Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

Write – Design – Program: 1 Year in Games

July 25th, 2017, marked a year since I finished 5 years of teaching in Japan and began working full-time in the games industry. It’s been an up and down ride, but I’ve learned so much. Here are some of my reflections.

Write - Design - Program
Write – Design – Program

Once Upon a Career Crisis
In 2011 my wife and I left for Japan. I didn’t like the route my career was taking—working predominantly in web design. I felt I could do more elsewhere, and wanted out. Five years later I walked out of the classroom and into the games industry.

Go. Go Now
I started Rising Phoenix Games on the last day of 2010. Over the next five years, in my free moments, I worked hard to learn my craft and build the company. When I realized there was only so much I could learn on my own I started freelancing, which taught me loads more, but also brought new opportunities my way. None of that would have been possible without the five plus years of banging on my craft.

Starting and starting early was critical.

Incarnate Hybrid Class
One of the many freelance projects I worked on. A great chance to learn and get paid.

Build a Runway
Jake Birkett (Grey Alien Games) mentions this principle in his GDC talk, How to Survive in Gamedev for Eleven Years Without a Hit. A runway—or savings—helps you weather the time between project launches. I’m not a big drinker, never smoked, and love a bargain, so was able to step away from my last job with enough money to see me through till sales came in. There were sleepless nights, but it really helped. I still relish the opportunity to save, and am busy installing a rain water tank to cut down on our utility bill.

More Money Saved = More Money for Game Dev.

We had this slogan at the summer camp I worked at: “TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More.” Cheesy, but true. Partnering up has, in every instance, taken me further than I could have gone by myself.

Because of this, being a team player is important. Time is short, and people want to work with someone they know has their back and will deliver.

Together Everyone Achieves More.

I aim to stay in the games industry,  one, five, ten years and longer. Write – Design – Program is part of that, because this series is all about sharing insights. If you’re working in games, tell us what’s working for you.

Rodney Sloan is a game design, writer, and programmer at Rising Phoenix Games, a line developer for Steampunk Musha at Fat Goblin Games, and a freelancer. You can find him on Twitter.

Write – Design – Program: Rats With Reason

You pass the stone gateway into the dungeon. Rounding the first turn, you come face to snout with a giant rat.

In most RPGs, digital or table-top, an encounter with a giant rat or three is a pretty standard introduction to combat. Remember Fallout? I don’t have anything against giant rats, I’ve used them, but good design happens when there’s a why.

Fallout again. Those giant rats were the neon sign, reminding you why Vault 13 was such a great place to live through a nuclear holocaust.

One of my favorite movies is Hot Fuzz, written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. Everything in the movie has a reason, everything is connected, and nothing is wasted. That’s great design.

Good adventure design, good game design, uses every opportunity to tell a bigger story.

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Rodney Sloan is a game design, writer, and programmer at Rising Phoenix Games, a line developer for Steampunk Musha at Fat Goblin Games, and a freelancer. You can find him on Twitter.

Write – Design – Program: Lets Chat

Let’s talk about making games.

Specifically, writing for games, designing games, and game programming.

These are the three areas I’m excited about, thinking about, and working the hardest to improve on.

Let’s open up the conversation, talk about the journey, about learning new skills, grabbing opportunities, and making better stuff.


Blogging makes the most sense to me. The medium has to allow for the conversation to happen.

Facebook also makes sense, because it’s where most of us lurk. Facebook can feed into the blog.

BUT! I don’t want to be another voice on the Internet claiming to know stuff.

I’ve met so many great people who are doing good work in the games industry, and it’s them, you, who would make this worthwhile.

I want to tap into the brains of better people and learn from them, grow, and be challenged. I’m calling you all out, because you’re doing good work and have something to share.

Camp Nanowrimo 2016 and Planning

Well, that’s April. I finished several projects, all ahead of schedule and within the target word count. Part of what I did took place on Camp Nanowrimo, and I’m glad I took part. I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with a strong “team”—even if that team is working on vastly different things—and Camp Nanowrimo, with its cabins, provided just that.

Camp NanoWrimo 2016


I pulled off some great work this month; an adventure, some location writeups and a short story. I wouldn’t have finished on time or even close to the word count goals if I didn’t plan well.

What worked was not writing until I was sure of what I wanted to write. That’s it. No bullet points. No fancy diagrams or mind maps.

Let me say it again. Don’t write a word until you know exactly what you’re writing. For my adventure, knowing was writing the Adventure Synopsis. For my writeups, it was drawing the location maps. For my short story, it was figuring out why a hero was standing in a church with his eyes closed.

Don’t write until you know what you’re going to write.

Try it. Now. Write your own version of Little Red Riding Hood—you know the story. It won’t take long. You’ll add your own voice, your own ideas, but the plot will be the same. Watch how much easier it is than creating something totally new.

In our experiment, what you knew about Little Red Riding Hood was the plan, a writing goal. Your writing, your execution, was informed by the plan/goal, but not strictly constrained by it; you had some room to embellish in your own way. Plan your work until you have such a strong concept and then write, words will flow from your pen.

Watch this space because I’ll be posting more about some of the work I did in the months to come.

At World’s End

RPG Blog CarnivalImagine you’re coming to the finale of your years-long campaign. Friends are moving away, and you want to end with a memorable bang. A big bang. A cataclysmic bang! This time it’s not just the people and things the PCs love that are at stake, but their entire world that’s on the line. There is no turning back.

So how do you prepare for a world shattering session? With the Kickstarter for Crisis of the World Eater successful funded, we’ve got plenty of this sort of thing to look forward to. Maybe you, as a GM, are feeling inspired. Perhaps, as a player, you’re about to face your toughest challenge yet.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Viktor M. Vasnetsov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The topic for May’s RPG blog carnival is “At World’s End”, and the best and brightest RPG bloggers will be sharing links to related posts, right here, in the comments below.

Anything is fair game; cataclysmic events, stats for planet crushing monsters, rules for the Apocalypse, or perhaps a hero’s survival guide to the End Times. We’re not playing games anymore, now we’re playing for keeps, winner takes all!

Don’t forget to follow the Phoenix on Twitter and Facebook, it’s the best way to keep up to date with the world shattering events that are about to be unleashed by ruthless GMs the world over.

More information about the RPG Blog Carnival can be found on

Don’t Be Boring

We don’t have much time on this blue planet. We just don’t. If we can do anything we put our minds to, and I really believe we can, then we need to get focused and not waste our precious time. We don’t have time to be boring.

I don’t want anyone, ever again, to have a boring rpg session. I declare it, henceforth, to be “verboten”. Great, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s break it down.

What Makes a Session Boring?

Low Buy In.

If you’re not invested in your game, then you’re going to have less fun. Some easy ways to get more involved include hamming it up, putting on those accents and, I can’t believe I need to say it, but roleplaying. I’m surprised at how many people (myself included), don’t roleplay.



If you’re confused about the rules or the situation your character is in then you’ll have less fun. This is largely a GMing issue, but as a player you need to make an effort to call out your confusion and work out a solution with your GM.


Low Risk

The more your character has riding on the dice, the more fun it’s going to be. I know plenty of cautious players, and I don’t think caution is bad, but I do think it’s worth remembering that our characters are heroes, and they’re expendable. Put them on the line and enjoy the wild ride that follows.


What else can cause a boring session? I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment and I promise to get back to you.

5 Tricks for Perfect Portals

This months blog carnival is about gates and portals, the jam to fantasy roleplay’s bread and butter. Let’s throw it open and jump right in!

1. Build Drama

Gates and portals build drama because they have potential. Something behind the lock is forbidden, and by putting a door in the PCs way you’ve wrapped a big pink bow around it. Make sure that whatever is behind the door doesn’t waste that built up tension. When a door is unlocked, the plot should advance.

2. A Level-Up Reward

In the same way, a door can be a prize. If the DC to open a door is too high for the party now, or they need a key, it lets them know that they’ll be coming back later. Give them a hint of what’s behind it to really wet their appetites.

3. A Gate to a New World

Did you ever watch Stargate? I love the idea of stepping into another world. Portals give you limitless options, so use that to really shake things up. Don’t just send the party off to a hotter climate, send them to a different planet where they can truly discover the meaning of the word “alien”.

4. Change it Up

Forget iron-bound doors around every corner. Change it up!
What would a door to the fey realm look like? Would it have wings? Would an earth elemental even bother with doors, or just shape the earth around itself?
What if a door was the reanimated skull of a long dead monster, all too happy to open up wide?

5. The Door is the Journey

Everything comes together when you make the door as much a part of your story as the main NPC or boss monster. Stargate did it well, so here’s a clip.

Remember, every door is a chance to tell a story, so tell thrilling tales.

Fantasy is full of memorable doors and portals. Do you have a favorite? Or one from a campaign? Please tell us about it in the comments.

Self Publishing – Deadly Troubadours

November is done, NaNoWriMo is over, and you may be wondering what’s next. How do I get my book out there? Brent Thomas, a good friend of mine, self published his novel, and he’s here to share his journey.

Rodney Sloan: Hi Brent. So tell us a little about yourself.

Brent Thomas: I original come from the south-east of  the USA, but for the past 10+ years I’ve been living in Japan, mostly working in Education. Currently I teach English at an all-girls elementary school. Also, I’m married to my book’s cover artist, and together we have a 6-month-old boy.

RS: Tell us about your book, Deadly Troubadours. What inspired you to write it?

BT: The sad truth is it started as a way to relieve boredom at work. I had one of those jobs that would either be extremely busy or extremely not. Since I’ve always liked writing I started doing short fiction as something that a could work on while seriously typing into my work computer and looking busy. One of the characters, Demetrius Tate, was a short  story character that after I put the story down kept dancing around my head. This whole thing is just an idea that appealed to me that keeps expanding.

RS: We’ve played a bunch of Pathfinder together. Has role-playing inspired your work? Do specific experiences at the table find their way into your writing?

BT: Not really. There are homages to events and settings, even a hidden reference to my core college group. I try not to is specific experiences here because those were created by a group experience and I don’t want to claim ownership of them. That said, rpg has certainly served as the spark of inspiration.

RS: You self published. Can you tell us how that worked out for you.

BT: I looked into where I wanted to be available and how to go about getting there. That ended up being Smashwords and Amazon. I think it has worked okay for me. My expectations were low as a first-time, unknown author. I’ve sold maybe low triple-digits.

RS: Was there anything you wish you’d known before you self published?

BT:The importance of person to person connections. Getting that first book sold means asking everyone you ever met to buy and read it. It is kind of embarrassing but really important. Almost every contribution I’ve gotten on Indiegogo has come from a personal request for a friend to take a look and consider.

RS: You’re running an Indiegogo campaign to fund print copies of your book, tell us about that?

BT: I want to make a paper copy available. In America and some other countries that is as easy as setting up print-on-demand through Amazon. Japan doesn’t have that option and I want somethings to have on hand for friends and family here. So, I thought if I need to do a print run, why don’t I try crowdfunding and offer perks that might make this appealing to those over-seas as well. If nothing else, it can help serve as pre-orders. And so far I am on track to hit my goal.

RS: So, what’s next for Brent? Is a sequel in the works?

BT: Yes! Book 2 is in the works. I want it to be similar to book 1 in that it will tell a complete story while leaving hooks for book 3. The goal for that is to have it released next winter. Over summer I want to do an ebook release of a collection of some of my favorite short stories I’ve written.

RS: Hey, that sounds great. Any advice for aspiring writers? How do you get the words flowing?

BT: Don’t wait for inspiration. Just write. It is awesome to have those ready-made sentences pour out, but that feeling is rare. At least for me. Usually the first paragraph I write in a session is clumsy and awkward. It’s the warm-up. But that is why we edit. And then, when the juices start flowing, I can get into that rhythm of writing something quality.

RS: I hear you, I’m starting to think that good writers are good editors. And I hear you’re into comics…

BT: Oh, goodness! Love ’em! Even though I’m told I am too grumpy about them sometimes. Currently I’m having a lot of fun reading 70s Marvel comics through their unlimited app.

RS: Where can people find you on the interwebs?

BT: My main website is I also put up the podcasts Reading Deadly Troubadours, Comics League International, and Living Japan. All of those are on iTunes. Plus my Twitter is @deadtroubadour.

RS: Thanks very much Brent.

BT: Thank you Rodney.

Be sure to check out Brent’s Indigogo campaign and support a fellow gamer–writer. Good luck with your editing everyone.

Something wicked this way comes!

The folk over at have announced that it’s carnival time, and what a creepy carnival it is.  Here to hound and harrow your players is the Seething Slime, an ooze for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game that gets more powerful as the heroes get more angry.

Seething Slime by D & R Sloan. © 2014 – 2015.
Seething Slime by D & R Sloan. © 2014 – 2015.

Continue reading Something wicked this way comes!

Mindfulness – Grant’s Kitchen

Our guest writer today is a good friend of mine who I got to know over many games of Magic: The Gathering® and discussions on craft beer. I learnt a lot from him, so I’m glad that he could share some of his knowledge here with you.

Hello and welcome to my new column here, Grant’s Kitchen. There are a huge number of people who play “kitchen table Magic,” but most articles are for the competitive player who is looking to take down big tournaments. My plan here is to talk about the sorts of things that more casual players want to talk about. So you won’t find detailed meta-game breakdowns or play by plays here. But you will find commentary and ideas to bring back to your local play group.

“Be mindful, youngling!”

To start off with let’s look at the concept of “mindfulness.” This is being mindful of your plays, and paying attention to what the other players are doing, and how they might respond to you. One of the biggest mistakes beginning players make is to get wrapped up in their big play. You can get so enamored planning for your big win that you miss the clues that herald your defeat.
Picture this: You are each at 2 life. Your opponent has three 3/3 creatures, and you have a single Archetype of Aggression in play. You know that card will grant all your creatures trample, and so you play Savageborn Hydra for 10. You have a 10/10 double strike, trample hydra, ready to crush all comers next turn. You’ve got this! And then the next turn comes around, your opponent swings with his three creatures and you die. Whoops! If only you had cast a slightly smaller hydra AND the little Llanowar Elf that was also in your hand. Then you could have chump blocked with your elf, traded your architect and blocked with your hydra. The coast would have been clear the next turn and victory would have been yours.
This is mindfulness. Magic is a complicated game, and it is easy to miss small details. But if we try and keep those details in mind and pay attention to what the opponent is up to we can have a better chance of victory.
Another way to use mindfulness is in multiplayer games. While in a two player duel, rushing out the gate and smashing face is usually a great idea. In a multiplayer game, with politics in the midst of everything, it can be deadly. Being an obvious front runner can spell an early doom for you as the other players gang up and take you out. Being aware of the relative power of each player while subtly advancing your own plan for victory is the key. Be a friend to everybody, until the time comes for your ultimate victory.
There is a lot going on in any game of Magic: The Gathering®, but it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Just take a few moments, and pay attention to both your plan and what your opponents can do to stop you. This will both increase your chances of victory and your enjoyment. The more you can foil your opponents, the more fun you will have!

Grant is an avid casual Magic player and drafter who has been playing since the release of Dark Ascension. He loves value, drawing cards, and his Zedruu Commander deck. When he’s not playing Magic he is probably brewing or drinking beer. You can follow his beer related adventures at


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