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!
Which year did you enter RPGSS the first time? How did you first find out about the contest?
My first year was RPG Superstar 2010. My very first post on the Paizo
forums was to say "I'm in!" in a thread called "Welcome to RPG
Superstar 2010." I honestly can't remember how I heard about the
contest. I was probably just poking around to see what sort of goodies
were available on paizo.com and saw the link. I put in a huge amount of
work that first year, and my item was terrible. I've really come a long
way since then!
In 2013 you placed in the top 32, this year in the top 4. What was
your biggest lesson learned from last year that helped you this year?
My Round 2 archetype for 2013 was pretty boring, if mechanically
solid, and I suppose my biggest lesson learned was "don't be boring!" It
seems obvious, but having a memorable entry (especially in round 2 when
voters have to choose from 32 entries) makes a huge difference. With
all of my 2014 entries I strove to create things which would evoke
clear, memorable images in the voters' minds.
Another important lesson,
from both 2013 and 2014, was "reject your first three ideas." My first
couple of monster ideas included a rooftop gremlin who liked to collapse
buildings, a friendly hearth spirit, and a fey that lives in wells. All
of those ideas would have had some serious overlap with other
contestants' Round 2 entries, and I am glad that I kept pushing myself
to come up with new ideas.
Another thing that helped me out is simply that I played a LOT of
Pathfinder this year. That is probably the most useful thing you can do
if you want to improve your knowledge of the game.
Both as a spectator and contestant, which round has been your favorite and why?
I love the public voting element of Round 1. Many people complain
about the high number of bad items in the slush pile, but the past two
years of sorting through items has been quite a learning experience for
me. The joy of finding the truly great items and learning what sets them
apart from the others will keep me coming back to vote every year,
assuming that element of the contest remains. Round 1 also seems to be
the round with the greatest amount of community involvement, which
appeals to me.
What do you consider your biggest strengths as a designer? What skills do you seek to improve the most?
I feel that I have a good sense of the game's mechanics, especially
with regards to monsters and encounter balance. This didn't come from
hours and hours of designing monsters and encounters, but rather from
hours and hours of running and playing Pathfinder, especially over the
past two years. Right now the skill I'm working on is my writing, not
for Pathfinder but in general. The ability to craft sentences which
simultaneously excite the reader and convey a message about game rules
is a valuable skill; many writers are strong in one area but weak in
another. My mechanics are typically clear, but my writing could be more
Who are your main literary influences on your work, both from RPGs and fiction in general?
That's a difficult question to answer. I've read a lot of heroic
fantasy, but I think visual art has a much greater influence on my work
than novels or stories, because most of my ideas come to me in the form
of images or scenes. I spend a lot of time online browsing through
fantasy artwork, especially when I'm trying to come up with an exciting
location or character for a campaign. I have a tumblr where I post art
that I like, but only when I can find and link the source:
What are your current plans regarding RPG freelancing? Do you have ongoing or upcoming freelancing jobs besides the PFS module?
I've had initial contact with a couple of third-party publishers who
liked my work from RPG Superstar. I don't have any projects solidified
just yet, but I'm hoping to keep up a steady stream of freelance work
this year. Neil Spicer, Sean Reynolds, and plenty of other "big names"
in the Pathfinder crowd always say that this is the time to really make
an impression as a new freelancer, so I'm going to work extra hard on
everything I write!
You are the founder of Freelance Forge. What is it and who should join?
Freelance Forge is a private web forum for current (or prospective)
Pathfinder freelancers. We critique each other's work, share resources,
and even have mini design contests to hone and broaden our skills. Most
of our members have placed in the Top 32 or higher of RPG Superstar,
including two actual winners of the contest, but there are also a few
who have no freelance or RPG Superstar credits whatsoever. I got the
idea for Freelance Forge from Adam Daigle, who encouraged the RPG
Superstar contestants to form critique groups as a way to improve their
skills. Right now we have just over 20 members, and we're looking for
more freelancers who want to improve their design skills and help our
young community thrive!
Interested parties can check out http://freelanceforge.boards.net, or
follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FreelanceForge. I
also use my personal twitter to post about RPGs, freelancing, and the
Freelance Forge: you can follow me @michaelrkimmel.