After reading some recent twitter threads about people trying to get started in the TTRPG space, how others can benefit from the knowledge of old-timers, and just thinking about my own experiences in tabletop, I decided to talk a bit about how I hire people to work on my own RPGs.
Why Should I Care How You Hire People?
You probably shouldn’t. Your first instinct, to be suspicious, is a good one. Honestly, the ttrpg is, in some ways, rife with scammers and folks trying to tell you what you “have” to do to succeed. I’m not going to tell you that, cuz I don’t know it.
What I will tell you to do is to be suspicious of anyone who doesn’t pay fair market rate, or is deluded enough in the year of our lord 2019 to try to pay you in (shudder) exposure. Be suspicious of anyone who demands you work for free, or writes articles telling you what you should be doing in order to win the privilege of working for them, including, in this case, me.
Working for me or with me is not a privilege, or an opportunity, or some make-or-break moment. In fact, I would go so far as to say that working for anyone in ttrpgs is never going to be a privilege, and anyone who tells you it is likely is trying to get one over on you.
I am not at some upper-echelon of TTRPG development (if there even is one), I’m not working for Wizards of the Coast. What I am is your peer, one that is occasionally lucky enough to be able to throw some cash towards his other peers in exchange for working on some game I think is neat.
Alright, we’re all properly disclaimed. Here’s why you should care: Because this is stuff I wish I knew when I was first starting out. That’s it. Consider this a cautionary tale, a specter of some right moves you can take away from my wrong ones.
So without further ado, here’s what I look for when hiring, in a (very rough) order of importance, because hey, listicles.
1. Can I Even Hire You?
A lot of times, it is very unclear to me if people are even interested in work. They might have empty twitter or forum bios, no links to their sites, and no (feasible) way to contact them. If you’re looking for work, I’d say the easiest and most important thing you can do is tell people you’re looking for work. Either in a pinned tweet, in a bio, in a signature, or on a personal website that you link back to from everywhere.
Heck, if you want to be extra nice, throw in your rates somewhere too. Just make sure you’re charging at least market rate.
2. Your “Passion”
A very wise man named Quinn Murphy once said something roughly like this: “Someone who is passionate about doing work for you is not a reason to pay that person less, it is a reason to pay them more. Passion is a benefit, not a liability or something to exploit.”
This is a stance I live by. When I go looking for folks to hire, the first people I look at are “fans.” TTRPG spaces are incredibly niche, so chances are that the people who are talking about my game, are interested in my game, or gave me feedback on some early version of my game are designers themselves. Heck, even if they don’t think of themselves as designers, if they have good insights to offer, they’re worth paying for.
The (wisely) suspicious of you probably realize that this sounds like doing free work to chase paying work. “Oh, so if I give you feedback for free, you might pay me for it later? Fuck you.” Fair enough. I’m not going to feed you some line about ttrpgs are collaborative or that we’re all one big happy family. If you’d rather focus on your own projects, more power to you.
3. Self vs. Community Promotion
OK, I kind of lied when I said “focus on your own projects, more power to you.” I see some folks who only seem to talk up their own games, their own products, or hopping on some latest trend. This makes me very, very nervous about hiring them.
Why? Well, TTRPGs live and die by their promotion and word of mouth. If you don’t care about other people’s games, should I assume you’ll all of a sudden start caring about mine just because I pay you?
I’ve seen folks hired to “consult” on RPGs who seem to have been hired solely for their brand or outreach, and I’ve seen some of them admit to never even reading the product they were supposedly consulting on. Take it a step further, I’ve seen people throw a product they themselves worked on under the bus, if only to preserve their own reputation and clout.
On the other hand, when I see folks that regularly talk up other designers, or give their thoughts on other games, or generally promote people besides themselves and work besides their own, I get a warm fuzzy feeling. I get the sense they’re passionate about games, and hey, maybe they’ll be passionate about mine. I respect a potential consultant that turns me down by saying “sorry, this project isn’t really catching my interest,” since I know that they only do work they can be proud of.
4. Demonstrating Expertise
It’s common wisdom that you should demonstrate you’re good at the sort of things you want to get hired to do. If you’re a designer, show your design. If you’re an artist, have a portfolio. If you’re an expert on dice systems, talk about dice systems. But this, to me, is not enough.
Tying into the previous topic, I sometimes see people who will go hard on their self promotion, talking about how many games they’ve run, or played, or read. People who have very deep thoughts about d20, (that, funnily enough, I’ve heard about 1000 times before).
What I see more rarely, though it’s a lot more impressive, is people who demonstrate their expertise by applying it to other people’s work. If I see someone dissecting an indie game, or praising a unique mechanic they enjoyed, or calling out another designer’s skill in some specific area, I know that they know their shit. Anyone can regurgitate the same tired advice about Dungeons and Dragons. I want to hire the person who can tell me something new, exciting, and cutting edge about the little indie game they just downloaded off itch.io, and how it advances the craft.
5. The Perfect Consultant
By now, an image should be emerging in your head, of the kind of consultant I and quite possibly other indie developers want to hire. They’re someone who hangs out on forums, giving advice to their peers, critiquing games, or just gushing about some favorite new mechanic or twist. They’re someone who promotes not just themselves, but their community. And finally, they’re someone who demonstrates their expertise by showing how it applies to the work of others, not just abstract theory or regurgitated talking points.