This entry is a little scattershot. I have a few things to let you know before I delve back into meaty essays on specific topics.
Speaking of topics, I have plenty. However, in my first post, I asked what folks might like me to write about. A commenter pointed out, wisely, that I should tell you what I’m interested in. Maybe that list will help you pick something you want to know. Maybe I’ll even be able to give a decent answer.
It’s not exhaustive, but here’s that list:
Since that day my first nameless elf died in the gray-ooze cave in The Keep on the Borderlands, I was hooked. I got into roleplaying games over three decades ago because I was interested in the drama. (I might have said watching players kill monsters and take their stuff back then, but it was drama, dammit.) Tabletop RPGs might be one of the best venues for creating emergent narratives, especially those with group involvement. I’m very interested in emergent narrative. Other fascinating aspects of storytelling include how we experience it in media such as movies, video games, interactive fiction, and books. Although I’ll talk a lot about story in games, I’m bound to touch on different modes from time to time.
I’ve been involved in storytelling in the D&D game for years now. I spent a major chunk of my time editing and developing adventures for the game, whether for publication or for Dungeon. When I wasn’t doing that, I was often designing for the game. My design usually starts with story. Without that narrative hook, design is more difficult for me, although cool mechanics can sometimes shout their own tale into your waiting brain.
I know a lot about the implied and actual tales of the worlds of the D&D game through the ages. If I don’t know, I usually know where to look or who to ask. (And I’m lucky that I can ask.) That knowledge isn’t essential to spinning yarns in D&D, but it helps when you’re helping produce that so-called official material. I have a few funny tales of being accused of inaccuracy, such as that “githzerai aren’t sword experts, that’s githyanki” incident. Because I have a case of impostor syndrome, as so many fellow creatives do, I research before I commit to D&D stuff I write. I’m rarely too far out of bounds, but I’m far from perfect.
A natural outgrowth, or in some cases the root, of storytelling is building worlds. One of the things I love about RPGs is the worlds they allow us to explore. I’ve been creating worlds or helping to create them for about as long as I’ve been playing roleplaying games. World building is fun just as pastime, but seeing a world you helped create used in play or to tell stories is beyond satisfying. I have all sorts of opinions on worlds, creating them, and playing with them. It might not occur to me to write about some of my views without your interest.
I have some burning thoughts on world building that have been heating up my mind for a while. They’ll comprise my next long essay here or, perhaps, more than one. Let’s just say that I’m tired of a lot of assumptions that a lot of creators seem to make, as well as conventions users impose. However, I hope to inspire rather than condemn, so we’ll see when the post is done.
For my D&D worlds, I usually start small but with some broader strokes, and then let the players decide how to interact with the setting. I plant clues, watch which ones the player’s follow, then flesh out the areas the characters delve into. If you’ll allow the digression, that’s one reason why I believe campaign settings are often too big and too detailed. Tolkien can’t be accused of the pedantry that appears in some. I consider the Wizards RPG R&D team’s current approach of detailing the Sword Coast of Faerûn to be a good one. It’s hard for a publisher, since a long-lived world’s fans have diverse desires for parts to use. In this age, such fans have lots of possible sources of world information for their D&D games. New material isn’t essential. (What do you think about that?)
I’ve been a designer, editor, and developer for a long time now. These topics are well within my wheelhouse, but I have a special place in my heart for development. I love delving into the technical aspects of others’ work and making it tick like a precision machine. I’m not claiming I always succeed, but it’s fun to be the person who has the privilege to try.
Also, in the production of the D&D game, a developer does work between design and editing. So, as a developer, you have the chance to interact with everyone from those teams. You also get to work with the art team to make sure words match illustrations and all those dungeon-map tags are correct. Further, if you’re like me, being a developer means you have the opportunity to work with freelancers. Helping folks make their work shine and learn about being a designer was always a pleasure for me. Time restraints often prevented as much interaction as I’d have liked, but you do the job you have not the job you wish you had.
Soon, I’m planning on examining Rob Schwalb’s development of my work on the Shadow of the Demon Lord adventure Heart of Winter. Later, I might do a series like a “How It Might Have Ended” of development, looking at other games and my thoughts on them or pieces of them. I have lots of such opinions. It’ll be neat to put them out there to see if what rattles around in my head stands the light of broader exposure and examination by people such as you.
I’m intensely grateful that the trajectory of my career started with editor, card-game editing to be exact, then moved to design and development. My writing benefited immensely from my involvement in professional editing, although I still consider myself to be the least skilled editor at Wizards. Similarly, being a developer honed my design abilities. I can see much of the fat in my work, provided I have and take the time. (Here, I indulge myself in conversational tone, and I rely on another editor. Thanks, Dave!)
The idea of pay segues nicely into my interest in intellectual property. My recent long essay points to my interest in how we deal with intellectual property and narratives. I’m most interested in the ethical and storytelling aspects of intellectual property and its management. I’m not a lawyer, and although I know a bit about copyright law, I prefer exploring other aspects of intellectual property.
Intellectual property intrigues me in a number of ways. I’m most inclined to write about managing intellectual property where it intersects with media and the audience. The ethics of property management are also important to me, hence my get paid admonishment. As I’ve revealed more than once, I also like to delve into canon and what it means for intellectual property. I joust with friends over these points, and putting them in the public eye for further debate adds to the fun. Maybe I’ll see an angle I never considered before.
A long-time freelancer, I’ve worked in games, off and on, for over a decade. Before that, I was a freelance graphic artist. I know a bit about freelancing in general, and a lot about freelancing for tabletop games. Starting last year, I’ve garnered some experience with contracting (from home) for video games. I’ve shared what I know in the past on this very forum, but I’m willing to share more.
I have two major items to remove from the possibilities. First, writing about the general business of freelancing is out. You know, meet your deadlines, communicate effectively, do good work. A lot of other venues offer better advice on starting out. If you think I know something specific I can share, though, I will if you ask, I agree I should answer, and I have time. Second, unless you and I have a relationship beyond this blog, I can’t give advice on a game (or novel, or world, and so on) you’re working on. I can’t even look at it, because if something you’re doing happens to be like something I’m doing, complications could ensue. Secondarily, I don’t have time. I have my work and my family, and all these video games aren’t going to cause narrative to emerge by themselves. (I’ve been playing the Fallout 4 Survival Mode beta. Yeah, I have a few thoughts.)
A third issue is pay. I might have more to say on this issue in a later installment, but I can sum up. You should be paid for work you do for someone else who stands to make a profit from that work. Exposure is not pay. Those who have the option to pay what they want and pay nothing do not deserve to benefit from your work.
Those quotes are there because I’m not sure where the line is anymore, supposing the line still exists at all. So much that was fringe when I was young is now considered to be normal or acceptable, or in some cases, even cool. I’m glad that’s true. We don’t need elitism, aimed in any direction, in any venue of life.
I’m interested in my tribe and the way we express ourselves. From time to time, I’ll write about this subject, although I’m most likely to sprinkle my sentiments into other essays. It’s important to me that I examine what I think, which is why I welcome feedback and try to give it. (This sort of interaction is something I’ve enjoyed about my work for a long time.) I hope to live in a world where we’re all self-reflective and tolerant, and I believe making that world a reality starts with me.
I’m here to say, especially in light of recent and past events in our community, that I stand for diversity, respect, and a welcoming attitude. I want to foster those elements where and when I can, but especially from this platform and in gaming. (Any help is welcome.) We don’t need intolerance, aimed in any direction, in any venue of life. Standing against diversity is standing against reality. Let’s be real together.