What I Learned Doing the #AprilTTRPGMaker Challenge

The April 2018 Tabletop Roleplaying Game Maker Challenge, or #AprilTTRPGMaker, was created by game designer Kira Nagrann. Each day, game creators answered one question on Twitter. I participated, and expanded upon my answers here on the Dancing Lights Press blog. Today I want to talk about what I learned doing the challenge.

Why I Took the Challenge

One of my goals for 2018 has been to reconnect with the greater RPG community. It’s been a while since I’ve been an active voice, or a participant in any meaningful way. While I’ve been creating things, and have been running Dancing Lights Press for almost two years, I’ve been doing it while sitting quietly in my own little corner of the world. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that this challenge provides to see what the community looks like these days, reconnect with some folks I’d lost touch with, and meet some new friends.

What I’d Do Differently

What I wish most is that I had more time. This challenge was something that I learned about at the last minute, and sort of jumped into on a whim. I did that at the exact moment I was working to get projects off of my plate, but this seemed important. It was in the spirit of why I was trying to reduce my work load, which was to make more time to have a personal life. I wrote ahead due to my schedule, so some of the posts were completed a week or more in advance. I wish I’d had more time to respond to other peoples’ answers and chat with them about things, and maybe adjust some of my answers based on insights I gained reading other responses.

What I Learned Doing the Challenge

There are a lot of great folks out there making games. Some are professionals, many aspire to be, and a lot are just hobbyists doing it for fun. They all share a passion and level of creativity that reminds me of my early days with the hobby. I learned that Twitter hashtags are great for tracking communities. Especially for someone like me who relies more on lists than followers. There still has to be a better way to organize people online, with a bit more rigor and searchability than twitter, without the rigidity and need for moderation of a forum.

Mostly, though, I got to reconnect with my own motives. In answering the questions, I had to think about how and why I do things the way I do. It made me reassess my design goals. The feedback I received, and the answers others gave, helped me clarify things for my own design work. But that’s the power of community, right? With all the negativity in the world right now, I needed to be reminded of the positive value of having a tribe.

Check Out My Posts

You can read all 30 of the posts I made here. The comments on those posts are still open. I’m always interested in your feedback in the topics that were covered. If you know of any other challenges coming up, or have an idea for a new challenge, let me know in the comments below!

Top Tips and Advice for TTRPG Designers

April 2018 is the tabletop roleplaying game maker challenge. Each day, game creators will answer one question on Twitter. I’m participating, but I’ll be expanding upon my answers here as well. One of my goals has been to reconnect with the greater RPG community, as well as build a community specifically for Dancing Lights Press fans. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that this challenge provides to do those very things. Today I want to talk about my top tips and advice for TTRPG designers.

Day 30: Top Tips and Advice for TTRPG Designers

The one piece of advice that I can give to aspiring designers is to have a clear goal. Figure out what you want to do. Figure out what your capabilities are. Then figure out how to do it. Don’t make things up as you go. Don’t throw mud at the wall to see what sticks. Focus.

There are two approaches that you can take, once you have a vision of what you want to create- The first is to look at your resources, and figure out what you can do within those constraints. This can spark creativity and innovation, as you discover shortcuts, workarounds, and invent methods and tools because you don’t have the time or money to do things the traditional, orthodox way.

The second approach is to establish that vision of what you want to do, then figure out how to get the resources you will need to do it. This is just as hard as the first way, but if you’re following a traditional, orthodox path this might be your only option. Get a partner, an investor, or crowdfund it, but know the pros and cons of each.

If you’re absolutely serious about being a designer, you need to learn about business. When I decided that I was going to be a writer full-time, I didn’t go back to school for an MFA or a postbac in English literature. I went for a business degree. You will need to understand contracts and intellectual property law. You should to know how to do cost estimates, create a budget, and generate financial reports. Project management skills are vital. If you don’t understand marketing, you’ll never get off the ground no matter how great your game is.

Even if your intention is to farm those functions out to a partner or a third party, you should understand what they’re doing for you so you’re sure they’re doing it well and providing you value for the money you’re paying them. Be as protective of the business side as you are of your creative vision.

If you have any other questions, stay tuned for the rest of the #AprilTTRPGMaker questions. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter, or contact me using the form on this site!

The Importance of Community in TTRPG

April 2018 is the tabletop roleplaying game maker challenge. Each day, game creators will answer one question on Twitter. I’m participating, but I’ll be expanding upon my answers here as well. One of my goals has been to reconnect with the greater RPG community, as well as build a community specifically for Dancing Lights Press fans. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that this challenge provides to do those very things. Today I want to talk about the importance of community in TTRPG.

Day 29: The Importance of Community in TTRPG

One reason doing this challenge is that I’m not currently part of any TTRPG community. I don’t have enough time or energy to create what I want, online or locally. I’m hoping to find like-minded people to form an ad hoc community that meets my needs.

I was very active in the local scene in Tucson, Arizona several years ago, but then I moved away. I was one of the earliest RPG bloggers, but then I gave that up for various reasons, and blogging gave way to podcasts and streaming. I’ve had a couple of steady, long-term game groups, but over time everyone moved, including me. Motion and change seem to be a constant foil.

Even though tabletop roleplaying games are gaining more widespread acceptance, they’re not mainstream. It’s important to have people who understand your hobbies. Not just to have people to play games with, but as a designer, people who get what you do. Being a designer is a whole separate animal from being a player. I don’t even think a lot of players get that.

If you have any other questions, stay tuned for the rest of the #AprilTTRPGMaker questions. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter, or contact me using the form on this site!

How Other Creative People Inspire My Work

April 2018 is the tabletop roleplaying game maker challenge. Each day, game creators will answer one question on Twitter. I’m participating, but I’ll be expanding upon my answers here as well. One of my goals has been to reconnect with the greater RPG community, as well as build a community specifically for Dancing Lights Press fans. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that this challenge provides to do those very things. Today I want to talk about my favorite interview, and how other creative people inspire my work.

Day 28: My Favorite Interview

It’s no secret that my inspiration is Roger Corman. He’s not a TTRPG designer, but creativity is creativity and business is business. He figured out how to make what he wanted to — movies — with limited resources. That’s informed the way I do things on several levels.

What Corman taught me is that you can’t wait until conditions are perfect. If you want to create anything, find a way to do the best you can with what you’ve got. That itself can be an exercise in creativity. It means inventing new ways of doing things. You need to find ways to cut costs.

He also taught me the importance of staying true to your vision. You may not hit the mainstream, but your niche is valid. Some people may ridicule the quality of his movies, but he’s had a good life. He discovered a lot of great talent, and was able to give them a break. We wouldn’t have a lot of our most treasured actors, directors, and screenwriters without Corman.

There’s no specific interview that I can point to for this. My inspiration isn’t just limited to Corman, either. Part of my regular Sunday routine is watching documentaries — which usually contain interviews — about people in creative fields. Authors, artists, fashion designers, film makers, musicians, they all have experiences that are broadly applicable to any creative field.

If you have any other questions, stay tuned for the rest of the #AprilTTRPGMaker questions. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter, or contact me using the form on this site!

TTRPG Designers That Deserve Recognition

April 2018 is the tabletop roleplaying game maker challenge. Each day, game creators will answer one question on Twitter. I’m participating, but I’ll be expanding upon my answers here as well. One of my goals has been to reconnect with the greater RPG community, as well as build a community specifically for Dancing Lights Press fans. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that this challenge provides to do those very things. Today I want to talk about TTRPG designers that deserve recognition.

Day 27: Feature a TTRPG Designer

While I know what today’s prompt is intended to do, I’d like to turn it around and boost your signal. I’m going to be retweeting as many posts on this topic as I can find. My request is that you post links to things places where you’ve featured designers in the comments below.

I’m not great at conducting interviews. If I were, I’d have done one here. It’s not my strong suit. I could write a profile of some designer that I think deserves some love and attention, but which one? There are so many to choose from.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been an active part of the larger roleplaying community. I want to rediscover my tribe, get to know people, and find that sense of followship and camaraderie again. That’s why I’m taking part in this challenge.

So at the moment I’d rather shut up and listen. I want to know who other people feel need to be featured, and why. I’m more interested in learning about the community as it existed right now than in promoting my own opinions.

P.S. I’ve also created a Twitter list of participants in this challenge. Anyone can subscribe to it, and continue to follow these TTRPG designers after the challenge is over!

If you have any other questions, stay tuned for the rest of the #AprilTTRPGMaker questions. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter, or contact me using the form on this site!

TTRPG Blogs, Streams, and Podcasts

April 2018 is the tabletop roleplaying game maker challenge. Each day, game creators will answer one question on Twitter. I’m participating, but I’ll be expanding upon my answers here as well. One of my goals has been to reconnect with the greater RPG community, as well as build a community specifically for Dancing Lights Press fans. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that this challenge provides to do those very things. Today I’ll talk about blogs, streams, and podcasts.

Day 26: Blogs, Streams, and Podcasts

After a period of social media blackout, I’m trying to get back into blogging. That’s why I’m expanding the prompts for this challenge into a series of posts. I’m interested in discovering new RPG blogs that other participants in this challenge can recommend.

Podcasts aren’t my thing at the moment. In the past there were a few I followed, and I was even on a couple of them as a guest. I work from home, so I can’t listen to things on the way to and from work. When I am out-and-about I prefer to watch people and take in the surroundings. While I’m working I prefer silence, or nature sounds, or music that won’t be distracting or interruptive.

Streams, vlogs, and such aren’t things I’ve gotten into either. Not that I’m adverse to them, but I have a hard enough time keeping up with the few television shows I follow. Anything live is probably out of the question because I live several hours in the future compared to the United States, which is where a lot of the popular streams seem to originate.

I prefer to read. Some people think that just saying that sounds pretentious as hell, but I don’t care. I know what I’m about. Reading is why I like tabletop roleplaying games to begin with. I’d rather read fiction and game manuals, magazines and blogs.

If you have any other questions, stay tuned for the rest of the #AprilTTRPGMaker questions. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter, or contact me using the form on this site!

Being a Tabletop Roleplaying Game Designer Means…

April 2018 is the tabletop roleplaying game maker challenge. Each day, game creators will answer one question on Twitter. I’m participating, but I’ll be expanding upon my answers here as well. One of my goals has been to reconnect with the greater RPG community, as well as build a community specifically for Dancing Lights Press fans. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that this challenge provides to do those very things. Today I’ll talk about what being a tabletop roleplaying game designer means.

Day 25: Being a Tabletop Roleplaying Game Designer Means…

Being a TTRPG designer means that you’ll find healthy camaraderie with other designers, both professionals and hobbyists. You will meet a lot of interesting, creative, and exceptionally kind people. You will learn to appreciated them, and to treasure them.

Being a TTRPG designer also means that you’ll encounter competitive attitudes. People want to prove that their work is better than yours, or that they can execute an idea better than you can. Sometimes this is healthy, and can be pretty cool. Other times it can become toxic.

Being a TTRPG designer means that you’re going to do a lot of work without much recognition. People outside of the hobby won’t understand what you do. A lot inside won’t either. As long as you’re having fun and getting some creative satisfaction, you’re probably doing well.

Being a TTRPG designer means a lot of things, but it comes down to doing something that you love. We know that we’re not curing cancer or brokering peace in the Middle East. If we can make someone else’s day a little bit easier, though, and give them an outlet for their creativity and their need for social interaction, we’ve accomplished something meaningful.

If you have any other questions, stay tuned for the rest of the #AprilTTRPGMaker questions. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter, or contact me using the form on this site!

My Most RPG Notable Achievement

April 2018 is the tabletop roleplaying game maker challenge. Each day, game creators will answer one question on Twitter. I’m participating, but I’ll be expanding upon my answers here as well. One of my goals has been to reconnect with the greater RPG community, as well as build a community specifically for Dancing Lights Press fans. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that this challenge provides to do those very things. Today I want to talk about my most notable achievement.

Day 24: Most Notable Achievement

As this seems like an invitation to brag, I will. I’ve got over 50 titles at DriveThruRPG, and all of them are best sellers. This excludes freebies and bundles, which aren’t ranked. I have titles at every level, from Copper through Platinum.

In a business where it can be difficult to earn a living, I’ve supported my wife and I exclusively on what I make writing about games for almost two years now. I’m incredibly proud of that. Imagine what I could accomplish if I have more resources to work with! Or if I wrote things that were targeted toward a wider audience!

And still, no one’s really heard of me. Say my name and people will either say “Who?” or “I remember that guy, I though he quit the hobby like 10 years ago.” That last part is true. My most notable achievement used to be that I was one of the very first RPG bloggers. I dumped out long before others did, but for different reasons, and I didn’t move on to podcasts or vlogging like some others did. But I’ve never left the hobby. I just got quiet for a while.

If you have any other questions, stay tuned for the rest of the #AprilTTRPGMaker questions. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter, or contact me using the form on this site!

Why I Can’t Answer Today’s Question

April 2018 is the tabletop roleplaying game maker challenge. Each day, game creators will answer one question on Twitter. I’m participating, but I’ll be expanding upon my answers here as well. One of my goals has been to reconnect with the greater RPG community, as well as build a community specifically for Dancing Lights Press fans. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that this challenge provides to do those very things. Today I’ll talk about people who’ve helped me, and why I can’t answer today’s question.

Day 23: People Who’ve Helped You?

This is going to take a dark turn. The people who’ve helped me the most are the asshats who told me that I sucked and couldn’t do it. After that are a couple of folks I won’t name, because they’ve since been vilified and I don’t want the heat.

I would really like to express gratitude. Seriously. But what spurred me on was being mocked and laughed at by pompous clowns who’ve never done anything noteworthy in the industry. I recognize that I’m a small fish and a relative unknown, but I have over 50 best sellers at DriveThruRPG, including Gold and Platinum titles. I’ve paid the bills exclusively off of what I earn writing roleplaying game material for two years now. My career, sadly, is built on a foundation of spite.

There have been people that provided me with support, encouragement, and advice. One has since been justly condemned within the hobby, and I don’t want to be associated with that person in even a cursory way. Am I grateful for the help? Absolutely. But I would not want anyone to think that a public “thank you” meant that I found the person’s bad behavior excusable on any level.

There are two other people that I consider friends who are… let’s just call them “controversial” and leave it at that. One is a person I used to game with regularly. The other is someone I’ve never met face-to-face, but have known online for years. Both are flawed people, to be sure, and both have made mistakes. But they’ve been unfairly dragged, subjected to abuse, and had all sorts of lies and disinformation spread about them. I support them privately, but I don’t want to get pulled into the pointless and damaging public drama.

This answer is why I want to grow my company and offer opportunities to designers, artists, and other talents people. I want to be able to support and encourage people without having to fight off trolls and bullies at every turn. It is possible to be mature, civil, and kind in this business.

If you have any other questions, stay tuned for the rest of the #AprilTTRPGMaker questions. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter, or contact me using the form on this site!

Using a Bullet Journal for TTRPG Design

April 2018 is the tabletop roleplaying game maker challenge. Each day, game creators will answer one question on Twitter. I’m participating, but I’ll be expanding upon my answers here as well. One of my goals has been to reconnect with the greater RPG community, as well as build a community specifically for Dancing Lights Press fans. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity that this challenge provides to do those very things. Today I’ll talk about how I document ideas.

Day 22: How Do You Document Ideas?

For my current RPG design project I have a dedicated bullet journal. It’s arranged sort of like a bullet journal, but it’s all indexed collections. I write down ideas in the proper collection — characters, setting, rules, and so on. It’s all indexed and threaded for reference.

For those not familiar with bullet journals, let me break it down. The pages of the journal are numbered. The first two pages are left open for the index. Then I set aside 20 pages, initially, for each category. Worldbuilding, for instance, starts on page 21, so in the index I wrote “Worldbuilding 21”.

As I have ideas, I write them down in the proper section as a bullet point or short sentence. If I need to go longer I will, to flesh out the idea a bit so I understand it later, but I try to keep it brief. So when I have a Rules idea, I look at the index, see that the latest entry starts on page 101, flip to there, and write it down.

When a section fills up, i.e. I’ve used the allocated 10 pages, I go to the next blank page and continue there. Say I’ve filled my initial 10 pages for worldbuilding, from pages 21 to 40. The next open page is 121. I allocate another 20 pages. I write “worldbuilding” across the top. The index is updated, so it now reads “Worldbuilding 21-40, 121-”.

On the lower right corner of page 40, I write 121 with an arrow pointing right. This indicates that the section continues on page 121. On the lower left corner of page 121 I write 40, with an arrow to the left. This indicates that it picks up from page 40. This is called threating, and it allows me to go from section to section by topic without having to return to the index every time.

When I’m working on a particular section of the game, I go through the notes. As an idea is added to the manuscript, I put a check mark next to it. This lets me see anything that’s still open. I might still be deciding how something works, or whether it really fits, so it stays in the notes.

If you have any other questions, stay tuned for the rest of the #AprilTTRPGMaker questions. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter, or contact me using the form on this site!