Rather than talk about the nuts and bolts of rules and adventure design, I'd like to take a step back and talk about freelancing for a bit: specifically, some thoughts around freelancing RPG work for another company. This is the first in a series of four blog posts on this topic.

It’s exciting to get the opportunity to write game material, and even more exciting when you know you’re going to get paid for it! Before you start any writing on a freelance assignment, however, you should do the following:

Understand the Scope of Your Work. You should be crystal clear on the expectations upon you as a freelancer. You should know what you’re being asked to write, how many words you’re writing (and how those words are divided up, in a larger assignment), and what your deadlines are. Often, this includes a “milestone” at the halfway point as well as a final turnover, and the milestone date is always much closer than it appears! Understand how much you’re getting paid. Know your writing pace, and ensure you have enough time to meet the targeted word count.

Wait for Your Contract. Professional freelancers never dig in when they first get an assignment; they wait for the terms of the work to be spelled out in a contract. It’s entirely appropriate to say, “that sounds like a really interesting project. I have some great ideas, and I’ll get started as soon as I have a contract.” Even if you actually start a bit before getting a contract (I usually jot down ideas as they come to me while waiting for my contract to arrive), you absolutely shouldn’t turn anything over until your contract is signed. As a developer at Paizo, I completely understand freelancers insisting on a contract before they start working; that can be frustrating to me sometimes, since another department within the company handles contracts--if they’re slow to get contracts out, my freelancers might be delayed in getting work to me. This is particularly the case on a tight project timeline. But I’d never tell a freelancer “just get me your turnover, and we’ll settle the contract later.” Maybe it’s my lawyer background talking, but that would make me super nervous no matter which side of that statement (freelancer or developer) I was on.

Read Your Contract. Once you get your contract, read it. You should make sure the deadlines, word counts, and payment all align with what you agreed. Insist on corrections if it doesn’t. Your contract will very likely state that your words are provided as work for hire, and you have no ownership in them once you sell your words to the company you’re working for. That’s usual. Should I hedge here and say you should have your legal professional review any contract you receive? Maybe, but I know few people that do (other than friends asking me to look over a contract for them; see the “lawyer background” above). If it’s got the basics you’re expecting and nothing else in the contract raises red flags, sign and return it. You probably won’t get a countersigned contract back, but you could always ask for one. 

Collect Resources. Make sure you have everything you need to write. That means a reliable computer and a space to work in. Of course, it also means the relevant game products; if you need anything you don't have, ask your developer. They often have product pdfs they can give you for free. Don’t think that asking for these makes you greedy; it makes you committed to collecting the right resources. For the person assigning the project, these products are basically costless, and getting them into a freelancer’s hands has definite value. One important aspect of collecting your resources is knowing what you shouldn’t use. If you’re writing for a third-party publisher, you can’t use anything whatsoever from the game system you’re writing for, but usually some subset of it. For D&D, you should learn and use the 5E SRD. Pull rules and monsters from there, not from the Monster Manual (for example, you can’t use displacer beasts in third party products, but you can use fire elementals). For Pathfinder and Starfinder, you can use just about all the rules, but you can’t use any game world material (for example, you can have clerics, but you can’t have clerics of Iomedae from the nation of Mendev). Learning those boundaries is an important part of collecting your resources.

Do Your Research. You should absolutely understand the game system you’re writing for and how the thing you’ve been hired to write fits into it. Look to see what’s been published before by that same company (and other companies). This is not wasted time! This is invaluable time spent framing your writing, and you risk doing a lot of wheel-spinning if you don’t do it. Rambling Personal Example Time! I’ve been hired to write about 1,000 words of Starfinder weapon fusions. That’s not a big deal for me; I can write 1,000 words in an evening, no problem. I worked all last night on this assignment, and wrote precisely 0 words. I knew I didn’t quite have a grasp of how weapon fusions work, and I didn’t have familiarity with any more than about 5 of them. Aren’t they just like magic weapon enhancements from Pathfinder? Aren’t they basically the same stuff (holy, flaming, shock, etc.)? Are there already, like, 15 or so of them? I devoted last night to looking over these rules in detail and summarizing the existing weapon fusions in Paizo’s print products, so I didn’t duplicate something that already exists. It turns out there are more than 40 weapon fusions in print already, and they’re very different from Pathfinder magic weapon enhancements. While cataloging these, I had some great ideas for what I could add to this design space, and my 1,000 words tonight will fly by. Without this research, I would have made faulty assumptions, duplicated existing stuff, and produced a poor turnover.

Ask Questions. If anything isn’t clear right at the outset, ask the person who assigned you the work. They can definitely provide more clarity, even when the answer is “use your best judgment” or “give me a day or two to get back to you on that.”

Up next: how to work once you've started!