Questions and Answers

I was interviewed recently about role playing games, game design, and writing, by an old friend Patrick Matthews. If you’re interested in any of these things, the interview can be found on Pat’s blog here.

Many years ago now, it feels, I wrote some various articles for a website Pat ran which was called Games for Educators. I wrote about using games in the classroom. I also hosted a short podcast series there which was co-hosted by Tom Vasel and myself, called Teaching Strategies. Later, Games for Educators also hosted another podcast I recorded with Donald Dennis, called Games in Schools and Libraries (which is still running strong I might add, hosted by Kathleen Mercury and Donald Dennis). Pat is an author, game designer and software developer, and has recently started a blog series on his site called ‘6 Questions‘. Under Patrick, the Games for Educators site had a range of authors writing about games in an educational setting.

In the 6 Questions series Pat interviews authors, game designers, and other creatives. I was honoured to have been asked to contribute something, and I hope anyone interested in freelance writing, game design, or writing in general finds something interesting or useful in my various and rambling answers.

In my interview I wrote about role playing games and why I love them, creative focus, offered some thoughts on writing, processes, writing in the RPG industry, and talked about what’s upcoming from Caradoc Games. Check it out here! Thanks Pat for asking me to contribute something to your 6 Questions series, it was a lot of fun, and I am very honoured!

Horns of Dilemma…

Horns of dilemma… uncertainty… vacillation… indecision… unwillingness to commit… Is it one of these or all of these? It’s time for the rubber to hit the road, as it were, to make a choice and commit to it. I’ve been putting it off, easier to vacillate and make no choice than set goals, which have targets, which can be missed.

At the start of the year I wrote about wanting to write a novel manuscript. I still do. I also wrote about developing my role playing game, something I am still doing. But I have come to realise that I am too often using one as a distraction when the other is looking tough. Stepping from fiction to RPG and back again is fine, but I would like to actually get to the point where I have something or somethings to put out there in the world.

While maintaining my freelance work I have come to realise that of the two things above I can really only focus on one for now. I simply don’t have the time or mental acuity to get both done. So here we are: the horns of dilemma. Fiction writing or RPG development?

If I choose fiction writing I would be committing to write one or two short stories a month, as well as working on my novel. I’d be committing to build a reader base, starting an email list, probably completing some courses, and getting my work out there to magazines, and other publications. I would be looking at dropping my work on my RPG (though maintaining my freelance work) and focusing on getting a novel manuscript finished by the end of the year, hopefully three by the end of next year, and looking at options for either self publication or mainstream publication.

If I choose RPG development I am similarly locking myself into a commitment. I would be aiming to build my current big project up into a publishable piece, playtesting, blind playtesting, and looking at self-publication through Kickstarter. I would be looking at creating a range of smaller products, like zines, on a regular basis, for publication on DriveThruRPG and/or through a Patreon page.

Both are commitments, both are two to three years of focus, quite probably more like 5 or more. I can’t do both however, not at the same time. So we return to the horns of dilemma. I’m sure the easiest question to ask is: which am I more passionate about? To be honest I find it difficult to answer this question. I want to do both. But I can’t do both right now. I want to write fiction, I love it. I want to work in the role playing space, I love it too. Right now though, doing both is is more like forgetting one for a while and doing the other, and making little progress on both as a result.

Doesn’t this look sexy! I cringe, looking back. But Zev never outright said he hated it…

I’ve been working in the gaming space for years now. I wrote the old Z-Man Games newsletter back in 2008, and wrote some 20-30 issues over the following few years. I worked on miniatures games like Halo: Fleet Battles, and Dystopian Legions, for Spartan Games. In more recent years I have been back working on Role Playing Games, writing mainly for Modiphius on the Infinity The Role Playing Game line, but also a little for Star Trek Adventures, and more recently for Red Scar on their Devil’s Run line. In the RPG world I have had/will have more than a quarter of a million words published, over more than 20 books, and while it’s not a huge amount for many freelancers out there, it is experience.

As a result of this experience I ask myself whether choosing the RPG option from my horns of dilemma scenario is the easy way out. By which I mean something I find sits more in my wheelhouse, something I am more comfortable doing. Something where I find the words flow a little more smoothly. The actual next steps to getting my drafts to anything worth publication will be anything but easy, but I hope you get my meaning.

I also worry… If I choose fiction will I be disappointed I didn’t choose role playing games? If I choose role playing games will I be disappointed I didn’t choose fiction? I shouldn’t be, it’s not like I can’t later do the second if I pick the first now. But while it’s easy to tell myself that, it’s much less easy to not feel it.

So here I sit. A week of busy vacillation, of active uncertainty, struggling with this problem. Is it I don’t want to let one go? Is it I don’t want to actively commit? I don’t know. I do feel the growing pressure, however, of needing to make a choice…

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back…

Last post I put on my rose coloured glasses and gazed back into the mists of the year just gone. With the quiet determination of someone desperate to prove to themselves that their time was not wholly spent on Netflix, Twitter, or picking LOL Dolls up off the floor after my daughters, I busied myself with looking at the achievements of the year. That done the next task is at hand, looking forward, setting goals, gazing at the metaphoric mountain peak that lies somewhere in the cloudy distance of 2019 and plotting the climb. Of course, I’ll probably stay at the base camp for a while… It’s warm, has good WiFi, and watching the social media rage of a bunch of people upset that Gillette dared to suggest that being a decent human being is worth the effort is both depressing and amusing, though mostly, I fear, the former.

Where was I? Ah, Goals! A capital ‘G’. Not capitalised for any of the normal grammatical reasons of course, but for it’s significance. Goals are those things we too often tell ourselves we would like to achieve while quietly recognising that, yes, it would be nice to achieve that, but the scones are warm, the beer is cold, and the cricket is on. Tomorrow will be the day I leave the metaphoric base camp…

The beautiful thing about tomorrow, of course, is that it’s tomorrow, and tomorrow, tomorrow will be tomorrow, and so on. Last year I managed to tick off a bunch of things, and I’m glad about that, but did it get me any closer toward my overall goal? What even is my overall goal? My five year plan? Well ultimately I’d like to Write. Write with a capital ‘W’, as in Write for a living rather than a hobby. So this year, my goal is to take some steps in that direction.

Now, I wrote a lot last year, and the year before, and the year before that. Somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 words a year for the last three to four years at least. That’s good. Plus it’s nice to be paid for that work, but it’s not my own fiction, it’s not my own produce, it’s produce for other companies. It has helped me to build muscles I wasn’t sure I had, like the ability to sit down and write every night, to plot and plan and execute, and to hit deadlines. It has taught me to save, save, save, then back up those documents I saved, and make sure they’re backed up, and then just to make sure, save again. It’s taught me that sometimes I feel like writing and sometimes I don’t, and that the words that were dragged from my fingers, a month later, are impossible to differentiate from those that positively flew. Those are all good lessons. But now I need to make sure that 2019 moves me a couple more steps in the direction of my ultimate Goal (note the ‘G’). I need to write more fiction. I need to write more things that are mine.

So onto the goals!

I want to maintain my freelance work. It doesn’t pay brilliantly, especially in the Role Playing Game industry, but I enjoy it, and it has helped me get better. I have made some good contacts, and worked with great people. I’d like to keep all those things up.

I want to write at least one short story a month. Just one isn’t a lot, but there are other goals here, and other writing to do, so one is enough for now. I’d like to edit them, rewrite them, and submit them.

I want to finish plotting out one of the many novel ideas I have. I’d like to select one of those many and write it. I mean actually write it this year. Like hit 80,000 words by the end of the year. They don’t have to be brilliant words, they don’t have to be the best words, but they have to be written words. As the saying goes: you cannot edit a blank page.

For some reason or other I started writing a role playing game last year, rules, setting, the lot. I’d like to finish that this year. I’d like to finish it, and then decide what I’m going to do with it next, maybe not in that order. If it feels good I may look for a publisher, I may look to Kickstarter, I may just publish it as an indie game online, but I want to do something with it. It feels good right now, and I want to explore it further. I like the foundation, I like the setting concepts and themes, I like this beginning I have, and now I need to add flesh to that skeleton and see if I can bring it to life.


I want to keep up with the writers group thing I started doing with a friend of mine. It’s been good, and encouraged me to write more, even if just to keep up. Meet up every fortnight, and maybe connect to other writers in our area, who knows.

I want to read, I know it seems silly, but it’s easy to relegate the things you assume you’ll do at some point to some other point that isn’t now. I read more last year than I have for many years, and I want that to continue. I used to read voraciously, and while I have other ways to spend my evenings now, the curse of being an adult, I need to read.

I want to role play on a regular basis. I managed it for most of last year, so it shouldn’t be too hard to replicate that goal. Testing the adventures I am writing for other companies, testing the system I am developing for my own RPG, playing another published game, whatever, just playing.

I want to make sure I game with my family, that’s board games, of which I have too many by any reasonable standard. But a game every night or every couple of nights as a family is the goal. Oh, and gaming with my wife, just the two of us. We used to game a lot together, and then we had kids and that became less, so making sure we spend the time to reconnect over that shared passion, a board game and the occasional movie of course.

Well, I think that’s enough for now. Some goals laid down for the coming year, hopefully achievable. We shall see!