Back in the day, I was pretty heavily into tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. I played regularly in high school and college and post-college, basically until I had a family of my own and different priorities for my free time. I dabbled in running games, but really only had one long-term campaign to my credit, which took place in my own modified version of the Nightbane setting from Palladium Books.
I ran that game for years, and during that time it occupied a lot of mental real estate. The thing about self-sustaining campaigns, with high levels of player investment all around, is that they take on a life of their own, and create their own internal rules and consistencies. So from time to time my mind would wander down paths for game ideas that didn’t fit terribly well into the collaborative story my friends and I were telling. Eventually, though, those ideas had to go somewhere.
Fortunately for me, Palladium Books had an open submission policy for their magazine The Rifter, which gave me an outlet for more of my Nightbane ideas. I wrote up an article of supplemental game material for Nightbane and sent it off to the editors who, lo and behold, liked it enough to publish it. Thus my first ever really-real byline credit in a commercial publication with an ISBN and everything was the article “The Warlords of Boston” in The Rifter #42, cover date April, 2008. (And incidentally still available at Palladium’s online store.)
Writing new source material for an established property is an interesting proposition, having surprisingly little in common with the fiction writing I occupy myself with these days. RPG guides require familiarity with mathematical game mechanics, a straightforward writing style for background that reads more like a textbook than anything, and staying within the confines of the company’s product branding. Still, it was fun and interesting to try my hand at it, and I learned a lot just by going through the process of putting together and submitting something professional enough to stand out from the rest of the slush pile. Not to mention that the final product was the first time I had ever seen my fantasy character ideas rendered by a complete stranger’s illustrations, which I admit even now is a hoot:
Everybody has to start somewhere, and this article is what I would point to as … well, if not my secret origin, at least a fairly significant early milestone. It would be a long while between my byline in The Rifter and the next time I got something original published out in the world, but that’s a story for another Thursday.