I have received 3 death threats in my 21+ RPG career. One for not listing the fans preferred length for the Executor SSD. One of having a male succubus (not an incubus, with that game system) drawn in a seductive pose. And one for being fat and on video streams.
  • Once, at Gen Con, a fan interrupted [Amanda Hamon] at the Paizo booth to ask her to point me out. She kindly did so. They came and asked me if I was the Starfinder boss. I pointed them back to Amanda, and noted she was my Managing Developer, and direct superior. I followed that by pointing out Lisa Stevens was an owner of Paizo but that I also worked for Nicole Lindroos and Miranda Russell at other companies, and that Lj Stephens was my project manager for my own company who kept me on schedule, The fan seemed upset.
  • I have been extraordinary lucky and well-treated in my RPG career. I love most of the companies and people I have worked with. It's just a harsh industry. This hashtag isn't intended as complaints. They're facts and alerts I wish I had gotten 20 years ago.

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Wow. In the states surrounding me you start at around $35k or more if you teach Math or Science.

If you get full time, and which 35k still isn't that great. I have a friend with his PhD in physics, tried for full time at local schools, and was only offered part time. They advertise full time positions, only to get you to apply, and receive an offer of part time; that way they don't have to offer you any benefits, and you are barred from joining the union. Meanwhile at local factories, a friend with a masters in chemistry, found employment in the paint dept of auto plant for 68k starting.

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
A lot of this is true for writing in general, and I suspect for creative work as a category. In my experience, the more people like a career, the less pay and more naughty word you're expected to put up with along the way.


Well, that was fun
Staff member
And that's not even a high number. 17K is mind boggling. I love my job, but I wouldn't do it for 17K. Or actually for 35K at this point, but 35K to start is at least within sight of a living wage.
As a point of comparison, starting teacher salaries here in the UK are about £25K (a bit more in London). Nurses earn in the same region.


Teachers here get somewhere in the 50-77k range. 1 NZD is 0.68 USD. Issue here is the extra curricular work you end up doing. Universal healthcare, government pays about 70-80% of your degree costs.

Question with old boys club. There's a few authors whose work I like. James Jacobs is one for an example.

Most of them were in Dungeon magazine. Wolfgang Bauer is another one.

But yeah I guess I'm looking at established authors whose name I recognize. But that feeds into the old boys club as well.

Now when you do a Paizo AP or WotC hardcover I can't even tell you who writes it 95% of the time.

The demise of Dragon/Dungeon feeds into this. I did buy off DMG but ended up with so many PDFs I couldn't keep up so gave up. I'll never run, use, or even read half of them.


Are you willing to pay on hourly basis? Is RPG entertainment worth $2 per hour for you? Are you going to get 10 hours or 100 hours or more from the product?

This is the basis that I use to remind myself that RPGs and board games are astonishingly good values.

For comparison, I spend $12 for a movie that lasts two hours. Some people spend $100 for a 4 hour football game experience.

If I add up the amount of time that I plus family and friends spend enjoying a game, then games cost pennies per hour.

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Teachers in the United States get paid a wide range. In Southern California, they typically start from $35k to $45k, depending on the district (and the district's cost of living) and salaries can get $80k or more with 20+ years of work and a PhD picked up along the way.

In other states, especially rural and poorer ones, their salaries can start closer to $25k.

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