The Rules

(EDITOR’S NOTE: One of our Scribe’s Forge Serial Publishers asked me about an RPG and Novel project he was considering doing and devoting his full time to making a reality. I thought you might also benefit from my response.)


We hear occasionally of the YouTube video with a billion hits or of some book becoming a huge sensation. Each of us wants to believe that this lightning will strike us, too, if we just had the right tools or planned sufficiently for overwhelming success.The truth is that these events are what Nassim Talib calls ‘black swans.’ These are events which (1) are so affected by random forces that it is impossible to predict the outcome prior to the event and (2) the psychological bias that leads us to believe that the event should have been predicted and is completely understandable but only after the event has taken place. We are predisposed to believe that if we plan hard enough, well enough or careful enough, or commit ourselves fully to our cause … we will achieve overwhelming success We all want to believe this … I certainly want to believe this … but it is not so. Dragonlance was a black swan; a wonderful accident which I have been spending much of my life trying to repeat. I have had success in other novels but never the same way twice.

So the point of this first rule which is the standard rule given by every professional writer I know) is to NOT depend upon one’s writing for income until such a time when you already have a dependable income from your writing. Keep the day job and work on your creative projects in addition to the paying job.


‘The only constant is change.’ Heraclitus said it anciently and it is still true today.

When the Allied forces landed on the coast of Normandy in WW-II they had one of the most comprehensive and detailed plans ever devised by man. It fell apart within five minutes. Everything went wrong: paratroops landing entirely in the wrong place, landing craft in the wrong place as well, ‘floating’ tanks sinking to the bottom of the channel, command structure collapsing on Omaha Beach. It looked like it would be a disaster … except that the plan ultimately brought victory because every man landing knew what he was there to do and did it. D-Day was a success not because the plan was executed with precision … but because it was executed with the objective in mind rather than the details.

We tell writers in our writing seminars that you should hold onto an outline (the plan) the same way you hold onto a handful of marbles. If you hang onto it too tightly you squeeze the marbles trying to force them unnaturally to where you want them to go. They pop out and you lose your marble. If you open your hand … let go of the outline or the plan … and let events go wherever they will then you get nowhere and lose your marbles again. But if you hold the FORM of a cup with your fingers, adjust for the shifting marbles and let them settle naturally into the shape … well, you keep your marbles.

We like to say around our house, ‘he who is the most flexible, wins.’ The correlary to this phrase at our house is ‘Evolve or Die.’ You have to be willing to explore your idea and your plan and be flexible enough to adapt to changes when forces beyond your control intercede.


Movies are not stage plays are not novels are not RPGs. They are all forms of entertainment but each has different strengths and structure. Movies are all external. Plays are all dialogue. Novels are largely internal. RPGs are about setting in which the audience reacts.

RPGs do not make for great story — although stories can make for great RPGs. Role playing sessions do no create stories because they lack the underlying structure of stories to be translated into prose.


William Goldman says that ‘Story is Structure’ and he is right. Movies laden with special effects are still boring unless there is a firm foundational story holding it up. We teach story structure in our Scribe’s Forge writing seminars and methods for deconstructing story to find out what is missing from the structure of the stories our authors are telling.

The interesting thing here is that RPG play, while it can provide scenes, vignettes or charcter insights, does not usually have the structure of story unless it is imbued into the structure of the game design itself. Players do not provide this: players react to it. So ultimately you will be writing the story for your players rather than the other way around.


The RPG market — as is all publishing — is not what it once was. Ebooks and New Media have shaken traditional publishing to its core and are challenging all the old ways of doing things. It used to be the objective of all writers to be published. Today it isn’t about getting published: ANYONE can get published today (or lay claim to it) by putting their ramblings up on as a self-published ebook.

Today it isn’t about being published; it’s about being READ.

That means it’s about finding an audience, engaging them in a continual conversation and encouraging their loyalty to your work.

You, I think, have already surmised this. You need to take your work out to your potential audience and bring them to your work. No publisher will do that for you. This is something you have to do yourself. Through Facebook, Twitter or especially through conventions where your audience may be found in more concentrated forms.

And when you address your audience, you need to sell them on a STORY … not an idea. Everyone had ideas, concepts or ‘settings’ but if you can tell them a story, they will listen.

So, you have asked for my advice and I have given you far more than you probably wanted. I’ve been in this business of both role playing games and professional publishing for over thirty years and this is the best advice that I have to give you. You CAN make this happen but you need to be willing to accept change as it comes and adapt your vision as your project proceeds.

My earnest desire here is to help you succeed in bringing your dreams to reality. Let me help you.

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