Breaking Down The Door
At most conventions, each GM runs their own individual event. Depending on the GM, their notes might be anything from a fully-developed scenario with maps and handouts and illustrations to a scribbled half-page of illegible bullet points, and it doesn’t matter to the players as long as the game is fun. What happens behind the screen stays behind the screen.
The Irish convention scene, though, is a strange mutant, infected with RPGA tournaments at a vulnerable stage in its development and then force-grown under curious local traditions. Instead of each GM running their own one-table event, multiple Gamemasters run the same scenario written by a designated writer. If I’ve written Call of Cthulhu for a con, that means there might be ten or twelve tables of the game running simultaneously, each one run by a GM with a copy of my scenario. That means that the scenarios have to be clear and fully developed (and, con logistics being what they are, so easy to run that you can hand a copy to some poor soul who just got dragged out of the bar and ‘volunteered’ to run a game).
I started writing games for the local convention, Warpcon, back in 1997. (Warpcon’s still going strong, it’s on in University College Cork at the end of January, and it’s the best con in the world.) Around the same time, a friend of mine named Nick set up an irish gaming mailing list, and then a website (www.irishgaming.com, also still going strong). That site became an archive of old convention scenarios. There are hundreds of one-shot games up there for dozens of different systems.
In retrospect, writing convention games was a fantastic way of preparing for freelancing. You learn to write to spec (six pregenerated player characters, three hour slot, easy to run, and it has to at least vaguely resemble the submitted blurb) and to deadline. You learn to communicate your ideas simply and efficiently, you learn how to present plots and stories – and you’ve got immediate feedback from the other Gms and players.
I picked up Biohazard Game’s Blue Planet at a con and liked it, so I wrote three or four Blue Planet con games. Nick put them up on irishgaming.com, so I wandered over to the Blue Planet mailing list and mentioned they were available for download. People grabbed them and liked them, which encouraged me to keep writing. A chap called Gobion liked them so much he suggested that we work together on a Blue Planet fan website, and we put together a few issues of that.
Then, out of the (and I’m terribly sorry for the pun) blue, Greg Benage from Fantasy Flight Games emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in some freelance writing for the line. I jumped at the chance, and brought Gobion on board to help out. My first published work was a short scenario in the back of Natural Selection.
I hadn’t so much broken down the door as gone up to it, politely knocked, and left a homemade cookie on the doorstep – then a burly man wrestled me inside and gave me money.
I did a little more freelancing for other games, again using my experience writing convention games to get past the gatekeepers. Producing useful stuff for other gamers to use, especially material that the publishers could use for demos, kept me on their radar. Making a “So You’ve Been enNobled” introductory pamphlet for Hogshead’s Nobilis got me a gig writing a chapter of the Game of Powers supplement. The d20 boom started, and I learned the meaning of ‘open call’. I started chasing work instead of letting it fall into my lap.
And then I got downsized. This wasn’t part of the plan.
My day job was doing something in computers. I’m not entirely clear what the job entailed – either I’ve repressed it all, or it was never made clear in the first place. I hated it, but I liked the money, and now the money was gone.
I had around three month’s salary saved. I decided that I’d allow myself two months of full-time writing, and if it wasn’t self-supporting within that window, I’d look for another job in computers. Seven weeks later, Bruce Baugh offered me a large chunk of word count on the Machines and Mutants supplement for Gamma World d20. I kept bouncing from freelance gig to freelance gig for another few months until a job opening came up at Mongoose Publishing for a staff writer position. I applied, and came second on the shortlist, but they expanded again soon afterwards and I had first refusal.
I’m currently working primarily for Cubicle 7 as line manager for Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, The Laundry Files and the upcoming Primeval games, as well as freelancing for Mongoose Publishing, Paizo Publishing, Pelgrane Press and several smaller companies. (I’m also running a third of Serpent King Press and slowly self-publishing material). About a quarter of my time is spent wrangling other writers, commissioning material, editing and developing; the rest I’m still putting down the word count.
Oh, and I’m still writing games for Irish conventions. Traditions must be respected.
My advice – don’t try to break down the door. Make your own games, support the games you love, produce stuff for free, and then knock politely. Strangers have to break down doors; friends get invited in.