Sometimes, something happens to remind you why to work so hard at panels and at conventions. People come up and thank me for my advice. Ken Spencer (creator and owner of Why Not Games) is one of those people. He once told me, “I did what you suggested and now I have the career I’ve always wanted.” This sort of thing makes my heart soar. I’m helping people and I’m proving that you can do it. Ken put together a timeline of his career: ups and downs. He did the hard work. I just pointed him in the right direction to start.
Early in the year I decided to begin a career as a writer. I had been published before, but only in academic journals.
The first installment of “A Bit of History,” my monthly column on rpg.net concerning the use of history in role-playing games was published. The column would go on for four and a half years and see 57 entries. Much of my early success is owed to “A Bit of History” as it provided experience writing and served as an easy to access sample of my work. I ended the column and wrote a short-lived sci-fi themed column called “The Future.” Unfortunately, the demands of paying work caused me to bring the column to an end as well.
My first professional publication credits, the adventures “The Ransom” and “The Promise” appeared in Vini, Vidi, Vici for BRP Rome from Alephtar Games.
My adventure, “The King, The Maiden, and the Mad Man of Las Islas De Los Muertos” was published by Chaosium in The River Terror and Others as part of the 2009 BRP Adventure Contest. It is the only writing contest I have entered.
My first large contract, a piratical historical fantasy originally named Arrgh, Pirates! (before being changed to Bokors and Broadsides and published as Blood Tide) was signed with Chaosium. I complete the work and receive payment in installments as the finished manuscript sat in their files for months, then years.
I attended the Writer’s Symposium at GenCon 2010 where I met Jennifer Brozek. Her advice, specifically about the financial side of a writing career and how to present yourself as a professional, resonated and was taken to heart. When I followed her advice things went well for me, and where I strayed there tended to be trouble. In short, be as creative as you can, but always, always keep an eye on the business and money side. Get a signed contract and remember this is a business, not just fun and games.
Also, my good friends and gaming buddies began a tradition of helping me run events at Gen Con, and Con Team Alpha was born. Together we have ran events to promote my freelance projects, my work at Cubicle 7 and Frog God Games, and most recently, Why Not Games. I could not have done this without their help and support.
My second large contract was for 120,000 words for a book to be called Interplanetary from Skirmisher Press. Despite completing the book, it never saw publication. However, Skirmisher utilized a clause in the contract to publish excerpts for promotional purposes to publish full chapters in their dInfinity Magazine, and did not pay me for the work. I also discovered that they did not have clear rights to the work they were having me adapt into a role-playing game. After some negotiations I walked away from the project with a small pay off.
This year also saw publication of the first Northlands Saga adventure, Vengeance of the Long Serpent by Frog God Games. This would grow into an adventure series and then a large campaign book/adventure path. My time working with Frog God Games has forged some lasting relationships that have benefited my career in numerous ways. They are also good people.
Pyramid published “Shovel Bums,” a short GURPS article. This was my first Pyramid article and would start a run of articles that lasted over a year. The pay was good and on time, two things you should always look for. However, GURPS is a complicated system and the fan base favors system mechanics over anything else. These articles took four times the work to produce than something for a different system. With my work for Frog God Games starting to increase, I made the decision to go with projects that were less time consuming.
Frog God Games published my adventure, Death in the Painted Canyons. Also published by the Frog in 2011 were The Death Curse of Sven Oakenfist and Beyond the Wailing Mountains, both for Northlands Saga. The rest of the year was spent in fruitless tasks as I learned what publishers could be trusted and which ones will make promises that they never can fulfill. After my initial surge in 2010, projects started to dwindle, but I began work on some larger projects that would prove to be very fruitful in the following years. There will be dry spells; you just have to have the resources and courage to ride them out.
Chaosium contracted a supplement for what was then still called Arrgh, Pirates!, and then decided after that was done they really wanted a larger book that combined the two. Contracts were revised; payment schedules increased and work progressed. Looking back, I should have been less flexible, but it all turned out good in the end, that is to say, the book was published and I was paid.
For most of this year I worked on large Northlands Saga and Rocket Age projects, focusing my resources on these. It was a calculated choice to invest in product lines instead of small projects, and meant that we had to rely on my wife’s income for the entire year. It was tight, but we made it, and the investment has paid off. It could have easily gone the other way and seen the end of my career, and one major expense would have meant serious trouble. Thankfully, my contracts with Frog God Games included royalties and these quarterly influxes of money helped.
Rocket Age Corebook was launched at GenCon 2013. This was also my first year running a booth at a major convention, and was an eye-opening experience. I had my first face to face fan interactions, signed books, and learned more about the inside of the industry in four days than I had in the previous four years.
Blood Red Mars, as well as the adventures Bring “em Back Alive and Lost City of the Ancients were also published for Rocket Age later in the year. I oversaw my first product line and hired writers to complete five other products for Rocket Age, something that was fraught with challenges and risks, but also rewards. As there was little guidance as to what a line developer should do, I largely figured it out as I went. Mistakes were made and learned from.
I contributed to World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour from Cubicle 7, and the book saw publication.
Rocket Age Corebook won the 2014 ENnies Judge’s Spotlight Award. Bring ‘Em Back Alive was nominated for Best Free Product, but did not win an award. Heroes of the Solar System and The Trail of the Scorpion, as well as the adventure Rocket Racers, were published for Rocket Age. Trail of the Scorpion was my first large collaborative project as I finagled my own work as well as that of three other writers. I made many mistakes, but the end product is one that I am proud of.
Chaosium publishes Blood Tide, a RPG I wrote in 2009-2011 and that languished in their archives.
Frog God Games launches a kickstarter for Northlands Saga Complete, a compilation of my Northlands Saga adventures as well as campaign guide and short fiction. It was successful, raising $72,981, and saw publication. Additional authors were brought in to complete the book as I was busy with Rocket Age and could not dedicate additional resources to the project. Ed Greenwood wrote one of the stretch goal adventures, and being a fan of his work, I was inordinately proud that he came to play in my sandbox.
The Lure of Venus was published for Rocket Age.
Early in the year, Cubicle 7 Entertainment hired me in a full time capacity. As the contract was constantly delayed, there was no clear definition of my title, role, or expectations. Still, knowing that this was how the company tended to operate and trusting them after several years of generally good relations, I forged ahead. This was in clear violation of Jennifer Brozek’s advice on how to operate as a professional writer, and turned out to be, if not a terrible idea, not one of my better decisions.
This year saw a lot of work put into Cubicle 7 Entertainment’s Adventures in Middle Earth game. I wrote extensively for the Player’s Guide and Loremaster’s Guide, as well as ran the largest playtest of the game. Thankfully, both saw publication and have won multiple awards. Plus, I got paid, something that does not always happen in the writing business. In November, after only nine months as a staff writer, I parted ways with Cubicle 7 Entertainment, ending a four year relationship that saw me working as a writer and line developer on numerous projects.
Early in the year, negotiations with Cubicle 7 began for me to purchase Rocket Age, all rights, products, art, and existing stock.
Cabal from Corone Games saw publication with my work on a nasty secret society.
Covert Actions for World War Cthulhu: Cold War was published with my adventure “Operation Header”.
Why Not Games was founded July 1. The final payment for Rocket Age was made and I now own the entire intellectual property, all existing products, art, writing, and stock.
Why Not Games released our first in-house product, Caturday.
The rest of this year is one of high hopes and hard work. We are planning to hit a rate of one release per month by the end of the year, covering both Rocket Age and our Weird Races product lines. We have a long road ahead of us as we line up printers, manufacturers, distributors, and conventions. I am working harder than I ever have, but at the same time, I am happier with my work than I have been since the early days of my career.
ENnie award winning creator of Rocket Age, Ken Spencer is the co-owner and creative director for Why Not Games. He has written for Cubicle 7 Entertainment, Chaosium, Frog God Games, Alephtar Games, and Steve Jackson Games. Educated as an archaeologist, geographer, and teach, Ken brings experience as a field scientist to his writing, adding a certain verisimilitude to exploring ancient ruins and traveling through unexplored wildernesses.