Lancing for Free


A couple of years ago I was hired by a company to write some material based on the Pathfinder RPG. Today I’m going to share what it was like to be working under a deadline, and to be your own boss. If you want to know more about how to break into the freelancing biz… go to another blog! This happened to me pretty much through sheer luck, and because I was diligent in following this particular company’s work. There are lots of great resources to help you get started on your freelancing career. I found this one particularly helpful, and this book put out by Kobold Press was a good read. I am looking to do more work as a freelancer (which is part of why I started this here blog), so in this post I just want to talk about the process, and share a bit of my work.

So, here’s what happened. For a long time, I was following this company that published Pathfinder material (as a 3rd party). I was a fan, and I wanted to keep abreast of their newest releases. One day, on their Facebook page, they make an announcement that they are looking for writers to work on an adventure path.

An adventure path, for those of you who don’t know, is a serial story meant to be used by game-masters in a role-playing game. It was originally popularized by the company Paizo, which publishes Pathfinder. So it’s a bigger, more epic version of an adventure, which includes an outline for a plot, challenges for the players, maps, and a whole lot of “rules stuff” that many GM’s don’t have the time or inclination to come up with themselves.

So I responded to this call, and I was hired almost immediately. The company didn’t ask for a portfolio or a sample of my work, they just told me to write something and have it ready in roughly six months. There was no contract written up until I had almost finished the thing, and no payment up front. Just so you know, this is not quite normal, and if you get hired this way, you should be suspicious. Anyway, I saw it as a great opportunity (which I still think it was), and I was excited to be getting paid to work in tabletop RPG’s. Any further discussion of the fallout on this project, and where it all ended up, should probably be postponed for now. Today we’re talking about what it was like to write the thing.

SO, I sat down to work. The project took me longer than expected, and in some ways, it was probably a good thing that the company was a bit lackadaisical in their approach, because there were a few months in which I mostly just languished in writer’s block. But I got it done on time. Here are some strategies that helped me –

  • Outline like crazy – I find this fun, and really helpful. I write in a fairly improvisational style, letting excitement and inspiration take me where they may. This is great, until you inevitably get to that point where the little voice in your head says, “EVERYTHING SUCKS, ALL THE TIME!!!” That’s when it helps to have some structure to fall back on. I filled a whole notebook with outlines and ideas, and then wrote up the actual document with chapters/encounters/characters/sidebars/etc. Almost everything was laid out, because that’s what I would do when I hated the actual writing part, and it helped to see exactly where everything was going. You should still be flexible and change or scrap parts of the outline if the story demands it, or if you just think of something better.
  • Share it! – Don’t work in a bubble. Find some friends to share your work with, and take their feedback seriously. If you are writing RPG material, test it out! Play the game, see what emerges from the story you have written. It took me forever to finally summon the courage to share the adventure. When I did, I got lots of great feedback and support, but I was already close to deadline!
  • Have more than one work-space – Practically every writer will tell you that it’s helpful to have a working space that is not your living space. The collision between “this is where I work,” and “this is where I play,” can drive a person to madness. I would say, have several working spaces. Think about what you do while you write, and what helps to keep your brain working, and get yourself a little corner where you can do those things. I, for example, am a pacer. I pace, a lot. And talk to myself, and wave my arms around, and sometimes lie down on the floor and groan. If I didn’t have a common room in my apartment, I don’t know where I could have done that sort of thing. I also had my favorite coffee-shop (I love you Haymarket!), a friend’s house, the library, and my closet, where I wasn’t allowed to go on the internet.

There’s a million other sites and resources out there to help you with the act of writing, and for writing game material. I will close with a little of sample of this project. The adventure path is called Beneath the Midnight Shroud, it’s a creepy, bizarre story that mostly takes place under the ocean (I was writing for a super-niche crowd). One of the coolest parts of D&D type games is the monsters and weird creatures you encounter in the story, and part of my assignment was to design some new ones. So here they are! While I’m at it, I’ll include some magic items. If you play Pathfinder, you might find these useful or at least interesting.

Monsters of the Midnight Shroud

Treasures of the Midnight Shroud


Image courtesy of Petr & Bara Ruzicka, Creative Commons


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