What an RPG Developer Does

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My first official Big Book For Another Company development credit. I have ones related to smaller stuff and self-publishing, and have developed parts of books without being credited, but this was my first Big Hardcover.

I’m an RPG writer and developer. Sometimes the term “lead designer” gets used with slightly different responsibilities, and sometimes it gets used to no difference in responsibilities. In different companies, the exact responsibilities, and whether it’s a contract or staff position, vary. For instance, I don’t do any layout, and strictly work with word count, while other developers think in terms of finished spreads.

What we all have to produce, however, is the text of a book. We do this by creating an outline, writing some of it ourselves, contracting other parts out, performing developmental edits, and sometimes checking copy edits when they come back.

Developmental edits change the text to improve its design rigour, flavour, adherence to theme, and to improve integration between sections. It includes a spelling and grammar sweep, but it’s a separate editor’s job to finish that part. If writers don’t do their work properly, and we can’t find replacements, we do the writing instead. We are responsible for a book’s textual content.

Because the development process includes guidance through outlines, redlines, and other forms of communication when necessary, the developer is also a mentor figure, who has the added benefit of tautological correctness when it comes to advice about a project they manage. It’s pretty simple. If it’s my book, the advice I give you is right, because I set the criteria. Theoretically this means I can rain down commands like some enthroned jerk, but a good developer leaves room for other writers, which means subsequent advice is actually a matter of exploring what could work in a book, and how to make the writer’s own ideas pop.

A good developer also takes extra time to point out quirks, process issues, and standards expectations, especially for new writers, so they improve. “Improvement” is of course subjective—I’m not going to show you how to make a 2-page solo LARP because that’s not my focus. I can however help just about anybody new to writing significant chunks of mainstream tabletop RPG books do a better job.

The hardest writers to work with are people who believe they know their craft inside and out and that you have nothing to say that could possibly help them. These writers are not necessarily bad, but most of the time, they’re too slow. They’ve established a self-image as a writer/designer without building the kinds of skills big books need. Consequently, I’ve witnessed multiple situations where people like this handed in rushed, poor-quality work, or just ran away from the project. As a freelance writer I’ve made money taking over for people who crash and burn, and about a third of the time this has been the reason.

If you’re a writer, know this: Better writers than you or me, and better respected ones, and ones whose experience crosses over into higher prestige media than RPGs, have asked me for advice. Another set of eyes belonging to someone motivated to make your work as good as it can be is almost always useful. That’s my job.

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