Andy's Mailbag (Last Updated 04/01/2003)
I get a lot of questions sent my way. While I make it a point to answer as much of my email as I can, there are definitely a few questions that I receive with significant frequency. Hopefully, this "Andy FAQ" will help those of you with similar queries.
What's changing in the Revised Player's Handbook?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I get this one a lot these days. Though I'd love to be able to share all the changes that will be appearing in the revised core rulebooks, this isn't the forum for that sort of announcements. It's not my job to do marketing and PR for upcoming products, and if I were to usurp the roles of those who perform those jobs, it'd be just as unprofessional as if they rewrote my manuscripts in typesetting.
That said, I share my thoughts on the topic on my message boards on a regular basis, and I also made some comments in an earlier Theories column. For the best information regarding version 3.5 of D&D, you should go to the source(s): In addition to a monthly column in Dragon, a weekly online column found on the Wizards website provides details and insight into the revisions.
What's the Epic-Level Progression for My Favorite Prestige Class?
Between the Epic Level Handbook web enhancement and my ongoing Epic Insights column at the Wizards of the Coast website, I've presented epic-level progressions for dozens of classes and prestige classes from a variety of D&D products. As much as I'd like to be able to have epic versions of every single prestige class, there just aren't enough hours in the day (or dollars in the web team's budget) to make that a reality. Similarly, though I'd love to answer every single query with a long reply that solves every one of your problems, I already have a full-time job as a game designer plus a busy freelance schedule and a website that always seems to need another update (see also "How Does This Rule Work? below).
If you can't find an epic progression for your character's prestige class, it doesn't mean that I don't think it merits one, nor does it mean that I have anything against the class or your character. More likely, it means that I think the class is similar enough to others that the progression shouldn't be too hard for someone else to create, or that the class is unusual enough that a simple epic progression wouldn't do it justice. If you don't think that you're up to the challenge of designing your own epic progression, talk to the many other epic-level gamers who take part in this site's epic-level discussions or on the Wizards of the Coast boards. Chances are good that someone has some experience with a similar situation or even just some helpful advice to share.
How Does This Rule Work?
I wish I had the time to answer every rules-related question that was sent my way. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy helping people, I can't always take the time to answer rules questions.
But fret not! There are plenty of options for solving your stumpers. The best, of course, is Wizards of the Coast's own Game Support staff. There, professionally trained customer service personnel answer hundreds of game-related questions every day. And in the rare occurrences when they get stumped--well, they're only a short walk away from the men and women who wrote the rules that caused the questions in the first place.
Secondly, there are the many game-related message boards, all filled with rules-savvy players and DMs. For instance, if you have a particularly pesky Epic Level Handbook question, you can head straight to my message boards, where knowledgeable sorts such as Garen Thal will provide timely and helpful advice. And if you're looking for an even larger forum, try the Wizards of the Coast message boards or the EN World boards.
If all else fails, or you have a query that you think no one but me can answer, you can certainly send email my way. But remember that although I endeavor to answer every message within a week or two, rules questions may receive a response of "Sorry, no time to help." It's not that I don't care; rather, it's more likely that a deadline's breathing down my neck and several thousand words are yet unwritten for the week.
How Can I Become a Game Designer?
Apparently, one of the signs that you've "made it" in any industry is when people start asking you how to get in. After rules questions, this is the most common question I hear.
Over the years, I've heard a lot of people answer this question. Sometimes the advice seems more self-serving than actually helpful--you don't really need to hear how hard it is to "make it" in the industry, but rather what kinds of preparation and work can make it easier. So here's my take on it:
In school, try to take courses both in writing skills and in mathematics, particularly statistics and game theory. Don't worry too much about a specific major--I've met RPG designers and editors from just about every conceivable educational background. For instance, I'm an English major, but my co-designer on the Epic Level Handbook, Bruce Cordell, worked as a chemist before he became a full-time designer. Go figure.
Read and play a lot of games and game products, even bad ones. After all, by learning what doesn't work, you may be able to avoid the same pitfalls. And reading good game design can only help your skills.
Try attending local conventions, particularly those that give you a chance to meet and listen to industry professionals. Barring that, simply meeting other gamers can often help you gain a greater understanding of gaming in general.
Be the DM, at least occasionally. The vast majority of successful RPG designers and editors I know regularly run campaigns. We play too, but DMing teaches you more about the rules and mechanics of a game than playing, in my opinion.
And ultimately, the only way to become a game designer is to start designing games and game accessories. Start with your home campaign, or for a local convention. When you're feeling confident, start sending proposals to Dragon, Dungeon, or Polyhedron, or any of the many D20 companies hungry for new talent. Long before James Wyatt was "award-winning author of the Oriental Adventures campaign setting," he was a regular contributor to Dragon magazine.
Once you've gotten started, keep writing and keep your promises. Monte Cook put it well in a column of his from a while back: "Reputation means a lot. Develop a reputation as a solid writer who makes deadlines, even in writing small pieces like magazine articles, and suddenly doors will open for you. Make one big mistake -- like blowing a deadline and wrecking the company's or the magazine's schedule, or turning in one bad manuscript -- and you might not work for them again." Well said, Monte.
With all that, don't expect to make a living at it, particularly not right away. There aren't a lot of people who support themselves fully simply by writing RPG products--most are freelance writers who have other jobs to help pay the bills--so you should have other skills to fall back on.
How Did You Become a Game Designer?
Short Answer: I didn't listen to anyone's advice--least of all what I just spouted off above. Instead, I played a lot of games and got a little bit (OK, a lot) lucky.
Long Answer: I joined Wizards of the Coast's organized play department (then just called "Events") in April of 1994. Within 18 months, Wizards had bought TSR and moved that company's operations to the Renton office. As a longtime D&D veteran, this was a dream come true, and the opportunity of a lifetime. I spent the next several months getting to know some of the RPG R&D staffers, and in April of 1996 they finally got tired of seeing my resume show up for every editorial opening and hired me to join the Alternity team. While my editorial skills are pretty solid, it became apparent during the editing phase of Dark Matter that my real strengths lay in rules development. My first true design opportunity was the Gamma World setting for Alternity, where I stepped in late in the process to help lend an Alternity-trained hand to the rules adaptation. Soon after that, Bill Slavicsek tapped me to work on the new Star Wars RPG. By that time, I was pretty sure that design and development was my true love. Hence my work on the Epic Level Handbook and Spelljammer: Shadow of the Spider Moon, as well as a couple of just-completed books that I can't talk about just yet (you'll hear more about one of 'em at Winter Fantasy 2003).
All material copyright Andy Collins 2001-2008.