English classes typically cover the most famous authors to have existed. The basics discuss the same influent poets and writers such as William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. All of which are excellent examples of how to become a great storyteller. These stories feature intrigue, mystery, terror, love, tragedy, and triumph; similar ideas you will find in today’s tabletop roleplaying stories.
One of which surrounds another prolific writer known for his fictional works covering the horror and the occult: H.P. Lovecraft.
Lovecraft created the Cthulhu Mythos in 1919 with his first story Dagon. But it wasn’t until 1928 that The Call of Cthulhu expanded the idea of the mythos. Fast forward 53 years later to 1981 with the release of the first tabletop game surrounding Lovecraft’s stories, Call of Cthulhu. It allowed players to become detectives, investigators, and journalists as they tracked down occult symbols and creatures.
The Roleplaying game is currently in its seventh edition and released a starter set in 2018. It’s also been featured on Critical Role and after the episode aired, Chaosium, the creators of the TRPG, say they sold an increased number of starter sets. So much so, that shipment was delayed as they focused on resupplying.
While all the stories and authors mentioned above are taught in college courses or high school classrooms, no campus has focused on writing for tabletop roleplaying games. It’s a subject I feel should be taught. Learning how to create and write an adventure is just as valid as writing a book or novel.
Enter professor T.R. Knight at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He is teaching a class called the Tabletop Game Writing Lab. Its specific focus is teaching the art of designing a tabletop roleplaying game, more specifically, Call of Cthulhu.
The course focuses on teaching the fundamentals of writing an adventure module. From the outline of the adventure to designing art for the guide, by the end, students will publish their own story set within the Call of Cthulhu mythos.
Knight is working with members of the creative team at Chaosium to help during the class.
We got to chat with him during the process to see how the course came about and what he expects for the future.
With the popularity of tabletop roleplaying games such as D&D, what made you choose Call of Cthulhu?
Yes, D&D is very popular, but I have a relationship with the creative team at Chaosium, after years of working with them as a proofreader and editor. Their staff have also assisted me as guest speakers in other classes I have taught at Taylor University and they have provided opportunities for my students to work on Chaosium books before as editors.
Add to that the connection Call of Cthulhu has with the literary creations of H.P. Lovecraft, which fits well in our professional writing program. I reached out to the Chaosium leadership and they loved the idea of a collaboration on the course, so I proposed it to department for approval.”
As a Christian college and with Call of Cthulhu revolving around the occult and horror, was there any difficulty getting the course approved?
The Call of Cthulhu RPG is based on the literary creations of H.P. Lovecraft. We plan to lean heavily on the historical and literary aspects of his writings, and focus on local myths and supernatural legends in Indiana as part of our adventure. That proposed focus, the history Chaosium and Call of Cthulhu has in the RPG industry, and our existing relationship with Chaosium eased any concerns there were for the game’s content.”
What got you interested in writing and editing for tabletop roleplaying games?
I have been playing and running RPGs for over three decades. Along the way I have written my own adventures, designed campaign worlds, and even developed a couple RPG systems for my own homebrew use. I never had an urge to publish any of them. I was creating for the enjoyment of my players and myself.
When I was offered the opportunity to work on an RPG that was to be published, I was intrigued and honored. I had never actually thought about working in the game industry as an editor or writer until I was approached by my friend, Angus Abranson, to help him out on a project when his current proofreader had a conflict. I filled in on that project and fell in love with the work.
Partnering with others to create amazing worlds and game systems scratched an itch I didn’t know I had. It became a new creative outlet for me and expanded my understanding and passion for the RPG hobby.”
What is the first Roleplaying game you wrote/contributed to?
I was the proofreader on Interface Zero 2.0: Full Metal Cyberpunk by Gun Metal Games and published then by Chronicle City.”
What is your favorite RPG adventure you’ve played/read?
I have played variants of D&D (Basic D&D, AD&D 1e, AD&D 2e, and now D&D 5e) the most over the years, but my personal favorite RPG is Feng Shui/Feng Shui 2. I have played variants of that game across so many genres over the years, it has become my go to one shot adventure system.
I seldom use the world built into the game, even though I enjoy reading it. Instead I have used the core system as a starting point and let my imagination run with it running adventures inspired by Three Musketeers swashbuckling, Wild Wild West style western espionage, pulp masked avengers, 80s action hero parodies, monster hunters, urban fantasy, and more.”
How has the response been to this class and your previous ones?
This new course only exists because of the students’ passion for the topic. I have taught the Writing & Editing for Gaming course twice now at Taylor University (two years apart) and have already been asked to teach it again in two years.
I had a freshman from that first class and numerous students from the second class, approach me and talk to their department chair, requesting I teach a follow-up course that was more focused on publishing an RPG book. They really wanted to experience the full process from beginning to end of publishing.
That interest led to a discussion on what a follow-up class would look like, inquiring how many students would be interested, then developing a course proposal. The proposal was accepted, and seven students were approved for this inaugural Tabletop Game Writing Lab. We wanted to keep the class small so it would be manageable as a creative team.”
What is your advice to other writers who want to break into the RPG writing industry?
Build relationships. I repeat this often in my classes and to anyone who asks me how I got into the game industry. The tabletop game industry is very relational. These are real people who know each other. The RPG industry is not that large, so they are well connected. Whatever you are interested in (art, writing, editing, layout, design, etc.), you will have your best opportunities if you build relationships first.
It is possible to apply to an open call for new talent by a publisher, but those are rare, and you are just a random applicant among many. More often, you post your creative works to online sites like Dungeon Masters Guild, Drivethru RPG, Miskatonic University, Deviant Art, etc. to get some experience while you get to know the publishers that interest you.
Volunteer to work in their booth at conventions, meet with them at conventions, demo their games at events, participate in their online discussions, and talk to them on social media. Show your passion for their company and their games. Then, when an opportunity arises you are not just a random name, you are a person they have met and come to know, and hopefully trust. Building relationships provides you the best chance to work in the industry.”
Chaosium echoed Knight’s response as well by saying,
Community content on DriveThruRPG is definitely the way to go! There are various community content collections on DriveThruRPG for a variety of game systems including Call of Cthulhu, Dungeons and Dragons, 7th Sea, and many more.
These allow independent creators to offer their own user-made content, which they set the price for (and which can be free, or pay-what-you-want). This is an effective way to get attention. We have already recruited several creators from the ranks of the Miskatonic Repository to write for Call of Cthulhu, and last year a number of community content titles were up for consideration for ENnie Awards.”
I want to thank T.R. Knight and Chaosium for taking the time to speak with me about the course.
Knight will be teaching more courses surrounding gaming next year. And for the record, he said his favorite cryptid is the yeti.
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