May 27, 2023

Wolves Upon the Coast Grand Retrospective 2

It’s been about two years since I started selling Wolves Upon the Coast Grand Campaign, and about 10 months since the last retrospective. I’m not going to repeat myself, so give that a quick scan.

Accountants Upon the Coast

Data taken 27/05/23.

Calculating exact performance is slightly tricky due to the bundles combining Wolves with Volume 2: Monsters & and &&&&&&&&& Treasure - I’ve tried to account for these, but only in very crude ways.

  • Total Purchases: 325.
  • Total Income: $14001.

These numbers are frankly fucking bonkers. I am deeply moved by the response to the work - especially for such a plain document bucking against so many trends in the TTRPG space. Thank you.

The more pertinent measure here is how sales have changed as the price point has increased - a $50 pdf isn’t common outside of big traditional publishers the done thing at all.

Breaking it down:

  • 65 Sales @ $5 minimum over 44 days.
  • 25 Sales @ $15 minimum over 64 days.
  • 42 Sales @ $20 minimum over 122 days.
  • 27 Sales @ $30 minimum over 79 days.
  • 52 sales @ $35 minumum over 187 days.
  • 21 sales @ $45 minimum over 33 days.
  • 103 sales @ $50 minimum over 83 days.

(These include the bundles which will be at higher prices, as well as people who kindly over-paid, hence the minimums being specified.)

In hindsight the $5 minimum was too low, although it may have helped with the main thing that drives sales: people talking about playing it, reading it and enjoying it. The huge increase is sales has come from those who tirelessly enthuse about the game and run it. You are all the real MVPs.

A rough-and-ready Twitter poll indicated that a few people would now be willing to jump onboard a slow-fund like this, although more said this only applied to me.

So the big question - does this work?

For me, yes. I’ve not seen anyone else do anything similar, so I can only speak for myself. To my knowledge, some of those buying in had not heard of me and my work before - but this was driven entirely by word of mouth, which is the thing I keep coming back to - success in something like this comes from people talking. There’s no art, no layout to show off. You have to actually read (or play) the game. That’s hard when you’re competing with the amazing visual talent on display in the scene. I would love to see more people operating like this, but I can appreciate why many don’t - it’s a big unknown right now, and might be too bundled up in the individuals involved to generalise anything.

Since last time, 2 people have confirmed they read the demo and went on to buy the full thing. If this applies to you, please let me know - I’m really keen to see if demos are a thing that might work in TTRPGS.

Fans Upon the Coast

More than anything, the best part of this is hearing about people playing games. The public posts and reviews drive sales which is nice but knowing that people are using the content and having a great time is why I do this. Everyone who has told me privately or posted publicly that you’ve played Wolves - thank you. The success of the project is down to all of you.

Seeing some of the stuff people are making and have made for Wolves is stunning. I’ve had people show me art they made for their games, which blew me away. I wonder if the artless nature of Wolves encourages this sort of participation. I know of at least three people expanding the Wolves map, or applying it to different settings entirely. Getting to make something that inspires others to create is an amazing feeling.


Eventually. Like, at the soonest next year eventually.

WHAT ABOUT okay, stopping the bit for a moment.

One issue with Wolves upon the Paper is that people have already bought something. I’m trying to look into ways to offer discounts or special features to those who already own the digital Wolves, but it’s going to be messy and complicated due to the shifting price point and the numbers involved. At the least, those who already own the book should expect some special edition of the print edition - even if it’s just a signed copy and/or an alternate cover.

The digital edition will be updated alongside the print text, so they will be identical in the end. This mostly means hiring an editor to tidy and clean up the prose.

I suspect the final print edition will remain artless bar covers. Currently, I want to do this as a box-set although that will depend on price point. The box-set would include Volume 2: Monsters & and &&&&&&&&& Treasure. I’m looking into a single big book” edition too, although my heart yearns for the box.

There will be no Kickstarter if it is humanly possible. More likely is a pre-order, so I can manage the number of copies printed carefully.

May 24, 2023 odnd


The Cleric represents something not present. A representative of an outside force - the Church hierarchy, or a God. The other classes could be agents in a similar way, but the Cleric alone must be. A mystic seeker seems better represented by the Magic User, unbound by the titles and ethos of a firm known structure. A Cleric cannot be a force unto themselves - unless they are a Heretic.

The Heretic is against an orthodoxy. They are unsupported by their home’ religion - consider that the OD&D cleric cannot call upon support from their religion, despite nominally being its representative. Rather than adventuring for the glory of the Church, they instead gather power to build a new temple - the centre of their new sect. They gather the faithful” (converts) and build strength, independent and answerable to only their God. By reading the Cleric as a Heretic, we solve many of the issues with them as adventurers, contrasting with the self-interested mercenary aspirations of Fighter or Magic-User. This also retains the different relationship to magic they have as compared to Magic-User: the MU uses Magic to achieve something. The Heretic remains devotional.

That even this most spiritual of classes must rely upon the acquisition of wealth through guile and violence seems notable. Contrast with the NPC Clerics who collect tithe from those passing by, or task them with missions, ensconced in their strongholds.

On the Thinking Adventures discord, Milton from The Last Redoubt found this extra context:

The turcopole”-type here as well is interesting and really lend this as well as your concept of clerics not being part of local power center.

During the period of the Crusades, turcopoles (also turcoples” or turcopoli”; from the Greek: τουρκόπουλοι, literally sons of Turks”)[1] were locally recruited mounted archers and light cavalry employed by the Byzantine Empire and the Crusader states.

A perennial problem for the Christian states of Outremer was the limited quantities of Frankish manpower, horses and weapons available. To a certain extent this weakness was redressed through the employment of locally recruited turcoples, riding indigenous horses and using the same equipment as their opponents.

The Mamluks also considered turcopoles to be traitors and apostates, killing all those whom they captured.

May 19, 2023 boring

Wolves 3rd Party Shit

So you want to make shit (meaning books) for/with Wolves?

  1. If you want to just use the rules chassis as its own thing without using the name, feel free. Saying thanks is nice but not required.
  2. If you want to use the Wolves name on something, make it clear you’re not associated with me.
  3. If you want to make Wolves content (i.e. something that integrates with the Grand Campaign, Volume 2: Monsters & or &&&&&&& Treasure) make it clear you’re not associated with me and that this is a 3rd party addition/expansion/whatever. You may reference stuff from any of the Wolves content, but may not reproduce it (e.g. you can say Treasure Type Bandits III or list a magic item from &&&&&&&&& Treasure but not copy the text of the item itself.)

In any of the cases above, you’re all good to make money on what you make.

If either…

  1. You personally or as a business entity have an annual gross turnover in excess of $100,000 and/or….
  2. You are planning on using the content on Kickstarter or any other form of crowdfunding.

…then you must contact me to reach an agreement to do any of the above.

If you just wanna do a stream or video or whatever go nuts. Anything else check in with me first.

May 11, 2023

Writing NPCs

When writing NPCs, you can communicate 2 or 3 things, or 4 related things. Anything more than that, and you’re either going to be ignored by the person running the game, they’re going to change it, as is the nature of translation, or they’ll be checking your notes so often that they do a worse job of running the game than if they’d just winged it.

That said, NPCs changing when used in play isn’t a bad thing - it just means you can’t rely on things being true about them any more. Experience reproduction is something I’m actively against in RPGs: this is more about using your various pieces effectively.

I’ve been running Classic Traveller Adventure 08, Prison Planet, which has a shitload of NPCS and communicates them super effectively: the other trick it uses is the UPP, which encodes some general info into the stats and skill. The order for the stats is Strength Dexterity Endurance Intelligence Education and Social Standing, using hexadecimal notation (e.g. A=10, B=11 etc.) Below is an page of NPC stats. Personally I’d use a name to refer to the rumours so I can immediately tell which rumour it’s in reference to, but otherwise this is great - gives you plenty to riff on, doesn’t take ages describing the character, and doesn’t set up stuff to get wrong’.

April 29, 2023 violence horror adventure

Haystack, Oregon.

An adventure for Delta Green. I’m running it using Violence. You could run this for any modern paranormal game with a little work: mostly replacing MJ12 and DG with appropriate factions.

Upon the Pacific coast rests Haystack, a crumbling town of 687. Boats rust in the harbour, and trash accumulates in the streets. De-industrialisation and a failing fishing economy leaves most of the population retired or unemployed. The sea does not weep for them.


  • ~130 years ago: The people of Haystack enter into a blasphemous concord with the Deep Ones living off the coast. In return for carrying their progeny to term, the creatures ensured bountiful waters, teeming with fish pliant and fat.
  • ~30 years ago: As a result of Delta Green operations, the Deep Ones severed their contact with the surface. The waters begin to grow barren.
  • ~10 years ago: Falling harvests combine with a downwards turn economically. The town begins to rot.
  • ~3 years ago: Imogen Moss begins to have powerful dreams of a great destiny, a return to the ways of Old. In truth, a Mi-Go wishes to capture a Deep One for study and experimentation - and finds the best route is to ensnare a human into trying the rituals required. The economic downturn drives many to join Imogen’s group: The Hydrean Order, promising the return of prosperity.
  • ~2 years ago: Rachel Foster returns to Haystack, having been initiated into the usage of the Voor’s Head Device. She begins teaching it to those she believes to be receptive.
  • ~1 year ago: Delta Green agent, Nick Poacher, conducts genealogical research and discovers his family originates in Haystack. Cross-reference with his case files reveals the Deep One taint present within the town.
  • ~3 months ago: MJ12 detects Grey related activity in the area and dispatches Declan Booth to investigate.
  • ~1 month ago (early July): Nick Poacher seeks answers in Haystack. Unmarried and friendless, his absence is not noted.
  • 2 nights ago (July 31st): The Hydrean Order detect and capture Nick Poacher. He manages to dial out to his DG handler before being pulled away. Declan Booth had been observing Poacher, and goes into hiding after witnessing the capture.
  • Now: The player characters are briefed.
  • In 3 days time: Declan returns from hiding, actively seeking any further outsiders who may be associated with Poacher.
  • In 6 days time: Poacher is used in a successful sacrifice at midnight. The Order re-establishes contact with the Deep Ones.
  • In 7 days time: The Mi-Go abducts a Deep One envoy.
  • In 8 days time: 352 Deep Ones invade Haystack and kill everyone.

The Brief

It is 9AM, August 2nd, 1990. The Player Characters have been summoned by their handler to a truck-stop motel on Route 101, about 2 hours drive from Haystack. Room 23, unlocked, contains a manilla envelope marked with the usual green triangle. Within is a printout and a cassette tape. The printout reads:

Your fellow, Nick Poacher, has disappeared on unofficial business in the town of Haystack. Determine what he was doing. Recover him if possible. Close any business he may have opened. Enclosed is the recording which informed us of his issues. The call was made at 9:32 PM, 31st of July. Destroy this note.”

The following transcript details the recording:

Side A
[Immediate sound of banging.]
[Metallic echo, rustle. Banging continues.]
Man 1: Shit. (Panicked, quietly.) [Metallic clatter.]
[Sound of splintering wood, door slamming.]
[Several male voices shouting.]
Man 2: Don’t you fuckin-
[Several wet thuds.]
Man 3: Motherfucker.
Man 2: Get the feet.
[Knocking, banging, muffled swearing.]
Man 2: Close [indistinguishable]… don’t you…[indistinguishable]… [~55mins silence.]
Side B
[~55mins silence.]
Man 4: Okay, tidy up the blood. Put the broken shit in a bag. She’ll let you know when you can go home.
[Recording Ends.]

The silence has not been edited out.


Imogen Moss

The leader and founder of the Hydrean Order. 45 years old and on the fringes of the old Haystack, Imogen has been manipulated via her dreams and deeply layered psionic suggestions. She carries a silver cylinder she believes to be an artefact from the Deep Ones, enabling her to commune with a Deep One elder keen to begin the concord anew. In truth, the Cylinder contains a human brain, used a psionic interface for the Mi-Go controlling the situation. It wishes to capture and dissect one of the creatures - and is happy to wait the multiple years required to make it happen.

Imogen’s sense of reality and dream has been entirely eroded. The role of leader feels inconsequential to her, and she shows no real talent - her followers are similarly controlled through suggestion and dreams.

Nick Poacher

51 and with little to show for it but nightmares. Nick has been with Delta Green for 20 years, and has killed scores in what he believes to be a righteous cause. Discovering that this underworld might be in his blood nearly broke him - only the idea he might disprove it by travelling to the source kept him going.

Declan Booth

A 32 year old professional with the NSA, suborned to NRO DELTA as a low-profile field investigator. Delcan truly believes what little he knows of MJ12s mission - protecting America from the threat of the Greys by first letting them show their hand. He knows nothing of Delta Green, but is thrilled at the idea of another group working against the extra-terrestrials. He has yet to call anything in to HQ, and will bend the truth if asked to keep anyone’s involvement quiet - even exchanging encrypted contact details to help with new friends. He has come up blank in finding Grey involvement, and only knows a little of the Hydrean Order.

The Town

Haystack is filled with the desperate. The mass loss of jobs with the closure of the canning factory and decline of fishing waters traps many within the town, unable to leave, their property valueless. The coastal air is always moist, leaving the entire area feeling clammy. All of the cars rust aggressively, the streets are pocked with holes in which trash gathers, huddling for warmth.

The Hydrean Order lurks in the shadows - they do not yet have the authority to operate in the open, nor do they want the attention. Where needed, isolated individuals are threatened into compliance or silence. Most of the members are old folk who remember the bounty purchased by their blasphemous congress with the Deep Ones. Few in Haystack are happy to talk with outsiders - especially those with government badges.

Joe’s Motel

A slowly decaying 2-storey motel on the edge of Haystack. On the desk during the day is Chloe Ellis (36). She is happy to have a job, and will not risk it for anything except cash - she has nearly saved enough to move away from Haystack. The night clerk is Lucy Wallace (42), the wife of Joe Wallace. She is domineering but extremely chatty.

4 rooms are registered as in-use currently:

  • Jenson Wright (32) - A salesman for boat parts, specialising in older out-of-production models. Here to potentially purchase some of the condemned vehicles for parts. Here for the past 2 months.
  • Erin Wallace (24) - Her life destroyed by the death of her husband and son in a car accident. She is here to join the Voor’s Head Device community in the woods, but is mustering up the courage to face them. Here for the past week.
  • Van George (46) - Kicked out by his wife, Alice, for sleeping around. A Haystack local, he was never initiated into the mysteries that kept the fish plentiful. Here for the past 2 weeks.
  • Jake Taylor - The false name used by Declan. His room has been half-emptied, dirty clothes in heaps. Left behind:
    • A receipt from a nearby outdoor goods store, dated the 1st of August. Items bought: all-seasons tent, hikers map of Haystack State Park, 2 weeks trail rations, fishing rod.
    • The case for a set of high-powered binoculars.
    • Phone tapping equipment with signs of recent use. The records show that Jake Taylor’ has been here for 3 months. He was last seen at 11AM on the 1st of August, leaving in his Ford Granada by Chloe.

The Waterfront Motel

Ten rooms, all dirty and damp, face the harbour. The owner, Callum Marsh (59) is a huge man of few words. He is a member of the Hydrean Order, and informs Imogen of anything usual via telephone. The check-in book was lost” recently - burnt after the capture of Poacher. Callum is happy to share that 3 of the rooms are currently in use:

  • Charlie Howard (42) - A day-labourer, staying here due to proximity to the harbour. He overheard a scuffle on the 31st, but has been intimidated into silence. He is looking for quick work to buy a bus-ticket out of Haystack. He has been here 3 weeks.
  • Chelsea Webb (19) - A sex-worker and Haystack native. She has plans of moving away once she has enough money saved. She was out with a client on the 31st. Here for the past 3 months.
  • Cody Lee (31) - A member of the Order, told to stay here and watch to see if anyone tries to follow Poacher’s trail. He joined the Order at the insistence of his father, but is happy to have the direction in life. Asked, he claims to be a boat mechanic. Beneath the bed, he keeps a sawn-off shotgun. On the wall, in green ballpoint, a triangle has been drawn below an airduct, the cover loose. Within the vent, a bag containing:
    • A 9mm handgun, loaded.
    • A mobile phone, battery long dead.
    • A weatherpoof tear-away notepad. Only one used page has not been torn out. It reads: Someone is bringing it back. Hostile looks, scared looks when you ask about the Old Days. Esp. Old Folks. No sign of Poacher. Dogs at the old canning factory. Someone watching - Ford Granada”

Sheriff’s Office

The sheriff, Nathan Simpson (37), aims to be genuinely helpful with anything unrelated to the Hydrean Order. Any questions on the subject, or related to it, causes Nathan to inform Imogen of the investigators. He warns people away from the Canning Factory, claiming he suspects dangerous drug-users and squatters.” For anything unusual in the area, he directs investigators to the old Posser place near the state park” - the manor used by the Voor’s Head Device group.


Rusting fishing vessels bob, crewed only by seabirds. Small crowds of hopeful day-labourers compete for positions on the 3 remaining working boats. All this is nominally watched by the harbour-master, Frankie Mason (71). Half blind with drink, he happily gives access to his records. Four vessels are marked as having left recently:

  • The Orca, a fishing vessel under Harvey Perry.
  • The Warlock, a fishing vessel under James West.
  • The Delight, a fishing vessel under Ollie Cox.
  • The Bachelor, lacking a name under the Captain column. Being used by the Hydrean Order to hold Poacher.

Those waiting into the deep evening see all boats return bar the Bachelor.

The Bachelor

An hour out to sea, the Bachelor floats, lights on. Aboard are Madden Burton (61), Gideon Lindsey (52) and Elliot Roberson (21), all three with hunting rifles. They have been told to guard Poacher, as he has been selected for a special destiny. He lies in the hold, occasionally fed and watered from the large coolers of supplies. The three Order members sleep in shifts. Elliot is keen to prove himself, whilst Madden will only spill blood in self-defence. If the situation turns sour, Gideon will hold Poacher hostage to save his own life. All three know how to operate the radio to call for assistance from the shore - another 10 Order members arriving aboard the Lucky, a leaking tug barely seaworthy.

On the 8th, Imogen arrives at night aboard the Lucky, carrying the Cylinder and unknowingly accompanied by the Mi-Go. After an hour of preparation, Poacher is ritually emasculated and thrown into the water. The Deep Ones respond, giving Imogen tokens with which to contact them again.

The Canning Factory

A 10’ high fence, topped with razor-wire long rusted, surrounds the old canning factory. Only a single road allows access via a gate. 6 Order members patrol at all times, accompanied by 6 guard dogs. All carry rifles. Imogen spends her time within the main office floor, interpreting the dreams and suggestions given to her. Unbeknownst to all, a Mi-Go lurks in the rafters. If gunfire starts, Imogen flees in a car kept covered in the carpark, accompanied by d6 Order members. The Mi-Go follows carefully if dark - otherwise staying put.

A large radio-set up keeps communication with the Bachelor, and a notepad shows their latitude and longitude. Once a day, one of the members of the Order checks in.

The Manor

Slowly being consumed by the forest, a crumbling manse in the Victorian style. Squatting here are 8 devotees of the Voor’s Head Device, a thick black hood worn over the head to grant mystical insight. This community is led by Rachel Foster, who is happy to talk to visitors - offering to guide them in the usage of the hood. None here have yet glimpsed the Black Ocean.

Camping nearby, car hidden under a camouflage net, is Declan Booth. He mostly tries to stay hidden and out of sight, although he has been trying to determine the nature of the Voor’s Head group whilst hiding out.

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

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