Posts Tagged ‘Mike Shea’

I’m going to write a post that is self-indulgent. I guess that’s true about every post on this blog in one way or another, but this blog post is going to be a story in which I am the central character, which is a little unusual for this site. Usually it’s some crazy monster, magic item, piece of advice, or game mechanic that takes center stage. If you hadn’t guessed from the title, this post will tell you how I became a somewhat, kinda, sorta, maybe, known creator in the world of tabletop roleplaying games.

I’m writing this post because several people have asked me how I “made it” in the industry. To be honest, I’m not sure I have “made it” at least by the modern definition. I’ve got a full-time gig outside the industry as a TV commercial writer/producer (which I really love). That being said, I do get paid to work on some pretty great projects in the industry and I am doing more in this space than I dared to dream, so in some ways I guess I have “made it” in this industry. At least made it further than I expected.

Still I thought sharing my story might be helpful for anyone out there interested in a freelance RPG design career, but I will say that my path is unique and involves a lot of luck, so I’m not sure it can be replicated. I was inspired to share thanks in part to the requests I got, but also by a recent episode of the Down with D&D podcast in which designers and podcasters Shawn Merwin and Chris Sniezak shared their own stories. Definitely check out the episode because they have great stories and a lot of amazing advice.

The Tome Show

In Fall of 2013 I was listening to a lot of podcasts and playing tons of D&D with my friends on Roll20. The D&D Next playtest was in full swing and I devoured every piece of D&D news I could find. One of my favorite programs was the News Desk on The Tome Show, but it only came out once a month. I searched for other D&D news podcasts, but most were actual plays, none with D&D news. I remember telling my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Bonnie, that I wanted to listen to a weekly show that covered the latest D&D news in-depth. I told her there was no show out there like it (that I knew of) and Bonnie said, “Why don’t you make it?”

What did I have to lose by giving it a shot? I already knew how to edit audio… but I didn’t know how to book guests, build an audience, or even submit a podcast feed to iTunes. At the time I was listening to backlogs of the now-defunct D&D advice podcast Critical Hits hosted by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish. At the end of each podcast he gave our his contact information, including email, and encouraged folks with questions to reach out. I emailed Mike, thanking him for his awesome contributions to the community and asked for advice on starting a podcast. I soon realized how gracious he truly was. The man gave me 600 words of free advice and told me if I wanted more I should contact Jeff Greiner, the creator and owner of the aforementioned Tome Show podcast.

Already a subscriber to Jeff’s show, I eagerly went to him for advice next. Jeff asked me to pitch him my idea and without even knowing it was coming he offered me a chance to do my show on the Tome Show’s feed, immediately hitting a large audience of subscribers! I admit, this is some pure, amazing luck. Thus my first public RPG-related creation was born: The Round Table podcast. Special thanks to Rudy Basso, Alex Basso, Greg Blair, and Vegas Lancaster for making those first several episodes with me and encouraging me to keep making the show in those first weeks. Extra special thanks to Sam Dillon for actually getting all those episodes on the air. After several months of consistent output, Jeff told me (after I asked a few times) that he trusted me enough to revive the Gamer to Gamer franchise on the network and I started interviewing professionals in the industry. (Shoutout to my first interviewee on that show, Wolfgang Baur!)

Takeaways:

  • Listen to your partner.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to people for advice.
  • Be gracious and grateful. People remember how you treat them. Also everyone deserves to be treated like a human.
  • Seize opportunities when luck offers them.
  • Be consistent with you work and don’t be afraid to ask for more after you’ve proven yourself.

The Blog

I was three episodes into The Round Table and seeing thousands of people listening to the show when I decided I should probably use the podcast as a platform to promote something I always wanted to do, but had been too lazy to start – a blog about homebrew design. I had a lot of time on my hands, since Bonnie was on a two-week business trip, so rather than play video games every night (which was my normal MO when she was gone before the blog and podcast), I used the time to create this site. I made a commitment to write two articles a week. To keep myself accountable, I started shouting the site out on the podcast, knowing that I would need to keep it stocked with content if people were going to show up.

The blog’s audience growth was slow, but steady. I started with less than 10 views a day, but as I kept updating it consistently and shouting out new posts to various social media groups and message boards, the views crept up. Now on days when I don’t post something new, I get about 500 hits in a day, but it took me three years to get here.

Takeaways:

  • Sometimes you need to put video games and Netflix aside to work on rewarding, fun, creative projects.
  • The best way to build and audience is put out consistent, well-crafted content that you enjoy making.
  • Hold yourself accountable for getting your own projects done. No one else will.

The Work

So how did I finally get paid for some game design? Well my first jobs came from EN5ider and Johnn Four‘s Roleplaying Tips and they came about quite differently.

I had a year of blogging and podcasting under my belt when I saw EN5ider was just starting up. I saw a post on EN World calling for article submissions, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I had been rejected before by Dungeon and Dragon magazines and by the Adventurers League, but I didn’t let that discourage me. Editor James Haeck accepted of my pitch! Give Chase was born… after careful outlining, planning, proof-reading and revising, and revising again once I got notes from James. I made sure to hit each deadline and to listen to the editor’s feedback, incorporating it into the article, rather than rejecting what was said. James and I worked well together and I’ve written a few more articles for EN5ider since then.

Roleplaying Tips came about in a much different way. World Builder Blog was a regular contributor to the monthly RPG Blog Carnival and through that Johnn noticed my work, he reached out to me and asked if I would write an article for his newsletter that gave worldbuilding lessons. I’d be paid for the work and I could repost it here on the blog. That’s a great deal, so of course I said yes. Johnn and I have worked together on a few projects since, including a massive adventure that should be coming soon!

It was about another year before I got to do work for more people. In that time the DMs Guild launched. I already had a heaping helping of fifth edition content on this blog, so I put some of that into PDFs (without having ever done layout). The reputation I had built for myself on the blog and podcast helped get my products some buzz and a few became best-sellers. That’s when things really started to pick up.

The Adventurers League asked me to write an adventure for them and Shawn Merwin asked me to write another for Baldman Games. Roll20’s owners (who I met after applying for their game master job, which I did not get but did give me a chance to make connections with these very cool people) asked me to create their introductory fifth edition adventure, The Master’s Vault. Since then I’ve worked on a few other projects, but those are going to stay secret for now. Many of them are people I have met at conventions.

You know the rest of the tale. I’ve continued to create and since left the Tome Show to create my own podcast network with Rudy Basso. What’s in store for the future? Only time shall tell!

Takeaways:

  • Keep submitting to open calls. Rejection happens! That’s ok. Don’t take it personally and keep pitching.
  • Be an active part of the community.
  • Write, revise, proofread, and hit your deadlines. People will want to work with you again.
  • Create, create, create for yourself before someone asks you to do it for them. You’ll learn your craft and build a library of content to show off or even sell.
  • Go to conventions. Meet your heroes, ask them for advice. This industry is smaller than you think and people are super approachable and awesome.

Luck and Hard Work

I clearly owe a lot of people many thanks. I could not have made it to even where I am today without them. My timing worked out and I was very lucky, but I also created some of my own luck by working hard. Hopefully this story helps some of you out there!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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A new episode of Table Top Babble is now available!

James Introcaso sits down with Jason Nelson of Legendary Games to discuss forest campaigns and his new Kickstarter for the Forest Kingdom Campaign Compendium. Then it’s a conversation with DSPN’s own Mike Shea of Sly Flourish about short adventures and his new Kickstarter for Sly Flourish’s Fantastic Locations.

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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of Table Top Babble is now up!

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James Introcaso sits down with game designers Mike Shea, Ruth Tillman, and Wade Rockett to discuss what GMs should do when players and an adventure go off the rails.

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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Mike SheaDaniel Elwell, and Scott Dyer to talk about the latest Unearthed Arcana article on encounter building and an announcement from Wiz Kids about unpainted D&D minis. This podcast was recorded on October 16, 2016.


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DMs Guild Pick of the Episode – House of Horror

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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


James Introcaso sits down with Topher KohanJoe Lastowski, and James Floyd Kelly to talk about updates to Adventurers League play in game stores. Then it’s an interview with Tome Show favorite Mike Shea about the release of his amazing new book: Sly Flourish’s Fantastic Locations. This podcast was recorded on September 18 and 20, 2016.


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Noble Knight Pick of the Episode: E3 The Prince of Undeath


DMs Guild Pick of the Episode: The Naiad’s Revenge


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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Today’s blog post may look short, but I assure you it’s actually about 3 hours long. I had the honor and pleasure of being invited on Fuzzy Dice: The DM Show from Brian Podell. The weekly Twitch series features GMs waxing poetic about their games and taking questions from the audience. Alongside Brian and I was the amazing Guy Sclanders of How To Be A Great GM (if you haven’t seen this YouTube series, check it out!) We talk Roll20, D&D 5e, worldbuilding, and a whole lot more in the episode below. Check it out. If you like this one, you’ll love the episodes with Mike Shea of Sly Flourish and Matt Mercer.

This has already been a heck of year and I’m headed out on vacation today. There won’t be a normal update next week, but I will see you all back here on September 1st with some awesome new content. Thank you all for being great!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I was on a recent episode of The Tome Show podcast!

In this episode Jeff is joined by James Introcaso and Mike Shea as they discuss Homecoming Book III: Maestro, by R. A. Salvatore. The discussion review is followed by an interview with the author. The guys were pretty rough on Bob Salvatore this time around – why? Listen to find out!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Alex BassoRudy Basso, and Greg Blair to discuss Rob Letterman being named director of the Dungeons and Dragons movie and the end of Sword Coast Legends studio N-Space. Then it’s a second panel discussion with Richard ZayasMike SheaNeal Powell, and Shawn Merwin about making money in the RPG Business. This podcast was recorded on March 8 and 31, 2016.


Noble Knight Pick of the Episode: Dungeons of Dread



DMs Guild Pick of the Episode: Names for Tendays


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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Halloween is great. Yeah, I know I’m about seven months too early. The release of Curse of Strahd has me thinking about all the awesome things that happen during the season. This most recent Halloween had me sitting at a table playing a fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons conversion of the original I6 Ravenloft module DMed by the one and only Mike Shea. Every year he runs a group through the adventure in an afternoon. Mike isn’t the only person who runs Ravenloft as a one shot during Halloween. When I reviewed the classic adventure on The Tome Show, the amazing Jeff Greiner said he does the same. I imagine they might both try to run Curse of Strahd this coming Halloween as a one shot. Gentlemen, this post is for you.

When I read through Curse of Strahd, it gave me all sorts of D&D hankerings for gothic horror. I want to stake vamps, silver-stab werewolves, and flap with the wereravens. But I’m a busy guy. I already run about four games on and off. There is no way I have time for a fifth consistently and my other groups are invested in the stories they’re currently playing through. They don’t want to take a 6-month break to play another adventure. I could easily wait to play Curse of Strahd, but I don’t want to. If only there was a way to get my fix in a one shot adventure session… Turns out there is. Read on friends and I will show you how to run Curse of Strahd as a one shot. All you need is some friends for about 4 – 12 hours on a single day and you can get a quicky vamp fix.

Step 1! Review Chapter 4 – Castle Ravenloft

You should read the rest of the adventure too because it’s a great read, but get familiar with this chapter in particular. If you’re going to play only part of Curse of Strahd (which is what you need to do if you want to play it as a one shot), then play the most iconic part. There’s a reason the first adventure was simply called Ravenloft. The crawl through the namesake castle captures the heart of the story. Castle Ravenloft isn’t just a location, it’s Strahd’s partner in crime. It’s also by far the longest chapter in the book so it allows you as the DM to mine the most game meat.

In this one shot version you will only visit Castle Ravenloft. You are missing out on some other sweet stuff in the adventure (more on that below), but you are also playing the most important part of the story! This is about getting a quick Strahd fix. The best way to do that is pure, uncut Castle Ravenloft right in your RPG brain.

Step 2! Begin at Level 9 with Barovian Backstories

Have your players make level 9 characters. Why? That’s level the adventure recommends PCs be before they enter Castle Ravenloft. Considering how thoroughly Wizards of the Coast seems to playtest these adventures, I trust this is the appropriate level for characters to not get slaughtered wholesale in the castle, but also keeps the encounters challenging. In other words it hits the fun bullseye.

The big twist is to ask your players to make characters who have lived in Barovia for at least a few months. Maybe one is an adventurer who got taken by the mists long ago and just figured out the only way to leave Barovia is by slaying Strahd. Another could have specifically come to hunt the vampire and has finally amassed a team strong enough to take out the villain. Yet another adventurer could have been born in Barovia and after a life of being terrorized by Strahd, the character is ready to stand up to the monster. Let your players have fun with the ideas. Remember to have them tie their backgrounds together since you’ll be jumping right into the action.

Step 3! Start the Adventure on the Way to Castle Ravenloft

When you’re ready to start playing, read or paraphrase the following text.

Your black carriage rockets through the chilly night air, wild horses speeding you through the woods toward your final destination – Castle Ravenloft. You’ve been preparing for this assault for some time and still your stomach churns in knots of fear. A lone wolf howls in the night as you swallow back your vomit and think of the task before you. To free Barovia and its people from the clutches of monster and mist, Strahd von Zarovich must die. Many have tried before you, but none have triumphed.

The smell of incense burns in your nose. Madam Eva, the old, hunched Vistani woman with piercing eyes and a strange smile, sits in the carriage with you. The fortune-teller offered to take you in her carriage to the castle in exchange for having your fortunes read. At the time it seemed a good way to avoid the wolves and other dangers of the wood, but looking into her inscrutable face, you can’t be sure. Madam Eva pulls a deck of tarokka cards from a box in her lap. She shuffles the cards and begins setting them on a small table in the middle of the carriage…

Madam Eva then reads the characters their fortunes as outlined in step 4. Once the carriage delivers the adventurers to the front courtyard of Castle Ravenloft, the horses and Madam Eva run off into the night.

Step 4! Fortunes of Ravenloft

Ravenloft and now Curse of Strahd are hailed as some of the most re-playable modules of all time because the Fortunes of Ravenloft feature (pages 11 – 18 in Curse of Strahd). This card reading determines the location of important items within the story. Different card readings mean the adventurers are going to visit different locations each time they play the adventure. These items are spread throughout the lands of Barovia in Curse of Strahd. (The original adventure, Ravenloft, places all the story items within Castle Ravenloft.) Since the one shot version of Curse of Strahd really only takes place in Castle Ravenloft, you need to set the deck up so you don’t end up with any items outside of that location. Here’s how you want to set up your cards.

Put only the following cards in the common deck:

  • Paladin (2 of Swords/Spades)
  • Mercenary (4 of Swords/Spades)
  • Berserker (6 of Swords/Spades)
  • Dictator (8 of Swords/Spades)
  • Warrior (Master of Swords/10 of Spades)
  • Transmuter (1 of Stars/Ace of Clubs)
  • Evoker (6 of Stars/Clubs)
  • Necromancer (8 of Stars/Clubs)
  • Swashbuckler (1 of Coins/Ace of Diamonds)
  • Merchant (4 of Coins/Diamonds)
  • Guild Member (5 of Coins/Diamonds)
  • Miser (9 of Coins/Diamonds)
  • Shepherd (4 of Glyphs/Hearts)
  • Anarchist (6 of Glyphs/Hearts)
  • Priest (Master of Glyphs/10 of Hearts)

Now when you do the Fortunes of Ravenloft reading for the first three cards, all the items will be in Castle Ravenloft.

The only other change you need to make is with card 4. When you draw card 4 from the high deck, draw a second card and put it next to card 4. We’ll call these cards 4A and 4B respectively. 4A tells you which of Strahd’s enemies will aid the characters as normal. Card 4B tells you where you can find the ally in Castle Ravenloft. To determine this use the Strahd’s Location in the Castle section on pages 17 and 18 of Curse of Strahd. For instance if card 4A is the Mists (Queen of Spades) which corresponds to Ezmerelda d’Avenir and card 4B is the Beast (Jack of Diamonds) which corresponds to the audience hall, then the characters can find Ezmerelda d’Avenir in the audience hall. You’ll need to have a motivation for the NPC to be in the castle. The two most obvious are the ally has also come to kill Strahd or was captured by Strahd. Those work for most of the NPC allies. If the character is a servant of Strahd, like the Vistani assassin Arrigal, they might be in the castle because they have business with the vampire.

You can lay your one shot reading out like this.

You can lay your one shot reading out like this.

Note that Ghost (King of Hearts) ally B, Sir Klutz, and Marionette (Jack of Hearts) ally A, Pidlwick II, already have starting locations in Castle Ravenloft. If you draw these cards as 4A and want to use those ally options, either change their location according to the 4B card or ignore the 4B card.

Step 5! Get Hunting

Now play through Chapter 4 of Curse of Strahd. Meet interesting people, fight terrifying monsters, explore a spooky castle, and stake a vamp.

What You Lose

Is this the ideal way to run Curse of Strahd? For many the answer is no. You miss out on 11 other awesome chapters of content. You don’t walk the sad streets of Barovia, you don’t enter a creepy mill, and you don’t get to visit the Amber Temple. What you do get is the chance to take down Strahd, a fun afternoon of gothic horror, and a crawl through one of the most iconic D&D dungeons ever.

Good News – Modularity

The good news about Curse of Strahd is that it’s totally modular and re-playable. Playing a single chapter of the adventure during a one shot does not ruin the enjoyment of a second (or third or fourth) play-through of the same chapter or even the entire adventure. If you’ve been hankering to try Curse of Strahd, but haven’t had the time, or you just want Halloween to come early, why not give my one shot Strahd method a try?

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!



I sit down with Mike Shea of SlyFlourish.com to discuss his ongoing Kickstarter for the system agnostic book Fantastic Locations. This podcast was recored on November 29, 2015.

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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!