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?
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.
Hey there, I’m Rodney!
I’m a writer and editor of tabletop RPGs and a painter of Orks. Welcome to Rising Phoenix Games!
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