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...

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

starfinder.jpg

  • 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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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
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.

So, I didn't think this was true! I thought I'd get at least 40.

Then I made a mental list.

And checked the following website:


16 definitely (as in, of course). Another .... 5 or 6 I'm pretty sure, maybe. There's others that I'm like .... I should know this, but ...

Man, that's not good. Time to hit the books.
 

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Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
If you are taking your dream job... and it isnt' clear there's a market for it? Maybe.

But if you are doing a job we all recognize is desperately needed, needs significant training, and our society depends on getting done? Then you get to complain. So, teachers totally get to complain that they get paid dirt.

Teachers might get paid dirt in your country but that's not true in many other countries - certainly not my home country (Australia) and the other country where I have spent most of my expat life (Singapore). I'm not even sure it's true in most other countries - the USA is an outlier in so many ways.

But I wasn't talking about teaching; I was talking about writing for RPGs, getting paid very little, and then complaining about it even though it's been known for a very long time that there is no money to be made in this hobby pretending to be an industry.

At some point, if you know that the consequence of trying to work in the RPG industry is that you are going to starve unless you get really lucky (true of almost every creative endeavour), then you make a wiser choice of your career path.

Choices have consequences - especially in the context of one's career and livelihood.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
When did you come by the misapprehension that humans are a species driven (or eaven heaviliy influenced) by logic?

Two straw men in a row, Umbran.

The article under discussion is about the consequences of a poor career choice. Cause. Effect. There's some logic at work there.

So even if you say that many humans are not driven by logic, logic is also unavoidable in the sense that choices have consequences and causes have effects. That's a simply logical progression.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Choices have consequences - especially in the context of one's career and livelihood.

And... we are supposed to accept the consequences quietly when they are unfair? Is that your point?

Are you of the opinion that most folks even have the ability to really know the consequences when they make decisions on professional direction? As if we all have ready access to people who will lay it all out for us? Because... that isn't a thing. Most of us don't have a lot of information when we make a professional choice - we learn as we go.

So even if you say that many humans are not driven by logic, logic is also unavoidable in the sense that choices have consequences and causes have effects. That's a simply logical progression.

You are abusing the term "logic".

Money is a human construct, not a natural law. How people get paid is a human decision, not some aspect of physics. Thus, the flow of money to game designers and teachers and everyone else is driven not by "logic" but by human decisions, which are not all that logic-driven most of the time.
 
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TheSword

Legend
Thats very hard to do though. There are a few making bank of Patreon, but 99% of RPG Patreon makes very little.

I suspect 99% of DM guild makes very little as well.

2 years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of spending £20 a month on Patreon but nonetheless things change.

I do see that most of the top 10 rpg Patreon’s are producing maps, tokens and other resources. and that writers don’t feature highly - with yours as a noticeable exception.

However to look at even Owen KC Stephens page as an example it has two short videos a minute or two long and a short pdf.

If I contrast that to some of the map designers who are producing 2-4 unique maps a month with 3-5 alternate versions each. Plus the asset packs they used for them, commentary, advice, pdf adventure ideas etc. I think some of the writers need to dramatically up their content if they want anywhere need the amount of support that the guys taking $10k+ are making.

If writers save their best work for publishers that will then screw them over (intentionally or unintentionally) then they cannot expect strong following on Patreon.
 



MGibster

Legend
All of these make me strongly believe that the RPG community does not deserve Quality RPG products. In short, we as a community do not value (as exhibited by the price we are willing to pay, the way we treat the creators, and our willingness to pirate) what the industry creates. The reason we have the quality products we do have is because of creators who love what they create more than they demand a fair wage.

How much should we be willing to pay for RPGs? I'm one of those people who feels as though I get a pretty good value for games these days. I recently paid $50 for the Alien rpg and it was well worth the money, and hell, I would have happily paid $60. But if the price was $100? No way. I could certainly afford it but I wouldn't be willing to pay that much.
 


Retreater

Legend
As someone who has done "work for hire" for an RPG company in the past, it still hasn't stopped me from wanting to design and write. However, it's not my main job. It's a hobby, like a guy who plays dive bars for free beer (which I've also done). I don't envy those who try to do it professionally and make a living from it.
Honestly, I'd be fine going in the opposite direction. While I can appreciate high production values, I don't need them. Cut the full color art. Cut the glossy pages and incredibly padded word count. You're not trying to appeal to casual buyers on the shelf of a Waldenbooks or Sears anymore.
 

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