Thursday, September 13, 2012

Freelancer aspirations: the Cryomancer

Preface: Those who don't have any interest in gaming generally, and role-playing games in particular, will probably want to ignore this post since it talks about my recent experiences in a freelance project submitted to Wizards of the Coast for the Dungeons & Dragons game. I'll do my best to keep jargon out of the article as much as possible if you decide to keep reading, but you've been warned.

This project has only just reached a point where I can openly discuss it, thanks to some bad news received about it yesterday afternoon. Some background:

Wizards of the Coast currently runs two open submission periods every year for those who aspire to write freelance projects for Dungeons & Dragons Insider, the online version of what used to be Dragon and Dungeon magazines. Over the last year (two cycles), I've submitted roughly 20 pitches (two with co-authors attached) and had three projects commissioned to the state of a first draft. I got more-or-less final verdicts on two of those three projects yesterday, one of which will result in a paycheck and one of which was a rejection without request for further revision. I'm not at liberty to discuss the former project until it comes out, but I figure I'll put some lessons here on the other project.

For those who aren't gamers or otherwise into fantasy genre fiction, a cryomancer is a kind of magician whose abilities are all focused on cold. Here's the original pitch:

Class Acts: Wizard: The Cryomancer

Fire mages are flamboyant and hard to avoid noticing; wizards who specialize in cold magic are rarer. Calculating, implacable, and unforgiving, those who command the glacial ices are rare and worthy of attention. Their comparative rarity is attested by the lack of a singular figure associated with cold magic, although many famous archmages have included magical cold within their eponymous spells (including both Bigby’s Freezing Grasp and Otiluke’s Freezing Sphere).

 The pitch I sent included a little bit more, like some details on estimated word count and particular mechanical elements. In the initial response, I was given two directives to consider: first, that elemental specialists needed to have some way to deal with creatures that were resistant or immune to their element of choice. For example here, a cryomancer needs a way to cope with meeting a frost giant or a white dragon. the other directive I got was to focus more on the story side of the article than the mechanics. This PDF represents the draft I submitted, minus some internal notes to the produced & development teams on certain elements of story, credits, and the art order.

One challenge for me was that the lore of D&D doesn't really have any famous wizards who are known primarily for their use of cold magic. There are a number of D&D wizards who have used cold in some of their famous spells (Bigby's Icy Grasp made it into the 4th Edition Player's Handbook; Otiluke's Freezing Sphere was present in all of the first 3 editions of the game), but I didn't have a single wizard around whom I could build the story. I ended up dividing it up among three wizards, two of whom have lore that goes way back in the game and one of whom was my first 4th Edition character.

The discussion of "naturalist" vs. "elementalist" varieties of cryomancy came about rather late in the writing process as I wrestled with balancing not creating large quantities of new story elements out of  whole cloth
with the directive to focus more on the story elements of the article. I was also trying very hard not to make the whole thing "pyromancers are like X, cryomancers are like Y," although a little bit of that still slips through.

I heard back yesterday with the article's rejection, and I'm actually not surprised. The mechanics were OK, but not inspiring, and I did got a bit too far with the story elements. It's been said by Wizards of the Coast staff in previous public places that, if a draft has promise but just isn't quite there, they'll work with you to make the work the best it can be. (From the project that will result in a paycheck, I can say that's true. I can't elaborate more right now, but will probably try to write something like this about that project when it becomes public.) Overall, this article just didn't have anything they could point to as being fixable.

I'm still very new at the RPG-freelancer thing, but I agree that the article definitely didn't deserve to get bought as-is. I think I was hoping that there would be a little more guidance on ways to help the story become more cohesive, perhaps because I think the idea of a winter wizard still has lots of potential. I just wasn't the person to get it there -- at least, not with my current degree of skill. Maybe I'll come back and revisit this idea someday, after I've got some more design experience. If I do, I'll be sure to let people know.

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