April 26, 2023 mentorship

Mentorship 4 - Retrospective

This was the fourth round of an ongoing commitment to mentor ttrpg writers with the goal of growing the space and helping others get published. At the end of each round, I plan to write a retrospective like this, detailing what we did, how I could have done better and celebrating successes. This is done to improve my own mentorship scheme, but also to act as a blueprint and encouragement to others with the capacity.

As part of this, the fourth mentee has written their own retrospective, provided at the end.

Due to my imminent wedding, I am putting this program on a brief hiatus. Instead, I’ll be answering questions emailed to once a week. I imagine the fifth round will begin in September.

The first retrospective can be found here - where my approach is the same I will skip over details.

Where previous mentees have been unable to complete their half of the retrospective, I’ve elected to not post my half. If needed to help make a decision around applying, please let me know and I’ll provide my half.

Search & Selection

I elected to use a unified format for applications this time - all being routed through my email rather than needing to create a spreadsheet to track applications across multiple forms of communication. I also specified the scope more strongly this time, as can be seen here. I also made the decision to not work on manuscripts which have already been through crowd-funding - the rationale being that such projects will (hopefully!) have the resources to hire editors or general creative consultants.

As always, the process of going through the applications was excruciating. I am consistently surprised by the breadth and depth of quality in the space. I was able to continue to offer some small pieces of advice to all applicants, something I’m very happy with.

I elected to work with watt on their forthcoming setting Cloud Empress - an ambitious project early enough in the writing phase for me to make a difference.

As outlined last time in Improvements, I made the offer for a third-party observer’ to be present in all meetings - this was declined in this instance.

Format, Management, Content

This round represents the best structured approach so far. As mentioned previously, the mentorship consisted of weekly hour-long calls, discussing pre-agreed topics in the order most useful for the mentee. These broadly fell into technique discussions, literature review and writing review. In addition, every month we dedicated some time to a review session to ensure we were both happy with the progress, to make any adjustments on-the-fly and generally ensure the relationship was working for both of us. This was particularly useful in this round, where a certain approach of mine was called out as being less useful for this particular mentee. This is exactly how I had hoped this would be used.

We constructed the program of work together in the earliest sessions, adjusted as needed throughout. This meant collating a list of topics the mentee felt would be useful, as well as building our own list of texts to dissect and analyze - a key part of this being the mentee suggesting many of the texts and techniques. Not only does this ensure buy-in to the process, it also tailors it to their specific needs and the nature of the project. This stage went very well, and we built a great list which exposed the mentee to texts they otherwise might not have seen.

We also constructed a rough timeline - given that Cloud Empress was planned to be a crowdfunded game, we had a deadline imposed from there. This led to a shorter-than-usual engagement, but still extremely rich and useful.


  • Something raised in our final session was that we could have covered editing-as-a-process - something many have not been through before. This will be added to the core topics’ in future mentorship rounds.
  • The mentee was (pleasantly) surprised at the regularity of the meetings - this is something I’ll do more effort to communicate in future rounds.


This has been a great round of the mentorship - I continue to be extremely glad I’ve decided to do this work, and I’m looking forward to the next one. This time felt more structured compared to the free-form nature of prior rounds, without sacrificing the freedom to change and adapt to the needs of the mentee. A consistent element enjoyed in all rounds has been the literature review - I think the mentorship forms a bit of a magic circle’ within which we are able to engage with texts much more critically and openly than in public spaces. In so doing, we often walk away with a greater appreciation for the work and what it’s doing.

Mentee’s Retrospective

Application and Beginnings

I had seen Luke open and close the mentorship opportunity twice on Twitter. Reading The Isle and my upcoming work on Cloud Empress pushed me to apply for the opportunity.

I entered the mentorship with several misconceptions. First, I was surprised and honored to realize that it was a single mentor to mentee program. I imagined Luke had little cohorts of writers he would meet with maybe…once per month? I panicked a bit when Luke informed me I was his only mentee and that the standard meeting frequency was an hour, once per week. I had quite a bit on my plate already and my partner shared very reasonable concerns that I would be overtaxing myself with another commitment. I went forward with the mentorship realizing what a special opportunity this would be, but did in fact overtax myself. I do not regret it.

Setting Intentions

I tend to be goal driven. I’ve learned to make goals fairly concrete in order to assess whether they’ve been accomplished or not. The duration of the mentorship was set to last until about the Kickstarter launch of Cloud Empress Ecological Science Fantasy RPG in January 2023. The actual duration of the mentorship stretched a bit longer, lasting from October to March. My intention was to completely write Cloud Empress during this three to four month period. Having a specific project with a specific deadline created a clarity of purpose to our meetings that made selecting reading materials and discussion topics simpler.

As has been mentioned in a previous retrospective, Luke is/was extremely flexible with the format and goals of our time together. He brought forward some helpful RPG writing 101 topics and proposed critical reads of a few RPG adventures. I proposed a few RPGs for critical reads and we prioritized a list of four to five titles. Our weekly meetings alternated between discussing Luke’s writing process as a way of improving my own process, discussing published work we read, and reviewing my writing for Cloud Empress. I’ll talk about each three of these meeting types as a way of explaining my mentorship experience.

Writing 101

The start of our sessions was focused on topics like creating work time for writing, minimizing distractions, and writing in markup to keep a flow state. I’ve been writing for over fifteen years, but I still found a lot I could implement in my own personal practice. These sessions also gave me a sense of comradery and comfort with Luke early on. I have a much more consistent writing practice as a result of these conversations, which has been invaluable for the massive amount of Cloud Empress content due.

RPG Critical Reads

Critically reading and discussing a variety of RPG works felt like a breath of fresh air. The combination of creators supporting one another in indie ttrpg online spaces and a pervasive product focused review format means I’m not exposed, or regularly participate in, RPG writing critiques. A considered critique of written work feels important to my development as a writer, but feels like an atrophied skill. We discussed older works I would have not been exposed to otherwise as well as titles relevant to _Cloud Empress’ _design goals. Luke was quick to warn me of problematic or harmful content in any titles he suggested. This shared critique process helped me better understand where Luke and my perspectives differed and aligned.

Writing Critique

I’ve participated in a few writing classes and programs over the last fifteen years and felt fairly comfortable having my work critiqued. Still, these previous experiences skewed negative to a fault. I’ve had former mentors say stuff like, It’s not my job to tell you what you’re doing well,” and focus almost exclusively on weaknesses in my work. Luke, on the other hand, was encouraging and provided thoughtful praise. Luke asks questions and interrogates the unconscious defaults I chose in my writing. When Luke would ask me why I’d done something, often my answer was, I’m not sure” or so and so reviewer said they liked books that did this.” Over the weeks and months working together, I let go of the idea that I could combine all the best ideas from all the tweets and YouTube reviews I had gathered to make a perfect book. Instead, at Luke’s suggestion, I worked towards make Cloud Empress into a book that I fucking liked. I still think about my audience, but it’s a much smaller group of people I aim to please. I’m more comfortable writing work that goes against the consensus about how an RPG should be organized or written if it’s done for a good purpose.

During one of a few check-ins we had over the course of the mentorship, I mentioned that I struggle a bit with Luke’s idea that challenges bring out our best work. In our meetings, I started to realize that I was tending to fold or become overly agreeable when Luke would intentionally push on a decision I had made in order to discuss the choice. I don’t want to speak for Luke, but I think Luke gets energy in constructive and boundaried conflict. I know other folks like this. Folks who clarify their point of view when it’s interrogated or challenged — the problem is, I tend to accept and change very quickly based on feedback. At best, when I change quickly, the changes create growth and faster learning. At worst, I can be a bit of a people-pleaser. We discussed how challenging” my ideas had a different impact on me than I think Luke intended. Luke was very open to changing communication styles. With a slight change in critique approach, I built even more self-confidence in my writing and protected my creative voice. It’s an example to me, just how generous the mentorship opportunity is given how flexible and receptive Luke has been to shake things up and do things differently to meet my needs.

Closing the Mentorship

Transitioning out of the mentorship has helped me claim a space as an RPG creator. I’ve only been working in the ttrpg space for about two years, but Luke’s openness with his own process and the explicit encouragement of my writing helped me realize there’s no secret and profound knowledge behind my favorite RPG books. I can see how the works I appreciate most take risks for reasons. Building and holding confidence in yourself as a writer is essential for assessing which risks to take. Failure is inherent to risk. The only writers who don’t take some hard knocks are those who don’t share their work with the world. Self-confidence is a limited resource though. It’s in the communities, friendships, and trust we place with other human beings that sustain the arduous risks to evoke, clarify, and create joy in those who read our work and live in our adventures for a time.

About watt

watt (they/them) is a queer ttrpg creator. They write at the intersection of science fiction, gender, humor, body horror, and climate justice. Cloud Empress is an expansive, Nausicaa inspired fantasy campaign setting for the Mothership RPG. More info about watt and Cloud Empress can be found at cloudempress.com

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