Zine Quest 2 – You Don't Know What You Don't Know…

Until, that is, you try to do it.

Having finally settled myself on the idea of using Corsairs for the upcoming Zine Quest, I’m left with a whole bunch of ‘what next’ questions I know I need to answer, and whole lot more I don’t even know I need to answer yet.

What questions? Well I have a to-do list, and part of that list is comprised of the things I need to finish on the game itself, and a larger part of that list is the host of things I need to learn, find answers to, and do. This list is far from complete, and I have the feeling that I’ll be adding a whole lot more questions to it as I work through this process from knowing nothing, to getting a Zine Kickstarter ready to launch for February’s Zine Quest 2.

I recently had the opportunity to speak briefly with the kind and excellent Ben Hoban of Red Genie Games. In that short call Ben covered a myriad of things about Red Genie’s own experiences and learning curve with the first Zine Quest, and the practicalities of things like printing, and shipping. He also talked about momentum in a Kickstarter, keeping things moving, keeping people involved. Having things to reveal or show about the project, and getting input from backers along the way.

I spoke to a local graphic design company I know, and they talked about the differences between offset and digital printing, and some of the considerations to take into account. They also gave me the names of some of the printers they have used and would recommend, and I have added them to the Zine Quest page on this website.

I spoke to an artist about the costs and things involved with commissioning art, the things like licences for commercial use, and the costs involved (which will vary from artist to artist). In fact, I spent hours and hours looking through Twitter, Deviant Art, and ArtStation for artists who listed they were interested in freelance work, and whose styles I felt would suit Corsairs. Contact information is hard to come by at times, and as of writing this, there are still many emails that have gone unanswered, and which may never be answered.

Still there are questions, questions about printing and costs, about the weight of the paper and cover, the weight of the finished book, and the costs of shipping that may be involved if I have to send physical copies around Australia or overseas. There are questions about layout in preparation for printing, And there are questions about what the overall costs involved are going to be. These costs will indicate what the funding goal for the project will be, as well as what the cost per physical copy will need to be. There are questions about taxes and fees, particularly for overseas markets. There are questions I am not yet aware are questions, that I will need to find, and then find answers to.

It’s a process, but a process I have started. Links I find, articles I find, and information I uncover I will endeavor to add to the Zine page here in case it should prove useful to anyone else going through the same process. Which reminds me… if YOU are going through this process and have any links to share please let me know! I’ll add them to the Zines page and hopefully they’ll be useful to others as well! Also consider joining up here, collaboration can be a powerful way of helping each other get things done!

Zine Quest 2 – Choices

Will I or won’t I? Oh, the agony of choice…

‘What choice?’ I hear you bellow at the screen in rapturous anticipation.

Ok, calm down. It’s this: with the goal of participating in next year’s Zine Quest abuzz in my mind, the question that burns most keenly is whether to use the game I have been working on, Corsairs, for my zine, or whether to develop a new game specifically for the purpose.

Corsairs is in late development, and had Zine Quest not hoved into view on the horizon like an ice-burg with bloody intent, it would have been released this month through itch.io and DriveThru, like my other micro-rpgs.

But… But… with Zine Quest approaching, am I best to set my sights higher? Am I best to take this game, already close to completion, and use that for the Zine Quest? It gives me time to focus on the other aspects that need to be done: to get art, to finish and polish the writing, to add some things… Or should I finish and release Corsairs, and then develop a new game for Zine Quest?

I think I have the answer… using Corsairs for my zine will allow me more time to playtest, allow me more time to really add to what is there, allow me time to get art, and allow me time to polish everything and lay it out ready. Yes, I know that Kickstarters don’t need to be finished when the project launches, but having it well developed already gives me space in the next months to delve into publication, packaging, shipping, and all those other aspects that are involved.

I had Corsairs nearly fully laid out in A4, and now I need to start again in A5, I’m sure for professionals this is only a small hurdle, but I am still learning, and layout takes me time. I think it will be worth it though, Corsairs will be a developed and playtested game, it will include all the rules required for characters, ships, and ship combat. It will include background material, and will also probably include at least one adventure.

I think it will be awesome. No, it won’t replace D&D, but it isn’t designed to. It’s designed for short run campaigns, for high action and adventure, for quick play, and hopefully, much fun! For anyone looking forward to Zine Quest, I hope that the prospect of broad-sides and daring-do in the skies among floating islands has you as excited as I am!

Zine Quest 2 – Beginnings

In February of 2019 Kickstarter ran something called Zine Quest. Zine Quest was an invitation to creators to launch RPG related Zine Kickstarter projects. These zines are small (A5 or smaller) booklets paying homage to and heralding back to the early days of the role playing game hobby. They may contain full games, or contain RPG related content.

In response 103 Zines were launched on Kickstarter over the course of February, and according to this article from Kickstarter, these projects had a 93% success rate. From zines containing games about Cats and Goblin towns, to maps and mazes, adventures, and articles, these zines ran the gamut. I heard about the Zine Quest too late to participate this year, but have been holding out for news as to whether Kickstarter would run it again in 2020. They are.

Zine Quest 2 will be launching in February of 2020, and this coming year I bet there will be more Zines; I’ll be interested to see how it goes. I for one am hoping to add something to the mix.

What will it involve? A zine must contain RPG related content (full games, adventures, articles, or whatever else a creator can think of). A Zine needs to be A5 or smaller, and must be unbound, folded, saddle stitched, or stapled, no hard cover or perfect binding. A zine must feature one colour printing, although it doesn’t have to be black on white paper. The Kickstarter campaign should have no more than a two-week funding period, and may be launched anywhere between February the 2nd, and February the 29th, 2020. The page containing all the relevant information is here.

To help myself (and hopefully anyone else), I have added a Zine Quest page to this website with links I have picked up trawling the interwebs. Hopefully the links are a useful source of information for anyone looking to participate, and it’s something I’ll be adding to (so if you have any good links or information, please let me know and I’ll add it!). I have also made a Facebook group for Aussie creators, though people from anywhere in the world are welcome to join up. I hope this is a place where people can share resources, ask questions, and offer support to one another as we work towards creating something for and launching our Zine Quest campaigns.

So if you have links that would be useful, I’d love to add them here, and if you are considering joining in the Zine Quest 2020, we’d love to have you in the Facebook group!

Now to ponder my next steps…

All Hail the StateEmpire…

Just released in the Modiphius store is the YuJing sourcebook for the Infinity RPG. I wrote the Yutang chapter in this book, which is all about the home planet of the YuJingese StateEmpire, and the seat of Imperial power. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope that any prospective players or GMs that read it, have just as much fun with the material, as I did.

As always, every book released for an RPG is usually the work of a large team of people, from writers to artists, from editors to layout artists, and everyone else. They are a big undertaking, and the end product is the culmination of many combined efforts. I am very proud to have been a part of the team that put this together, and if you get it, I hope you love it as much as we have done!

Yu Jing. The StateEmpire. Governed by the Party and policed by the Emperor, the balance of the two makes this powerful G5 nation greater than the sum of its parts. Late as they were to the great space race that led to humanity proliferating amongst the stars, the people of Yu Jing have worked doubly hard to ensure they step beyond the long shadow of their nearest rival and rise to eclipse it. 

Viewed all too often with misunderstanding and mistrust from without, the Yu Jingese view themselves as a powerhouse nation that has the best interests of its citizens at heart. Wholly committed to spiritual and economic betterment so that they might serve as a beacon for the entire Human Sphere, the StateEmpire strives hard to be at the forefront of every arena it enters into. On the battllef eld, innovative servopowered armour designs are providing the StateEmpire Army with a superior advantage, while cutting-edge technology such as the Sù-Jiàn Immediate Action Unit is changing the face of Remote-led warfare. 

Not all is as harmonious as the Party’s propaganda would lead you to believe, however. Citizens slip through the cracks of society, instead turning to crime to boost their status. The fractured ninja clans, who of course do not exist, now fight a shadowy war for dominance in the wake of the Uprising. And the Emperor of Great Japan has torn his citizens free of an oppressive regime that treated his people as second-rate at best. 

Offering never-before-seen insights on the Jade Empire, this sourcebook will take you far beyond the Yu Jing’s veil of mystery. 

  • Details on the two key planets that have become the foundation of the StateEmpire: Shentang and Yutang.
  • Focused Lifepaths that allow players to immerse themselves in the diversity and duality of the StateEmpire, including Imperial Agents, Ninjas, and Those Without Name.
  • Additional armour, equipment, and adversaries specifi c to Yu Jing, including the deadly Neokatana, the ground-breaking Sù-Jiàn Immediate Action Unit, and stats for several unique adversaries.
  • Various discourses on the far-reaching effects of the hard-fought Uprising that led to the recent secession of Great Japan, plus several Lifepaths that provide an opportunity to play an agent of Emperor Hiroshi’s will.

You can get the YuJing sourcebook as a physical book, and as a PDF. You can also find it on DriveThruRPG.

End of The One Ring…

Sometimes you open an email, and the contents cause your stomach to sink. That’s the feeling I had when I read the news that a contractual issue between Sophisticated Games and Cubicle 7 meant that Cubicle 7 would no longer be publishing The One Ring Role Playing Game.

The One Ring has been cast into the flames of Orodruin… it is no more. I’m still reeling as I write this to be honest, and for a number of reasons.

First and foremost among the reasons I am particularly saddened is that I wrote a number of pieces that would have been released as a part of the second edition, and which will no longer see print. It is disappointing because I love The Lord of the Rings (it’s the book that made me fall in love with fantasy fiction, and the original MERP game is the game that got me into role playing). An opportunity to have made some contribution to the larger world of Middle Earth, even in some small way, was a joy.

Second: I am reading The Lord of the Rings to my son at the moment (we have finished The Hobbit), and I was hoping to play the second edition (which I would have made some small contribution to), with him. Of course, the first edition won’t vanish, but there is something special about it having been a thing I helped, even in a small way, to shape.

Third, and lastly: because I know the massive amount of work people like Emmet Byrne, Jacob Rogers, and so many of the wonderful team at Cubicle 7 had put into this game, as well as the outstanding team of freelancers I was lucky to have worked alongside. I was really looking forward to getting a copy of the second edition myself, but more than that, the team at C7 were supportive, professional, and excellent to work with. A very sad day for Cubicle 7, and for the wonderful people that work with them.

Counting beans…

Last time I wrote about rewriting, dead time, and some of the economics of freelance writing in the RPG industry. This time I want to delve into that a bit further, and this one is longer than I had anticipated!

Pay rates are one of those topics that many seem to want to talk about, and at the same time few people really want to talk about. Many creatives on Twitter and elsewhere seem to agree that pay rates in the RPG industry are low, but few people seem to want to talk about how much they earn or the rates they get paid at.

I get it, I often feel that getting specific about rates may annoy the companies or people I work with, and that could jeopardize my relationship with them, and make it harder, or impossible, to get work.

So, with all that in mind I’m going to run with what seems fairly common practice. There seems to be a broad-ish consensus that a rate of $0.03 USD per word is usual for many writers (or for those starting out), and that $0.04 USD is fairly standard overall, some publishers may pay up to $0.06 per word, but for the sake of this post I’m going to stick with a ‘standard’ of about $0.04. The reason? This matches with my experience, and most of the work I have done in the industry over the last few years has been at $0.04 per word. I have read of rates as low as $0.02 per word, and upward of $0.08 to $0.12 per word (with some few claiming or quoting higher rates still).

Rates appear to be different between larger or more established publishers (probably a legacy of tradition and industry standard), and indie publishers, and many of the latter are starting to shake up the standard. Shaking up the standard is a good thing in my opinion, though time will tell if this starts to influence the larger industry. Many smaller companies, especially those using crowdfunding, are building stretch goals around increased pay rates for writers and artists, which I think is a great idea.

So why did I not demand higher rates?

Many people on social media and in the indie industry particularly seem to argue that writers should expect, ask, or demand a higher rate of pay for their work. I can’t necessarily argue with that, though as a freelancer I would argue that many people feel fairly powerless in their capacity to set the terms and make demands. I believe these low rates have been fairly standard for more than 20 years, yes, this is patently ridiculous, and yes, I really agree rates should be higher.

So why did I work for a rate I believe is low?

Because it’s what I believed is/was standard. Because I felt that asking for a higher rate was likely to lead to no work. Because no-one ever wanted to talk about the rates they got paid, even when asked privately, and this wall of silence reinforced my belief that $0.03 per word was ‘normal’, and $0.04 per word was ‘a good deal’.

I want to emphasise this: no-one wanted to talk about rates, even when asked privately, even when many of these people were on social media talking about how the industry needs to increase pay rates for freelance writers. This meant that for a long time I felt like I had no idea what to expect, what was normal, what was standard, or what was exploitative. Thankfully this trend seems to be changing in the last few years, with more information available about what is standard for different companies. Many indie companies are very vocal about the rates they offer, and I would strongly advise following as many creators as possible – search #ttrpg on Twitter, and join Discord and Facebook groups as you find them.

So are the rates actually that low?

Yes. Compared to freelance writing outside our industry, the rates for freelancing in RPGs is low. If we assume that somewhere between $0.04 and $0.06 is standard, these rates are at the very low end of the scale for freelance writing. If I refer to an article about standards paid to freelance writers (based on the survey of over 500 freelancers) rates for RPG freelancers are low. Of those surveyed in the article around 30% of beginning freelancers get between $0.01 and $0.10 per word, close to the same percentage get up to $0.26 per word, and a little over 20% get up to $0.50 per word. This is for beginning level writers. The article from which is get these figures is here for those interested, and is well worth reading.

At what point do you stop being a beginner? After you have written for more than 5 books? 10 books? 20? After you have had 50,000 words published? 100,000? A quarter of a million?

Having written for more than 25 published works totaling nearly half a million words I would hope I am not still sitting in the beginners category, but the rates I am most often offered sit at the very low end of what would be regarded as low for a beginning freelancer as defined by the article I linked to above. I use myself as an example, and maybe it’s just that I’m no good, but there are many many writers out there who have written far more, published far more, and who sit close to me on the pay scale.

We all know the industry is small and that profits are thin. We know there are a glut of writers keen to work on the games they know and love. We know that consumers expect RPGs to be art heavy, full colour, glossy, and cheap. And we know that RPGs are a uniquely creative hobby, a fact that enables and encourages people who participate in it to be creators (rather than pure consumers), and perhaps lessening the need for a dedicated group of creators (feeding the number of people willing or capable of being creators). I do not believe any of the companies I have worked for are being exploitative, but I do believe that a number of industry related circumstances combine to maintain a relatively low rate of pay for the creatives that work in it (and at this point I mean writers, editors, artists, sensitivity readers, and other creatives).

So, can we have professional writers in the RPG industry? Or should we expect nothing more than slight compensation for what should be regarded as a hobby undertaking?

First and foremost I hope there is change. I think an increase in the rates for the creatives that generate the books and rules we love so much means that we would be encouraging a higher standard overall. A better rate of pay creates a body of people who are able to focus more time and energy creating the content we enjoy. We have managed to sustain our industry on low rates, and despite it, we have high quality writing, but people should be compensated for the work they do, and that compensation should reflect the skill required and the effort expended. While many will regard freelancing as a part of the gig economy, that does not mean accepting sub-standard rates, or that those rates should be set and remain the same for decades. Writers who freelance in the RPG industry are passionate about RPGs, sure, but they are also key components in creating content that drives the industry forward, whether that is through the work they put out, or the mechanisms and concepts they explore.

So what does $0.04 per word get me?

If I get paid what seems to be around the current industry standard of $0.04 per word then 1000 words is worth $40. If it took me two hours to write that 1000 words, that’s a rate of $20 an hour. If it took 3 or 4 hours, that rate spins out to $13.3, or $10 an hour. Chances are that those 1000 words took more than two hours to write, and included a number of hours of research, communication, and preparation in addition to the actual act of writing.

If it’s a new game line, I need to read rules, catch up with lore (that may be only a little, it may be a whole lot). I would regard this broadly as investing time, as it is knowledge and information that will remain useful after I have finished one piece of freelance writing. This is especially true if you happen to get a number of freelance pieces all related to the same game or game line. In this sense, time spent getting familiar with the rules and setting is defrayed over all the pieces you work on. Many freelancers in the RPG industry work on games they are already passionate about or know intimately, so whether the reading of rules and lore is something you count is really up to you and your situation. But for the sake of the story, let’s imagine that refreshing lore and rules for a specific 1000 word piece requires a half an hour. So writing for two hours, and general research for half an hour…

More than general research is specific research… common Chinese names, common Italian surnames, naming conventions, the structure of the UN Security Council, the names of different types of sails, common farming practices in the middle ages, how to make ink, the effects of lead poisoning on the human body, and so on ( I spent hours one night reading about microwave beam attenuation). These are little details that crop up regularly when writing. When we need to research, some of us make a note and come back, some of us pause, research, then continue… whatever your practice, the fact remains that while writing you will often need to undertake parallel research. This research takes time, is intrinsically linked to the writing process, and may take a small amount of time, or a long amount of time, depending on what it is, how important it is, how obscure it is, and so on. Some pieces of writing will require more research than others, some will require none, but this is time taken, and time means that the money earned is defrayed over a longer period, reducing the hourly rate. If I spend half an hour in general research, an hour in specific research, and an hour and a half writing for a 1000 word piece, then that is 3 hours spent for $40 earned at a rate of $13.33 per hour.

Edits, rewrites, adjustments, and addressing comments are all aspects of the submission process, and many freelance contracts will stipulate the number of rewrites or edits a publisher is expecting you to commit to. Whether minor or major, these things take time, let’s say they take an hour. I open the document, read the comments, make the minor changes required, save the document with the iterated document title, and send it back. An hour might be about right for minor adjustments to a short document, major changes may take longer, so let’s hope you got everything right (or about-ish) in the first pass. Now my 1000 words is sitting at about 4 hours of labour, and I’m making about $10 an hour…

Chances are though it took a longer than that, and complications, twists, a couple of minutes looking for the right word here, and the right phrase there, restructuring, tightening, changing a name, difficulty in research, extra time in writing, some rewriting, and so on can easily mean that 4 hours spins into 5 or 6 hours, or even longer. Every hour added reduces the rate earned: at 5 hours I am earning $8 an hour, at 6 hours I am earning $6.66.

Is it a rules set? Does it contain rules? Is it an adventure? Do you playtest? All of these things add time. I like to run through the adventures I write with my (very tolerant) local game group. A session may be 4-6 hours, add notes, add adjustments and rewrites (because there will be rewrites after you test), all of it adds up.

Now, all of this will vary significantly from writer to writer, some writers will be able to get the words written much faster, others will take much longer, some will write clean drafts, some will need to take time to rewrite and edit. Some will find writing background fluff drags and drags, and others will find that writing world histories absolutely flies. I tracked the amount of words I wrote for a year, and found that I am usually quickest when writing adventures, which I think reflects the fact that these usually follow a structure and flow. Whatever your process, whatever areas you are quick or slow in, however long it takes for you to get that 1000 words written, rewritten, researched, edited, etc… all of that combined earns you $40. Some 1000 words will come quickly, some slowly, some will require a lot of extra work, some almost none. Irrespective of all of that, the piece is earning you $40.

All of this raises questions… Could RPG books reconsider how game fluff is presented? Setting the rate per word is encouraging writers to do what, exactly? Where should money be spent when it comes to writing? Is a publisher happy paying $8, $9, or $10 per hour (or should they be)? Is a by-the-word rate a good way to structure a pay scale? Can our industry support rates at a higher scale? What needs to give if not? Is setting rates at x point encouraging a style or approach to writing, or discouraging another? Can our industry support freelance writers as professionals, and not treat it just as a hobby undertaking?

All of these and many more even better questions are relevant and important. They are not questions I have answers to however, thoughts perhaps, opinions maybe, but no answers. If you managed to read to the end, and you have any questions, thoughts, or opinions, I’d be keen to hear them, and will try and work them into follow up posts in the future. Email me at caradocgames@gmail.com, or find my on Twitter @caradocp. If you’re a freelance writer in the industry starting out, I hope this provides you with some information and areas for consideration. If you enjoyed or found this interesting in any way, feel free to head to the downloads page on this site, where you’ll find links to the the micro-rpgs I have released! Or consider supporting me on Patreon!