Why I Write Gaming Materials
It's not uncommon for fresh-faced youngsters to send me email asking "So, how can I get started as a freelance writer for my favorite roleplaying game?" In my replies I'm careful to stress the uncertain vagaries of the gaming industry, telling them of low pay, unreasonable editors and a public whose demands are often as strident as they are contradictory.
This is usually sufficient. On rare occasions, however, these would-be freelancers have the temerity to approach me in person. When that happens, I have no recourse but to ask my secondary bodyguard Fritz to manhandle them without remorse until they are left -- dazed, bleeding and often quite toothless -- in the nearest sewer, ditch or porta-san. I'm a busy man, after all, and I don't have time to deal with hangers-on who might have guessed the Terrible Truth.
The last time this happened, Fritz was careless enough that some unidentified bodily fluid from the wannabee-content-provider spattered on my brand new, blaze orange Hummer. I hope it was tears, but knowing the pride that Fritz takes in his handiwork, it could be any of the clear bodily humors. This is unacceptable. Therefore, I'm going to break the conspiracy of silence that has enshrouded the freelance community for years. It's a bold step, I know, but I hope that by finally revealing the truth I can get fans to stop pestering me.
I write for roleplaying supplements for the same reason that everyone else does.
I do it for the money.
RPGS, ECONOMICS AND HISTORY
You have to understand that the amount of money you can make writing game material is, quite frankly, staggering to any but the most pampered of the upper class. When I got my last royalty check from "Elemental" -- a board game that I designed one morning while picking my nose on the toilet -- Jade Jagger happened to be hanging around. Looking over my shoulder at the proud, lengthy row of zeros (led by an insouciant "142"), her only response was "Wow."
"But Greg," you're no doubt asking, as if my hearing could extend to your den, office or high school "That boardgame sells for around ten bucks. How can you be making enough money off it to beggar the dreams of avarice?"
There are two answers to that, the twin horns of the Mammon idol that squats on this nation -- indeed, this planet -- like that big red devil thing on the cover of the old version of the AD&D Player's Handbook. First answer: Overseas sales. Second answer: Government subsidies.
Back when D&D first came out, the US Government was quick to recognize a threat to its hegemony. After all, if these "games" could, in their raw infancy, cause people to commit suicide, worship the devil and run around in sewers, how much more powerful would their mind-bending properties become when the wicked masterminds in Geneva had a few years to perfect their tricks? That's why they tried to suppress the nascent movement with clumsy propaganda like "Bothered by Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" and that Tom Hanks film "Mazes and Monsters." (What, you think it's a coincidence that "Rona Jaffe" is an anagram for "Fear of a Jen" -- a misspelled but crystal clear reference to the first, dangerous GenCon?) But they were too late. The genie was out of the bottle and rolling THAC0.
So, unable to destroy the burgeoning power of the medium, they co-opted it instead. A gigantic cash payment -- a bribe, in essence -- was offered to everyone publishing RPGs. Lured by the promise of a staggering pile of misappropriated tax dollars (most of which is disguised as the famous "$24,000 hammers" and "$60,000 toilet seats") the gaming industry caved in.
There was a price, of course. Something to ensure silence and complicity. The price was a federal crime, committed on the person of Gary Gygax. A cabal of top designers kicked in the door of Gygax's home on a night when his phone was mysteriously "disconnected." The beat him, they tied him up, they handed him over to a gang of plainclothes federal agents. If the rumors are true, Gary Gygax died in 1987, trying to escape from the military base where they'd kept him locked up, working on an RPG so powerful that it could essentially rewrite a person's entire nature and demeanor. The final irony is that the imposter you see at conventions truly believes he's Gygax -- because his mind was broken by the techniques that Gygax himself perfected!
As part of "The Accord" (as it's known in the industry), RPG designers agreed to keep the prices on RPGs and supplements artificially low in order to forestall riots and civil disorder. The fat cats in Washington were well aware that if the price of "The Fantasy Trip" rose above $20, it could result in a ravening, psychotic mob descending on the Capitol building, bohemian ear-spoons in hand, ready to disembowel any perceived threat to their hobby.
No such constraints were put on foreign sales. Consequently, even a third generation photocopy of "Harnmaster" can fetch up to $6,000 at auction in Morocco -- and that's for the first edition. When I made the mistake of touring Japan, I had to hire four extra bodyguards just to fend off the fans who were offering me money, drugs, the sexual services of themselves and their entire families -- all for a chance to look at the first draft of "City of Lies" (a product which was, at that time, still in development).
Given those factors, is it any surprise that game designers are a jaded lot? Ken Hite made enough money off of "Nightmares of Mine" to afford a new penthouse in downtown Chicago, with enough left over to get himself a solid gold ampalang.
Why, the last time I visited Jonathan Tweet (who writes novels on the side, under the pseudonym "Umberto Eco"), he asked if I wanted to go buy some casinos. "I don't particularly like them any more, but they're about the only thing I can buy that makes me feel like I'm investing."
It's a surprisingly common leitmotif among designers -- the ennui that comes with having your every whim catered to by an unending cadre of yes men, the boredom that inexorably results from being able to buy your way out of any problem. (John Snead, for instance, constantly brags about his legal team. "These suits are so hardcore, they could get Ron Goldman's family to apologize to OJ," he cackles, eyes bright with mania. "Hey, want to hunt humans through the Badlands for sport? It's fun! I'll fuel up the jet and we can be in the South Dakota by sundown!") Take Justin Achilli, for example. The staggering wealth he's amassed developing "Vampire: The Masquerade" supports his $2,000 a day dexyl-priastine habit, for starters. (Dexyl-priastine is a drug which can only be derived from the sex glands of the endangered Attwater's Prarie-Chicken and which, Achilli alleges, he does not enjoy but merely takes because it's the most expensive and exotic pharmaceutical he can find.) That's just the tip of the iceberg, however. As a hobby, he's undergone extensive plastic surgery and bribed his way into an acting career that would seem quite lucrative, to someone in any other line of business. I think his stage name is "Jennifer Love Hewitt." I'll have to get one of my secretaries to check on it.
As for Rich Dansky, he didn't retire to Red Storm Entertainment. He retired to Africa, where he's assembling a private army. Within a couple years, watch for "Danskya" to start appearing on maps, around where Zaire is now.
There you have it. RPGs are all about money. Mind-numbing, appalling, ill-gotten heaps of money. None of us give a damn if anyone plays or enjoys what we write: We're doing it all to make enough lucre that we can retire to private islands, gargantuan ranches or sprawling estates where our every word is law. (Did I tell you about the time I saw Ree Soesbee shoot one of her butlers in the kneecap because he was dawdling with the miso? It was ugly.)
Now that you know the truth, you should also know that a gig this good will be protected with all of the considerable resources we have at our disposal. You think I'm going to give up my seat at the trough to some miniature painter nursing dreams of glory? Think again, buddy.
If you have any questions, I'll be holed up in my fortress-ranch in the Australian outback, surrounded by my private army of brainwashed mercenaries, awaiting the vengeance of my fellow freelancers.
This article is satire, and any names you recognize were used for satirical purposes. That includes mine.
What do you think?