Posts Tagged ‘careers’

The Gong Farmer: A Career for WFRP 1, 2, and 3

August 12, 2013 8 comments

I was recently at an SCA event, where I heard the medieval term “gong farmer” used to describe those valiant and unsung heroes who empty and maintain the Portajohns (known within the SCA as “Portacastles”). Through some wierd mental process, this got me thinking about gong farmer as a WFRP career. In many ways it’s tailor-made for the grubby and malodorous Old World setting.

What follows is a mental doodle as much as anything, but I also wanted to see how easy it would be to create a career for all three editions of WFRP: from the ground up, rather than simply adapting from one edition to another. I wrote it for my own amusement and not for GW or Fantasy Flight, so it’s not to be regarded as in any way official. Even so, I hope WFRP fans out there find it useful, or at least interesting.

The Gong Farmer

A New Career for WFRP

By Graeme Davis

Download PDF version (WFRP 1st Edition)

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and WFRP are trademarks owned by Games Workshop Ltd. WFRP 3rd edition is published under license by Fantasy Flight Games. This article is a fan work and is not intended to be official or to challenge any trademark or copyright of Games Workshop or Fantasy Flight Games.

The gong farmer has the least enviable job in the Old World. In towns and other settlements without a sewer system, the gong farmer gathers up all human waste and deposits it in a communal dump or cesspool outside the walls. Often permitted to work only at night, gong farmers are also known as nightsoil men.

Owing to the nature of their profession, gong farmers are able to remain calm in the face of things that would disgust and even nauseate ordinary folk. They are also well able to resist disease and poison through long exposure to the most noxious of substances.

The job is not without its compensations, but they are few and unreliable. Gong farmers have access – albeit at night and well supervised – to the houses of the great and good and can find themselves privy (pun intended) to household secrets as well as having a unique insight into their state of health. In addition, the by-laws of many communities allow gong farmers to keep any coins, small pieces of jewellery, or other items of value that they may find in the course of their work.

No Sense of Smell (Optional Rule)

A character with this skill or talent literally has no sense of smell. Their olfactory sense has been completely destroyed by long exposure to foul-smelling substances or through some other circumstance. They automatically fail any dice roll that depends upon smell.

First Edition Profile

Advance Scheme

M         WS       BS        S          T          W         I           A          Dex     

                                                +2        +2

Ld        Int        Cl         WP       Fel

                        +10       +10


Immunity to Disease

Immunity to Poison

No Sense of Smell (see above)

Very Resilient


Ragged clothing




Career Exits



Grave Robber


Rat Catcher


Second Edition Profile

Advance Scheme

WS       BS        S          T          Ag        Int        WP       Fel

—          —          —          +10%    —          —          +10%    —

A          W         SB        TB        M         Mag      IP         FP

—          +2        —          —          —          —          —          —

Skills: Common Knowledge (local community), Perception

Talents: Night Vision, No Sense of Smell (see above), Resistance to Disease, Resistance to Poison, Strong-Minded

Trappings: Ragged clothing, Shovel, Wheelbarrow, Lantern

Career Entries: Bone Picker, Peasant

Career Exits: Agitator, Bone Picker, Grave Robber, Rat Catcher, Rogue, Sewer Jack (Ashes of Middenheim), Vagabond

Third Edition Profile

Basic Career: Human

Basic, Menial, Social, Urban

Primary Characteristics: Toughness, Willpower

Career Skills: Discipline, Folklore (local area), No Sense of Smell (see above), Observation, Resilience


Action 2            Talent1

Skill 2   Fortune 1

Conservative 2  Reckless 1

Wound 1

Typical Trappings: Ragged clothing, Shovel, Wheelbarrow, Lantern





2nd edition version by Colin Chapman:

Getting a Job in the RPG Industry

October 10, 2012 4 comments

There must be something in the air. After the last two posts on breaking into video games and getting your game published, today one of my LinkedIn groups had a question from someone who wants to get a job in the tabletop RPG industry. Here’s what I told him. I think it’s realistic, but others may think I’m being too negative. If he’s really committed to tabletop RPGs as a career, he won’t be put off by what I say anyway.

All my tabletop RPG pals out there, please weigh in with your own advice and experiences – either here or on the LinkedIn discussion.

There’s barely an industry to break into. With very few exceptions (WotC, Paizo, Fantasy Flight), the industry is made up of garage operations doing it for love rather than money. Almost no one makes a living at it: I don’t. A little while ago I wrote a blog entry on the reasons for this.

If this doesn’t discourage you, start by freelancing. Pick your favorite 2-3 game systems and become an expert. Write a few pieces for each one and send them to the appropriate line editor. Don’t expect these to get published: they are just samples. If and when you get paying gigs, use the published work build up a portfolio.

Look at Kickstarter and Indiegogo for RPG projects. If you see anything you like, contribute cash (this establishes good faith) and write to the project’s owner and offer to create something for a stretch goal. Don’t expect payment for this until your name carries some weight.

Review games for sites like DriveThruRPG, RPGGeek, and Roleplayers Chronicle. Start a blog and post your work there alongside intelligent discussion of issues and market developments. Be active on the forums for your favorite 2-3 games. Go to GenCon and other major shows, visit the booths of your favorite publishers, and find someone to talk to about their needs.

Give this process 5-10 years (seriously). With a little luck and a lot of hard work your name will become sufficiently established that you can get regular freelance work. No matter how much you get, though, you will still need a “day job” to pay the bills. You will always be competing with an unlimited number of fans who write or draw as a hobby, and this keeps payment rates too low to sustain anyone as a career.

Keep an eye on publishers’ web sites, looking for vacancy announcements. Develop skills in graphic design, layout, and web site development that will set you apart from the mass of writers and/or artists. Consider acquiring business skills as well. Take your cue from the vacancies you see advertised: in my experience business and production vacancies are the hardest to fill. Writing vacancies, when they exist, are almost never advertised, for two reasons:

a) Any ad for RPG writers produces an unmanageable flood of applications. Picking out usable candidates from the mass of semi-literates and enthusiastic schoolkids takes too long. True story: when I worked for Games Workshop, an ad for a game writer produced multiple applications from 12-13 year olds (and a touching one from a 9-year-old, written in black crayon and accompanied by a sketch of his character) asking us to keep the vacancy open until they finished school.

b) All RPG companies use freelancers extensively to keep costs down. Therefore when a vacancy arises, hiring managers usually approach their best freelancers, filling the vacancy without needing to advertise.

Or, you can do what most people do and found your own company.

Set up a blog and post regularly, including free samples (skeleton rules in the GURPS light mode, free adventures) to give people a taste and make them want to spend cash on your products.

Use Facebook and game forums to develop a fan base. Send electronic samples to every review site you can find.

Once you have a base and some good reviews for your initial products, use Kickstarter to fund more. Look at current Kickstarter campaigns to see what works and what doesn’t.

Using print-on-demand and electronic distribution, you can avoid tying up too much cash in stock, but you have to do everything yourself because it will be years (if ever) before you have enough money to hire any help.

You’ll have to keep a day job, and free time will become an unknown concept, but you’ll be working in the industry you love and for some people that is enough.

I’m sorry if this sounds negative, but the reality is that the tabletop RPG industry is (and looks to remain) idea-rich but cash-poor, with writers in particular being a heavily oversupplied commodity.

Want to Get Your Game Published?

October 2, 2012 1 comment

Following on from the theme of the last post, I sometimes get emails out of the blue asking for my advice on getting a roleplaying game published – and sometimes for my help as well. It looks like John Kovalic gets similar emails.

John who? He’s the creator of the hilarious Dork Tower comics, the artist for Steve Jackson Games’ hilarious card game Munchkin, and the co-founder of Out of the Box Publishing. Go out and buy Apples to Apples. Right now. I’m serious. I’ll wait till you get back.

All of which means that John is a man who knows what he’s talking about. His blog yesterday contains a great deal of wisdom for anyone who is looking to get a game published. For added style points, he does it in a series of 17 tweets. Although he specifically refers to boardgames, this is good and valuable advice for any kind of game, including tabletop roleplaying games. So if you have a game that you’re looking to get published, read this. Read it all the way to the end. Print out the expanded section, and tape or thumbtack it up somewhere where you can see it every day.

And if you’re looking to publish a tabletop roleplaying game, you should also take a look at this. You need to be realistic about your chances of making money, even if you tell yourself now that you’re only doing it for fun.

Most people in the games industry get requests for free advice and free help from time to time. Most of us would love to be able to help, but most of us can’t because we’re too busy trying to make a living. No matter what you might think, none of us is sipping champagne on a yacht – not unless they’ve made it big in some other industry. So when someone else gives out good advice and saves me the work of doing so myself, it’s my duty to steal… ahem, pass it along.

Breaking In

September 12, 2012 6 comments

From time to time I get an email out of the blue from someone who wants to break into the games industry, usually as a writer or designer. I had another one this morning, and I thought it might be worth sharing my reply in case it can be useful to anyone else out there.

I haven’t worked as a game designer for some years, through choice. The discipline is becoming increasingly technical, requiring facility with scripting languages and 3D art packages that I don’t have. I’ve had more success as a writer, and I’d recommend these titles, written by members of the IGDA Writing Special Interest Group, as a starting point. They are a few years old, but most of the information they present is still useful:

The Writing SIG ( is a good thing to join. You’ll be able to ask questions of other game writers and listen in on their discussions, which can be enlightening. They also have a presence on LinkedIn ( Most of the members also have blogs, which are worth checking out for more information and insights. Find your local IGDA chapter, go to meetings, and get to know people: contacts are everything in this business.

I got into the industry a long time ago. I started in the 80s writing for tabletop roleplaying games, and along with a number of other writers from that industry I made the move into video games in the 90s. Back then there were very few writers and designers in the video games industry, so it was easy. Today, things are different.

These days, I would recommend focusing on one or two game genres that appeal to you strongly. Find the websites for their developers and get to know the companies. Take any beta testing opportunity you can, and try to train yourself to see a game with the skin off. Look through the graphics and the UI to see the underlying mechanics in action. If there are opportunities to create fan content – levels or whatever – make the most of them.

Keep track of advertised vacancies in design and writing: many can be found on the respective companies’ web sites, and the Gamasutra jobs page ( is also a valuable resource. Pay particular attention to the requirements for the kinds of vacancy that interest you: figure out how to acquire the required skills and experience, and also how to build a portfolio that shows them off. For design, create great maps, levels, etc, using the most popular tools. For writing, create storylines and dialogue samples. Start your own blog and use it as a showcase for your talents and experience. Create a LinkedIn profile, if you haven’t already, and link to your resume and samples.

Go to conferences if you can afford to (especially GDC) and follow the design and/or writing tracks. Learn as much as you can, present your skills and experience in the best possible light, and get to know as many people in the industry as you can. Contacts with other designers and writers are always useful, but also pay attention to producers: they tend to be the ones who hand out contracts and interview job applicants, and they have good information on the kind of skills and experience they are looking for.

That’s what I’ve got so far. If anyone has any follow-up questions, just ask and I’ll answer them as best I can whenever I get the chance. And if anyone from the industry wants to weigh in with a comment or more/better advice, feel free!

Good luck!


School Daze

July 28, 2011 2 comments

Back in March, someone on the LinkedIn group for my Alma Mater, Durham University, posted a question asking how much people used in their daily lives of the various subjects they learned at secondary school (that’s junior high and high school to American readers: think Years 1-7 at Hogwarts, but not so much fun). The poster was collecting data to help him convince 11-14-year-olds that subjects like English, math, and science would come in useful in their lives.

At some time in my games career I’ve used just about everything I ever learned at school and college. Here are the subjects I took at O- and A-level (to continue the Harry Potter analogy, that’s OWLs and NEWTs respectively) that I’ve used consciously during that time:

Maths: I took O-levels in both Maths and Statistics (and Further Maths, which was pretty much a freebie because it consisted of one maths paper and one statistics paper), and an A-level in Pure and Applied Maths. There was nothing in Computer Science below degree level back in the 70s when I was at school. Obviously maths is a good grounding for anything computer-ish, but as a game designer rather than a programmer I still found algebra and probability indispensible in designing statistical systems for games. The state of the art in game design is getting more technical with every year that passes, making these even more important. On the soft-skill side, any mathematical subject (and I’d include physics there) teaches the kind of organized thinking that is vital for game development. It also gives me at least a chance of understanding what the programmers on my projects are talking about – sometimes it can sound like Martian to me, and good communication between disciplines (design, programming, art) is vital on a big, expensive project like an AAA video game!

English: I took O-levels in Language and Lit. Writing is at the core of what I do, so much so that I now call myself a game writer with design experience rather than a game writer/designer. I despised Lit at the time, arrogantly thinking that I wanted to be a writer, not to obsess over the work of other writers. I was young and foolish, what can I say? I have come to recognize that as with painters, one’s own technique and understanding of the medium is immeasurably enhanced by studying the work of the masters. Story is a huge part of what makes a good game into a great game, and there is a suprising amount of dialogue and narration in most games – I’ve heard 60 hours (that’s 20-30 Hollywood movies’ worth) in a top-line MMORPG like World of Warcraft.

History: I didn’t take History O-level, veering more towards Latin and Classics. I came to history later in life, but quite apart from the work I’ve done on historical games (like the BAFTA-winning Total War strategy game series) it’s been tremendously important for doing things like creating fantasy settings for games. Understand how history and mythology work, and you can create fake histories and mythologies that ring true. Tolkien couldn’t have created The Lord of the Rings without his academic background in Anglo-Saxon literature. Oh, and enough Latin stuck with me that I was the go-to guy for fake-Latin Space Marine mottos in Warhammer 40,000 during my four years at Games Workshop.

Modern Languages:
I took French and German. They’ve come in handy on trips, such as the handful of visits I made to Paris for a project with Ubisoft. And as with history and mythology, an understanding of how languages work helps you construct fake ones for a fantasy game. For example, when I was writing for Warhammer Fantasy products, I twisted Welsh and Gaelic words for the Elven languages, while the Dwarf tongue was based on slightly mangled words from Scandinavian languages.

Geography: I took O-level and A-level, plus O-level Geology. Like history, they have come in useful in creating fantasy worlds. Knowing how landforms, climates, and so on all work helps create a more convincing world.

Biology: Once again, knowing about basic processes, anatomy, and ecology in this world helps create others that ring true.

At the time, very few of the subjects I was taking at school seemed like they would ever be useful to me. It’s surprising how wrong I was.