Welcome to our second Inside the Hat profile, where we profile one of our talented creators, complete with advice for aspiring game developers and a few behind-the-scenes tidbits. Today, we’re spending a little time with Emily Care Boss, one of the brilliant minds behind the Bubblegumshoe RPG. Emily was kind enough to indulge our questions, and she has a lot of awesome stuff to say, so let’s get right to it!
I was given the Moldvay red box version of D&D in the 80s. Read it and thought about characters, but never got to play any rpg until college a decade later. Then I fell in with role players who’d been making a shared world and ran a home-brewed version of Ars Magica crossed with GURPS. Each of us had from 5 to a dozen characters we played in the different levels of society (mages, companions, convenant folk and grogs), and the plot followed what all these ambitious, petty, loving or power-damaged individuals did, and the chaos they brought to one another’s lives. I loved the world building, character exploration and improvisational play. During this time and in the early 2000s, I took part in online conversations about how rpgs worked and different ways to write them (on the Usenet group rec.games.frp.advocacy and the forum The Forge), and caught the game design bug.
What was your first paid writing gig, and how did you get it?
The first game I was paid for was my first role playing game, Breaking the Ice. I worked on it for a couple of years, posted it online and got a lot of great play and feedback, and then took it to GenCon. I was part of a shared indie-games booth hosted by Ron Edward’s Adept Press and other Forge community members. It was amazing getting to demo my game for so many people over the course of the weekend. Helped by other fellow designers and helping them as well. Ken Hite was a great help, talking about my game in his “New Hotness” column in the GenCon book that year. Just the beginning of getting to know him for me! I sold 60 copies of the book. It started me on the path to making games and working on them with others.
It was a long but excellent process. Getting to tap Ken’s deep knowledge of all things GUMSHOE, and having access to Lisa J. Steele’s experience of the legal system and just what goes into making a mystery was a luxurious feeling. So many resources to bring to bear. Getting to know Robin Laws’ GUMSHOE SYSTEM was one of the challenges. I’d played Ashen Stars, but had some learning to do to start thinking about how to adapt the system to teen sleuths. We worked together to pick an approach, and came back to it a few times. Playtesting helped me get a sense of what players most enjoyed and what needed more support. Examples are so important! Coming from an indie pub background, it felt miraculous to be able to step back from the game once we got the text finished. Watching it come into being under Sean Nittner and Amanda Valentine’s watchful eyes was a great experience. And Tiara Lynn Agresta did such a great job with the graphic design.
What advice do you have for people trying to break into the tabletop gaming biz?
First, decide what success would look like to you. Is it publishing your own books? Working on your favorite title? Becoming a lead editor or designer for a major company? Use that as a rubric to help you pick your path. Be ready to re-evaluate as you go along and get hands-on experience. For me, I’ve chosen to have games be a side-business that is a supplement to my income, but which is my primary creative outlet. And although I will do work for others, my main goal is to make my own products and direct their fate. That’s a winning combination for me, but is just one way among many. Find what is right for you.
Next, get involved. Hone the skills you bring, whatever they may be–writing, design, design testing, art, layout, etc. Learn by doing. The best way to meet like-minded creators and gain the respect of potential colleagues is by participating: look for online conversations, conventions, contests, solicitations for work. All openings for you to make critical connections. Make your finished products available for others to see. Hone your appreciation for the works of others, too. The best way to learn and to keep gaining knowledge is to pay attention to the work of established creators, as well as your peers. Being a fan is contagious.
And third, go at your own pace. Keep an eagle eye on the amount of time, money and energy you are committing to the tasks you take on. Only take risks you can afford to lose. Make sure making games feeds you (in body and spirit!). Good luck!!!
What are you working on next?
So many things. I’ve just released the Romance Trilogy, a collection of my romance themed games with variants that was 15 years in the making. I’ll release my noir freeform larp game (no costumes needed!), Last Chance Noir in January. And I’ve roped Ken Hite into working on another game with me (working title The Dare)–this one about the literary gathering in England with Lord Byron, Keats, and the Shelleys that culminated in Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein. It will be another freeform larp that’s a sequel to one in process called Darkness Visible, about the life of the poet and political revolutionary, John Milton and his epic poem Paradise Lost.
Thank you for talking with us, Emily! And if you haven’t checked out Bubblegumshoe, we hope you’ll take a look! To help make that happen, we’ll give one lucky commenter a free copy. All you need to do is comment on this post to win. One entry per person, international allowed. Winner will be selected October 18th.