Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Superstar resolutions

As we sit here on New Year's Eve, lots of people are probably thinking about their resolutions for the coming year. For a number of people hoping to compete in Superstar, those resolutions likely include becoming a professional game designer (which includes freelancing, as far as I'm concerned).

Superstar is, on one hand, one of the best ways to do that. If you manage to be in the less than 5 percent of contestants who get into the Top 32, you're going to have Paizo and plenty of Third Party Publishers aware of your name and a ready forum to show them your work. If you make the Top 4, you have a guaranteed contract with the biggest name in the business.

That said, it's also one of the worst ways to do that.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Workin' in the Coal Mines

Here are 3 variations showing an orc in a subterranean corridor. The walls and ceiling are hand-painted plaster, cast from hand-modeled clay. When I play Pathfinder, I often become very immersed, and imagine all of the action at eye level. Do you picture the action in such an immersive way, or do you stick to the stats, rolls, and mechanics?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Thoughts about Map-Making: The Player's Perspective

In this three-part series of articles, I'll discuss maps based on my (admittedly limited) experience from RPG Superstar and freelancing. In the first part, I'll be looking at maps from the player's perspective.

I don't know the specifics of the map round challenge in this year's RPG Superstar yet, but I'll discuss encounter maps because that's the type of maps that I'm most familiar with.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Best of Superstar

With five days since voting opened, Paizo's RPG Superstar contest is in full swing. The messageboards are humming — more than 2,500 votes in this year's "ramble" thread alone —as voters sort the hundreds (at least) of items into rankings for the judges. Among them are 32 that will earn their creators entry into the contest, and others that won't survive the annual cull of the lowest-ranked choices.

If you want to be a designer — and I assume you do if you're participating in the contest and reading this blog — I highly recommend voting: There are plenty of lessons to be learned about good game design. That said, it can also be a frustrating process too, as you wade through some items that aren't ready for prime time, some of which keep coming up again and again.

As a little refresher, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at some of the other finalists. Here are a handful that have stuck in my memory over the years, the first ones I think of when I think of the contest:

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Detect Mojo mini-contest begins!

To keep voters entertained and make voting more interesting, I'm announcing a mini-contest: Detect Mojo! The point of the contest is to encourage fans of RPG Superstar to vote tirelessly but also to vote responsibly instead of just clicking away without thinking.

When you're voting, whenever you see an item you think is going to make the Top 32, add it on your list. It's good to remember that sometimes "what I like" and "what I think will advance" are not the same thing. Try to guess what other voters are likely to vote for, and what the judges are likely to choose.

To make the task a little less arduous and because it's quite impossible to see every single item in the voting, you don't have to pick 32 itemsonly 20. That way it's also easier to calculate your mojo percentage.

How to play Detect Mojo

All you need to do is make a list of up to 20 magic item names you have seen in the voting. Once the Top 32 is revealed, you can calculate your score (see below) and post your score along with your list of items on the Paizo boards. I'll make a thread for the contest sooner or later.

Note: Do not post your list anywhere publicly before the reveal!

Deadline: No deadline as such, but voting ends at 2 PM Pacific time on 13 January 2015.

Eligibility: Basically anyone (except RPGSS judges) can join in on the fun.

Contest prizes: I don't have any fancy prizes this time, but the winner earns the title "Master of Mojo". There are no official referees to check your list before the reveal. I originally planned something like that but decided to go with a more unofficial and relaxed contest. So, the honor system is used.

Each item on your list that makes the Top 32 or comes close nets you a number of points as detailed below.

  • Top 32: +5%
  • Alternate: +4%
  • Top 100: +2%
In other words, the maximum score is 100% (20 × 5%).
  • Note: If an alternate later joins the top 32, your score won't be updated - only the initial ranking matters. 
  • Note: The top 100 category may be something else this year. It's really up to the round 1 judges if they want to reveal which entries almost made it.

Last year there was no Detect Mojo contest, but I did compile a list of 21 items which I'll use as an example. Since the list should have no more than 20 items on it, I'll leave out the last one.
  • Abiding Light
  • Boots, Tower
  • Boulder Thrower's Kit (Top 100)
  • Crown of Webs (Top 100)
  • Ever Beating Heart
  • Fetish of the Frog Queen (Top 32)
  • Gauntlet of Earth Shattering and Elevating (Top 100)
  • Gloves of the Aura Thief
  • Goblet of Liquified Cognition (Top 32)
  • Groundbreaker Cloak (Top 32)
  • Harbinger's Knock (Top 100)
  • Linebreaker's Sabatons (Top 100)
  • Planar Rift Spike (Top 100)
  • Poltergeist Knot (Top 32)
  • Scatterstone (Top 100)
  • Slaying Shroud (Top 100)
  • Specter Net (Top 100)
  • Spellmason's Mallet (Top 100)
  • Star Cinder (Top 32)
  • Tactician's Go-Ke
That's five Top 32 entries (+25%), no alternates, and ten Top 100 entries (+20%) for a total of 45%.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Playtesting a Staff

Playtesting a Staff

It's been a busy week, so today's post is a photo only—I hope you enjoy it. Watch for an animated version in a future post. And yes, those are the sprouts of a sweet potato.

  • Help me with some captions or speech-bubble text—bonus points if it references RPGSS in a clever way.
  • Could this be a new magic item in action, or a spell? How would it work mechanically?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

RPG Superstar: Mapping the Way to Victory

By now, you've submitted your item if you're participating in RPG Superstar, which means it's time to start thinking about the next challenge.

Unfortunately, the map round is ironically a little bit of unknown territory. Previous Superstar rounds have certainly involved making maps, but they've always been part of a larger challenge, the penultimate round that also typically required designers to create a location and an encounter. My guess is this round will end up requiring a map and Golarion location, since the latter will also allow contestants to show off their knowledge of the setting as well as creativity and writing ability, but I'm going for focus for the moment on just the map part.

Mikko plans to give some general map-making advice soon (and I recommend looking back at his post about his Round 4 entry in 2014), but there are lessons to be learned too from previous years. Just as you don't want to repeat a magic item in Round 1, it's important to know what past contestants have mapped out so you don't do repeat them.

Here are a half-dozen of my favorite maps from over the years of the contest. I'm trying to focus very specifically on the map itself, so my choices don't necessarily include other aspects of that round's submissions (otherwise Tim Phillips' Eightfinger's Tomb would certainly be included here). I'll go back and look at other aspects of the encounter rounds as we get closer to this year's Round 4.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Magic Item Advice 3/3: aurora's edge?

In the first two parts of this series, I created a very basic magic weapon and then turned it into something with a tighter theme and more creative mechanics. In the last part, I intend to tie the weapon into Golarion lore, to make the theme even tighter.

The changes between versions 1 and 2 were quite substantial, but how many changes did I make after that? Let's have a look at the third version, and I'll describe my thought processes and decisions.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Magic Item Advice 2/3: fire-blossom blade

In part 1, I created a magic weapon called longsword of fireballs to discuss the basics of magic item construction. However, one of the main points of the article was that a sword that can cast the fireball spell is not a Superstar-quality item even though it's useful for some characters and follows the same formatting as magic items in the Core Rulebook.

In this part, I explore ways to make it less of a SiaC and SAK, and to add some badly needed pizazz and flavor to it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Magic Item Advice 1/3: longsword of fireballs

Bobgar the dwarf often wishes he could cast fireball when he's facing a lot of weak opponents. But he's a fighter, and not exactly the brightest or the most charismatic fighter either, so investing skill points in Use Magic Device would be a very long and frustrating road toward fireballing kobolds. Why can't he just have a sword that lets him use fireball three times a day? That's how often Bobgar fights evil monsters on an average day, so it should be enough.

Bobgar consults his wizard friend Lolrond (an elf, of course) about magic items, and the wizard, who knows the rules of magic item creation like the back of his hand, tells Bobgar that creating a longsword of fireballs is possible, provided that the GM permits it.

Let's have a look at the resulting item! (I'm not going to explain why a dwarf would want to use a longsword, though.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

RPG Superstar: A Captivating Tournament

Captivating Tournament (Ex) Once per year, Paizo can conjure an entertaining and enthralling RPG-design contest that lasts for 90 days. During this time, creatures that visit must succeed on a DC 17 Will save or become captivated by the contest's alluring appeal. Until the contest ends, affected creatures have a 50% chance to act normally each hour, otherwise they spend that hour voting on wondrous items or other entries, and posting comments on Paizo's messageboards. Affected creatures with the gamemaster subtype must also succeed on a DC 17 Will save each year or be compelled to design a wondrous item and enter the contest. The save DCs are Charisma-based.

I'm here now, writing my first post as a guest-blogger on Mikko Kallio's A Sword for Hire, because of RPG Superstar 2014. Only a little longer than a year ago, I had never heard of RPG Superstar. I was, and still am, a player and gamemaster of the Pathfinder RPG, but hadn't considered designing for the game. Then, about a year ago, I became aware of the contest during a visit to, and within moments of reading about the contest, I felt compelled to design an item and enter. I shared this enthusiasm with a good friend of mine, and he, too, entered.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Writer bios now available

Since there are now three writers on A Sword for Hire, we added a bio page for each of us three, so you'll remember which one is which. :-) You can find the links on the right -->

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

So you want to be a Superstar?

Today marks the start of arguably gaming’s most famous contest: Paizo’s RPG Superstar ( Hundreds of gamers from around the world will participate in the eighth annual competition, hoping to get a chance to run the gauntlet and claim the grand prize, a contract to write a module for Paizo.

Entry this year is a little bit of a changeup: Instead of a wondrous item as in previous years, your magic item has to be an armor, weapon, ring, rod or staff. Still, plenty of advice from previous years' open calls are going to be helpful: Sean K. Reynolds' "auto-reject" topics have been available for several years, while Anthony Adam’s exhaustive guide offers plenty to help with mechanics, and I recommend reading through previous Top 32 items and the various Critique My Item threads for more general advice on what voters are looking for. They won't be quite as much of a guide as previously, but there's still plenty to glean from them.

Then, once you've submitted, you just sit back and wait for voting and then for the Top 32 to be announced. Unless you actually want to win, that is.

Even though there are weeks before anyone know if they'll make the Top 32, there's plenty you can do right now to prepare for a Superstar run. And if you want to win, you need to be prepared.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Jacob W. Michaels and Joe Kondrak join A Sword for Hire as co-bloggers

I'm glad to announce that as of this week, two of my fellow Freelance Forge members join A Sword for Hire as co-bloggers. This means that during the RPG Superstar season (and possibly also after it), there'll be a lot more weekly posts than before.

Welcome, Jacob and Joe!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Lessons in Monster Design, Part VI: Name, concept, and write-up

Here's the last part of the monster design series of articles based on observations in Here Be Monsters. From next week onward, I'll start writing about RPG Superstar, which (as the main page currently says) is "almost here".

Anyway, monster write-ups! Before you start writing one for your monster, it's good to consider what purpose the text serves. I think the two main purposes of a monster's write-up are:
  • giving the GM useful facts for building interesting adventures and encounters and 
  • making the entry thematically coherent by explaining and expanding upon information presented elsewhere in the entry.
Let's have a look at a few things that are useful to know about monster write-ups. (And a quick look at monster concepts and names!)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Product page for my PFS scenario is up!

As mentioned in a recent update, I'm currently writing a Pathfinder Society scenario. The product page went live just a few hours ago: Pathfinder Society Scenario #6–16: Scions of the Sky Key, Part 3: The Golden Guardian (PFRPG) PDF. It's the first Paizo product page that actually shows my name, so it's a great moment for me. :-D

The product pages for part 1 and part 2 are available, too, written by my fellow RPGSS finalists Robert Brookes and Mike Kimmel.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lessons in Monster Design, Part V: Special abilities

In the fifth part of the Lessons in Monster Design series, I'll discuss monsters' special abilities. In my opinion, special abilities are one of the most important parts of a monster entry. They're the only thing that really tests the author's rules-fu.

It's important to remember that in the various bestiaries there are many perfectly good creatures that wouldn't make the top 5 in Here Be Monsters or advance in RPG Superstar. The orc, for instance, is a fantasy staple and it's absolutely necessary for such creatures to exist in RPGs. However, in a contest you want to show off your ability to create mechanically interesting creatures. You need special abilities that do more than just keep the monster conscious at negative hp. You need to include something unique that sets the monster apart from other monsters and shows your creativity, mojo, and rules-fu.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Sword for Hire is looking for a co-blogger

It's been a good year for my blog so far: the third-party interviews I've conducted have been popular, and Here Be Monsters was also a success. In many ways, RPG Superstar is going to be another highlight since a lot of my advice articles discuss wondrous item design, monsters, encounters, and other relevant themes. I'm hoping to get a lot of new readers, which means I'll need a lot of new and relevant content in the coming months.

In other words, I aim to blog more. But at the same time I have time for lessI'm currently writing an adventure and I expect next year to be quite busy as well.

As a result, I've decided it's time for me to find a co-blogger, at least for the duration of the RPG Superstar season (December-March), maybe longer if it works out really well. The co-blogger should be able to blog once per week.

If you're interested, send me a message on ( Below are some things you can include in your message.
  • Discuss your experience in blogging, doing interviews, freelancing, RPG design, and organizing events online. Note that none of these are absolute requirements, just things that may be useful.
  • Pitch me 3-5 ideas for blog posts you'd be interested in writing during the RPG Superstar season. It can be interviews, interesting statistics about the contest, games to keep the voters entertained, or anything else that seems relevant.
A Sword for Hire is a non-profit blog, so I can't offer any compensation. However, I've noticed that blogging is a good way to network with people in the RPG industry and gain visibility, so I'm sure that you'll also find it beneficial. :-)

The deadline is Monday the 8th of December.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sellsword, part IV: September-November 2014

I realized it's been a while since I last wrote about my freelancing experiences. I also couldn't find the time to write the fifth part for the Lessons in Monster Design series, so I'll make a Sellsword update instead. Below are things I've been up to these past three months:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lessons in Monster Design, Part IV: Stat block—statistics & ecology

Part IV of the series discusses some mistakes in the final two parts of the stat block: statistics and ecology. Next time I'll talk about special abilities, and the last part of the series will be about the write-up for the monster.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lessons in Monster Design, Part II: Stat block—overview & the top part

As promised, I'll continue going through the different parts of monster entries. This time I'll discuss the stat block in general, and start going through the topmost part of it, where the monster's alignment, type, size, and other things are detailed.

The two things you need to get right in the stat block are 1) the math (the numbers add up and are right for the CR) and 2) presentation (you've got the right things in the right places and you use the right terminology, punctuation, and typefaces). Let's have a look at some of the stat block mistakes I noticed while judging Here Be Monsters.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The mysterious costs of publishing revealed

Here's an interesting article about the costs of publishing (including writing, editing, art, layout, printing, shipping, distribution, and marketing) for both low-end and high-end options. If you're planning to start a (self-)publishing business, I'm sure it's a useful read!

Monday, October 27, 2014

8 reasons I love the Pathfinder Card Game

I'm always thinking about new ways to improve my blog and make it interesting to more people. I'm currently in a phase where I play a lot of Pathfinder, but I also play (or want to play) a number of other games, too. One of those games is the Pathfinder Card Game. I love it, it's excellent, and I'm going to tell you why.

I might occasionally also post some design articles about D&D 5E or Star Wars (Fantasy Flight Games). My main focus is still Pathfinder, though.

In my next update I'll go back to analyzing monster stat blocks!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Excellent freelancing advice from Jessica Price

I just read an excellent article written by Jessica Price (project manager at Paizo Publishing). Jessica discusses women in the gaming industry and also gives very good advice on how to get your foot in the door.

Read the article here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lessons in Monster Design, Part I: Descriptive line

The first part of a monster entry is the descriptive line. The first thing to remember is to include it. In the Here Be Monsters contest there were four or five entries that didn't have one at all. While I didn't consider it an auto-DQ, it did mean that those four or five entries weren't considered very seriously for the top 5.

The second thing to remember is to italicize the descriptive line. Nearly everyone (who included it) remembered to italicize it, and it wasn't a deal-breaker, anyway.

The third thing is to understand that the descriptive line serves a dual purpose: In the contest it's what makes the reader intrigued and willing to read more. When you're actually playing the game, it's something the GM can use as read-aloud text when the monster is encountered.

Let's have a closer look at what you should avoid if you want that little piece of text to be suitable for these two purposes!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Thanks to everyone!

The five interviews with the Here Be Monsters finalists have been published this week, and all the prizes have been sent to the winner and the runners-up. Thanks to everyone who was involved, and I hope to see you again next year when hopefully there'll be a second Here Be Monsters!

Here's a shout-out to our excellent sponsors!

Rite Publishing is an ENnie award winning gaming company that has produced over 350 products for Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, FATE, and Erick Wujcik's Diceless Roleplaying (Amber Diceless Role-Playing) as well as a burgeoning fiction line. Its CEO Steven D. Russell has worked as a freelance game designer for Paizo Publishing, Green Ronin Publishing, and Expeditious Retreat Press. He spends his free time listening to audio books, co-hosting The Demiplane of Gaming videocast, playing games, and trying to find that elusive creature known as free time.

Some related links:
Legendary Games is an all-star team of authors and designers, coordinated by award-winning game designer Jason Nelson. Legendary Games is committed to bringing the busy GM or player the absolute best 3rd party support for your Pathfinder campaign. To deliver on that commitment, Legendary Games has assembled the best of the best of current gaming authors, designers and layout experts such as Superstar design contest winners Neil Spicer and Matthew Goodall and finalists like Clinton Boomer, Jim Groves, Jason Nelson, and Russ Taylor, industry veterans like Greg A. Vaughan, Tim Hitchcock, and Clark Peterson, and stellar new talent like Todd Stewart, Tom Phillips, and Jonathan Keith.
Raging Swan Press publishes GM resources designed to help GMs prepare quicker and prepare better. The products are richly detailed, easy to use material designed to be compatible with almost any GM's campaign.
Dreamscarred Press is a publisher of resource books for tabletop role-playing games, primarily focusing on psionic rulesets.

Some related links:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Wendall Roy

Here's the last of the Here Be Monsters interviews: Wendall Roy, whose entry was the taniwha, a creature from the Maori mythology.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Mike Welham

Here's the third runner-up interview: Mike Welham! I'm very glad to interview him, not only because he was a finalist in Here Be Monsters, but also because he won RPG Superstar a few years back. Welcome, Mike!

Interview with a Designer: Douglas Schaub

Here's the second runner-up interview: Douglas Schaub, the creator of the enigmatic warpstar.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Joe Kondrak

I'll be posting the remaining four interviews in the order I received the answers, and here's the first one! Among other things, Joe Kondrak tells us more about the sianach, whose bone-shaking rattle everyone remembers, I'm sure. Please also check out, where you can see examples of Joe's creative work.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Nicholas Wasko

The Here Be Monsters contest ended last week with Nicholas Wasko as the winner! Read on to learn more about Nick and his thoughts about monster design!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Interview: Five Moons RPG Kickstarter

I interviewed Sean K Reynolds about the Kickstarter for the Five Moons RPG. Among other things, Sean talks about design choices that make the game easy to play.

Please also check out the Kickstarter page and Sean's blog, where he also discusses the Five Moons RPG!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Nicholas Wasko wins Here Be Monsters!

Nicholas Wasko's entry, the nightbloom got the most votes, which means Nick wins the first Here Be Monsters contest! It was a really tight race between the two most popular entries, with just three votes separating the two entries!

Thanks to all voters, entrants, judges, and sponsors! I'll email the winner and runners-up about the prizes within 24 hours.

Interview: Southlands Kickstarter

I interviewed gaming legend Wolfgang Baur about the Southlands Kickstarter. In keeping with my blog's recent monster theme, there's a lot of discussion about monsters, including information on how you can design a monster for the Southlands Kickstarter!

As of today, there are nearly 600 backers and more than $50,000 of the $16,000 goal has been pledged, meaning that many, many stretch goals have already been unlocked! So check out the Kickstarter page as well, pledge, and reap incredible rewards!

Friday, October 3, 2014

So close! Please check out this Kickstarter!

The Veranthea Codex Kickstarter is now over 80% funded! There's still more than two days until the funding period closes, so if you haven't pledged yet, please have a look at the Kickstarter page!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Interview: Cross of Fire Saga Adventure Path Kickstarter

Today's Kickstarter interview is about the Cross of Fire Saga Adventure Path. Louis Porter Jr. tells us about the AP, and also discusses Kickstarters in general. Please, read on, and check out the Kickstarter page as well!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Top 5: Splintercat by Mike Welham

This tawny wildcat, slightly larger than the average cougar, boasts a ridged, bony forehead that looks like it could shatter bone. Seemingly useless wings protrude from its back.

Top 5: Nightbloom by Nicholas Wasko

A massive, night-black flower sways in the still air, its five petals lined with glowing red eyes. The shadows around it buzz and whisper, alive with a hatred and hunger no mortal could match.

Top 5: Sianach by Joe Kondrak

The eyes and hooves of this hideous giant stag cast an eerie green glow. Skulls and grim talismans hang upon the beast's towering rack of antlers.

Top 5: Warpstar by Douglas Schaub

A sphere of swirling debris hovers in the air, bits of the ground below slowly floating up to meet it.

Top 5: Taniwha by Wendall Roy

This massive lizard is covered in green and grey scales with a spiny crest running along its back. Its wedge-shaped head has a cavernous mouth and an iridescent oval spot on its forehead.

3PP Interview: Jonathan Nelson of Adventure-A-Week

I interviewed Jonathan G. Nelson of about publishing, freelancing and related things. AAW is perhaps best known for its latest Kickstarters, Rise of the Drow and Snow White. There's a lot of interesting stuff and good advice to read below. Check it out!!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sean's Five Moons RPG Kickstarter

A while ago I heard that Sean K Reynolds, our special guest judge for Here Be Monsters, has started a Kickstarter about his Five Moons roleplaying game. I think it looks very interesting and definitely worth backing. Please have a look at the Kickstarter page and Sean's blog, where he discusses it further!

Below is an excerpt from the Kickstarter page about the project's goals:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Some statistics about Here Be Monsters entries

The open call ended on the 13th of September and we received 40 monster entries, which is a lot, considering it's the first time we organized this contest. Let's have a look at some statistics about the entries!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

3PP Interview: Creighton Broadhurst of Raging Swan

In my latest interview, Creighton Broadhurst talks about Raging Swan, publishing and freelancing. Creighton also blogs about game design, freelancing and other interesting stuff, check it out, too!

How we review monsters - an example by Jacob W Michaels

Mike, Jacob and I have read all the 40 monster entries, and we are now in the final stages of deciding which five monsters advance. While everyone is waiting for the results, here's an example of how one of the judges, Jacob, reviewed the monsters.

Unlike the actual contest entries, the monster isn't from the bestiary wish list thread. It's actually based on a rejected pitch. A number of the monsters I pitched earlier this year made it into a product that will be released in 2015, this one didn't. Admittedly, in hindsight, the monster concept wasn't very original or exciting, but I decided to stat it up anyway after I had finished the assignment. Let's see what Jacob thinks about it. ;-)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Here Be Monsters: Submissions closed!

The open call ended yesterday at 2 pm PST / 5 pm EST / midnight here in Finland. We received nearly 40 entries, which is a lot, and Jacob, Mike and I start choosing which ones we want to keep. I already know there are more good entries than we have spots in the top 5, so it won't be easy.

And I want to thank you all for thatthanks for not making it too easy for us!

The two weeks before the top 5 reveal will no doubt be the toughest part for the contestants. Waiting is always the worst part. Meanwhile, I'll be writing new blog posts about the contest, including:
  • statistics,
  • a monster I created with comments from Jacob (so you can see what to expect when the top 5 is revealed), and
  • a list of things I usually comment on when reviewing a monster.
Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Interview: The Strange Magic Kickstarter

I interviewed Bradley Crouch of Interjection Games about the Strange Magic Kickstarter, which launched August 28th. Read on to learn more about new magic systems and more! Check out the Kickstarter page as well! There are still many exciting stretch goals to reach!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Veranthea Codex Kickstarter launched on September 5!

Aaaand time for the third post today!

The Veranthea Codex Kickstarter was launched yesterday, and I'm very glad to be part of it. More accurately, I'm stretch goal number 4, unlocked at $12,000.

There are a lot of talented people working on this Kickstarter, so please check out the Kickstarter page and the Facebook page for more information! And if it looks interesting, pledge! :-)

3PP Interview: Eric Morton Presents

In my second blog post for today, I'm interviewing Eric Morton, whom many people on Paizo messageboards remember for his 200+ monsters available on Today he talks about his new Animal Races product line, self-publishing, and other things!

Here Be Monsters: One more week to go!

Today I'll be publishing not one, not two but three blog posts! Here's the first one: more statistics and musings about the contest.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Interview: The Veranthea Codex Kickstarter

Mike Myler is back! This time I'm interviewing him about the Veranthea Codex Kickstarter, which launches on the 5th of September. I previously interviewed him about the Snow White Kickstarter.

Here Be Monsters: Some statistics from the first week

Here Be Monsters was announced a week ago, and there are still two more weeks left before the deadline! We want to be transparent about the contest, and that's why I'm posting some statistics about the first seven days, and discussing what we the judges do. The statistics are deliberately vague so that those who haven't submitted yet don't gain an unfair advantage.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Here Be Monsters contest begins on 23 August!

A Sword for Hire and the Freelance Forge proudly present:

Sponsored by:

Saturday the 23rd of August marks the beginning of a new Pathfinder RPG monster design contest!

We've got Sean K Reynolds on board as a guest judge. He is best known for his many TSR, WotC and Paizo credits, and many people also remember him as an RPG Superstar judge. Sean also publishes RPG products under his own imprint and teaches wondrous item & monster design.

Besides Sean, the judging panel consists of three RPG Superstar (repeater) finalists, Mikko Kallio, Mike Kimmel, and Jacob W Michaels, each known for their monster-crafting skills.


  • Aug 23: The contest begins! The open call is open for three weeks.
  • Sept 13: Submissions are closed. Our judges (Mikko Kallio, Mike Kimmel & Jacob W Michaels) convene to determine the top 5. 
  • Sept 20: Entries are narrowed down to top 5. Our guest judge Sean K Reynolds starts commenting on the top 5 entries. 
  • Sept 27: The top 5 entries are revealed along with comments from Sean, Mikko, Mike and Jacob. Public voting begins. 
  • Oct 4: The voting ends and the winner is revealed shortly after!

Contest Rules 

  • Rule 1: The word limit is 700 words. Each entrant may submit one monster. The monster should be presented in Pathfinder format, a template for which can be found below. Monster creation guidelines are given here. 
  • Rule 2: The deadline is 2 p.m. PST (5 p.m. EST) Saturday, Sept. 13. 
  • Rule 3: The monster must have been requested on the Bestiary 5 wish list thread on 
  • Rule 4: The entry cannot be or use a monster template (fiendish, lich, and so on). 
  • Rule 5: Entry cannot have class levels. 
  • Rule 6: Entries must be submitted via email to Include the monster's name in the subject line of the email.
  • Rule 7: All entries remain the intellectual property of their authors.


Thanks to our excellent sponsors, we have an amazing pile of treasure just waiting for the finalists to get their hands on!

The winner gets:
  • A print and PDF copy of The Book of Monster Templates, and PDF copies of 101 Not So Simple Monster Templates, 101 Variant Monsters and 101 Monster Feats, courtesy of Rite Publishing.
  • One of all of the following: a Mythic Monsters series PDF, a Beasts of Legend series PDF, and the Construct Codex, courtesy of Legendary Games.
  • A PDF copy of Scions of Evil, courtesy of Raging Swan.
  • A PDF copy of the Psionic Bestiary, courtesy of Dreamscarred Press.
Each of the runners-up gets:
  • PDF copies of 101 Not So Simple Monster Templates, 101 Variant Monsters and 101 Monster Feats, courtesy of Rite Publishing.
  • Any one of the following PDFs (finalist's choice): A Mythic Monsters series PDF, Beasts of Legend product, or the Construct Codex, courtesy of Legendary Games.
  • A PDF copy of Scions of Evil, courtesy of Raging Swan.
Our fifth sponsor Cartography by Tommi Salama designed our sweet Here Be Monsters logo—special thanks to Tommi!

In addition to the prizes, Mikko Kallio's A Sword for Hire blog offers to interview each of the top 5 contestants! Best known for 3PP interviews, Mikko's blog is something of a "Who's Who" of the 3PP industry. Get your name out there!

Frequently Asked/Anticipated Questions

  • Can I submit a monster I requested myself? No, it may not be a monster your requested yourself.
  • Can I choose a monster that hasn't been named, only described in the wish list thread? Yes, you can pick a monster that's only described. If you do so, please mention the post number in which the monster was described. When you click the link that has the date on it, the url changes in the address field so that you can see the post number.
  • Who's allowed to submit a monster? Anyone! It doesn't matter if you've never made a monster before or if you're a well-known builder of beasts—you're eligible to enter. Also, the contest is international, so you're eligible to enter regardless of your location.
  • How many monsters can I submit? Just one. It's going to be hard enough to keep all the monsters from eating each other as is, and multiple monsters might overwhelm our holding pens.
  • What CR can my monster be? Your monster can be any CR from 1-20. Remember, though, that you only have 700 words, and higher-CR monsters may eat up all your words with describing special abilities, which could leave you limited space for describing it.
  • Do I have to use all 700 words? No. If you think you can make a compelling monster in just 500 words, that's fine.
  • What sources can I use for my monster? You may use any Paizo Pathfinder material other than Mythic Adventures (with so many rules and options, we want to have a common basis for judging and voting).
  • Can I set the monster in Golarion or another campaign setting? No. We do not have the rights to use anyone's intellectual property. Monsters should be developed to be setting neutral.
  • Can I give my monster class levels or templates? Nope; sorry.
  • Where will my monster be published/shown? The top 5 monsters will be revealed on Mikko Kallio's A Sword for Hire and Mike Kimmel's Freelance Forge blogs.
  • Do I get to see the judges' comments if I don't make the top 5? No; only comments on the Top 5 monsters will be revealed.
  • What happens with my monster after the contest? We'll be using hold monster spells to keep your monsters contained for judging, but afterward we'll be releasing them back in to the wild (i.e. you keep all rights to your creations).

Monster Template

Copy-paste the following template into a Word or Open Office document for editing. You may send your monster in a file as an attachment, or copy-paste it directly into the email.

Before you submit, check that the formatting (bolded words, italics, etc.) matches the template and that you have replaced or deleted all the placeholder text (marked with [square brackets]) and placeholders for numbers (marked with ##). Also, remove any lines that you don't need (such as the Aura line if your monster doesn't have an aura).

Please do not include anything else in your submission. For example, explaining your math or design choices is not allowed.

[Description line of one or two sentences.]

[Monster Name] CR ##
XP ##

[Alignment] [Size] [type]
Init +##; Senses [sense], [sense]; Perception +##
Aura [aura name] (## ft., DC ##)

AC ##, touch ##, flat-footed # (+## [modifier name], +## [modifier name])
hp ## (##d##+##); fast healing ##
Fort +##, Ref +##, Will +##
Defensive Abilities ##/[ability]; DR ##/[material]; Immune [type]; Resist [type] ##, [type] ##; SR ##
Weaknesses [type], [type]

Speed ## ft., fly ## ft. ([maneuverability])
Melee [attack type] +## ([damage] plus [other effect]), [attack type] +## ([damage])
Ranged [attack type] +## ([damage])
Space ## ft.; Reach ## ft.
Special Attacks [type], [type]
Spell-Like Abilities (CL ##th; concentration +##)
At will—[spell name], [spell name]
1/day—[spell name], [spell name]

Str ##, Dex ##, Con ##, Int ##, Wis ##, Cha ##
Base Atk +##; CMB +## (+## [conditional maneuver bonus]); CMD ## (## vs. [maneuver name])
Feats [Feat Name], [Feat Name]
Skills [Skill Name] +##, [Skill Name] +## (+## [condition]); Racial Modifiers +## [Skill Name], +## [Skill Name] when [condition]
Languages [Language Name]
SQ [type]

Environment [climate] [terrain]
Organization [type], [type], or [type]
Treasure [category]

[Ability Name] (Ex/Sp/Su) [Ability description paragraph.]

[Monster description paragraphs.]

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Monster design tips: #1 There are many unwritten rules

I'll be posting a few monster design related articles throughout the week. The first one is about the unwritten rules of monster design.

The countdown begins!


The countdown to a big announcement begins today! I'll be posting teasers throughout the week, and next Saturday I'll reveal what I've been planning the past few weeks!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sellsword, part III: July-August 2014

There was no new weekly blog entry last Saturday, so I'm posting one now. Some details about my latest freelancing experiences!

Sean's RPG Design Course

It's now possible to purchase tickets to Sean K Reynold's online RPG design course. If you're interested in freelancing or the RPG Superstar contest, please check it out!

Sunday, August 10, 2014


It's been a busy week and unfortunately I didn't have the time to finish the article I planned for this Saturday. However, I can guarantee that something BIG, new, fun and interesting is coming up soon. And it's one of the reasons I've been busy lately.

And it's something that all my readers can be part of.

Stay tuned.

It's gonna be huge.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Robert Brookes

This week I interviewed Robert Brookes (RPGSS 2014 top 4). I asked a few questions about RPG Superstar, maps, freelancing and his blog, the Encounter Table.

Welcome, Robert!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

RPGSS presentation material

Here are the slides I'm using today for my RPG Superstar presentation at Ropecon. I may make edits later if something interesting comes up during the presentation, of course.

3PP Interview: Jason Nelson of Legendary Games

Before the scheduled break from 3PP interviews, I'm interviewing Jason Nelson of Legendary Games. Personally, the interview may be the one I've been looking forward to the most because Jason was also a top 4 contestant in RPG Superstar. After his run in RPGSS, he has become a very well known contributor with many Paizo credits, and of course, the publisher and CEO of Legendary Games.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

3PP Interview: William Moomaw of Mór Games

Today I'm interviewing William Moomaw of Mór Games. Read on to learn more about the Imperiums Campaign setting, self-publishing, and more!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

3PP Interview: Morgan Boehringer of Forest Guardian Press

Today I'm interviewing Morgan Boehringer of Forest Guardian Press. He's also the founder of Yggdrasil, a fanzine for Kobold Press' Midgard campaign setting. Read on to learn more about Morgan's experiences in self-publishing!  

Saturday, July 5, 2014

3PP Interview: SagaRPG

This week I'm interviewing three guys from SagaRPG: Curtis Edwards, Lars Lundberg and Nick Johnson. I posted an interview about their Kickstarter just the other day, please check out that one too!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Interview: The Deft and Deadly Print Kickstarter

Here's a Kickstarter interview about the Deft and Deadly Print Kickstarter, starting in July 2014!

On July the 5th, I'm also publishing an interview about the company behind the Kickstarter: Curtis, Lars and Nick of SagaRPG will tell you more about their company. Please check that one out too!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

3PP Interview: Michael K. Tumey of Gamer Printshop

This week I'm interviewing Michael K. Tumey, a cartographer who's also known as the creator of the Kaidan setting of Japanese horror for PFRPG. Michael discusses his work and his company, Gamer Printshop.

Also, please check out Michael's cartography portfolio on Gamer Printshop's webpage!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

3PP Interview: Steven D. Russell, Rite Publishing

This week I'm interviewing Steve Russell of Rite Publishing. Read on to learn about how Steve and Rite Publishing got where they are now, how you can freelance for Rite Publishing, and more!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sellsword, part II: May-June 2014

It's been an interesting few months since the conclusion of RPGSS 2014, to say the least. Below is an update on what I've been up to recently. :-)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Interview: Joshua Wardrop & Arcknight Fun Virtual Tabletop Tokens Kickstarter

This time I'm posting a Kickstarter special -- not strictly a Pathfinder product but these tokens (and also the maps Joshua mentions) can be used with the PFRPG as they are cross-compatible.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

3PP Interview: Richard Develyn, Four Dollar Dungeons

This week I'm interviewing Richard Develyn, the man behind the Four Dollar Dungeons product line. Thanks to Richard for sharing an inside view of his experiences in self-publishing!

Here's a link to the product page of the Four Dollar Dungeons. You can also follow Four Dollar Dungeons on facebook.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Interview: Marc Tassin & the World of Aetaltis Kickstarter

In my second Kickstarter interview, Marc Tassin discusses the World of Aetaltis: The Temple of Modren Kickstarter. There's three more days to go, so read on to learn more about it and go check out the official webpage.

Presentation about RPG Superstar @ Ropecon confirmed!

Earlier this spring, I sent a pitch about a presentation on RPG Superstar and RPG design to the organizers of Ropecon (Finland's biggest RPG convention). Today they sent me their approval.

I hope to meet many people there who are interested in the contest and RPG design. Two years ago when I gave a presentation about magic items and RPG Superstar, there were probably about 20 people in the audience. One of them made the top 32 after that. Twice. :-)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

3PP Interview: Marc Radle, Kobold Press

This time I'm interviewing Marc Radle, Art Director at Kobold Press. Most of the people I interview in my blog have a writer/designer background, so I'm very delighted to get to interview him and hear about the RPG business from a different perspective. Not to mention, now that Kobold Press is designing the first two adventures for the new edition of D&D, Marc is no doubt in a uniquely interesting role in the partnership between Kobold Press and Wizards of the Coast. Read on to learn more about Kobold Press and Marc's work! 

Marc has also written a number of blog posts about monster art for Have a look at them as well. Here's one about a very classic D&D monster, the roper. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Interview: Mike Myler & the Snow White Kickstarter

In my first Kickstarter interview I'm interviewing Mike Myler about the Snow White Kickstarter. It sounds pretty amazing, and judging by the promo pictures it's also going to look pretty fantastic. Read on to find out more about it!

And don't forget to check out the Snow White Kickstarter's Facebook page! If you like it, Like it! ;-)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

3PP Interview: Frank Gori, the Flying Pincushion

My first third-party publisher interview is with the Flying Pincushion's publisher, Frank Gori. Read on to learn about the Flying Pincushion's inspiring story, open editing and reviewing approach, and more!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Loot & Experience, part IV: Designing scary, creepy monsters

The monster round was perhaps my favorite in this year's RPG Superstar, and I think it went rather well for me. The immured, an undead creature who died of slow suffocation, was generally liked for being "flavorful", "creepy", "scary", "evocative", "original" and "dark". There were some mechanical concerns, and there was no strong tie-in to Golarion, but its origin story, flavor and perhaps most notably the monster's usefulness in encounters was praised by the judges and voters alike.

I got a trifecta from the judges and 3rd place (out of 32) in exit votes, though of course the exit votes were just a small sample. Perhaps most interestingly, no other monster from round 2 was used in as many round 3 encounters as the immured. As many as three out of my 15 fellow contestants chose to use it, so I think it was seen as an interesting monster to build an encounter around.

In this installment of Loot & Experience, I'll revisit the monster and try to analyze what kind of things are useful for creating creepy, flavorful monsters.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Victoria Jaczko

This time I'm interviewing this year's RPG Superstar, Victoria Jaczko! My thanks to Victoria for taking the time to answer my questions. :-)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Broken Freelancers II top 8 announced!

I just heard that the top 8 finalists in Raging Swan's Broken Freelancers II contest have been announced. The top 8 includes many Blazing 9 regulars, which I think shows that practice makes perfect. :-) Congratulations to everyone who made the top 8! Here are the finalists:

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sellsword Special: Non-disclosure agreements

In my day job, I've been working under NDAs for nearly 10 years. The main reason for NDAs in my line of work is outsourcing/subcontracting/partnerships between companies. The client companies, which may be in IT, healthcare, telecommunications, military technology, and many other fields, outsource some functions to other companies so they can better focus on their core competencies.

With most customers, I don't have to sign a separate NDA because the company-level agreement already covers everything. Some customers, however, have much stricter policies, and they may require not only an NDA but also a background check.

In the RPG industry, it's also common to outsource work to freelancers. The work often involves confidential information, such as details about future products before the products have been released or even announced. This article discusses NDA both within and outside the RPG industry.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Loot & Experience part III: Making of House of the Serpent's Son map

In this article, I'll discuss the process of making the map for my round 3 entry in RPG Superstar 2014. While round 3 was by far the most stressful round, and a round full of self-doubt, in the end, the encounter took the round by storm.

This is not a tutorial or an advice article (though there are some design tips there too), but rather, a description of some parts of the process I went through while designing the encounter and location. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Serpent's Stash, part V: Spellcracker's Tools

Here's a bonus post for this Saturday! I recently posted it in the Nine Blazing Months thread. Wink wink, check out the link on the right. -->

Serpent's Stash part IV: Fleshbinder

In 2011, I made the "top 36" in RPG Superstar, i.e. I was an alternate. Just like everyone in the top 32, the alternates also created archetypes and the judges commented on them. Around that time there were no official summoner archetypes, so any similarities between my entry and the synthesist archetype published later that year in Ultimate Magic are coincidental. Which archetype do you think is more balanced, this one or the official synthesist?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Sellsword, part I: March-April 2014

In this new series of articles, I'll discuss actual freelancing projects and other related things I've been up to. I'll probably be posting these updates rather randomly, whenever something new and interesting happens.

Upcoming updates

So, recently I've been slowing down the pace to just one post per week so I can keep up.

Here are some of the upcoming articles I've been planning and preparing (they won't be necessarily published in this order):

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Mikko Kallio

A while back, Finnish RPG journalist Sami Koponen interviewed me about this year's RPGSS contest. Here's a translation of the interview!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Mike Kimmel

In the first installment of the Interview with a Designer series, I'm interviewing Mike Kimmel, the founder of Freelance Forge and a fellow top 4 contestant from this year's RPG Superstar. Besides the same initials, Mike and I have eerily similar track records in RPGSS, and I jokingly call him my nemesis. Let's hear some of Mike's thoughts about RPGSS, Freelance Forge and freelancing!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Interviewed for a Finnish RPG website

I just sent in my answers to an email interview about the RPGSS 2014. The interview was conducted by Sami Koponen, the webmaster of Roolipelitiedotus. The website publishes news about the Finnish RPG scene in Finnish. I might translate the interview sometime later and publish it here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Nine Blazing Months begins!

For years now, it has been a tradition for some of the most dedicated RPGSS contestants to start practicing for the next year shortly after the winner is announced. Participating in the Blazing 9 is a great way to get feedback on your wondrous items, so have a look and post an item you're not going to submit in RPGSS.

Read more here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Serpent's Stash part III: Whispering Watcher

Back in 2011, I submitted this item that placed me in the top 36, i.e. I was an alt. I won't be reviewing the item this time, I'll just post the comments I got from the judges. Perhaps the lesson learned here is that I overthought the item and the judges could not magically read my thoughts. Also, removing the Stealth bonus was unnecessarily complicated. A simple blur effect would have been, in fact, much much better and something the rules already support.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Serpent's Stash part II: Besmara's Inkwell

Here's a throw-away item from 2011. That year I designed four items and debated much whether I should submit this one or whispering watcher that I ended up submitting. In 2011, I was an alt (but no-one dropped out so I didn't advance) so at least I wasn't very badly wrong about choosing the other item. Whether this item would have fared better, your guess is a good as mine.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Serpent's Stash, part I: Murderbloom

Let's go back to 2007 when the first RPGSS was announced. A friend of mine told me about the contest and I submitted something... the best item I could come up with! (Note: We used the 3.5 rules and formatting back then, so the entry looks different from the current format.)

RPG Superstar 2014 winner announced

Congratulations to Victoria Jaczko, who won this year's RPGSS contest! Also, congratulations to the runner-ups, Mike, Robert and myself. ;-)

Also, check out Andrew Marlowe's new design blog, GAM3 g33k! Andrew is a two-time top 16 contestant, so I'm sure he also has a lot of interesting ideas and tips to share!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Loot & Experience part II: Mikko's recipe for a wondrous item

There's already a lot of advice about wondrous items on the RPGSS boards. Instead of repeating what has been said there, I try to focus on things that I've discovered myself. Like all my articles about RPGSS, this one too assumes that you know the basics, i.e. you've read SKR's advice.

I'm calling this article a "recipe" because there are many ways to craft a good item. This is just one of them and may not work for everyone.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Loot & Experience part I: General advice for RPGSS

Here's my first article in the Loot & Experience series. The purpose of this series of articles is to share my thoughts and ideas about the RPG Superstar contest and what I've learned over the years.

The first article discusses very general things about the contest, while the later parts are about the specific challenges the contestants face in R1 and later rounds. I hope it doesn't come across as too Sun Tzu. ;-)

A new beginning

Paizo's annual RPG Superstar contest is nearing its end. This year I placed in the top 4, which means I cannot enter next year. In a way I'm greatly relieved because these past three months have been very stressful for me. On the other hand, I'm a little sad because I know I'll miss the excitement.

A Sword for Hire