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 third in a series of four blog posts on this topic.

It’s not uncommon for something to go wrong during your writing. Here’s how to handle some of the common problems that come up; nearly always, it involves talking to your developer (the person who assigned the project to you).

You Don’t Understand Something. Once you’re into the details, you might see something you didn’t spot at the assignment stage. Your developer is there for you to use throughout the whole process, so don’t be afraid to reach out. Developers make errors, too, and we don’t mind that you catch them (although you’ll have to forgive us a bit of embarrassment when it happens). Send a quick note like, “hey, you wanted the bandits working for Evil King Tadric, but Tadric is the name of the folk hero in the second act. Are these the same person, or should a name be different?”

You’ve Got Writer’s Block. Sometimes you’ve got 5,000 words to write about a topic, you get 1,000 words in, and you feel done. No other words come to you, and you feel like you’ve completely covered the topic you were assigned. The wrong answer is to just restate or rework your 1,000 words four more times and turn over 5,000 words of wheel-spinning. Developers hate that. You might be best served going back to your research and mining that for ideas. Other advice about solving writer’s block generally (like taking a break and doing some stretching or exercise) is also good. Finally, you can always explain the problem to your developer, and the both of you can have a quick brainstorming session about other topics or foci to include.

Your Computer Crashes. A computer crash, power outage, or stolen laptop can happen to anyone. The best fix for this is to start—right now—establishing good file saving and backup habits. If you need to upgrade your aging system, do it between assignments if possible. But if this happens despite your preparations, admit you’ll be late... 

You’re Late. This happens to everyone at some point; you’re overscheduled or get too many hiccups in the process, and your turnover (or milestone, or whatever) is going to be late. The most critical thing is that you tell your developer as soon as possible, and that you give a revised timeline. Telling a developer on the day your turnover is due “this isn’t done, but I’m working on it.” is pretty much the last thing they want to hear. A developer should never have to ask you, “well, when CAN you get it to me?” You should always include a revised date when you’re admitting you’ll be late on something. Don’t hedge on this; be specific. Don’t say, “I need another couple of days,” say, “instead of the 22nd, I need to get this to you on the 29th.” Understand if the developer counters with something else (“I need to order art before then, can you give it to me on the 26th instead?”) Also, as heartless as it sounds, we developers care very little why you’re late. Whether you took on too many projects, had your files erased, or had a grandparent pass away really doesn’t matter much to us. You’re late, and when you’ll get the work to us is what matters. So spending a lot of time on the reason you’re late isn’t helpful (although we’re not inhuman monsters; if you’re late because you had to spend a week in the hospital, we’ll understand. Just let us know when you think you can turn your assignment in). 

Let me touch on something else: this “let us know early if you’ll be late” advice is something freelancers hear from developers a lot, and it’s sort of garbage advice. If I see trouble with a deadline 3 weeks out, I don't want to tell my developer. I’m just going to work harder during those 3 weeks to hit a deadline anyway: cancel a game night here or there, or even take a half-day off of work. The only time I know for sure that I’m going to be late is within a couple days of my actual deadline. Only then is the reality of “oh, crap, I’m NOT going to be done on time” sinks in, and the last thing I want to hear my developer say then is “well, you should have told me earlier.” Here’s how to solve this: at the 3-week out mark, in addition to emailing your buddies to say you’ve got to miss the next two D&D nights and texting your spouse about covering the kid’s next soccer game for you, also email your developer to say, “I’m behind on my writing schedule a bit. I’m working hard to catch up, but there’s a risk I’ll have to turn this in on Monday the 4th rather than Friday the 1st.” That way if you need the time, the developer can more easily plan for it; if you’re able to get it in on the 1st anyway, you’re showing the developer that you’re good with your time management in a crunch. 

You Won’t Be Doing the Assignment. Worse than being late, this is a situation where you need to wash your hands of the project entirely. Perhaps you’re going back to school, starting a new job, or something that is going to take up all your free time and you just didn’t give the project the time it needed beforehand. As with being late, the sooner you tell your developer, the better. Also as with being late, the specific reasons are irrelevant. Unlike with being late, however, you should probably expect that developer won’t want to work with you again. Of course, you won't get paid; accept that as a loss. You might be able to salvage the relationship a bit if you explain to the developer how much of the project you can actually turn in on your due date; if you can turn over 80% of the words but absolutely won’t be able to finish, that’s something a developer might be able to salvage (and you might get a partial payment on your contract). But don’t be surprised if the developer tells you that if you can’t turn in the whole assignment, they don’t want any of it. Reassigning an entire project is usually easier than reassigning a partial project.

You can see a lot of this advice is “reach out to your developer.” They want you to finish your assignment well and on time, and they want to help you reach that goal.