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4 things NOT to do when writing for an IP

Rise of the Drow hardbackI’ve had the pleasure of working with several different publishers, making material for use within a number of established campaign settings (Fantasy Flight Games, Frog God Games,, LPJ Design, Amora games, and more). If you’re breaking into writing and want to work in this field, I’ve garnered a few things from my (still comparatively few!) experiences creating content within the confines of broad, cherished worlds.


If they haven’t sent you material for research or it isn’t freely available, ask for it. Even if it gets rolled into your pay a little bit, having this on hand will save everybody time in the end, establish that you are professional, and will see that your material resonates with fans of the existing product. Make notes for yourself (I made an entire visual Neo Exodus timeline) and refer to them often. Check to see if any key creatures exist in their setting if you aren’t already intimately familiar with it
—you’ll be glad you did.

Immersion is the name of the game with this one. Don’t get your feet wet, jump in.


That timeline should come in handy for this, but a good general rule is to avoid absolutes. Making something that prohibits the existence of another element (undead is the popular one here, but serpentfolk get slapped around like this too) inside of a world is generally something that the original creators have already made a decision about. That’s not to say you can’t break precedent (see below), just that as a general rule of thumb, you want to supplement an existing IP, not complement it.

Write to enhance the setting, not evolve it.


Submit an outline first and avoid surprising the person receiving your material. While the extra content you designed might be fun, there are myriad reasons for why it might not be a good fit (a similar piece might already be in the works, it may be prohibitive because of something you didn’t know about, etc.) and that’s why this part of the process should never be overlooked. If you do end up adding more content or material than originally requested, make certain that it’s inside of the themes and aesthetic already present in your work and the larger library of material.

Clear your big ideas with the people upstairs first.


Image_Portfolio_1.14_Fantasy Butch Mapa 014. BE INFLEXIBLE
You’re playing in someone else’s toybox; if they want the red car, give them the red car and find a new toy. Be prepared for some of your ideas to get shot down or become morphed into things you never anticipated or intended. Try to improve the process by cooperating—collaboration can cause some truly beautiful confluences and is not to be underestimated. There’s a lot of sayings for that, but we’ll hold off on the metaphors here. Just be open to compromise—you’ll be pleased with the results.

Be agreeable and things will be agreeable.


[EDIT] Ryan Macklin has a great blog post that went up earlier this week about pitching your game. It is fantastic and you should definitely read through it for your own sake as a writer. I will point out that when he ‘pitched’ Mythender at me, he did so while dramatically spinning and yelling in my face (which I don’t personally recommend, though it was definitely effective).


Do you have a contribution or idea for Meta Thursdays?  Send us your ideas (after reading the submission guidelines) to submit(at) with “Meta Thursday” in the subject line!



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Gen Con Rookie and Ask the Paizo GMs

medieval-crusades-1While I’ve been to conventions before (Otakon being prime among them) I’ve never had the pleasure of going to one devoted to entirely to gaming. Everything I’ve read tells me that my expectations will be defied and that it’s too much to absorb in only four days.  The people I ask tell me either to make no plans or stick to panels and discussions.


To put it succinctly, I am utterly ignorant about what’s going to happen next.


Travel arrangements have been prepared, the hotel reservation was made weeks ago, my tickets and badge have come in; the stage is set for what I expect to be a momentous occasion. During the convention I’ll be taking copious notes about my experience as a first timer at GenCon and am going to do my absolute best to grab some good photos along the way (albeit on my phone).

So it turns out they were right; it’s far too much to take in all at once. The vast majority of my time was spent talking to publishers and attending seminars, some of which I cannot talk about. However, I do have one that I can talk about and my notes from the event are below.

Ask the Paizo GMs

1. Remix content players unintentionally skip.

Did you have a really intricate dungeon scenario with multiple encounters on the right, but nothing on the left, which is where your players went? Then just flip things around. You can work things out later (Ryan Macklin mentioned at some point or another that one of his favorite things to see is the long bathroom break, and expounded on the use of it as a private place to plan the remainder of an adventure on the fly.)


2. You don’t need high levels for high drama.

With the correct atmosphere and approach an encounter with an otyugh can be just as death defying and harrowing as the raid on a red dragon’s lair.


3. Respect the GM

The rules are a social contract; if you want to be respected, you have to respect the players in turn. If you’re hearing this – “The rules aren’t as written? How do I know what they are?” – then you’ve bent things too far out of shape and need to reassess (and possibly apologize). This doesn’t mean you aren’t the GM anymore (indeed, you are the ultimate arbiter of rules) it’s instead a reminder that respect is a two-way street; don’t cause a traffic jam with your ego.


4. Reward tiny free XP presents for good roleplay

Remember that every time you do this, only one player benefits; instead reward everyone for one player being awesome or allow sharing of experience among PCs.


5. Game as a team effort

This is a particularly good one; of course you need a traps guy to get through the dungeon hall but engaging in teamwork to succeed on a given task isn’t the same thing as actually making a team effort throughout the gaming experience. Think about it.


6. Re-incorporation is good GM improv (seeing NPCs again)

Not only does this make the world more believable (for both you and your players), it gives them an incentive to treat NPCs like real people; while I haven’t killed, robbed or otherwise been malignant to anyone in real life, I understand there are serious (and sometimes innocuous) repercussions for doing so.


7. “Failure can be the cost of success.”

Sometimes this means the players fail and sometimes it means you fail; either way there’s plenty of learning to be done. Don’t allow the party to enjoy victory every time (indeed, our highest moments are often mirrored by our deepest depths) and don’t beat yourself up if some well-laid plans get thrown to the winds. Take away what you can from the experience and be better for it next time through.


8. Err on the side of the players.

This brings us to something Wes Schneider referenced about a dozen times:

The 2 Rule – A general, situation-based bonus/penalty to ensure game fluidity.

Did you really need the fighter to make it over the ledge? Grant him a +2 bonus for some equipment that fortuitously snagged on a rock and can be briefly used as a point of leverage. Was it important that the lich not get disintegrated? Give out a -2 penalty to the Spell Resistance roll because of its proximity to a potent magic item. While this shouldn’t be abused, don’t let your excellent story get bogged down by some unexpected dice rolls and implement The 2 Rule instead.


WarmachineI also snapped a few nice photos – the gentleman that co-stars in some of these is my primary playtester (and chief minion), a fellow named Dixie Carr. His talent for enduring the trials of my adventures is matched only by his excellent talent for providing scale in a photograph.GenCon Marvel


Of course, I didn’t ignore the gigantic spider queen by the D&D Next Booth. For whatever reason, Dixie is not overly concerned with his imminent demise; some players just never learn.

Lolth D&DNext Gencon 2013PS: The Damned Souls of Fenleist PDF is live! Go buy it here!