Your Roleplaying Game Sucks

Don’t get me wrong, I like the underlying theme, and the ideas you express are very innovative. I just can’t get past your grammar. No, I don’t mean you’re not smart, you just ought to – why are you looking at me like that? What are you going to do with – ouch!

So you suck at writing. Does it really matter? Yes it does. Despite all your great ideas, fabulous stories, and background information, if you can’t put together a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight, your RPG isn’t going to be read by anyone. That’s not to say that a few people won’t thumb through it (like your mom and the lonely guy at the RPG store who makes fun of everything), but the majority of the audience you’re trying to reach will get a headache, put your book back on the shelf, or click the back button and move on.

Maintaining readability in your work isn’t the easiest part of the job, but it isn’t the hardest either. Pay some attention to these six tips on copy editing and you can turn an unreadable mess into something you’ll be proud to show the world.

  1. Think about what you are going to say. Brainstorming is a great idea and is very effective. When it comes time to put fingers on the keys though, take a moment to organize your thoughts. Things like introductions and setting backgrounds go first, main concepts and rules second, footnotes and afterthoughts go last. Divide your work up into sections and categorize all of your ideas before you begin writing. You’ll be able to go back and add stuff later, but this will get you started. When you finish writing, go back rename the sections – call them chapters.
  2. Spell check your work. Not just with the automatic spellchecker either. Go through and read your work just like you would if you had picked it up off the shelf for the first time. When you find mistakes, circle them, make corrections, back up a few paragraphs, and begin reading again. This will help you to not to not only make sure your spelling is spot on, but will also give you a chance to improve the readability of your work.
  3. Check your grammar. Again, not just with the automatic grammar checker! Your computer may be able to help you with your spelling, but it’s horrible at grammar. Trust me. To check your grammar go back through your work from the beginning – the very beginning starting with the title – and re-read it for grammar mistakes. Do it just like you did the spelling part and pay attention to the organization and overall document flow. Do not try to do both spelling and grammar at the same time – you’ll miss something. If you just don’t feel comfortable editing your own grammar, make friends with a good copy editor.
  4. In fact, step four is all about making friends with a copy editor. At the very least find someone else who will read your work and give you honest critiscm. Avoid your grandmother and anyone who works beneath you in your office. Find the guy who will tell you when your fly is open and ask him. If he knows nothing about roleplaying games, even better. Remember, your game my fall into the hands of the uninitiated someday and needs to stand on its own merit.
  5. Re-read your own work. Read it again. Read it a fourth time and a fifth. Make minor changes and put it on the shelf. Re-read it after a few days. Put yourself in the mindset of your target audience and read like they will. Any good editor will look at your work in as many ways as possible before they let you release it to the world. If youvre trying to save yourself some bucks you’ll have to do it yourself.
  6. This one is the hardest. Know when to quit. I can’t teach you how to know when your done editing, so you’ll just have to figure it out on your own. The goal here is to reach the perfect point of refinement in your work where any changes will just make it different, and not necessarily better. Experience is the only way to learn this one. If you do get stuck, drop me a line.

By the way, if you catch the obvious (read: not overtly technical) grammar mistake in this article, e-mail me for your prize.

Update 7/24/4 – Congratulations to Vicki P. for being the first one to spot the error! The official contest is now closed, but feel free to let me know if you find the mistake and I will bestow my props onto you.
Keeton Harrington is Director of the “one thousand monkeys, one thousand typewriters” online publishing group, where they accept open submissions and provide publication resources for artists and writers in the roleplaying game, fantasy, and science fiction genres. His site can be found at:

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