Gamethink

Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Church of What's Happening Now

posted by Bruce Baugh

This week I made my first foray into PDF publishing, with Monstrous Advanced Classes: The Vampire. It was a very interesting experience, and very different from how conventional RPG writing goes. It's been a while since I posted, and I'm going to bore you all with some happy burbling.

The biggest difference is the sheer immediacy of it. I've been watching James Maliszewski having fun with his Dozen This and Dozen That products, and thinking about what I could do that would be comparably fun for me. On Friday, I got an idea. On Tuesday, I finished writing it up and sent it to Phil Reed to see if he'd like to publish it. He did, and on Wednesday it went up for sale. On Thursday it was #44 on the monthly bestseller list for d20 products.

In the sort of gaming work I'm used to, it's always a matter of months from completing the writing to a book going on sale - editing, developing, producing, printing, and distributing all take time. When I'm developing a project, it can easily be a year or more from conceiving and outlining a book to the point the public gets to see it. So working in gaming means always living in a sort of temporal discontinuity, knowing things you can't talk about. Everything that's now out exists in a context you can't fully share, since it's not your individual secrets and choices about confidentiality. I must say that I really, really like being able to get such immediate response to an idea, and to have no worries about accidentally leaking it or anything like that. This time I get to talk about an idea while it's still fresh in my own mind, and comments from customers and bystanders can influence how I handle future entries in the series.

There's also a, um, purity of essence about the whole thing. A single advanced class entry would be one part of one chapter in a typical book. When I asked for advanced classes in Gamma World books, I asked for three or more (depending on the project), and that seems fairly usual for d20 books. Here it's just itself. I hope to reuse the format, and working out the structure of the thing was a significant part of the writing time (particularly realizing that I wanted lists of options for qualities rather than fixed progressions). But I could and likely will customize it for each one. This particular document has no need to do anything but fit with d20 Modern mechanics in general and the attitude I want for it in particular.

Working with open content is a lot of fun. Gamma World, which has been the bulk of my d20 effort so far, is of course all closed, being proprietary and licensed, and the Scarred Lands work I've done has been released in accordance with White Wolf's policy of deeply finicky open-content declarations. I don't know if the intent was to make it too tangle for others to want to use, but it seems to have had that effect. Since the Monstrous Advanced Class series is purely mine, though, I could and did choose to make it all open. I'm hoping others make use of it; I'd love to see what contexts it may fit. And I had fun drawing on the open content created by my friends Gareth Hanrahan and Jim Kiley. I could have done it without their neat stuff in (respectively) OGL Horror and Adventure! d20, but my work is the better for it, I think. Reinventing the wheel has been part of gaming from the beginning, and I can do it about as well as anyone, I think, but it's tedious as well as wasteful. Judicious (and legitimate) reuse of open content let me focus more on the stuff that's distinctively mine.

Finally, I hadn't realized just how much of a rush I'd find having a copyright statement list my own name instead of a corporation's. I don't mind doing work for hire, when it's a project I'm interested in...but yes, as someone who thinks of his work as both art and craft, it gives me great pleasure to feel that I genuinely do own this one. Phil Reed made it look spiffy and deserves the cut he's getting for that and the advantages of selling it as a Ronin Arts product, but at the end of the day, it's mine mine mine and I feel better for it.

There's a recurring note here, and it's "fun". My association with White Wolf got badly strained over the last year or so - and I'm not claiming to be the pure unsullied victim here, as I had misfortunes of sorts that made problems for them and also made some just plain unwise decisions at various points. All that's the tale for another time. The point here is while I never stopped enjoying working with my authors and their manuscripts, very little of the rest of the job was very satisfying. Doing MAC: The Vampire was very satisfying, and provided me a strong reminder that I was in fact not foolish to ever get tangled up in gaming, that I can do it well, and that, yes, it feels good to do it well. All of that is very good to have in mind as I embark on the next phase of my writing career, in and out of gaming.