More than Words: A Production Snapshot

For some folks, the act of writing and publishing are synonymous.  In a world with technological convergence and a reduced barrier to entry (both economically and distributively), there are still distinctions to be drawn between the two. Some publishers are writers who wear both hats. I happen to be one of those folks, so I’m going to give you an insight into the process.

If the act of publishing can be viewed as an exercise in cat-juggling, the act of RPG publishing should be considered doing said juggling while blindfolded and drunk with the cats on fire. It’s an exercise in directing creative energies towards a common purpose, quite often across vast distances of time and space.

Surprisingly, writing is only a small part of it.

There is the idea, the seed of inspiration from which we must start. We take this seed and we plant it, and we nourish it (or attempt to) and more often than not it grows in untoward directions, filling the entire field. We wonder where this seed came from. We wonder who has been seeking into the night garden and covered it with irradiated fertilizer until its become this large and unwieldy thing. But we can smile. We get our league of playtesters, each equipped with big, stompy boots to run through the wild, untamed growth, and see if it can survive their torments.

We then survey the garden–we look at the bruised stems, the battered rules, and we splint those which need it, wrapping bits with examples and clarifications; we grimace at the weeds which we must kill; we pull out our pruning shears and eliminate cumbersome explanations and unnecessary rules; and we nourish the rest. We let things regrow a bit, and we send the stompers back into the fields once more if need be.

Next, we get our trained gardeners, our editorial staff, to go through and prune and shape things. I don’t know what to call these guys in our analogy. Maybe plant technicians? At any rate, they carefully trim and shape things and spritz them with water to make the leaves shine, and they do so with great care.

Here, the analogy fails me, so I give it a hug good-bye and send it on its way. I may have been lending a bit towards blank verse in any case, so let’s recap.

With the words written, the playtests (in all their iterations) wrapped, and the edits complete, we’re still not done. Certainly, we have something entering the next phase of the production phase–encompassing art direction and layout.

Art direction is determining how many illustrations (if any) are needed and interfacing with artists to see this vision is followed through while layout encompasses putting everything together for physical or electronic distribution. It encompasses selecting fonts, font sizes, and how to present all the disparate, other pieces of the equation in a way to best represent the work.

As you can see there are a lot of moving parts to this equation, and there is more than words, as important as they may be, which need to come together to create something in finished form, and this is all without getting into the subtle nuances of the business aspects.

This is not a lament, but a celebration. It’s exciting to work in this creative field and touch and be touched by so many wonderful, amazing individuals I may never have otherwise met. Sometimes, I see the madness and insanity of it all (perhaps in a moment of clarity or lucidity), and wonder how I came to be here. It’s, admittedly, hard work, but anything worth having is, and it beats digging ditches.

What I ask is you reflect upon your comments with care the next time you examine a work and realize what fuels and informs the majority of material available to the RPG community comes from a position of passion, and to at least understand the intent of the work. With all the moving pieces, it’s truly a wonder anything gets done at all.  Please note, this is not aimed at any particular person or product or commentary, but just an observation. I see a lot of vitriol on certain sites directed towards systems, settings, and supplements published by companies great and small, and I know the community is full of people who take their games seriously, but I hate to see fractures and rifts created over rules interpretations, rules sets, and even variations within rules sets. To some, the meta meta game is a game all its own and some folks like to prod and poke and create chaos wherever they go, but I’d love to see some of those energies directed into more positive channels. We do not need another provocateur. We can have intelligent discussions about things in an intelligent manner. We can agree to disagree. We have a common bond here folks, and the future is what we make it.  Let’s cherish the good stuff and improve the rest.

With a challenge to each and every one of you within the sound of my pixels to go forth and do good things, I bid you adieu!

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