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TFT Writers' Guidelines

Last modified 5-23-2021

These guidelines will forever be a work in progress. We welcome your questions and feedback – send them directly to Steve Jackson.

In General

  • If you are a new writer, we strongly encourage you to start with a submission to Hexagram, and work up to longer material after we have experience with each other.
  • It is a very good idea to start with an inquiry letter, even for a short article, just in case (for instance) your subject has been pre-empted by something not yet released.
  • You are storytelling! Your work must succeed as a readable, fun narrative as well as an adventure or sourcebook. Remember that a lot of our purchasers will, sadly, play only infrequently, so we need to make this something they will enjoy reading. Break sidelights into boxes to avoid losing narrative thread.
  • Even if you know where you are going, start with an outline before you write.
  • Begin the "story" with an interesting hook, not a data dump.
  • You need to be familiar with TFT. It's not a hard system to learn or to write for, but it has its own flavor, and we don't want to get generic fantasy adventures (or, worse, adventures clearly intended for Some Other RPG). You should have the 2019 or later In The Labyrinth book, if not the whole Legacy Edition.
  • Specifically – and this should go without saying, but apparently it needs to be said – double-check your characters to make sure their stats and abilities are legal under the rules. If your adventure really requires, for instance, a giant with an illegal IQ of 13, specifically discuss this with your editor; don't just drop it in there. We have a separate document about formatting character stat blocks. Follow it.
  • Aim for variety in encounters so all characters have a chance to shine.
  • Expect it to be laid out in a manner similar to that of the Legacy Edition – two columns, with boxes. Solos may be an exception to this; they may be formatted like the new edition of Death Test. Or not. We are experimenting.
  • Everything we have posted online for writers is relevant. See sjgames.com/general/guidelines/authors/.

Maps

Almost every submission longer than a Hexagram article – and some articles, too! – will need one or more maps, if not dozens. Your submission will need to include those maps.

  • They don't have to be finished maps. We'll re-execute them. But they have to be clear, drawn on hex paper, and include map keys so we know what we are looking at.
  • Note compass orientationN should be the flat side of the hex or megahex toward the top of the map. See the diagram on p. 124 of In The Labyrinth. If a map shows both combat hexes and megahexes, it is the combat hex whose flat side is due N. (We know that this makes "true north" vary by a few degrees at different map scales. We don't lose sleep over it. Neither should you.)
  • The best example of a map at this moment is the last one we published, for Quick Quest #1.
  • Shamat, which can be found at https://shadekeep.com/shamat/shamat.html, is a very good free tool for hex mapping.

Things to Avoid

  • New rules, spells, and talents. In general, absolutely don't do anything that affects all future TFT releases, let alone invalidates past ones. Unique and peculiar magic items are great for flavor . . . if they don't damage the combat balance. Something like the Red Ladder would be all right; a Rod of Slaying Everything is not.
  • It is fine to use the Southern Elyntia/Duchy of Dran/Ardonirane setting, but don't do anything that "breaks" the setting for later writers. No killing rulers, expunging whole cities or races, or plunging the area into chaos. (You do not have to use the existing setting area if you don't want to, but players will ask where it is in relation to the lands they know.)
  • Don't try to settle questions about the Mnoren backstory, even by implication. It's supposed to remain a mystery.
  • Don't worry about details of art. That's the editor's job and will be heavily influenced by the final layout. Feel free to offer ideas or suggestions of specific encounters that would make good illustrations, of course.
  • Don't send us anything saltier than PG rating. Definitely don't send us anything that even comes close to the line of racism, sexism, or commentary on current political or social issues, no matter how artfully veiled.

Hexagram Articles

As this is written, #7 is shipping and #8 is full and planned for a 3rd-quarter 2021 Kickstarter. So far, the fans like the zine and we are happy! In general, we want material that a GM might drop directly into the campaign. You may assume that the articles published so far are a sample of the things we like. A word count between 400 (one page) and 2,000 (five pages) is right.

Quick Quests

These are super-short adventures: 2,500 words, plus a map. The first one has been released; two more are coming soon, and others are in the pipeline. I would like more! On a per-word basis, these are the best-paying pieces, because they are not as easy to do as one might think.

12-Page Adventures

  • These are intended to be released as collections, five adventures per book. In general, follow the format of the already-released Fantasy Adventures 1 and Fantasy Adventures 2.
  • A dungeon crawl, but with a story and a coherent theme. Does not have to literally be in a dungeon, but does have to be a series of encounters that move toward an objective.
  • 9,000 words. Please don't exceed that. If your outline gets really long, perhaps you have a story that needs another format, and we can consider it, but 12-pagers have a very rigid word count requirement.
  • Remember to include the "Setting" box.
  • Define the party this is meant for: How many characters? Starting level? Advanced? Is a wizard necessary?
  • At least one interesting new foe. Probably, but not necessarily, the boss. Some of our published 12-pagers have taken a whole page (counting art) to describe this creature.
  • A half-page map that can be created, an area at a time, from the existing Legacy Edition megahexes plus whatever new ones might be added in this adventure. Note also that if the map is bigger than a half-page, we'll have to cut words or art to make it fit. We would prefer not to do that.
  • Optional: new terrain and/or counters. You can see examples in the existing releases. You do not have to include any megahex terrain at all, and don't force it! But if you have an interesting idea . . .

Solo Adventures

  • 10,000 to 20,000 words. We would consider longer ones if they do not seem unwieldy, but don't start with a long one.
  • Could be for a single character, a pair, or a party. Just be sure to define what that party is. To reduce the number of play options to something manageable, you may want to constrain character creation – e.g., "Your character is a thief" or "Your party are all fighters."
  • We know that programmed adventures are harder to create, and we pay more for them than for straight writing.
  • It should go without saying that the connectivity of the adventure has to be thoroughly tested if you expect to get the higher rate.
  • Do your best to anticipate all reasonable player choices. But don't spend word count on "cute" options like "I quickly bake a pie and throw it at the dragon."
  • Could be a dungeon adventure, or could be an overland "hex crawl."
  • You may use the "plot words" system as seen in Red Quest, but you certainly don't have to.
  • Do NOT submit the adventure in "scrambled" form! Paragraphs should be written in sequence, because it is much easier to check and edit them that way. We will want the paragraph section in pure text format – all ASCII characters – because the scrambling will be done by computer.

Longer Material

This would include sourcebooks (city, duchy, etc.)like Ardonirane, bestiaries, or any long adventure or cycle of connected adventures. Details of any such project will have to be worked out with the line editor (currently Peter von Kleinsmid).

55,000 words is a good guess for a 72-page book.

TFT Pay Rates – As Raised 12-2020

Our rate schedule reflects the comparative difficulty of projects. Super-short adventures, the Quick Quests, pay a higher effective word rate because it's hard to get a whole adventure plot into 2,500 words! Solo adventures will pay more than regular adventures. And so on.

The new rates are:

  • Hexagram game material: 6 cents a word (no change) with a minimum of $50 per published article.
  • Hexagram fiction: 10 cents a word (for SFWA eligibility) – note that Hexagram is not primarily a fiction magazine, and fiction submissions must specifically relate to the world of Cidri. Minimum $50.
  • Quick Quests (2,500 words): a flat $500.
  • 12-page adventures (9,000 words): a flat $1,100.
  • Longer material (except for solo adventures): 10 cents per word.
  • Solo adventures: 12 cents per word, assuming we don't have to rework and correct the "program." If we accept a "broken" adventure at all, we will offer 10 cents or less per word.

Word counts are based on published material. All these assume that we are purchasing all rights, as a work for hire, for a flat fee. We will continue to offer an advance-and-royalty option for works of 60,000 words or more, as specifically negotiated.

FAQ

  • Does new material have to tie to the existing settings? No, it does not, but many players like that, so we like it too.
  • Do you have a Word template?  Yes, we do. We have modified the (more complex) version designed for GURPS and given it some TFT-specific coding. We will happily supply this on request – send a note to smarsh@sjgames.com! For Hexagram material, just submit it in Word for now.
  • I have the first edition Fantasy Trip material. Can I work from that? Definitely not. Some important things changed!
  • How long from submission of my manuscript to release? It varies based on everything except, possibly, the phase of the moon. Further investigation is needed.

Legal Notes

The above is not a contract, but information for freelancers. For everything longer than zine articles, we have a formal work-for-hire contract which you will sign, and a tax form to make sure that if we are required to report your earnings to the IRS, we can do so accurately.

 

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