There seems to be some confusion about what freelance writers do for RPGs.
I remember being told once, with the sort of confidence that someone only exudes when they’ve never asked anyone, that freelancers simply expand the contents of an outline and don’t do their own design or anything. This person is on the editorial board of the International Journal of Role Playing, by the way. This sort of thing has come up again recently, with a few editor-developers asserting they do the real design — they sculpt the “raw clay” given them.
People don’t hire me to simply do what I’m told, or to dig up anything that raw. Maybe they hire other people for that. My job involves original design, expanding the outline, consultation, mentoring — lots of stuff that goes beyond word-spewing. I’ve designed rules for spacecraft, a complete magic system, LARP-friendly social procedures, fantasy peoples, magical dynasties, the secrets of fantasy Mars, rules for conspiratorial social networks and magic schools, maneuvers based on medieval wrestling from horseback, a reality-bending minigame inspired by Blackjack, an alternate game setting with distinct systems for heroes and fantasy peoples, etc, etc, etc. Mage: The Awakening’s Aeons? That was me. Nobody told me to do it, or a bunch of other things for that game from the core onward.
And that’s what you see. You don’t see me acting in an advisory capacity when I have a tad more experience with a line than the developer (which happens from time to time). You didn’t see the time I provided a short set of lessons on how to properly format a manuscript. You didn’t seem me design an adventure for both myself and the junior writer I was paired with. You’ve never seen the handful of times I’ve outlined my own projects from front to back, or the intensive editorial notes I’ve sent.
That’s all okay. Writers get hired for their commitment to a process that produces words, not just the words themselves. Sometimes projects aren’t as simple as they look to whoever wrote the outline, and need extra effort. Sometimes a cool idea feels inevitable once you get started. In it goes. Sometimes you make an extra effort because a project feels especially important. It’s all good.
Experience counts. New writers tend to get more structured assignments than I do. Sometimes I get, “You know this. Do something interesting.” One recent book was produced on the strength of a short phone conversation. During the dark times when CCP was implicitly shuttering White Wolf, Dave Brookshaw and I outlined Imperial Mysteries and Left-Hand Path together; I think IM was his idea, and LHP was mine.
No matter the situation, it’s the nature of the job to be inventive. It means you need to do more than what you’re told. Fans should know this, but folks who work in games should really know it.