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2016: The Year in (belated) Review

March 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Here it is, March already. How did that happen?

While a lot of the most popular posts on this blog are about the old days (and especially my Games Workshop days), I also like to keep readers up to date with what I’m doing now – so go to My Books and BUY! BUY! BUY!

Ahem.

Anyway, here’s a brief look at what came out in 2016.

GAMES AND BOOKS

Dawnbringer
Danish game developer Kiloo is best known for their hit mobile game Subway Surfers. They hired me to help develop the setting and characters for this high fantasy swipe-and-slash game for iOS and Android. You play a fallen angel battling demons in a ruined world, and searching for redemption along the way.
Kiloo’s Dawnbringer page
My earlier post about Dawnbringer

Of Gods and Mortals: Celts
The first army supplement for Andrea Sfiligoi’s mythological skirmish game, and yet another chapter in my ongoing love affair with Celtic history and myth.
Ganesha Games’ Of Gods and Mortals page
My earlier post about Of Gods and Mortals: Celts

The Investigators of Arkham Horror
I contributed five stories to this gorgeously-presented collection based on Fantasy Flight’s acclaimed Cthulhu Mythos boardgame.
Fantasy Flight Games’ page
My earlier post about The Investigators of Arkham Horror

Nazi Moonbase
All the Nazi super-science conspiracy theories I could find, collected and wrapped up in a unifying narrative that also explains the urgency behind the Cold War space race.
Osprey Publishing’s Nazi Moonbase page
My earlier post about Nazi Moonbase

Cthulhu Confidential
I edited the text of Robin Laws’ thought-provoking solo Cthulhupulp game, where the Mythos is arguably the least of the horrors.
Pelgrane Press’ Cthulhu Confidential page

 

ARTICLES

Pyramid 3/92: Zombies
I contributed “The Viking Dead” on Icelandic draugur and haugbui, as well as a systemless look at several varieties of “Indian Ghouls.”
Buy it here

Pyramid 3/87: Low-Tech III
“Tempered Punks” contains some systemless advice for dealing with gadget-happy players whose modern knowledge wrings unbalancing power from old-time technology.
Buy it here

Fenix, Kickstarter special edition
I contributed a systemless article titled “Mummies: A New Approach” to support this bilingual Swedish-English roleplaying magazine. It includes seven mummy sub-types based on the ancient Egyptian multiple-soul concept, along with descriptions of ancient Egyptian mummy amulets with powers to affect both the living and the undead.
Fenix Kickstarter page

Fenix #6/2016
My Call of Cthulhu adventure “Spirit of the Mountain” takes the investigators into the Wild West.
Fenix back issues page

Fenix #2/2016
“La Llorona” discusses the famous Southwestern ghost, with notes for Speltidningen’s Western RPG. I’m told that an English-language edition of Western is in the works: I’ll have more to say about that in the future.
Fenix back issues page

Aviation History, September 2016
I indulge my love of vintage aviation with “Aussie Battler,” tracing the rushed, post-Pearl-Harbor development and surprising career of Australia’s home-grown (and largely improvised) CAC Boomerang fighter.
Aviation History magazine

Freebies
I posted a couple of new pieces in 2016, including “Converting Between Call of Cthulhu and Colonial Gothic” (which does exactly what it says on the tin) and “A Green, Unpleasant Land,” which presents some previously-unpublished British Call of Cthulhu adventure seeds I wrote in early 1986 for Games Workshop’s supplement of a similar name.
Go to the Freebies page

 

 

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2013 and Beyond

February 10, 2014 Leave a comment

2014 is shaping up to be a busy year. Right now I’ve got four mobile games, two tabletop RPG books, and two nonfiction books at various stages of development, and I’m also trying to keep my promise to myself that I will write more fiction.

With all this going on, I haven’t had time to put together an elegant and well-reasoned thought piece or a vivid and fascinating memory of The Old Days for this update. However, there are a few bits and pieces that might be of interest:

Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North is now in its third year, and still going strong. I’m currently helping develop a great new feature that I can’t really talk about, which will be released later in the year. You’ll see some familiar faces, and I think that fans of deeper Arthurian lore will be pleasantly surprised. That’s the intention, anyway.

In other KBN news, the game is ranked #10 by worldwide revenue in App Annie’s 2013 retrospective. A year ago, it was the iTunes Store’s #1 top-grossing app of 2012. And, of course, it’s also available for Android. I’ve been involved with KBN since the very start, and I’m delighted with its continuing success.

Another Kabam title I’ve worked on also did well in 2013, according to App Annie. The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth ranked #8 by revenue in the U.S., #5 in the UK, and #6 in both France and Germany. Over the last year I worked on a narrative campaign feature that allows players to fight the Goblins of the Misty Mountains alongside heroes from the movies – and, in the most recent instalment, lets them take on the dread Necromancer from Mirkwood to Amon Lanc and beyond. Like all of Kabam’s mobile games, this is also available on Android.

Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon has just acquired a great little feature that allows your dragon to go exploring when you’re not using it in battle, and find you all kinds of interesting treasures. I wasn’t involved with that particular feature, but throughout the last year I’ve been working on new dragons, new troops, and various other expansions. More on those when I’m allowed to talk about them. Also on Android.

Beside these three, I’ve been working on localization editing for a whole bunch of games from China that are hoping to build on their success in that booming market and move into the West. Three projects down so far, and two more in progress: more when I can talk about them. There is some good stuff coming out of China, for sure, and many commentators have tagged it as a market to watch. Russia, India, and Brazil are also poised to become significant mobile-games markets in 2014, according to many analysts.

And finally in mobile gaming, I’ve been working on a new fantasy RPG for iOS. I can’t give any details at this stage, but I will say that the setting is interesting and I’ve been having a very good time developing the backstory and advising on some quite intriguing features, both in narrative and gameplay.

The two books I wrote for Osprey Adventures in 2013 have been well received, and I’ve signed up to write two more. Thor: Viking God of Thunder in the Myths and Legends line has been getting good reviews, and the new Templar conspiracy I laid out in Knights Templar: A Secret History has been well reviewed and has inspired both fiction writers and tabletop RPG designers. I’ve been contracted to write two more titles: Theseus and the Minotaur is due to be released in November this year, and I’m just starting work on a yet-to-be-announced Dark Osprey title.

I’ve also been indulging my love for historical fantasy in a few tabletop RPG projects.

Colonial Gothic, the game of horror and conspiracy at the dawn of American history, received a great boost from the release of the Second Edition Rulebook, and that was followed up with the release of the Bestiary in October.

Just open for preorders is Lost Colony, a unique two-period adventure that explores the mystery of Massachusetts’ ill-fated Popham colony in both 1607 and 1776. It is written by award-winning author Jennifer Brozek, whose previous credits for Colonial Gothic include the acclaimed Locations mini-campaigns and the groundbreaking e-book The Ross-Allen Letters, which blurs the lines between adventure and fiction.

I’m working on another Colonial Gothic supplement at the moment. I can’t talk about it yet, but it’s one that has been very long in the planning and it reunites me with a favorite collaborator from my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay days. We haven’t worked together for more than twenty years, and this project promises to be a lot of fun.

As much as I love Colonial Gothic, I am occasionally tempted by other tabletop RPG projects. When author and roleplaying luminary Robin D. Laws was recruiting talent for his Hillfolk Kickstarter campaign, I was honored to be one of the people he asked to submit an original setting for this fascinating game. I pitched Pyrates as “Firefly of the Caribbean,” and it was a lot of fun to write.

British publisher Chronicle City ran a Kickstarter campaign for their version of the Steampunk classic Space: 1889 – a favorite of mine from the 80s – and I offered an adventure for a stretch goal that, sadly, was not reached. I still hope to write it someday. Their Kickstarter campaign for Cthulhu Britannica saw me contribute to their intriguing postcard-based adventure generator. I was especially happy to be involved with this project because my first commissioned work for Games Workshop, way back in 1985, came when they were developing A Green and Pleasant Land, the first ever British sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu.

Last year I wrote a couple of articles for Steve Jackson Games’ Pyramid magazine, both about obscure guns. The Puckle Gun, a repeating heavy musket, was covered in issue 3/52 (February), while the fearsome Nock volley gun appeared in issue 3/57. I’m planning to adapt both these weapons for Colonial Gothic in the near future, possibly in an unannounced supplement that I have on the back burner. Meanwhile, I have another article – not gun-related this time – being considered for a future issue of Pyramid.

Finally, 2013 was the year I discovered the Oldhammer movement. It seems that there are a lot of folks out there who remember the Games Workshop products of the 80s with great affection, and several of them asked me to give them interviews or to share my memories of working at GW during what some regard as that golden age. I have a couple more interviews lined up, but here are links to some that have appeared so far.

So that’s what 2013 looked like for me, and what 2014 is looking like so far. As always, I’ll be covering ongoing projects in more detail just as soon as I’m allowed to talk about them. But now I’d better get back to work – there’s plenty to do.

Euro-friends!

December 21, 2013 1 comment

If you read my blog from anywhere in the Euro-zone, this might be of interest. I’ve just discovered that Amazon.de has the (English) Kindle version of “Thor: Viking God of Thunder” marked down to 0,99 Euros.

The Lion and the Aardvark

December 6, 2012 1 comment

Stone Skin Press’ anthology The Lion and the Aardvark has now shipped to UK bookstores, and just in time for Christmas. You can find it at Waterstones, Amazon.co.uk, Foyles, and other bookshops.

I can’t wait to see this, and not only because it includes my short-short The Lemmings and the Sea. I was intrigued by the concept ever since Robin Laws approached me to write something. I remember reading a children’s edition of Aesop’s Fables at the age of about seven, and being amazed at how insightful they were (even if I couldn’t have articulated that thought back then) as well as loving all the talking animals. I loved having the chance to try my hand at writing something in the same style. But mainly, I just can’t wait to see what the other 69 contributing authors have done.

The roster includes some big names from the gaming world like Greg Stafford, Ed Greenwood, Sandy Petersen, and John Kovalic, as well as writers like Matt Forbeck, Jonathan Howard, and Chuck Wendig. It’s a wide and eclectic group of people, each of whom is bound to come up with something great. I’m proud to be among such company.

The book looks nice, too – a satisfyingly chunky hardback with a lion and an aardvark gold-stamped into the cover underneath a simple but appealing dustjacket. Rachel Kahn’s internal art has a light touch that is perfect for the subject matter.

I’m told that an announcement about North American distribution is expected any day now. I really hope it will be in time for Christmas-gifting on this side of the Atlantic.

Getting a Job in the RPG Industry

October 10, 2012 2 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.

A Blast from the Past

June 29, 2012 6 comments

Well, not a blast, exactly. Probably more of a slightly damp phut.

I was casting about for a subject for a new blog entry this morning. I remembered that sometimes, online booksellers advertise books I have written or co-written at prices that just make me laugh. For example, someone on Abe Books wants over $500 for a copy of the third Doomstones adventure, Death Rock. Other people on the same site are offering it for $7.00 to $22.00, which is altogether more reasonable.

I was going to muse a little about perceived value, and maybe throw in a wry comment about how much I wish I could claim royalties on these kinds of prices, but then I saw this. This particular sighting took me back 26 years, to the point where I first thought I might be able to make a career as a writer.

It was 1985, and I was an archaeology postgrad at the University of Durham. I was compiling 150-odd years of excavation reports on Neolithic and Bronze Age burials, systematizing the data, and building a database on NUMAC, the mainframe that Durham shared with Newcastle University. In FORTRAN 77. I was starting to become dispirited: this was my first experience with computers, and it usually took me two weeks to get a 15-minute meeting with my Ph. D. supervisor, who only wanted to know what books I’d read since last time and took no interest in the project itself. But that’s a story for another time.

Gamebooks were everywhere in the mid 80s. Following the success of Fighting Fantasy, all kinds of imitators – of all levels of quality – had sprung up like dandelions. Imagine magazine had just published an article on the gamebook phenomenon that I had co-written with their book critic Colin Greenland, and I was doing an occasional gamebook spot on BBC Radio Newcastle’s children’s book programme. Then, out of the blue, I got a phone call.

Now, “getting a phone call” wasn’t easy for a college student back in the 80s. Collingwood College had maybe half a dozen payphones throughout its corridors, for the use of 300-odd students. Mobile phones – which did exist, just about – fell into two categories: large consoles that Captains of Industry had bolted into the back of their Bentleys, and portable units that came in a satchel and weighed only a little more than their cost in gold. What I got was a scrawled message that someone from a company called Scribos had rung, and wanted to talk to me about a freelance writing project.

There was no Internet to look up this Scribos, and I had no idea who they were. So I collected a fistful of 10p pieces, wandered the corridors until I found a free phone, and called them back.

It turned out that they were an educational publisher, and they wanted someone to write two 6-volume fantasy series in the Choose Your Own Adventure format. The twist was, the language had to be kept simple: the books were aimed at teens with reading ages of 6-7. The concept relied on the read-comprehend-decide activity loop of the gamebook format, along with the popularity of the gamebook phenomenon as a whole. I was equipped with a Fry Reading Age Chart, and told that each book should come in at 50 entries.

I’d been sending articles to White Dwarf and Imagine for a few years by this point, but I never seriously considered the possibility that I might be able to make a living as a writer. But two things sealed the deal for me. First, the books were to be published by Oxford University Press. And second, I was offered 600 pounds for the project.

It just shows how touchingly naive I was back then. Certainly, 600 pounds was a tidy sum to a college student, but this was a one-time project and I never did the math about how many such projects I’d need each year in order to make a living. Between this and my modest but semi-regular checks from White Dwarf and Imagine, I thought it was a sign. I was on my way. Over the next few months, my archaeological research tapered off until I withdrew from the project entirely.

I never received publisher’s comps of the Quest Books series (The Adventures of Kern the Strong and The Adventures of Oss the Quick) so I still don’t know how they turned out. One was turned into a CD-ROM a few years ago, but no more seem to have followed so I’m guessing that wasn’t a great success. I’m sure they weren’t masterpieces; I was just starting out as a writer, and finding my way.

Kern covers

Ken Gober kindly furnished me with these scans of the covers for Kern 1-6.

The winter of 1985-6 was a tough one financially. I finished the Quest Books project and was paid (which isn’t always the case, as any freelancer can tell you), but the 600 pounds didn’t last all that long. TSR Inc. shut down Imagine magazine – my most lucrative market – and eventually the whole of TSR UK as well. Editor Paul Cockburn started the short-lived GameMaster Publications and I became a regular contributor, but I just wasn’t bringing in enough money.

Then, out of the blue, I got a letter. Paul and a bunch of others from TSR UK had fetched up at Games Workshop’s new headquarters in Nottingham. There was a plan to make a roleplaying game based on Warhammer, which had come into GW’s portfolio in the recent merger with Citadel Miniatures. And would I like to come down to Nottingham and talk? Everyone knows what happened next.

I come across isolated titles from the Quest Books series online now and again, but this is the first cover shot I’ve ever seen. I think about collecting them sometimes, but I’m not really a collector by nature. And what if I should look at these books for the first time in 26 years and discover they really weren’t all that good? Silly, I know, but there it is.

When I remember my confused, conflicted and wildly over-optimistic mid-twenties self in that winter of 1985-6, I can’t suppress a rueful smile. I really had no idea what I was doing, and in a reasonable universe I would never have got away with it. The Games Workshop job, coming when it did, was an unbelievable and completely undeserved stroke of luck. But that one decision, swung by the name of Oxford University Press and the promise of six hundred pounds, set the course of my life from that point on.

Crowdfunding

April 19, 2012 1 comment

I’ve been hearing a lot about crowdfunding over the last couple of years, especially in the cash-poor but idea-rich tabletop roleplaying industry. What I haven’t heard is how successful crowdfunding has been at raising money. As of a couple of days ago, though, it looks like I’m going to be finding out.

Last week I got an email out of the blue from James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I hadn’t heard of him or his company before, because I really don’t do much in the world of tabletop roleplaying these days. I’d like to, but I can’t generally afford to work for the kind of rates that the industry pays: I wrote an entry On the Economics of Tabletop RPGs earlier.

I do make exceptions, but they are very rare. One is for Colonial Gothic, because I’ve known Richard Iorio of Rogue Games for years and I think the setting has a lot of potential. Another is for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, because it has been such a huge part of my gaming career going back to 1986. And I still write occasionally for GURPS, because it allows me to indulge my passion for historical and historical-fantasy roleplaying. Recently I had to turn down a project from a once-big publisher, because they were offering the same rate of pay as they did 20 years ago and I just couldn’t afford to do it.

Anyway, back to Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Casting about for reviews and then looking over the PDFs that I received, I found it was quite an interesting game. It’s an AD&D retro-clone, another phenomenon I had heard about but not investigated – but the main thing that interested me was the game’s focus on atmosphere and horror over old-school hackfests. So I’ve agreed to do something – maybe.

Here’s where the crowdfunding comes in. My adventure will be one of the bonus items if another project – a hardcover edition of the core rules – exceeds its funding target. Jim has also signed up Ken Hite, Frank Menzer, and some newer names to provide additional bonus items. You can find the details at Indiegogo – and make a pledge if you like what you see.

This is my first brush with crowdfunding, and I really don’t know what to expect. But I guess that in 44 days, I won’t be able to say that any more.

It’s going to be interesting.