A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



Long Overdue Update

Gosh, has it really been over three months since my last post?

Well, suffice to say that things have been somewhat hectic. I started a new job on April 1st and my work schedule has changed radically, so I usually get home extremely tired and not thinking about blogging. But I will hopefully get back to posting stuff soon once I get a little more available time.

Holy s%#@!!! We're nominated!!!

Holy s%#@!!! We're nominated!!!

But there's a big reason to celebrate! Darklight Interactive's A Night In Seyvoth Manor has been nominated in the "Best Free Product" category of the 2013 ENnie Awards!!! I admit I was counting the days 'til the nominations were released and was worried that I was building myself up for disappointment but, alas, there it is. So fingers crossed and let's see if we can win the thing, eh?

As for my development efforts, it's been somewhat of a mixed bag. I'd been working on Return of the Crystal Scion but I've become slightly disillusioned by it. As it stands now it has some areas that I'm rather proud of, but there are some monumental plot holes that I've been having a hard time filling. As a result, I have suspended further development on it. My intention is to take the larger parts of it - the Tomb of Iryk-Tep, the Sarafi tribe and their Caves of Wonder, The Obsidian Tower, etc. - and release those in some sort of side trek format. I also intend to release some parts that are simply too small for publication, such as my Sky Kraken creature for Pathfinder, here on this blog. So stay tuned for all that.

But recently I've been drawn back to my original campaign, The Coming Dark. I had already created it for D&D 4th Edition and it clocked in at close to 200 pages, but I now had issues with its initial design. You see, it was the first thing I'd ever done with D&D 4E - or with high end campaign design, for that matter - and it was somewhat "railroady". In a nutshell, I didn't like it one bit; I had a story in my head, but in my efforts to translate it to the game it just wasn't working.

So I've started a full redesign of it for use in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game system. I'm changing quite a lot of it, using the Pathfinder design style which allows me to be much more flexible in what I can do. I'm not bound by the 4E balance, or the 4E GSL for that matter. It will be distributed in three parts, each part containing three chapters (or acts... haven't decided). And I feel it's a lot, lot better now so we'll see how it goes.

I also have Revenge of the Kobolds still sitting on my hard drive waiting for me to do something with it. It still lacks art so I'm hesitant to publish it as is, but as days pass I'm getting tired of holding it back. One of these days I'll just say "the hell with it" and unleash it on the world... when that day comes, I hope you enjoy it.

Finally, I kinda said I wasn't going to do it but I'm creating another small adventure (5 encounters) for D&D 4th Edition called A Festival of Magic, which is a proposal I pitched to WotC but they apparently didn't like (they never answered me, but still). I'm going to do an experiment with this one: once I complete and release the 4E version my plan is to convert this to as many other systems as possible. Pathfinder... 13th Age... DCC... Dungeon World... AGE... etc... Figure it's worth a shot trying that once.

Anyway, I'm still around so hopefully I'll get back to posting often.


The Off Pitch

The time is upon us once again: a new submission window has just started for Wizards of the Coast and DDI!

And... and... I'm drawing a blank here.

The Thrill of Victory

Now I know how some of you think because I'm in a similar boat: getting something published in Dragon or Dungeon magazine would be really, really cool. It's an acknowledgement, a nod by a major gaming company that shows you actually created something worthy of their attention, so much so that they actually PAID you to do it! Not only that, but whatever you write will be read by lots of people! Players worldwide could potentially be using your content in their own private games! Your name will become a synonym for "awesome"!!!

Maybe I'm exaggerating that last part a bit, but you get the point. And I'm not saying that everyone's like that, but since I'm kind of already a self-publisher it's starting to look that way. I mean, I can already publish any content I want and it'll be seen by... well... a few people... So the only thing that DDI brings is a higher level of exposure and acknowledgement.

And money, let's not forget that. You can't buy a boat with it, but it's something. I admit that, had I received a check from Wizards of the Coast I would have probably not cashed it, choosing to encase it in plastic and make it a really cool paperweight. But, in case you all aren't aware, WotC doesn't send checks; they use direct deposit to pay you.

The Agony of Defeat

There's a flip side to acceptance: the agony of rejection. I have to admit, compared to other publishing venues in the world the folks at Wizards of the Coast do a fantastic job of rejecting your idea. Where most publishers will send you a "No. Just... No" form letter, WotC actually goes in to vivid detail as to why they are not interested in what you're proposing. There's an actual human responding to each and every email - I've received rejections from at least four different people at WotC in the past - and unless your idea is completely bats%#@ insane they'll add a fantastic personal touch to the message explaining why they are not interested at this time. I've never seen a company say "no" in such a nice, professional and constructive way. Even if they really want to say "good god, man... what the hell were you thinking?", they'll be nice about it.

But, regardless of how nicely they put it, some people see the rejection as a soul crushing defeat. Even if they respond "we like it, but we're doing that already", it'll feel like you're idea has been thrown in to the Abyss. If they don't like it, nobody will! You just have to look at the numbers to realize it... Every submission cycle WotC receives tens of thousands of submissions and only accepts a hundred or so. Where are these submissions? We should be up to our eyeballs in independently published content for 4th Edition, but instead these ideas are thrown away and lost.

The Publisher's Dilemma

Now I have to admit something: I have an article in the pipeline. I don't know when it might get published, or even if, but it's out there... sitting in either the "to be published" or "shred with extreme prejudice" virtual bin on a WotC server. And, yes, I did get paid... but printing my online bank statement, cutting out the single line that recognizes the wire transfer from Hasbro/WotC and encasing that in plastic just doesn't have the same flair to it.

That article was accepted about eight or nine months ago. Quite frankly, I freely admit it wasn't my best work by far, but I still look forward to the day that it might get published. At midnight on the last day of every month I eagerly open the new Dragon and Dungeon table of contents to see if my name is there yet, only to fall away in despair when it's not.

I know what you might be thinking: "you got paid, right? What does it matter?" ... Well, if you're like me you're not thinking that but somebody out there is. It all goes back to acknowledgement; until I see my article in print, the payment means little to me. It almost feels like I got paid to be silenced, especially since I legally can't publish it on my own now. Heck, I'm pretty sure I can't even mention the article's contents at this point. Until the world sees the article, the payment almost feels like hush money. And, at $0.06/word, it turns out that it's pretty cost effective to shut me up.

Because of my first experience with publishing something in DDI, I'm now hesitant to do it again. If I submit an idea now, it might not see the light of day until 5th Edition is out... and what's the point then? At this point I'm not worried they'll say "no", but I'm concerned of how I will react if they say "yes". Can I take another nine months of waiting for the article to be seen, hoping that it'll be published while 4th Edition is arguably still relevant?

And then the business person in me chimes in: "you're already a publisher! What do you need DDI for?" Admittedly, self-publishing is a lot more work and doesn't get anywhere near the level of exposure that a DDI article gets. And, even though WotC doesn't pay much, it might not make as much (I've only had one product sell well enough to be worth it, and of course it's the product I can't sell anymore and can't talk about. You know, that one...). Some people might write for recognition or for profit, but I write because I enjoy it.

The fact that I'm drawing a complete and total blank this time around doesn't help either. I have some big campaign ideas, but they are all beyond the scope of anything that would ever get published in DDI. And I am terribly bad at writing lore (I struggled on the lore like you wouldn't believe in the aforementioned article of mine), so I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that sort of thing no matter how cool the idea might be. I just can't think of anything to submit right now.

But, sooner or later, I'll submit something. Because, god damn it, I want to see my name on that Dungeon table of contents!


In a completely unrelated and surprising note, "The Heart of Fire" was recently reviewed on ENWorld and got 4 out of 5 stars!

Two things I learned from that review:

  1. Interior art is important. I really got to do something about that.
  2. I'm not charging enough for my products. I've always been bad at gauging the worth of what I do; when one enjoys it so, it's hard to try and gouge people with the price. Many say I should raise the price, but I probably won't.

World of Fools

Even though I have sometimes participated in the antics, I really hate April Fools day. It's the sort of day when I should disconnect from everything and just crawl in to a closet, refusing to come out until 12:01am. I almost accomplished that today - went with the family to the beach - but I still managed to get online for an hour or so and experience the misery that is April Fools.

I don't really mind companies that participate in the April Fools antics so long as it doesn't directly interfere with customers or business practices. Just because Google decided to make an 8-bit version of Google Maps I still have access to the traditional system; I'm not forced to accept the goofy material made for this certain day because it's being rammed down my throat with no alternative. This situation is particularly annoying in cases of websites that decide to change their entire layout, and have made their websites unusable in the process. Last year several websites went the 8-bit route, and WotC themselves even cannibalized their home page in black and white once. Sites that I needed or depended on in one way or another were suddenly rendered useless just because someone at the company wanted to be cute and overhaul the template.

But the purpose of this post is not because of that (mainly because I've managed to avoid all that this year), but critical of Wizards of the Coast.

You see, in addition to April 1st being April Fools it is also the start of WotC's new submission window. The floodgates are open once again, and anyone and everyone can submit material in the hopes that they get published.

... But what to write about? Prior to April 1st, there was little indication of the sort of things they were expecting this cycle. Then, on April 1st, this article was posted.

I have two major problems with this article:

1) If read in its entirety, it's fairly obvious that it is a joke. But this bothered me:

D&D Gamma World: Our limited D&D Gamma World® product line made a big radioactive splash last year, and the game is 4th Edition compatible. We think our subscribers are ready for more D&D Gamma World support.

First of all, I admit it: I've been the one that has pretty much offered Gamma World content every time there was a submission window. I've ahd at least three different people tell me "Sorry, but no" in response to a submission email. This year I promised myself I would not do such a thing; if WotC doesn't want to pursue it, I won't either. So, quite honestly, the above statement almost felt like it was directed personally at me.

Secondly, if you take it to be an April Fools you can only assume that what they really mean is the opposite of what they're saying. Now it's one thing to not support a product any more, but to turn around and effectively suggest you really mean "Gamma World? Screw that!" is a stab at the game itself. Gamma World isn't just the forgotten child... it's the bastard one that nobody wants to acknowledge exists.

Gamma World does have an audience, and still has lots of people actively playing it. I don't know what brought on this attitude towards the game by its creators, but it's unwarranted. I accepted the "no more Gamma World content" statement at DDXP, but don't sandblast salt in to the open wound. If you want it dead, let it die peacefully.

2) So the submission window is now open... and the only guidance we have as to what materials they would like to see is a document that is - by design - a joke.You were open to make submissions, but you had absolutely no idea what they did or did not want; if you were excited to submit some ideas, like I was, you had no means to gauge whether they would be even remotely interested in them.

Only today, April 2nd, did they posted what they really want or don't want.

I sent a submission in already; I'd been thinking about it for a few days, typed it all up, and sent it early this morning before going about my day. I was going based on the information that I had, which was none. And this time I technically did not offer Gamma World content, but I did slightly rail on them for the reason I mention in #1 above.

Now I wish I could take that submission email back. Because, exactly 24 hours after the submission window opened, I am now told that what I sent is not what they want. I submitted options that they now explicitly state they are not interested in through the article posted today (April 2nd); had I known that when the submission window opened I would not have bothered, and now I look like an idiot for offering content they publicly stated they're not interested in.


So I'm kind of bothered, disillusioned and demoralized... I can't take what I sent back, so now I wait for the inevitable "God no, we don't want that. Ever!" email to come back from whomever's reading these things. I could have submitted other ideas, sure... But it may take a few days before my aggravation and anger subsides. And even so, if I send yet another email to them with "ignore my last one, this one is for real!" content, it feels like I'm spamming them. At this point I probably won't submit anything more this cycle, and I can only pray that the submissions I have sent in aren't laughed at for too long.

If anyone at WotC is reading this, let me offer some suggestions:

  • If you're going to offer suggestions on what you want or don't want, do it BEFORE April 1st. Not 24 hours after the window opens, because in those 24 hours people will submit things while being unaware of your expectations.
  • Do not mock the submission content on April 1st without setting a foundation of what you want or don't want before then. In the absence of valid information, do not cloud the waters with invalid info.
  • Change the start of your submission window to a day that's NOT April 1st.
Filed under: 4e, DnD, RPG, Submissions No Comments