A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer


As Seen In Dragon Magazine…

Yesterday the Table of Contents for Dragon Magazine #421 was finally published, and it contains somewhat of a surprise: my co-authored article is finally going to see the light of day!

...and I don't quite know how I feel about that now.

The article was written over a year ago (my source file has the "last updated" date of 1/9/2012, but the approval for the article occured as early as November 2011), and quite honestly I've changed a lot since then. In retrospect, I don't quite know how I feel about the article in question; it's been a long time, and my design style has changed considerably in the past year. There are parts of it I'm not all that thrilled about, but I admit I've felt that way about everything I've ever published so I assume that's just the write in me panicking about the quality of everything I type.

For starters, if it's the bio I think I wrote it's really... and I mean really... weak. To be honest, I had a harder time writing the bio than I did the rest of the article. For those of you that haven't tried it before, it's actually fairly difficult to describe oneself without getting all preachy and while trying to maintain a little bit of humor. When asked to do it for this submission I kind of panicked and didn't know what the hell to say, so I wrote who I was and even mentioned my own company (Darklight Interactive). At this point I'd be surprised if WotC even published a reference to my own company (they did, after all, C&D me at one point).

Secondly, I've never had to fill out an art request before. In the past I always had a certain level of faith in artists in the same way as people have faith in me as a programmer. I never expected to have to go in to vivid detail on exactly what I wanted for art; I figured I'd give them a general idea and let the artist use their own creativity to come up with something that fits. Rather than tell them "draw me XXX", I had to go in to vivid detail of the scene I would have liked to see... Even going as far as capitalizing key words that I thought important ("... ELEMENTAL CHAOS ... MOLTEN LAVA ... THIN WINGS ... SHARP CLAWS ..."). If a client of mine went in to that level of detail when asking for a program I'm supposed to write, and even went as far as capitalizing keywords like that, I'd probably tell him to stuff it.

Finally, and I've said this many a time before, I suck at writing lore. I can create monster stat blocks until I'm blue in the face and can work on crunch text for weeks on end, but I now had to come up with lore background for the article. Luckily I was told up front that the article was going to be co-authored (at the time I didn't know who the other author was), so I prayed that the other author would be much better than I in terms of introducing the article and providing the necessary top level background lore.

But, regardless of that, I still needed to write the lore for the parts of the article I did write. So off I went to do research... After several hours of searching I managed to dig out the original Fiend Folio out of storage and I even spent a stupid amount of money to buy the UK5: Eye of the Serpent adventure module on eBay because that's where some of the creatures were introduced.I even dug out the D&D 3.5E Monster Manual and the Pathfinder Bestiary to ensure I had every bit of information I needed to do this right.

Why go through all this effort? Well, there's a big difference in creating something from scratch and creating something that has thirty years of history; I wasn't about to create something that the die hard D&D historians will immediately identify as being flat out wrong.

I was worried. Part of me created the stat blocks with the absurd amount of detail I normally put in to doing such a thing, but I was still concerned that these new creations of mine would not fit in to the established history of the creatures. In addition to the history across multiple editions, I had another concern: these creatures had already introduced in 4th Edition in an article by Logan Bonner. They were familiars then, but even if they weren't represented in the same style as previous editions they were still considered existing 4th Edition canon - they are in the DDI Compendium - so I technically couldn't create anything that went against that either.

It took me over a month to write the article. Actually, let me be more specific on that: it took me a few weeks to build up the courage to write the article, then spent a few days writing, then spend another few weeks staring at it and thinking "is this really good enough?" It was my first article to be published in Dragon/Dungeon, so I was nervous as hell. I think I even had my wife hit the "Send" button in the end because if not it'd still be sitting in my "Drafts" folder waiting to go out.

But regardless of all that, there it is... my name as an author on the Wizards of the Coast website. It's not a stellar, earth-shattering article I admit, but it is a personal accomplishment. Technically, I can now add "published in Dragon Magazine" on my resume. That's got to count for something, right?

Hopefully now I'll get the chance to fulfill another bucket list item of mine: getting my article errata-ed by WotC!

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  1. I understand almost all of those feelings, as I went through them last month. I still need to write two more follow-up blog posts (one pointing people to some relevant background on the mythology from which Tim & I cribbed; the other some “deleted scene” material that we had to trim for word count).

    I look forward to reading it. Welcome to the club. 🙂

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