Why I Almost Quit the TTRPG Industry

The table-top roleplaying games industry is notoriously tough. Keep your ear to the ground and you’ll hear, now and then, the hasty footfalls of an RPG designer rushing for the door. Burnout is usually the cause. I was at the edge of that precipice, and I almost quit the TTRPG industry, and I’m here to tell you my story.

I’ve worked in the TTRPG industry for five full years now. Some of my time is spent on other work, but I’ve picked jobs carefully to build my career with experience that’ll feed back into RPG design and writing. These years were only possible because of another five years spent preparing to go full time. So why, if I’ve fought so hard for this, would I be ready to let it all go?

Cruel Trinkets of the Mad Gods

An Honest Picture of Success

To understand that, we need to talk about success. What does success in the TTRPG industry look like? Is it working for Wizards of the Coast, or having your name on a hardcover? Maybe it’s earning enough that you can quit your day job?

In my view, success is all about sustainability. Does your work support you? This isn’t just about money, although money is a big part of it. Sustainability includes the actualization of your goals. It answers questions such as “Will I, one day, have my name on a hardcover?” Your sense of worth is also important; “Do I make great content that people enjoy?” Then there’s fair remuneration; “Is my hard work being adequately rewarded?” Rewards include money, buzz, positive feedback, and players sitting down to play your games.

Ultimately, is all the graft, the grind, and the stress, paying off? If it is, then your work is sustainable and you’re successful. If not, then the job will eventually beat you down, you’ll cut your losses, and beat an expeditious retreat.

Hard trials are going to come along, no matter what you do. If anything, I didn’t always have the maturity to face those trials and pull through, so each hit became a personal burden (or grudge) that grew heavier and heavier with each setback. On top of that, as Freddie sang, “… bad mistakes, I’ve made a few.” This reached its ugly head when I had a run of flops with products I really believed in.

It has taken me months to recover from burnout and get excited about producing RPG content again.

But I’m committed to learning from my mistakes and doing better.

How much better to get wisdom than gold,
to get insight rather than silver!
— Proverbs 16:16

Last night I was reading a Batonga story to my kids about the dung beetle. In it, Butterfly tells Dung Beetle that if she doesn’t try, she’ll never succeed, but if she tries, she might (When Lion Could Fly and Other Tales From Africa).

So I’m sticking around because I know I can do better. Even after five years, there’s still so much to learn, and I’m enjoying being a student of game design and the TTRPG industry. Even my many failures are not a loss, because they give me something to build on that I didn’t have when I first started out.

The name of the company makes a lot more sense now too, doesn’t it? I hope you, too, can rise like a phoenix from whatever setback life has thrown at you.

6 thoughts on “Why I Almost Quit the TTRPG Industry”

  1. I’m actually at this point myself. I constantly debate about just stopping altogether. Burnout isn’t my issue so much as the lack of work. Part of it is “who you know”, and even then the pandemic put a lot of the projects I was supposed to be one to an absolute grinding halt. I even completed a couple, but they’re in limbo right now because the publisher is taking a break or just doesn’t have the finances and knows that everyone’s wallets are a little more empty. They realize that pre-pandemic the work would have sustained them, but definitely not now. Maybe in a year or two we’ll start to see some general growth again. I know Kickstarters have been successful over the last couple of months, but writers definitely have to meet a certain criteria to be on those teams.

    1. Hi Derek! I’d love to hear more about your story. How long have you been in TTRPG design and what are some of the ways you’ve managed to keep going?

      1. So I was originally going to say that I’ve been in it since 2015, but I thought I’d double check, and my first publication came out in July 2014. So I guess that’d mean December 2013 is when I started. And as bad as it reads, I kept going by bugging publishers. I’d keep my eyes on the job forums (mostly did Paizo’s, and now the Devcord discord, as well as AAW Games discord). I also did various blog entries on Tumblr and on Facebook’s group pages like Gamers Against bordoM (GAM) or Pathfinder/Starfinder Character Conversions.
        The blog entries are what mostly kept me going though. When Fire Mountain Games disappeared, and we weren’t going to see the “Throne of Night” AP for PF1e, I took it upon myself to “complete it” during the pandemic, using the artist’s webpage and the Kickstarter posts about what each book was going to be about. I wrote out what the synopsis was for each, then took that and comprised how it might have actually gone, without any true idea. Endzeitgeist did an Obituary for the AP and named dropped me, which was really nice of him.
        But that alone really helped me. If I couldn’t get published during the last year, I could at least help people finish their games and try put their minds at ease.

        I think the worst part for me is having written stuff and the company backing out and not completing contracts because they shut down, changed game systems completely, or other reasons. One thing I learned is that if I’m going to actually do work, have even a basic contact written out and signed before putting in the work. It’s a lesson learned. I’ll be much more careful in the future.

      2. Let me know if my previous response got through. Website is acting a little weird at the moment, and I’m concerned that my last message was eaten.

          1. Okay, no issue. It’s 2:30 am my time so somehow my sleep deprived self thought my original post appeared last time, and wasn’t waiting to be approved.

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