GB Firing Squad: Christopher Rice’s Pyramid Mentoring Group

+Christopher R. Rice and I sat down briefly to discuss a mutual project of ours, that he nonetheless originated, championed, and for lack of a better word, chairs.

Pyramid Magazine can a tough magazine for which to write. GURPS formats are intensely technical, and the Steve Jackson Games style guide somewhat opaque. Tack onto that the fact that game writing is technical writing, and what more you have to have a good idea, organize it well, and carry it off with the written word with sufficient panache to entice the reader onward, well, one has a job of work ahead of him.

Please forgive my current writing style. I have been immersed in +Steven Brust‘s Viscount of Adrilankha series just a moment ago, and his Paarfisms have infected my prose.

So, shall I continue? I very much think I shall.

See?

To the meat of it, then: we recorded a short, shall we say, Public Service Announcement, where we discussed some of the particulars of the group, what he’s trying to accomplish, and why.

You can find the interview at my YouTube Channel, as well as by clicking the link below.

If you’re interested in developing your skills with the goal of writing for Pyramid (and eventually e23 should you prove to enjoy the process and be successful at it), you may contact him at pyramidwritergroup@gmail.com

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Alright, welcome to Gaming Ballistics’ Firing Squad. We’re departing a little bit from the usual, in that this is more or a less a public service announcement. We’ve got Christopher Rice from his blog Ravens N’ Pennies joining to talk about something that he’s doing in order to help people write for Pyramid magazine. So you started a Pyramid writer’s group. Why did you do that?

Christopher R. Rice (Ravens N’ Pennies): So it’s a idea I had for a long time, and something that Antoni Ten Monrós talked about. And I just finally after your last podcast, I was like “You know, we need this.” There is a lot of people out there that want to write, but they’re not sure how to go about it. And I felt it was just the way to go.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. So what’s the goal of your writer’s group? Why start it and what are you trying to accomplish there?

CHRISTOPHER: My biggest goal is to raise GURPS signal. I want to make people more aware of it. One of the ways you can make somebody aware of something is by getting them to do it. Because if enough people write for GURPS, I really think they are going to talk about it to their friends, their family; it’s a self-propogating cycle. We are not a “Learn How To Write Group.” If you don’t know how to write, I can’t help you. What I can help you with is style and formatting. Getitng you to understand how the WYSIWYG works. ‘Cause it is a little difficult.

DOUGLAS: So what is the WYSIWYG?

CHRISTOPHER: It the “What You See Is What You Get” template, it’s a fairly small file, jet-packed with information. It’s basically what they pour into their production software to get the final PDF for the book.

DOUGLAS: And you say that writing in that style is rather critical in getting into Steven’s attention.

CHRISTOPHER: I think it’s at least 40% of it.

DOUGLAS: Okay.

CHRISTOPHER: If you have a crappy idea there is nothing that can happen.

DOUGLAS: Also, if you have a good idea and you don’t write to their rules they are going to kick it back to you, right?

CHRISTOPHER: Exactly. And those are the people I’m aiming to help. It’s Steven’s like “Go and fix X, Y, and Z. Read the formatting guide and so on.” Those, they already got an article, because that’s one of the requirements I put down. You already have to have something written. And I need to evaluate it before I let you in. If I just let in everybody that had a idea, it would become pandemonium.

DOUGLAS: It would become the forums.

CHRISTOPHER: Exactly. It would become unmanageable. And I’m not into that.

DOUGLAS: No, that’s fair. And for those who saw the Pyramid Panel, one of the things that Steven did say that is a part of that is that if you get feedback from Steve Jackson Games you are 70% of the way towards an eventual sale. The most common rejection is just “No.” And that if you get feedback it’s because there is something good enough in there, either the way you write or what you are writing about, or just in general tone that it’s something he wants to see more of. So feedback is a huge deal.

CHRISTOPHER:  Yes! I wanna go ahead and state that I am not affiliated with Steve Jackson Games in any way. I’m not an in-house official, I am doing this on my own, on my own time at my own dime. Also, my mentors, I got a good group of people so far, including yourself. W.A. Frick, Antoni, and I can always use more. More teachers and writers would be helpful.

DOUGLAS: So why in particular, and you don’t have to talk about me, but why in particular is this group suitable for mentoring Pyramid writers?

CHRISTOPHER: I have personally learned more mentoring others about writing than I could have learned on my own. Once you reach a certain…I hate to use the word level, but it’s the only word I can think of. Once you reach a certain level, then writing and game writing, you kind of have to learn everything else on your own, but by teaching others you get to see where you are weak at. And if you where you are weak at, you can work on that.

DOUGLAS: Now we need to tell the story about Chuck Norris and the roundhouse kick. Do you know the story about the Chuck Norris and the roundhouse kick?

CHRISTOPHER: No, I do not [smiles], I never heard that.

DOUGLAS: Okay, so the deal with Chuck Norris and the roundhouse kick is that he is famous for it. He’s got all the things about it, and if you are ever sitting alone at home is because Chuck Norris is about to roundhouse kick you in the head. The thing is he would never work at it, he would never work on it when he was sparring. He knew he was good at it. So he would work on his jabs or motion or whatever. When he was in the ring, he’d would throw the roundhouse kick and, you know, knock people into next week. But he would use his sparring sessions to train the things he was bad at.

CHRISTOPHER: I..

DOUGLAS: So yeah, there is a bit of how do I hone the skills that need developing? That is something that feedback groups are good for.

So I’m fascinated by this mentoring group: how many articles do you think you can parallel process at once as a group?

CHRISTOPHER: I’ve currently decided that we can process about 3 per people per mentor, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. But I’ve already got two people who’ve sent in articles to Steven that I feel very confident that he’s going to take them, just from looking at the final product.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. So if you want to join, how does one go about finding and doing it? Some kind of quest thing, do you have to find the key and kill the dragon?

CHRISTOPHER: You gotta get the blue card first, then you get the BFG, and then you come find me. No, you gotta have something written. I would like you to figure out how the style guide works on your own, but not habits are better than bad habits. So have something written, there is a link on the forums that Doug will put in after the video, just go there and either contact me by PM on the forums, I’m “Ghostdancer” or go to that thread and hit the “email button” it’s in the first post. You’ll see if right away, send me what you got and I’ll give you a honest opinion. You’re either in or not, or if you’re not quite good enough, I’ll personally help you. I’ve done that twice now.

DOUGLAS: Is there some kind of waiting list? If this fills up, this is something we’ll develop, but we have to clear the list first?

CHRISTOPHER: Right. I have about five people who have contacted me who are very close to sending something my way, and I have exactly five slots left right now. As people learn how to write the in-house style, as they become kind of more comfortable in their own shoes, they get moved out of the protégé status to the journeymen status. And then eventually they’re gone, you get booted out of the group like a baby bird from the nest.

DOUGLAS: [makes falling noises and a splat sound while miming the noises].

CHRISTOPHER: But after about 3 to 4 articles, you should really know where you are going.

DOUGLAS: I suppose it’s true that after 3 or 4 articles n the last Pyramid Panel is available to you…

CHRISTOPHER: I believe he said about 10.

DOUGLAS: Okay

CHRISTOPHER: I seem to remember it was between 10 and 11 or maybe even 12.

DOUGLAS: Yeah I think it was somewhere between 6 and a dozen. I don’t think I’ve written more than six or seven articles, on the flipside I’ve been Lead Playtester for a couple of books and then there is the [garbled audio] so that probably helps.

CHRISTOPHER: Well, yeah.

DOUGLAS: So what happens if I’m doing the stuff, not the style, but the content. And I disagree with it and I want to go my own way. Do you get booted out of the group for that? Where do you stand?

CHRISTOPHER: No, you’re your own person, you’re your own writer, and you get to decide what’s going on and you want to ignore the advice of others who have been there. That’s up to you. But if you submit and it’s been pointed out that something you’ve got in there doesn’t work and you get rejected…that’s not my fault.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. And another thing that I’d say. Hans Christian Vortsich is especially good at this I think. People will come and say, especially during the playtest, “I think you need to do this with this manuscript, entry, etc.” and he’ll basically say “That’s not my vision of this. No.” and he’ll shut it down. He’s got a very firm vision of what he’s trying to accomplish. Now, as you are trying to become a writer that is probably more close-minded than one needs to be.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes.

DOUGLAS: But once you…if you’ve got a vision of something, even if it’s deliberately counter for standard GURPS and you’ve aimed it for a specific issue that is counter to standard GURPS like Alternate GURPS or something like that. As long as it’s clear what you are trying to accomplish, then the mentor group, as long as its engaging enough will probably try to help you with that.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes. Absolutely. If you’ve got a very clear goal in mind, and this is my goal, I’m not gonna tell you, you shouldn’t do it, I’m going to tell you why I disagree with it. And then I’ll do my best to help you with your goal. With your vision. And I like to think the other mentors will do the same.

DOUGLAS: Yup. So one last question, so we’re working on this and we’re writing back and forth and obviously it’s not just the mentors who see the drafts and I’m writing something and I see something on the board that inspires me greatly. And I got a idea, but its either identical or derivative to what I’m looking at, we want to make sure people don’t get irritated or offended or feel like their ideas have been stolen. So what do we recommend going on in case a idea get improved, but starts to inspire new ideas which may or may not be derivative there.

CHRISTOPHER: I would like to think that for the mentors and the other writers would be open, and be like “I also have a idea for this, and are you cool with me using it?” And if you’re not, I’d like to think that everybody is grown up enough to be like “Okay.” And if you’re not…[shrugs].

DOUGLAS: And I think the other thing that actually happens there is that, if there is a idea and you’re like “Hey I was reading your article and I had this other idea…” and then go off on your own and write a collaborative article. I’m collaborating with two articles with Peter Dell’Orto that came up in either online or offline conversation. So Pyramid does do articles with more than author.

CHRISTOPHER: In fact, I’m doing, right now with Antoni. We’ve got something cooking up should multi-useful for different genres.

DOUGLAS: So now we need to start seeing what’s on the slide…So that anyway, I think we covered the bases here. Anything else you want to say, give yourself the parting shot in Gaming Ballistic parlance.

CHRISTOPHER: If you’ve ever wanted to write and you really think you can do it, this is the place to go for GURPS and later on I might branch out into other game companies. You know, maybe figure out how Fate does its various articles and the like. But for right now we’re just GURPS and it would be most beneficial to anyone that wants to write. You’re not gonna get advice and formatting input like [garbled audio].

DOUGLAS: And I think that’s a worthy point, the style guide and formatting guide for GURPS and Pyramid magazine is fairly intense, and one of the things people can do is that if they have a good article and a good concept, but really need help on the formatting, it would be not a problem to come up and say “Here’s the article.” And then have some of the mentors bang it into the right format, and also show you some tips and tricks. On our recent session on How to format tables, which can be tricky in the style guide. And also some things like there is this huge formatting guide that’s a word document, copy the section of the formatting guide out of the formatting guide and paste it into your article and then replace the key bits.

CHRISTOPHER: I’m all about the shortcuts, as long as it doesn’t affect quality.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. Okay, so I think that that brings this to a close. Thank you for your time.

CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Doug.

DOUGLAS: And thanks for your efforts on the Pyramid group, the more people contribute to GURPS the more vibrant the community can be.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes.

DOUGLAS: Alright.

CHRISTOPHER: Alright, thanks again.

10 thoughts on “GB Firing Squad: Christopher Rice’s Pyramid Mentoring Group

  1. I think this is a great idea. I'd like to try my hand at writing something. My main issue is that I do not feel I am very good at technical writing. I can sit down with a pencil and paper to sketch something out, but I have trouble doing the same thing digitally. I also feel like, while I do know the rules of the game, I'm more comfortable coming up with what people call "fluff" than I am with the mechanical aspects of the system. Do you think there's room for articles which aren't as focused on the mechanical aspects of the game? For example, I'd be interesting in trying to come up with some ecology articles to introduce a new creature to Dungeon Fantasy or something like that. Is that something this group could help with?

    1. One of the articles from Pyramid #3/38 that I'm about to review is called "The Journey of the Dead," by Kyla Ward. It's entirely systemless, and to give away my review, entirely awesome.

      GURPS has a fantastic framework off of which to hang rules. Ergo, if you're somewhat system savvy, and come up with a good rules framework, it's (I think) fairly straightforward, and crunch sells.

      Good "fluff" is harder to write for GURPS, in its way, because so much has to be defined a priori. However, within the context of one of the issues on the wish list, a fairly systemless ecology article has a chance of hitting something like 7-9/10 on the ratings scale I've been using. You can drop in a lot of it, but not all, because you might need some serious stat work. But if you do an ecology/habitat article that says "whatever your apex predatory monster is in this slice of your world, it will fit in like THIS, and have prey that behave like THAT, and . . ." would tend to the upper end of that spectrum if done well.

      In short, I see no reason why the group can't help a systemless "fluff" article as much as a crunchy one. As Rory says below, a lot of the help we can give (if the writing is already good) is in helping adapt to the style guide, which is as they say, non-trivial.

    2. Thanks for the reply. What I had in mind wasn't entirely systemless. I have written up a few creatures to use in my home games. Those write ups include stats. I'm comfortable enough with the system to stat creatures (and even convert creatures from other games.) I just don't feel comfortable enough to make tweaks to the system. What I had in mind was a stat block for the creature, and then an article about the creature. I used the word "ecology" because what immediately came to mind for me was some of the old D&D ecology articles. Ideally, the articles would be written with something of a default setting in mind just to give some context to the article, but, at the end, offer a few suggestions for how the material might be used differently. My problem is taking what I have in my head and communicating it to someone else. I'm fine when it comes to a pencil and paper and just sketching something down for myself. I think part of my problem is worrying about if what I find interesting will be interesting to someone else. The technical aspect of it is a hurdle for me too; when I write things for myself, I only have to worry about whether I can read it.

    3. My point about systemless was really that such articles have and continue to be published, so adding some small amount of GURPS stats just makes it more of a drop-in. The organization, presentation, and style elements are things this group seems to be pretty good at helping with at least as I watch the articles improving over time.

      The most important chunk of "how to present in an organized fashion" that I can offer is this: write a freakin' outline. If you can do that, and the outline looks good and complete, you can then write as much as you want, and then do a screen: does this sentence belong in this section, elsewhere, or is it an off-mission tangent. Then be brutal and honest, or let someone else be brutally honest for you.

  2. Good blurb. However I think the odds and priority of the Style Guide are higher then suggested here.
    In the interview with Sean and Steve they pointed out they can work more easily with grammer issues then people who do not use the guide correctly. It simply takes more work adjusting some of those things. And even Sean and others admit learning it is hard.
    Some of the way things are explained are very hard to grasp or remember until you use them a lot or get some feedback on what your doing wrong.
    Doing that through the regular process is more likely to fail as Steven wont give you that feedback until your practically accepted. Fair enough as he has to work with the best available to keep publishing.

  3. One thing that would be helpful for writers is to have the original word file for an existing (ideally free) pdf. Something relatively long like GURPS Lite.

    That way you have enough pages to see A,B,C etc heads along with tables and boxes in both their origin and final look.

    Who knows it might even lead to an updated GURPS Lite?!

    1. Yes, but you don't get an attached 50+ page PDF that shows what a final two column complete with boxes and art version looks like. (Though I do think I might have seen a two column, one page example somewhere)

      For your very first article you are like ok So an A-head or B-head? And is this box ridiculously long/short? Should I go with italic lead in text or E heads?

      Ofcourse most writers will work it out, but WYSIWYG and the formatting guide bare little ressemblance to a final PDF.

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