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TFT Writers' Guidelines

Last modified 4-17-2019

These guidelines are still a work in progress. We welcome your questions and feedback – send them directly to Steve Jackson.

In General

  • You are storytelling! Your work must succeed as a readable, fun narrative as well as an adventure or sourcebook. Remember that a lot of our purchasers will, sadly, play only infrequently, so we need to make this something they will enjoy reading. Break sidelights into boxes to avoid losing narrative thread.
  • Even if you know where you are going, start with an outline before you write.
  • Begin the "story" with an interesting hook, not a data dump.
  • You need to be familiar with TFT. It's not a hard system to learn or to write for, but it has its own flavor, and we don't want to get generic fantasy adventures (or, worse, adventures clearly intended for Some Other RPG) that we then have to rewrite. You should have the 2019 In The Labyrinth book, if not the whole Legacy Edition.
  • Specifically – and this should go without saying, but apparently it needs to be said – double-check your characters to make sure their stats and abilities are legal under the rules. If your adventure really requires, for instance, a giant with an illegal IQ of 13, specifically discuss this with your editor; don't just drop it in there.
  • Aim for variety in encounters so all characters have a chance to shine.
  • Expect it to be laid out in a manner similar to that of the Legacy Edition – two columns, with boxes. Solos may be an exception to this; they may be formatted like the new edition of Death Test. We don't know yet!
  • Everything we have posted online for writers is relevant. See sjgames.com/general/guidelines/authors/.

Things to Avoid

  • New rules, spells, and talents. In general, absolutely don't do anything that affects all future TFT releases, let alone invalidates past ones. Unique and peculiar magic items are usually all right (and great for flavor!) if they don't damage the combat balance. Something like the Red Ladder would be all right; a Rod of Slaying Everything is not.
  • It is fine to use the Southern Elyntia/Duchy of Dran setting, but don't do anything that "breaks" the setting for later writers. No killing rulers, expunging whole cities or races, or plunging the area into war. (You do not have to use the existing setting area if you don't want to, but players will ask where it is in relation to the lands they know.)
  • Don't try to settle questions about the Mnoren backstory, even by implication. It's supposed to remain a mystery.
  • Don't worry about details of art. That's the editor's job and will be heavily influenced by the final layout. Feel free to offer ideas or suggestions of specific encounters that would make good illustrations, of course.
  • Don't send us anything saltier than PG rating. Definitely don't send us anything that even comes close to the line of racism, sexism, or commentary on current political or social issues, no matter how artfully veiled.

12-Page Adventures

  • In general, follow the format of the existing 12-page releases. Some are already out – you have read them, right? Use their format for defining foes.
  • 9,000 words. Please don't exceed that. If your outline gets really long, perhaps you have a story that needs another format, and we can consider it, but 12-pagers have a very rigid word count requirement.
  • A dungeon crawl, but with a story and a coherent theme. Does not have to literally be in a dungeon, but does have to be a series of encounters with an objective.
  • Remember the "Setting" box.
  • Define the party this is meant for: How many characters? Starting level? Advanced? Is a wizard necessary?
  • At least one interesting new monster. Probably, but not necessarily, the boss. Some of our published 12-pagers have taken a whole page (counting art) to describe this creature.
  • A half-page map that can be created, an area at a time, from the existing Legacy Edition megahexes plus whatever new ones might be added in this adventure. The map that you supply must be clear enough that we can work from it! Note compass orientation – NE and NW are at the top of the map. Note also that if the map is bigger than a half-page, we'll have to cut words or art to make it fit. We would prefer not to do that.
  • Optional: new terrain and/or counters. You can see examples in the existing releases. You do not have to include any megahex terrain at all, and don't force it! But if you have an interesting idea . . .

2-Page Adventures

Instructions and samples to come! In the meantime, just be aware that yes, we want to do a book of super-short combat encounters.

Hexagram Articles

We are committed to a second issue of Hexagram; after that, we'll see. In general, we want material that a GM might drop directly into the campaign. You may assume that the articles in #1 are a sample of the things we like. A word count between 450 (one page) and 2,000 (five pages) is right.

Solo Adventures

  • 10,000 to 20,000 words. We would consider longer ones if they do not seem unwieldy.
  • Could be for a single character, a pair, or a party. Just be sure to define what that party is. To reduce the number of play options to something manageable, you may want to constrain character creation – e.g., "Your character is a thief" or "Your party are all fighters."
  • We know that programmed adventures are harder to create, and we pay more for them than for straight writing.
  • It should go without saying that the connectivity of the adventure has to be thoroughly tested if you expect to get the higher rate.
  • Do your best to anticipate all reasonable player choices. But don't spend word count on "cute" options like "I quickly bake a pie and throw it at the dragon."
  • It is all right to use the "plot words" system from some of the GURPS solo adventures (see Warehouse 23), but you certainly don't have to.

Longer Material

This might include sourcebooks (city, duchy, etc.), a bestiary, or a long adventure or cycle of connected adventures. Details of any such project will have to be worked out with the line editor (currently SJ).

55,000 words is a good guess for a 64-page book.

Longer projects will probably be crowdfunded, which lets us be a bit more generous on pay.

TFT Pay Rates

For material under 50,000 words, we pay a flat fee of six cents a word (which makes this work SFWA-eligible) based on final published length. This assumes you will also provide necessary map sketches in readable form. We will contract separately with an artist for illustrations.

Exception: for a programmed adventure, we pay nine cents a word. This is specifically to compensate the author for the difficulty of creating and checking all those links. If a submission has to be re-engineered here, the rate goes down to six cents if we accept it at all, so please check carefully!

Advances: Negotiable depending on project size; the author must have a good history with us to request an advance.

Balance due: Paid when we finish layout and can confirm exact length. (This is to protect the freelancer in a situation where, for instance, the submission is the first one received for a collection, and actual publication is many months away.)

For longer material (which usually means a 64-page or longer stand-alone book), we can pay the word rate, or we can pay royalties. This is more of a gamble for the writer – how good will your sales be? The royalty rate depends on how it's sold: 

  • 6% of retail for copies sold on Kickstarter or BackerKit.
  • 3% of suggested retail if we sell copies through distribution, or print copies on Warehouse 23.
  • 20% of retail if we sell copies in PDF on Warehouse 23.

If we assume that the 64-page book is 55,000 words, then the word-rate payment would be $3,300. If we assume that it has a retail price of $30 on Kickstarter (which is about right) and we print 1,300 copies for the campaign and sell them all within the year (a reasonable guess based on Kickstarters so far), that is $2,340. If we further assume that the book is $20 in PDF and sells 250 copies, the total is about equal to the word rate, and slower to arrive. But the word rate is a flat one-time payment . . . but with royalties, any reprint or distribution sales are just gravy.

Steve's advice: Take the word rate if you need to feed the kids right now. Take a royalty if you are investing in a career as a freelancer.

FAQ

  • Does new material have to tie to the existing settings? No, it does not, but many players like that, so we like it too.
  • Do you have a Word template?  We have modified the (more complex) version designed for GURPS and given it some TFT-specific coding. We will happily supply this on request!
  • I have the first edition Fantasy Trip material. Can I work from that? Definitely not. Some important things changed!
  • How long from submission of my manuscript to release? It varies based on everything except, possibly, the phase of the moon.

Legal Notes

The above is not a contract, but information for freelancers. We have a formal work-for-hire contract which you will sign, and a tax form to make sure that if we are required to report your earnings to the IRS, we can do so accurately.

 

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