Tag Archives: writing

How to Become an RPG Designer

Do you want to be an RPG designer? Maybe you’ve created some great homebrew content, have a few products on sale already, or have a cool tabletop RPG (TTRPG) idea you want to publish. Maybe you’re just curious about what it takes to create RPGs for a living and wonder where to start. Whatever the case, this article’s for you.

First Steps

The first thing you need to do is start.

TTRPGs involve a lot of creative energy. From creating your first character to running a months-long campaign, the hobby expects your creative investment at many levels. The trick is to take that creative investment, develop your craft (the ability to create and package that creativity), and ultimately deliver professional products.

Those customers might be an RPG publisher like Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, or Rising Phoenix Games, or you might be self-publishing on a site like DriveThruRPG or Itch.io. Either way, produce good work and be an asset to the roleplaying community.

An RPG designer is often part of a team. I’ve written rules, edited stat blocks, laid out books, created covers, made art assets, drawn maps, managed development teams, and made the tea. Mostly, that work is shared by a team of talented individuals, each with strengths and flaws. Being a team player is important, as is balancing your ego with a healthy dose of humility.

So, it’s worth learning as much as possible about writing and game design to be an asset to any development team you’re a part of. This collection of resources has proved very helpful to me, and I hope it’s helpful to you too.

Recommended Reading

I maintain a bookshelf on GoodReads with great RPG design resources. Check it out. All of the books I’ve listed are ones I refer back to often.


Mystery Dice Featured Image

RPG Design Courses

Various courses on RPG game design:

RPG Product Marketing Courses

  1. Title Descriptions DriveThruRPG course video.

RPG and Fiction/Fantasy Writing Courses

  1. Brandon Sanderson’s BYU course on Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy

Rapid Prototyping

The following tools are useful for making quick, iterative versions of your game ideas.

  1. Video about rapid prototyping for card games.

Banner: Infinite Possibilities - Pathfinder & Starfinder Infinite Community Content Program @ DriveThruRPG.com

Pathfinder Second Edition

Specific tools and resources for creating Pathfinder Second Edition supplements.

  1. PF2 Tools.
Banner: The best cosmic horror & Cthulhu Mythos @ DriveThruRPG.com

Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition

AI Tools

Many people take issue with AI tools, but — like any tool — knowing how to use the tool gives you more options to create better works. Enhance, rather than replace.

  1. Grammarly for AI-assisted text editing.

Free Web Tools

I use the following tools to improve my workflow, manage projects, and supplement my digital and real-world tools.

  1. Trello is a great management tool.
  2. Cloud Convert concerts file formats. Useful when you do a lot of work with PDFs.

Looking back, Looking forward

There’s nothing quite like looking back on old work to make you realize how far you’ve come. I was flipping through an old notebook and found this gem, probably written while I was in high school.

I’ve edited it for clarity, grammar, and spelling, but left the cheesiness for you to enjoy.

Of all the things spawned of the earth there is but one that can truly be said to have been “spat out.” Evil has created many nightmarish beings, but only one of its creatures is as comical as the vampire donkey.

Vampire donkey looking back
“Oh, the shame!”

I also found some beautiful pieces, including this from a descriptive paragraph about flying.

The clouds were lit blue by the moon as they floated over the silver seam of the beach.

There were darker bits too. I found some telling pieces of writing, like a diary entry I’d made after failing a maths test. I thought I was a loser — academically, in love, and in life. Reading that entry now, I get the sense I’d felt entitled to good grades for various reasons, and that I expected to have some mentor come along and lead me to victory. Maybe I expected that every kid needed their Mr. Miyagi.

Interestingly, at the end of that year, I did meet a mentor — my driving instructor.  Pat gave me a radically new perspective, helped me beat my fears, and smile more. She also pointed me to a mentor that would have a more profound impact on my life, Jesus Christ, and I became a Christian in January of the following year.

My conversion is important, but it isn’t the main point of this post. You see, other changes happened around that time too. I met my first girlfriend at the end of 1999, the same year I’d written the diary entry, and in 2000 I went to America and met and dated more girls. It was a huge change from high school. Now, I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world when it comes to love, having been married, happily, for almost 9 years. And she’s a great role-player.

Academically, things changed too. When I went to university in 2001 I scored a bunch of distinctions, and the rest of my grades were pretty good. Except for maths. But I worked my butt off and finally passed that too. In doing so, I realized that math was something I’d feared for much of my life. Now I don’t fear it quite so much and have worked as a programmer and game designer — both jobs that use plenty of maths — for years.

So my point is this. Never give up. Never, ever, give up. Winston Churchill might have actually said that, and you have to trust a guy holding a Tommy gun.

You just never know what’s around the corner, so stick in there.

And one more thing. If you think you’re bad at something, don’t let that be your identity. You’re only bad at something until you put in the time to be better at it. We’re an extremely malleable species — we can learn and adapt to meet any challenge.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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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.

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 deadlytroubadours.com. 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.

The Hero’s Journey

Last week I promised to tell you about a great structure for your stories and games. Well, let me introduce Joseph Campbell, and his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Mr Campbell says that all myths, no matter where and when they were created, share a common series of events. This structure is common to all heroes, from Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter, from Wolverine to Superman.

Here are some of the steps on the heroes journey:

A Call To Adventure
The hero or heroin lives in the normal world until receiving a call to enter a new, fantastical world. This is Gandalf inviting Bilbo to leave the Shire.

A Road of Trials
Having taken the first step, the hero now faces difficult challenges. This is the Fellowship of the Ring and their perilous flight through Moria.

The Hero's Story. © Danielle Storey
The Hero’s Journey. © Danielle Storey

The Goal or Boon
Having overcome great challenges, the hero now receives some boon that will aid him in his quest. This is Wolverine getting his adamantium skeleton, after being defeated by Sabertooth (in X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”– Joseph Campbell


Return to the Ordinary World
The hero then returns to the world with the boon, facing troubles on the way. Luke Skywalker heading into Vader’s trap after training with Yoda, anyone?

Application of the Boon 
The triumphant hero returns and uses the boon to improve the world he left. This is Harry Potter returning to his foster parents with his magical abilities.

Here’s another great explanation of the Hero’s Journey by Matthew Winkler...

Consider the Hero’s Journey when you create your next campaign or story, and how you might use it to challenge the heroes and make their impact more meaningful.

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Tick – Interview

Tick is the story of Tom Verbrisser, a young man who has everything and more; a great apartment in London, top of the range designer sunglasses and a luxury car. And he’s about to inherit his fathers fortune too. There’s just one hitch; Tom Verbrisser is a cat.

Peter Leonard, the author, and I have played Magic the Gathering together and he tells me he’s a big fan of Mine Craft and Mine Craft mods, including Mine Craft RPGs. I had the chance to chat with Peter about Tick and his current Kickstarter. He shares some great tips about story telling too, read on and enjoy.

Rodney Sloan: “Hi Peter. To start off, tell us a little about yourself and what you do?”

Peter Leonard: “Hello Rodney. Well, I’m Peter Leonard, I’m from the UK, and a small town called Worcester. If people don’t know where that is I tell them it’s where the sauce comes from. I’ve worked in Japan for four years, which includes the earthquake. I’m a trainer, not a shoe, but I teach teachers. Before that I work as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), teaching English. I’m very busy, I ride a train to work and wear a suit. I’m much like the character Tom in the novel, except that I don’t have a car or a cat.

RS: “Nice. So when did you start telling stories?”

PL: “I guess it started in elementary school, during creative writing projects. I would go wild and drive the teachers mad. Once we were given an extended project, in teams or individually. We were expected to write a two page story, but I wrote 20 pages, signed and complete with a decorated cover. The teacher couldn’t mark it. I suppose I just love creating things from scratch.”

“I was 16 when I wrote my first book draft. It was soon after watching the second Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers. Especially the Helms Deep scene. I just felt that I need to create something. So I decided to write without limits. Vaygan was the name of that story, a space epic without limits. When I finished I put it away thinking this was it, I never have to work again. Six months later I read it and though ‘…this is terrible’.”

“I went on to earn my English literature degree, and then re-edited Vaygan. It’s like the quote from that guy, he was sort of famous, Orson Welles. He said ‘The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.’ I added some limitations and boundaries and it became a much better story.”

“Here’s a tip for anyone looking to create stories: look up the 7 point story arc or 8 point story arc models. They detail every story cycle and you can apply them to any and every story. It’s a good structure.”

RS: “Tell us about Tick, the novel your promoting on Kickstarter.”

PL: “Well, the book is light fantasy, urban fantasy really. It’s aimed predominately at young adults but has something for older readers too.”

“Tick was the second writing project I did, and I’ll give you a very brief history. I used to work in a book store in Worcester and I was looking for a new series to read. I wanted a huge series, something to really sink my teeth into. I was working in the Children’s section, and wanted something light. I came across Erin Hunter’s Warrior Cat’s series. I was blown away, it was simple and straightforward, with at least 50 books in the series at the time. I researched her and discovered that she’s from Britain, but that she’s more famous in the US. She spent 1 year on the best seller list there. So I got in touch with her agent, who put me in touch with her. I told here that ‘I work in a largish book shop in a largish UK city, can we set up a book signing?’ She didn’t expect anything big, and neither did I, but we ended up having a queue right out the door the whole day. I was really inspired by her. I was immersed in Warriors then. Which is when I wrote about a city boy yuppie, a bit of a git really, who knocks down an old woman’s house to build a tennis court. This is Tom. Three days before a big presentation where he’ll receive his fathers inheritance he wakes up as a cat. He has no idea why or who did it. And so he has to turn back into a human. This sets him off on a quest with his pet cat, Puzzle. He soon finds out that there’s more going on than he thought. Really the book is about his return to humanity in a physical and literal sense.”

“I’m still friends with Erin Hunter. She read the book and has been a real inspiration to me.”

“Tick is my most polished work, which is why it’s on Kickstarter.”

RS: “When can we expect to see the book on Amazon?”

PL: “That’s an easy one: July 2014. Whatever happens, Tick will be on Amazon this year, successful Kickstarter or not. If the Kickstarter is successful then the book will be available in more places. And I’ll be able to better promote it too.”

RS: “Will you be publishing on DriveThruFiction? ”

PL: “Yeah, the more the merrier. I would be happy to put it in many places, if anyone can suggest other ePublishing sites, let me know.”

RS: “You said you live in Japan, has it inspired your writing? And could you tell us a little about Kami, the novel available for free on your blog?”

PL: “Yes, it has, it has changed the way I write. Because of the lifestyle and because of the job and not having much free time. I write when I can. You can find me on a packed train with a salary man’s elbow in my back, typing a book on my smart-phone. The train commute is crazy busy, but I can see Mount Fuji, which is great.”

“Japan has influenced my writing, because when you get here you have to start from scratch. In the books I write now, the protagonist is more out of his depth and more alien or unusual. I’m also writing more stories set in Japan, such as Samurai which is set in a modern Japan overtaken by evil samurai. The main character is the leader of a rebellion but has no idea why or how he got to be there. I like deliberate confusion. Starting out with the reader asking ‘What on earth is happening here.'”

“Kami was NaNoWriMo three Novembers ago, 2011, after the earthquake. It was my first NaNoWriMo ever. It’s a story about a young 12 year old who lives in a back water village. He’s sick of it and wants out. During the village festival he tries to liven things up but destroys everything, and so sets off on an adventure across the wilds of Japan to right his wrongs. Meanwhile, back in town, his friend notices signs of a conspiracy and that someone wanted the boy out of town for a reason. Kami is timeless. I think I mention cars once. It’s not meant to seem modern. I made it deliberately difficult to pin down a time frame. Like in the Harry Potter books, they don’t often mention things like phones, so the books age well.”

RS: “I found your writing style in Tick to be very descriptive, something I feel is very important in story telling, yet can be difficult to achieve. Do you have any tips for Game Masters and writers in this regard?”

PL: “Well, I’m not a big author yet, but tips wise, less equals more. Descriptive does not equal evocative. If you look back at your favourite books you’ll find that the description are short. You have to trust your reader or player to imagine the scene. Trust readers to imagine things so you don’t get bogged down by how things look. Does the reader really need to know the character has blond hair? In Tick, Tom has black hair and is 18 years old. I don’t say more than that really and the black hair is important because it links to his cat fur later on. So yeah, less is more and trust the reader to fill in blanks.”

“On descriptions, Vaygan initially had very long winded ones. I talked about how, for instance, one character had fingernails of many different lengths, hair parted many ways, and so on. All you need is a light sketch so you can carry on with writing. Short snappy descriptions. Show, don’t tell. Compare saying “you feel scared” versus “a bead of sweat trickles down your back.”

RS: “Nice tips. Thanks Peter, it was a pleasure talking to you. Good luck with your Kickstarter and the digital release of Tick.”

PL: “Thank Rodney. And thanks anyone and everyone for your support.”

You can find out more about Tick via the Kickstarter, or about Peter Leonard’s other works on his blog or on his YouTube channel. He’s got a super secret Kickstarter in the works too, so keep your eye open.

Writing up a storm

It has been a busy month writing wise, it’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short and I’ve been plugging away at my first novel. The reason I’m telling you this is because I’m learning loads about writing that I think will extend to preparing good sessions for your players.

Make Notes

I have a tendency to put words down without thinking about what I’m actually saying. It’s not a good plan. Make notes and plan out everything, even if the planning is where you leave things. And let’s face it, planning is all you need. Good GM’s have a good outline, even if that’s all kept in their heads.

Keep it all

Don’t throw your ideas away, you can often rework something to use later. Some of my favorite scenes so far have been from my own noted that I reworked as dialogue into the text.

Cut the boring stuff

Don’t force the characters to work through boring stuff.

Keep on keeping on

You might have a lot of prep to do and a load of things waiting. Do what you can when you can.

Have fun

If you’re not enjoying it then your players probably won’t. Take a break or change things up to keep it fun.

Do you have any thoughts? Share them below.