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#23: Why D20 is Good for Freelancers

Fifth Element

Retired User
True, a pragmatic DM will find a rule screw, crumple up the character sheet, and tell the player "start over" (or "get out"). But it does point out a problem with d20 ... there are a plethora of rules, and "feats" that bend the rules, and feats that interact with other feats ... (Compare to point-buy systems like GURPS 4e or Champions, where most powers are combinations of existing advantages and already fairly balanced, or comparatively lighter systems like Call of Cthulhu and World of Darkness where rules take a back seat to color, atmosphere, and, alas, real-world research.)

A responsible writer will attempt to playtest his work before unleashing it on the public. Of course, playtesting undercuts the argument that "with a little research, you can pump out a lot of articles". An irresponsible writer will simply toss something out there; by the time some poor schmuck actually tries to use it, he'll have already collected his fee. As a previous post notes, eventually such a writer will gain a reputation for doing shoddy work ... but maybe he'll be selling time shares by then.
As Lloyd pointed out in his article, writing for other systems is great, but if SJ Games doesn't want to publish your GURPS book, tough. Not so with d20. That's one of the main thrusts of the article. It's also one of the reasons there is so much d20 stuff already.

And as for the "problem" you have identified with d20, please remember that one man's problem is another man's feature. Many d20 fans *love* the plethora of rules, which allow them to pick and choose what they like, rather than what a single publisher deems acceptable.

Speaking as a freelance writer, playtesting is the publisher's job. If a publisher publishes something that was not playtested, blame the publisher. For the meager rates a d20 freelancer earns, he doesn't have the time to playtest things himself. An "irresponsible" writer might throw tons of news ideas out there; it's the publisher, editor and playtesters that seperate the wheat from the chaff. Not every idea a writer has will be good; but if a publisher can't tell a poor idea from a good one, you can hardly blame the writer.
 

Fifth Element

Retired User
d20 might be the 800 lb gorilla of gaming, but there's simpler systems like Call of Cthulhu/BRP, RuneQuest, Fudge and its offspring (e.g. Fate), PDQ ... or if you prefer ones with bigger market share, World of Darkness, Shadowrun, and Savage Worlds.
Again, this completely misses one of the main thrusts of the article: if you write for Shadowrun, and FanPro (or whoever the current licensed publisher is) doesn't deem it worthy, you're out of luck. Not so with d20. That was one of the important points in the article.
 

Citadel

Retired User
This is an interesting article. I was thinking about game systems today. I have been reading Burning Empires and Blue Planet both of which use systems I have not come across before. But the mechanics of the systems really only take about 20 pages each. Only about an hour each to understand. The stuff that takes time to learn is the specifics of the systems (skill, traits, gifts, feats, biomods, aptitudes, whatever it is in the specific game) and of course the background. It seems that with the various D20 games I have played they still have a 300 page rulebook to go through. Do you really save that much time in not learning a new outline of game mechanics/character creation. Especially as D20 games tend to be quite complicated compared to many other systems.

Also, how compatible are Dungeons & Dragons and say Star Wars? Can you really write articles for both based on one six session game? I didn't quite follow how you save on gaming sessions by sticking to D20.
 
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Michelle Lyons

Doubt the stars
RPGnet Member
Banned
This article was 100% true a year ago, or perhaps even two years ago. Now it is significantly less so. The number of companies publishing for d20 is declining rapidly. While it is still the most "universal" rules set one can write about, finding publishers for that material is becoming more and more challenging. It is also not the case of "if you write it, they will come." D20 publishers are not hurting for material, IME. Writing original work and seeking a publisher for it is an excellent way to get into PDF or self-publishing, but less so to see print under the auspices of the mainstream d20 publishers.

Prior to the d20 boom, if one wanted to write for a company, you bought their book, learned it, and worked your way into writing for them. If you could learn more than one system and could be relied upon not to screw up, you moved from "fan author" into the professional category. If you could write for 3 or more systems and/or design your own, your reputation often preceded you within the industry. d20 changed all that, as suddenly there was more work, more consistent work, and of a more consistent design skillset than there had ever been before. That was great while it lasted, but the pendulum is quickly swinging the other way.

Having d20 in your design toolset is highly recommended, but don't count on it to support you. Its days as the freelance skeleton key that could open any door are fast waning. Be flexible, be a quick study, and be willing to take work where you can get it. Those are the skills that will stand you in much greater stead.
 

LBrownIII

Registered User
Validated User
Well, it looks like other people beat me to the punch on a couple of points I wanted to make earlier.

As for various incarnations of D20, generic meant-for-D&D D20 is the largest chunk. Of the open calls I pulled for my count, the 2nd-largest block was D20 future, and that was all for one publisher. Who really uses D20 past? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

The number of companies publishing for d20 is declining rapidly.
Maybe so, but most of the crashing and burning comes from people paying less than my acceptance threshold anyway. Mongoose is expanding. WotC has publicly stated that 2006 was the best year ever for D&D. You might simply be seeing the tiny pie-slices being eaten by the big pie slices in the RPG market.
 

fmitchell

Frank Mitchell
Mongoose is expanding. WotC has publicly stated that 2006 was the best year ever for D&D. You might simply be seeing the tiny pie-slices being eaten by the big pie slices in the RPG market.
Which does somewhat undercut an earlier argument about the diversity of companies paying for d20 work.

But yes, I'm not a freelancer, I'm an occasional gamer, and as I've stated earlier D&D (and d20) is far from my favorite system. So I'm biased, and hardly in touch with market realities. (As a reference point, I also dislike Microsoft and nearly all pop music.)

D&D is what nearly everbody knows, and I don't doubt that WotC and Mongoose can afford to pay more than SJG or Chaosium. I guess I disagree with the implied philosophy of learning about, and writing for only for whoever pays the most; the best work comes from people actually interested in what they're doing. Never mind the "let George playtest" meme: I simply can't believe that a gamer can't call some friends together for an evening and actually use the rules he's proposing, just as a quick sanity check.
 

LBrownIII

Registered User
Validated User
I guess I disagree with the implied philosophy of learning about, and writing for only for whoever pays the most;
Me too.

Learning & writing for D20 gives you the biggest batch of options. I'm not saying you shouldn't learn anything else. At some point, you might have to. D20 just nets you the most reward for the work. I'm not recommending that it's all you do.

the best work comes from people actually interested in what they're doing.
We're all writing RPGs because we want to. My contention has always been that you can write what you want and make money at the same time by paying as much attention to your career decision as you to do to character creation or flavor text.

Furthermore, earning more allows you to indulge yourself in writing for RPGs longer--if you have financial trouble and have to look for better-paying work, then you might have to give up the RPGs for trade magazines or something. But if your RPG income pays the bills, you can do it as long as you like.
 

Fifth Element

Retired User
But yes, I'm not a freelancer, I'm an occasional gamer, and as I've stated earlier D&D (and d20) is far from my favorite system. So I'm biased, and hardly in touch with market realities.
Then perhaps you should reread the very last line of the article. You know, the part where it says regardless of whether you like the d20 system as a player, it's a good system to write for as a freelancer. It's basically the point of the whole article.
 

fmitchell

Frank Mitchell
Then perhaps you should reread the very last line of the article. You know, the part where it says regardless of whether you like the d20 system as a player, it's a good system to write for as a freelancer. It's basically the point of the whole article.
But, if one doesn't like the system as a player, what's the playtest session going to be like? "Ugh, I'd love to play Cthulhu, but I have to playtest this damn d20 article." Will there even be a playtest?

As a reply to Mr. Brown ... yes, I guess I indulged in some kneejerk reactions. It's a combination of my previously stated dislike of d20, and a vision of the freelance world as I wish it to be. My friend the freelancer, who adamantly wishes to remain anonymous because he has a deadline, has set me straight.

No, Virginia, there are no Quality Fairies that help out freelancers; they've must either make their wordcount or forego their pittance. The sense or inspiration of the words often matter less than their number. And -- quelle suprise -- even the best succumb to the sweet, seductive voice saying, "skip the playtest, just mail it". And, just like nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft, nobody ever lost work because they *did* know d20. And, hey, it's OGL, which comparatively few games are these days. (RuneQuest, FATE, Fudge, ... any others?)

I guess I'd just like a world where other systems got their time in the sun, and gaming articles contained less system-specific crunch and more inspiring ideas. If anyone finds that world, please tell me.

P.S. One reason I harp on playtesting is because, as a programmer, I'm obsessed over code testing. Alas, you can't run your rules through a battery of automated tests to find vagueness, lameness, or world-breaking power.
 

spshu

Registered User
Validated User
As Lloyd pointed out in his article, writing for other systems is great, but if SJ Games doesn't want to publish your GURPS book, tough. Not so with d20. That's one of the main thrusts of the article. It's also one of the reasons there is so much d20 stuff already.

<snip>
GURPS is licensed out to atleast Amarillo Design Bureau dba Star Fleet Games has a license for GURPS for the Prime Directive RPG. So there is the possibility of licensing the system. although in this case, the license was gained through the friendship of the owners of two companies.

There is all ways switching the system as atleast you have your flavor text done.
 
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