Are you a game writer? Want to be? If so, read on. I’m going to convince you to enter low word-count game design contests. I’ll do that in fewer than 250 words.
So why do it? Consider this:
Quick turnaround. You may spend months, probably years, developing that 100,000 word campaign you’ve got kicking around in your skull. That’s a long time to wait for a writer’s credit. 1500 words? You can kick that out in a weekend.
Refine your craft. Think writing short is easy? It can be. Writing short well? That’s another thing. Writing short forces you to consider the necessity of each word. Don’t absolutely need it? It’s got to go. Being able to let go of words you don’t need makes you a better writer.
Eyes on your work. When you enter a contest, you are guaranteeing you’re going to get readers. Maybe even players. Maybe even publishers. Name recognition is a big part of your evolution as a game writer. So get your name out. Leave your mark.
Prizes. Not a guarantee, but, yeah, you could win something. Bragging rights at the very least. But you don’t win contests you don’t enter.
I see I have your attention. So where to submit? You’re in luck. The 2018 Delta Green Shotgun Scenario Contest has begun. Deadline for entries is December 8th, 2018.
So, you’ve been writing RPGs, and now you’d like to try your hand at fiction. Short stories, flash fiction, maybe even a novel. Well, good news! All that writing you’ve been doing for games has also been helping you set the foundation for writing fiction.
Sourcebooks? That’s worldbuilding.
Scenarios? Those are step-outlines.
Pre-gens, or NPCs? Back stories and motivations for characters.
Everything that you write for an RPG is a building block for fiction. The big difference between the two is that when you’re writing an RPG — whether you’re doing a sourcebook or a scenario — you don’t know exactly how things are going to go. Even when you’re done and send it out into the world, you don’t know exactly how things are going to go. You provide the information, but the GM and players (and to some extent the dice) decide what happens in the course of the game.
The main difference between writing for RPGs versus writing fiction comes down to decisions and details. And the driving force behind that is POV, or point of view. In other words, whose perspective we’re experiencing the world and the events through. You handle things differently when you have a defined POV (fiction) versus when your POV is unknown (player characters in an RPG).
That’s what we’re going to explore in these blog posts. We’ll compare and contrast the two mediums, and I’ll give you my insight as someone who is primarily a fiction writer but also writes for RPGs. I’ll even have some writing challenges for you to help you put these things into action.
But for now, take a look at some of your favorite RPG scenarios and sourcebooks and compare them to some of your favorite short stories and novels. Could you convert the stories or novels into scenarios? Could you write a piece of fiction that follows the scenario as an outline? What things do you see in the fiction that you’d include in a sourcebook? How would you use the things detailed in the sourcebook to create a believeable, fully immersive world for the characters in a story?
The Weird Works community needs a logo and you can help! Any current member is welcome to design and submit a logo for the group. Interested? Please submit your entries here! Email me, Brian Murphy, with any questions that might arise. Be sure and put “Weird Works Logo Contest” in the subject line. Your submission can be in any format, though an SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic) or PSD (Photoshop Data File) would be preferred.
The deadline for submissions is midnight Eastern Standard Time on October 31. That’s Halloween, y’all.
Each member can submit a total of three entries to the contest. The entries will be shared with all members over the month of November. Each member will get a chance to vote for their top three selections via a poll on the website. The winner shall be notified via email in early December, and the results will be announced to the whole membership. There’s a chance we’ll want to use more than one of the entries. But that’s a bridge to cross later.
The winning logo will be displayed in the header of the website, on some printed materials and merchandise (TBD) associated with the group, and may be available for use by WeirdWorks members who want to credit the group for fostering a collaboration (depending on approval of WeirdWorks).
The creator will be credited on the website in the footer that is seen on every page. The creator will also be credited in printed materials whenever space and design constraints allow.
Entrants should be aware that their submission will eventually be turned into graphics or of varying sizes and shapes, and we may work with the creator to alter the shape and composition of the graphic to make it fit in different contexts.
As a source of inspiration, travel is hard to beat.
First and foremost, you are traveling, seeing more of the world, something not everyone gets much opportunity to do. I am very aware that when it comes to travel I have been a very lucky boy.
For the purposes of this article though, I am taking travel to mean anything from a globetrotting trek living off local flora, fauna and the kindness of strangers, to a couple of free hours to walk around the place where you live or the next town over. Travel can begin with a step, but the journey continues as the mind takes flight. Or something like that.
For any writer, especially one of horror or fantasy, there are some obvious benefits to travel; exposure to different cultures, history, and scenery, all can be a great way to broaden the mind and send your writing in directions previously unconsidered. It’s research with benefits. And sometimes cocktails.
Travel though can not only broaden the mind, it can also deepen it. When we are in an unfamiliar place we tend to look at things differently. Gone are the filters of familiarity. The blinkers that come through focusing on the necessities and mundanities of our everyday lives drop away. We walk the same route day in, day out and never notice anything unusual, but an out-of-town friend or relative points out a cool engraving, or a building with weird architecture.
Locations can so easily become the colourful backdrop for a new story or game scenario, but local legends and stories can also provide the seeds from which a crop of adventures can be harvested. A twist on a local bogeyman creates a horrific villain. The legends surrounding a castle, a waterfall, or New York City provide the framework from which your tale unfolds.
Unusual places can inspire unusual thoughts and emotional reactions. Utilising your perspective as a stranger, notice your reaction to the atmosphere around you. Does it make you feel peaceful or on edge? Excited? Scared? Does it feel epic or intimate? Even the questions it provokes are useful. What happened here? Where does this lead? How did this happen? Why is this as it is?
Finally, some sort of aide memoir helps to record your reactions. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate travel journal. I carry a small notepad with me which is now full of the sort of weird ramblings that, should I ever be accused of perpetrating something nefarious, will almost certainly cause it to be labelled Exhibit A! Most of us also carry a camera wherever we roam. Photos are a great way of recreating an inspirational moment for when we are wondering what next to put on the page. Make the method you choose the one that works best for you.
So, you’re sat in front of your laptop/tablet/typewriter/pad/parchment. You’re locked and loaded, ready to go, primed and poised. You glance around your room expectantly. You wait eagerly for that bolt of lightning to strike, that essential spark to flare, to ignite a torrent of words that will burn themselves indelibly into the zeitgeist and beyond (possibly this is just me, but you get the idea!).
You wait for inspiration.
Sometimes inspiration comes from other stories – movies, books, games – all provide ample fodder for the creative mind. Other times the inspiration is more subtle; the way a curtain moves in the breeze, or a shadow slides across wall as time passes. A song.
For me though, the deepest well of ideas springs forth from being around others of a like mind.
Recently I had the absolute joy to be able to attend NecronomiCon in Providence, RI.
A convention dedicated to the works and enduring legacy of H.P. Lovecraft and weird fiction in general, NecronomiCon gave many of us an opportunity to meet face-to-face with people we have only worked with over the internet, as well as friends both old and new.
Let me tell you Reader, we grasped the opportunity with both hands. All of us. That’s a lot of hands grasping!
Ideas came thick and fast.
From panels and meetings came layout and content tips, and an idea for a crowd-sourced mythos beastie (watch this space!). Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners fostered collaborations of all types. Gaming and socialising allowed us to relax and enjoy the pure pleasure one receives simply by being with members of your own Tribe.
All this and we managed to help raise a not inconsiderable amount for charity. How cool is that?
Sometimes inspiration finds us, seeks us out even, or so it seems. Most of the time, however, we need to go and look for it.
So get out there. As you can see, opening yourself up to the possibilities does not have to be arduous; sometimes the search is part of the fun!
There’s lots of advice out there for running RPGs, and most of it is predicated on the idea of maximizing fun. A lot of advice on the topic tends to focus on the different ways we all have fun. What if having fun is not the primary goal of your game? How does that change what you run? Two examples of this come to mind–one is running a game as entertainment for others, and the other is running a fundraising game for charity. I’ve done both of these, and they do change the game. While I’m still aiming to have fun, the same way I aim to have fun at my day job, it’s not the primary goal.
In a charity game, the primary goal is taking money from one group and giving it to another. Funny goal, that. Sometimes it’s the players themselves contributing to the cause, and other times it’s the audience. For these games, I often encourage things I try to avoid in a normal game. PvP? Bring it on! Power creep? Rock it! Disconnected story and mass chaos? The more the wealthier. Each of these tends to bring out players’ competitive nature, and with that the greenbacks. Generally when I run these games, money is used to affect the game. Players can buy a better weapon for their character or turn the gaze of the enemy upon another PC. For more money, they can drastically change the scene–new monsters, a door out of the locked room, an indoor volcano. Keeping a light-hearted competition going seems to open the wallets. Other aspects, such as role-playing and playing smart tend to drop away as the players focus on using the main tool–money–to craft the moments they want to see.
Games for entertainment are yet another kettle of (summoned) fish. Here the focus could be on advertising a system or setting, it could be on entertainment through great acting, or, in a few instances, it could be on playing the game for real and trying to ignore the fact of the audience. When the goal is to demonstrate a product the game needs to use all the mechanics of interest or explore the nooks and crannies of the world that make it unique. And those elements need to be explained. When acting is the goal, the characters need to be deeper, players need to use character voices, and the final presentation may include graphics and sound effects. The game system often drops down, and interesting bits of action occur whether the rules permit or no.
Rather than the goal, fun in these situations becomes a means to an end. Charity games need to be fun in order to keep players engaged and willing to donate. Entertainment games need to provide fun for the audience, and player fun can be an infectious route to there. Using fun in these ways changes the games I run and write–not enough to make them unrecognizable, and hopefully not enough that we can’t have fun playing them, but noticeably and sometimes in surprising ways.
Edwin has been playing games to help the children for three years. With his gaming buddies and the support of fellow con-goers, his teams have raised about $10,000 for local hospitals. This year’s efforts started at SnowCon in Bangor, ME, are ramping up at Necronomicon in Providence, RI, and will have their finale with a live-streamed, 24-hour RPG marathon in November sponsored by Frog God Games and Kobold Press. Please join them for the insanity. Donations can be made here.
We write. Some of us are compelled to share our thoughts, to distribute them far and wide. Others are satisfied only if they can get their ideas on paper, for posterity. Some have wisdom to transmit, others dark visions, shadows which only fully take shape as they flow from the pen. Psychiatric patients who suffer from hypergraphia feel such a compulsion. Some: scribbled, repetitive, manic. Others: creative, meticulous, visionary.
Hypergraphia is the title of a new magazine, a fanzine of horror gaming, created by WeirdWorks members. It is the first of what we hope will be many projects that are spawned from the minds of WeirdWorkers. Our intention is to self-publish material that could be used by a GM in any horror or weird RPG game.
For us, Hypergraphia represents both the need to write and the subject of our writings: horror games, which often explore the descent into madness resulting from things that should not be known but must be described.
Perhaps the awful scribblings within Hypergraphia will inspire you to write a scenario of your own, or run a game based on one of the shadows found within. Whatever it brings to life for you, for us it has been a work of frantic, frenzied creative action, put together in a few weeks by a group of friends, investigators, and fellow creatives.
We owe special thanks to Graham Walmsley for his permission to publish Cthulhu Dark material. In the future we hope to include material for other systems as well. Follow our Facebook page for news on upcoming issues.
Many of Issue #0’s contributors will be at NecronomiCon Providence 2017, running games, speaking at panels, or drinking at The Red Fez. All have generously agreed to donate profits from this first issue to the Miracle Network Children’s Hospitals through the Extra Life charity. If you’re at the Con, we hope you’ll join us on Saturday, August 19th for the Extra Life event!
I never set out to self-publish, really. But I guess I never was going to end up as “just a writer” either, so maybe it’s better this way. And by “this way” I mean self-publishing a Cthulhu Dark scenario funded via Kickstarter, and now finishing up a self-published Call of Cthulhu scenario also funded via Kickstarter.
The RPG industry has clearly fully embraced Kickstarter, and as more and more companies publish larger and larger projects via the platform, it may seem that self-publishing is the route to success for your RPG project. The problem that I discovered (and that clearly most failed projects discover, perhaps too late) is that self-publishing an RPG via Kickstarter is less about writing and more about your abilities as a project manager.
Yes, you need to have good content (such as an RPG scenario, setting, resource or campaign book), but your content is no good just sitting on your computer. Your backers care a lot more about your dates and ability to deliver than your content (seriously, they do), and managing your publishing project will take as much time (if not more) as your writing does. Successfully project managing your Kickstarter boils down to three key components then: scope, resources, and communication.
For scope, we already know to keep stretch goals simple and planned ahead of time. Make sure you have a picture of everything you’re going to deliver, how it’s going to be produced, and how long each item takes before you add them to your Kickstarter in any way. If you’re not sure, then don’t add them! Better to have no stretch goals than to have 20 that you cannot produce.
You must understand who is going to produce your project — who are the resources you’ll be relying on to finish your delivery? If you plan to truly do the whole thing yourself (how many envelopes can you pack, seal and address a day? How long will it take to do 1000?) then make sure you communicate that to your backers. The more success you find, the more your project will need to scale, which means you’ll need more help. Get those people lined up ahead of time.
None of this matters, though, if you can’t communicate. This is the single most important part of any Kickstarter, and cannot be emphasized enough. It is almost impossible to under-communicate, especially once the project is completed and you have backers’ money. They want to know the project’s status and when books will be delivered. But here’s the rub — bad news is better than no news. Again, it cannot be overstated — communicate bad news, communicate no news, communicate if you don’t want to communicate. But tell your backers what is happening and they will be so much happier.
Self-publishing is a trying, lonely and ultimately maddening endeavor reserved for those who need to own their vision from beginning to end. The process is full of pitfalls and traps along the way, and requires a certain skillset to complete successfully. However, success can be found by utilizing simple project management skills and making sure you communicate, communicate, communicate!
Dave Sokolowski is a writer of short fiction and horror game material, whose credits include “Wrath of the Sulfurer” in Tales of the Caribbean from Golden Goblin Press as well as contributions to the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion. He has launched two successful Kickstarters, “He Who Laughs Last” for Cthulhu Dark and “Sun Spots” for Call of Cthulhu. You can check in on his doings at the Weird 8 page on Facebook.
Printer’s shop image, above: Abraham Bosse, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
First an admission – I am not a Professional Writer, although I strive to be a professional writer. I have had a couple of items bought and published, and have a couple of others in the pipeline (a mysterious non-location that exists outside of normal space-time), but I mainly write for pleasure. To appease my wife and bank I should add at this point that I do not find writing for money in any way distasteful; it is simply not my primary motivator.
Unless of course, you speak to my wife … or indeed my bank, in which case my preference would be for you to proclaim loudly (and with as much honesty as you can muster) ‘Of course he wants to get paid; he’s always going for the money!’ You get the idea.
So, my criteria for someone to be a writer are definitely not financial.
Publication is not even a necessity in my book (excuse the pun), although it’s certainly very nice to see your work out there in the public domain. The feedback it can garner enables you to hone your skills.
To be brilliant at the technical aspects of the language, or languages, you choose to write in is not essential. Although I’m not saying it doesn’t help to be able to drop a simile like a boss, or be a machine at using metaphors, it really can help. It is not however the elusive ‘thing’.
With money, fame, and technical expertise out of the running, creativity heaves into view like a heavily laden cargo ship, its decks crammed with crates of importance, and the smoke issuing from its stacks redolent with the scent of a million unpublished manuscripts.
Even this behemoth is not what makes you a writer. Countless dreams and stories go unshared, except by word of mouth of course.
If there is a secret to being a writer it is this – Put words down on a page – that’s all there is to it, and everything else comes from this simple act.
So, when are you a writer? Likely you already are!
Investigative horror games tend to rely more heavily on written scenarios than fantasy hack-and-slash games. There is a substantial amount detail needed to run normal investigative games including clues, foreshadowing, and red herrings. So it should come as no surprise that occasionally GM’s will make a mistake. This is a brief account of one such mistake that I made in a game, and why I chose to burn down a city to fix it.
I was running the campaign The Sense of the Sleight-of-Hand Man for my group. The players made it to the Dreamlands city of Lhosk on the southern shores of the Cerenarian Sea. My mistake was allowing the players to sell a captured Black Ship owned by the Men of Leng for about 200,000 gold pieces. At the time I had no reservations since the cost of the vessel is listed in the game material. But after the players had bought a castle, servants, horses, and a small hired army, I realized that the situation needed to be fixed.
My co-keeper and I had pondered previously if there was a commodities exchange happening within fantasy cities that adventurers were unaware of. So with that idea in mind, I chose to deflate the value of gold in Lhosk and crash the market. With gold devalued, the people of Lhosk were paying grossly inflated prices for common goods, e.g. a thousand percent markup for a rotten apple. And unbeknownst to the PCs, imports had virtually stopped due to the newly increased import tax at the docks, and goods in warehouses were going bad because most merchants could not afford the wholesale prices.
After several weeks of this, the city was in chaos. The typically sedate Dreamlands natives were in an uproar; riots were happening in the city’s market district, and as people started dying, and disease began to spread, the lower classes staged a full uprising. The Men of Leng, who were none too happy about one of their own ships being stolen and sold to the highest bidder, naturally decided to return to the city and take what was theirs.
A fierce standoff between proletariat forces, middle-class merchants andknights, and the Men of Leng began. And to set off this powder keg we just needed a spark. That spark was a PC by the name of Colonel Grant Beauregard. In a previous session, riding high on his recent increase in status to the super wealthy, the Colonel had kitted himself out in the best arms and armor he could afford and purchased some Potions of Rage from a merchant. And being a veteran of both the Spanish-American War and the Great War, he saw the Lengians as an invading force. So the boisterous Colonel did what came naturally and drank his Potion of Rage and planned to charge into battle against the Lengians.
The Colonel, now blinded by rage, began attacking the commoners around him. He killed several rather quickly, but waves of angry protesters and knee-high goatmen overpowered him and he was lost amongst the mob. And thus started the Battle of Lhosk, which rather quickly turned into the Burning of Lhosk. Five days later, the entire city was in ashes, the population depleted, the market was stabilised albeit almost nonexistent, and the players, rightly seen as the harbingers of this calamity, were robbed and wanted men.
None of the Burning of Lhosk was in the book. It was simply the solution that I devised with my co-keeper to restore balance to the game and set them on edge. Sure, I burned a city to the ground, killed thousands of NPCs, and murdered a player character in the process, but this tangent from the main campaign provided some of the most memorable sessions our group has ever had. By the way, Colonel Beauregard did make one more appearance. His fragmentary corpse had been crucified in front of the Black Temple as a warning to those willing to bring trouble into Lhosk, and perhaps as a warning to my players.