[New Release] Kobold Guide to Gamemastering

Kobold Guide to GM'ing

I am pleased to announce that my essay “Planning Your Campaign in Four Stages” is now available in the Kobold Guide to Gamemastering. In the essay, I introduce a spiderweb method to reduce the appearance of a linear plot.

Assigning a number of sessions and scenes to a campaign often traps you
in the idea that plots must be linear, and the scenes become points along
that line that always advance the story forward and in a specific direction. If or when players go off-script, GMs then compensate by creating other
towns or NPCs to lead the group back to the main story.

To reduce linear-campaign situations like these, reshape the plot to
accommodate for movement.

“Planning Your Campaign in Four Stages” is but one of the stellar essays available in the Kobold Guide to Game Mastering. I had a lot of fun geeking out about organizational methods, and I hope you enjoy my take on planning a campaign.

About Kobold Guide to Game Mastering

Every GM has struggled with some aspect of their game. Maybe it’s session prep or sustaining a long-term campaign. Perhaps it’s a more external issue such as problem players or limited play time. Many of these concerns, and others, will be addressed in the Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.

The latest in the award-winning and fan-favorite series from Kobold Press tackles gameplay head-on, with advice from everyone from veterans to talented newcomers on how to make a tabletop RPG session snap, crackle, and shine!

Edited by Sean Reynolds, the book’s writers include Frank Mentzer, Keith Baker, Zeb Cook, James Jacobs, Monica Valentinelli, Shanna Germain, and many other well-known industry vets and long-time GMs.

This 150 page, 6” x 9” softcover features cover art by Blizzard and Magic: the Gathering artist Eva Widermann and is part of the award-winning Kobold Guide series. So, if you know a new or long-time GM that could use some helpful, practical advice, or a few handy tips and tricks, this is the book for them.

This book is available in digital and print.

Suffering of the Unchosen Story Excerpt and Notes

“Suffering of the Unchosen” was a short story I wrote for Tales of the Dark Eras to highlight my take on the Salem Witch Trials for Hunter: The Vigil in Dark Eras. In Doubting Souls (1690-1695), I set the stage for a setting in which monster-hunting players have trouble figuring out who the real monster is. This story is representative of one take on Doubting Souls; that era has a considerable amount of setting information in and around Salem Town and Salem Village following months of research. Some of the resources I pulled from are also listed at the end of that chapter as well.

My story ties into that theme by presenting a main character, a grieving widower and father, who wants nothing more than to exact justice on the hunters who murdered his family. Whether or not his anger is justified is something you’ll have to find out should you read the entire tale.

For now, though, I hope you enjoy this excerpt from “Suffering of the Unchosen”.

Suffering of the Unchosen

I was but a simple farmer whose tender son once planted seeds in barren, rocky soil, whose sweet wife once gathered berries, herbs, and mushrooms in the forest, whose family once led a trouble-free life surrounded by our cousins and neighbors in Salem Village.

Now, that life — the life of William Mansforth — is over. Though it is by some miracle I still draw breath, the rest of my family was tragically murdered a few nights ago.

I found their smoldering remains after I had returned home, battered and bruised, for I had been robbed by petty thieves earlier that day. Upon witnessing the horrible sight of my wife and child blackened beyond all recognition, I sank to my knees in despair, for everything I owned and loved had been ripped from me in a mere day’s time. My purse had been stolen, my cabin and tiny plot of land had been sanctified by fire, and my wife and son had been tied to the stake and burnt alive.

In truth, I had not the eyes to see the pyre for what it was — a ruse — for I was preoccupied with guilt. What could I have done to save them? My beloved wife, Mary, and my adopted son of five years, William, were unjustly murdered and judged as witches for all to see. They were no devil-worshippers! Questions plagued me; each was a pox upon my mind. If I stayed the night, would their murderers return and end me, too? Would I know the faces of the townsfolk who took two innocent lives? Or, was this the Devil’s Hand at work?

With an aching heart, I slept at the foot of that grisly sight, whispering prayers for their wayward souls, so that the spirits of my wife and son would not lose themselves in sorrow. Our cabin’s logs heaped upon the pyre still burned slow and hot; their orange embers provided warmth and kept the cold dew from settling on my skin. There I slept on the hard ground, inhaling and holding the dwindling smoke of that wretched fire in my lungs, begging for death. Who could have done such a thing? Who dared to commit murder and walk free?

At my wit’s end, I could no longer feign sleep. Instead, I sat up, pulled out my hunting knife, and sliced my open palm. I was careful not to wince as I did so; the pain was sharp, but lingering. It reminded me that whilst my wife and son were dead I was, by God’s miraculous Hand, still alive. So in this fevered state, I forged a pact with Him in my own blood, to shine His light into the darkest recesses of men’s most murderous hearts, to ensure my family’s killers were justly judged — even if their capture would come at the cost of my own life.

“William…”

“Mary?” I knew not if her voice was inside my head, or if it was calling to me from between the trees. I yearned for her and hoped her ghost was a divine messenger. I shouted into the open air: “I am frightened, Mary. Is that you?”

“Here, William. Look to the great oak!”

I did as the voice bade, and saw a vision of Mary made whole, standing in front of the tree where we first met. Her naked body was shrouded in fine translucent robes, her long golden-brown hair flowed wild and free, and her kind brown eyes were just as merry as I remembered. She stood apart from me at a distance, but near enough so I could tell she was not a figment of my imagination.

“I am sorry, Mary. I was robbed, wife. Beaten and robbed!” I tried to beg her forgiveness, but my tongue was stuck. “Had I gotten home sooner…”

“William, you must listen carefully to me now. I have naught but a few moments, and I must tell you a secret…”

I fell into a fever-dream, half-drunk at the sight of her, wondering if I had finally gone mad. Was her spirit Heaven-sent or Devil-born? For precious few moments, I wondered if my wife truly was a witch. Then her words stuck to me like thistles, and they held fast.

“…three innocent babes, stuffed with herbs and dressed in linen, buried beneath the church by my late husband. I was the only one alive who witnessed were they were buried…and who killed them…”

“Who did this to you, Mary?” My voice was raspy, and I struggled to speak. I had to know. “Who slaughtered you and our dear boy for the sake of this knowledge? Who?”

“They call themselves hunters.”

Tales of the Dark Eras is now available now on DriveThruFiction.com. Each story in this collection tackles a different historical era, and offers a look into vampires, changelings, werewolves and more featured in the Chronicles of Darkness game line. Watch for upcoming news about additional platforms!

MANW Week 10: Ten Career-Minded Tasks to Seed Your Future

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and in recognition of all the hard-working women out there I opted not to post. I did (and still do) encourage Make Art Not War 2017 Challengers to find and signal boost a female creator. Ninety percent of the problem is a visibility or marketing problem, as opposed to a “female creators don’t exist” issue.

Shifting gears, for today’s post I want to list ten small tasks and mini-goals that you can do to help yourself in your career. You’ve heard the phrase “the devil’s in the details”? To build a career as an artist, there’s a thousand different levers and pulleys you can use at separate stages along the way. Some of those levers, like a means of contacting you, are definitely more important than others. Remember: your mileage will vary, and that’s okay!

ONE: Link to (or create) a contact page. – If someone wants to hire you, do you have an easy way of contacting you? What happens when people Google your name? Are you accessible or does it take some work to find you? If you have a website, have a Contact Me page. Even if you have an agent, having a Contact Me page will clearly show how you prefer to be contacted–which is also very important for convention organizers.

TWO: Put together a press kit. – I’m at the stage in my career where this is something I need to do. A press kit collates information about you and your art in a digital file like a PDF. Great for convention organizers, press kits can also be useful for interviewers, editors, and other people looking to hire you.

THREE: Review your list of publishers to submit to on spec. – This task is more for writers than artists, but it can also apply to comic book people as well. The market is constantly shifting and changing, and sometimes it’s worth reviewing your options. If you’ve been subbing to one market in particular and you haven’t gotten anywhere, try somewhere else!

FOUR: Write “Don’t Self-Reject” and post it visibly. The number one reason why I see artists get rejected over and over again, is because they internalize past rejections or they make decisions that stop them from applying or taking a chance. If you find yourself making up an editor’s mind before you hit “send”, think about sending it anyway. There’s 1,000 reasons for rejection that have nothing to do with you, personally!

FIVE: Find a mentor. Mentors can be very valuable, provided you find a good one, because they can help you see that next step in your career. Who’s available will depend upon your social networks, but they’ll also vary based on when a particular artist or what-have-you became successful. The advice that was applicable twenty years ago may not work for you now.

SIX: Take a class to advance your skills and network. One of the things I’ve been focusing on lately as time allows, is to build up my local network of contacts. A class is one way of doing that, because it gives you the ability to nurture your underdeveloped skills in a classroom environment while providing some clear boundaries between yourself and strangers you’d meet. There are less expensive classes through community-based programs; think outside the box on this one. If you’re budget-conscious, you don’t have to take an accredited course–there’s no “one way” to learn art.

SEVEN: Build a contemporary reading list. One safe way to get out of your comfort zone, is to find new authors (both fiction and non) to read that aren’t in your preferred genre or field of study. If you’re struggling to find the time to read and this seems like a lot of work, consider short stories, blog posts, or ask your online networks for suggestions. Then, give yourself half an hour to dive right in.

EIGHT: Embrace a creator’s mindset. The mindset of a creator is very different from that of a consumer, because as a creator you are making something for other people to buy. Often, any time I bring up commercialism I hear the words “I don’t want to sell out.” Making art is work, and if you don’t want to be paid for that effort that is your preference. I feel that if you are offering your work for sale, it’s absolutely work that should be paid for. Once money exchanges hands, then the act of making art is commercial. There are a thousand things that happen between learning to make art and then selling art, and a creator’s mindset can help you shift the focus so you remember your time is valuable. If you don’t know what it means to be a creator, a great way to learn is by interviewing people you admire!

NINE: Form a support group to help shoulder the burden of stigmas. There are a lot of stigmas associated with making art, and many of them are mired in the idea that it’s recreational, therapeutic, or less important than other jobs. Add your identity, class, working from home, traveling to conventions, etc. into the mix, and suddenly there’s 1,000 reasons why you shouldn’t be making art. To offset the negativity, I feel it’s a very good idea to seek out like-minded artists so you don’t feel so alone.

TEN: Learn basic business practices. The discussion about what is and what isn’t professional can carry a lot of baggage, and I’m very sensitive to that. I look at it this way: by treating my art as a business, then I have some emotional distance to handle rejections and all the other bells and whistles that come from having this job. It’s not sexy, it doesn’t speak to the passion I feel for making art, and it’s incredibly boring. What it does do, however, is set up a different framework for how I deal with publishers, editors, and agents so I remember how important my role is an artist. It does take work to be yourself and run a business, and that’s something that will evolve over time. But, I feel you have nothing to lose by researching basic business practices for the simple fact that the people you’ll work with are running a business–even if you don’t see yourself that way.

If you’re resisting the idea that you need to put yourself out there, remember: luck favors the prepared! You can’t make your own luck, if you’re sitting around waiting for something to happen. Sometimes, Fate needs a helping hand.

    Mood: Looking forward to Pi Day
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Laughable
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Laundry up to my ears
    In My Ears: Totentanz (Dance of death)
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Reference for work
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Hacksaw Ridge
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming this month!



Celebrate Halloween with Vampires!

v20-endless-ages-anthology

Have you picked up your copy of Endless Ages yet? If not, today’s post gives you a little bit of insight into my inspiration behind “Redder Than Red”. Happy Halloween!

What Motivated Me to Write Redder Than Red

When I was working on Dread Names: Red List, Matt (McElroy) and I would speculate which Anathema would be the first to get caught in the modern era and why. Often, Ayisha Jocastian’s name would pop up because she represents a direct threat to the Masquerade. As an Anathema, Ayisha is unique in the sense that she believes that the consciousness of the vampires she has consumed are directing her actions, but she is also a political threat because her zeal to reproduce and distribute the Book of Nod. Though Ayisha was already condemned to the Red List and could never be removed, she is an active threat who will not stop committing diablerie, nor will she stop sharing vampiric secrets with mortals.

My story, which is titled “Redder Than Red”, is written from the perspective of a Malkavian named Rebecca Fleischer whose childe was diablerized by Ayisha. Rebecca suffers from a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder called Arithmomania, which means she has a fundamental need to count. I felt this would be a good mental illness to help illustrate what Rebecca is feeling and seeing, and gets away from the stereotypes that plague members of Clan Malkavian and undermine their potential in a story.

Together with Ventrue Alastor Stephan Ashworth, the two Kindred drive to a warehouse to confront Ayisha Jocastian once and for all. Stephan adds some setting heft to the story, as both Alastors and Anathema are part of the rich lore associated with the Red List, but he also offers a dynamic to show this fight isn’t between two vampires. For Rebecca, however, her desire to take down Ayisha is personal; losing her childe is a powerful motivator for vengeance.

I hope your thirst for vampire fiction will draw you to “Redder Than Red”. This story was a lot of fun to write, and I enjoyed taking on this aspect of Vampire: The Masquerade for the modern era.

What is “Media/Tie-In” Anyway? [My Book Launch Week!]

Gorramn Dictionary

All this week, I’m celebrating the release of Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary and Phrasebook in the ‘Verse from Titan Books. Each day, I’m going to post about an aspect of working as a media/tie-in writer. I hope you enjoy this series of posts!

When you hear the words “media/tie-in”, what do you think of? This industry-facing term is a description of a product that is created for an existing property such as a game, movie, book, etc. There is some legal mumbo-jumbo behind that, too, like licensing terms and agreements. In many cases, a media/tie-in book/game/movie is published and distributed by a company that is not owned or operated by the license holder. Instead, Company B inks an agreement with Company A, to legally produce and sell anything from T-shirts to video games. Individual artists, editors, or writers like myself, are then hired to produce that new title.

On the surface this might sound simple, and I’ve heard the phrase “glorified fan fiction” bandied about to that effect, but there can be (and often are) many complexities and layers involved in this process depending upon the size and interest in the property. Those layers often help shape the story itself, which is partly why I feel “glorified fan fiction” is not an accurate representation of what media/tie-in writers do. Plus, I think this hurts fan fiction writers as well, because many fan fiction writers go on to work in publishing. Thus, they start out of the gate thinking all they need is the ability to tell a story. While storytelling is required for media/tie-in fiction, just as it is for original fiction, there are many other skills that we develop over time. These not only help us tell better stories, but also give us opportunities to build relationships and master the ability to work in tandem with other people on these projects as well.

Behind the Scenes

My role as a writer usually begins after an agreement has been signed and the publisher knows what they want to produce. From here, the project is managed in any number of ways, and it’s my responsibility to be flexible to the publisher’s needs. For example, some properties have what’s known as a “setting bible” and an “exclusions list” that details the key elements of a setting for their writers; others don’t. When a setting bible doesn’t exist, I wind up creating one for my project in order to provide proof of concept to save time. After all, the decisions I make when writing media/tie-in fiction, reference materials, or games are not entirely up to me. I am producing materials that often require a number of approvals, and this process can be very technical–especially if the publisher wants to feature a signature character, ship, setting, etc. For this reason, I feel it’s essential to keep a digital-or-paper trail or a record of the conversations I have between the publisher and myself. That allows me to research and confirm older decisions during the project, ones that naturally get missed given the amount of e-mails that occur throughout the development process. Often, this might include character sketches or proposed outlines as well.

This type of background work is important in my experiences, because any decision I make is subject to further scrutiny during any leg of the process for both business and quality assurance purposes. Unlike my own work, in which I’m “the boss” and can flesh out as many or as little details as I desire, media/tie-in properties are often produced within a fabric of other publications and may or may not be bound by a larger framework. For example, a movie novelization’s outline might be guided by a screenplay or the studio’s direction. Writing a new Star Trek novel on the other hand, which precedes a long and storied legacy of other books based on the TV show and movies, can have more levers and pulleys since there’s more material to draw from. Sometimes the smallest detail, such as the color of a uniform or a minor character’s name, might have to be confirmed and attributed to its original source in the outline, too.

Why I Enjoy Writing Media/Tie-In

To me, writing media/tie-in is a lot of fun, because I love writing that employs a level of complexity that channels my skills and forces me to grow creatively. Often, there are many aspects that feel like putting a puzzle together. The harder the challenge, the more I thrive on it–especially if I’m on deadline! But, media/tie-in has the added benefit to me as a writer, because most properties have an existing fan base.

This means that my work has the potential of reaching more readers than my original work at this stage of my career, simply because fans are hungry for more of their beloved characters and stories. Long-term, this is something I’ll continue to build upon, because many of my readers who check out my original work have done so because they saw and liked what I wrote elsewhere. Not to mention, I get the added bonus of channeling my own fandoms into my work–which is ridiculously awesome!

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s look at media/tie-in. Tomorrow, I’ll be celebrating Firefly!

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