The Path to Published: Part III - Finding TTRPG Freelancers
This is Part III of a series about publishing my first TTRPG supplements.
This is Part III of a series about publishing my first TTRPG supplements. You should start at Part I.
Now that I know what I will create, I need to figure out who I should get help from. To review, my three chosen projects are:
- A collection of creatures for D&D 5e inspired by Norse Mythology
- A collection of creatures for Mörk Borg
- A collection of NPCs for Quest RPG
Table of Contents
- Why hire TTRPG freelancers?
- Why not hire freelancers?
- Where to find freelancers
- Two takeaways
- Next steps
Why hire TTRPG freelancers?
Technically I could create all these things myself. I have enough basic design skill to cobble something together. I could write up the content and ask some friends to review it. I could find stock art to make the supplements look attractive (this is still a good idea - more on that in a future post).
But I don't think doing this by myself is a good idea. There are many reasons working with freelancers is the best move for these projects. For the sake of brevity, I'll lay them out in bullet points:
- Higher quality art will make the products better. I can also use custom art in future projects, and increase the chances that my work stands out.
- I can learn from other professionals. This whole project is a quest for knowledge. Working with other people who know what they are doing will fast track my own learning.
- Outsourcing provides leverage. I look for ways to apply leverage in all my work. Leverage let's me accomplish more while using less of my own energy. In this case, outsourcing some of the work to freelancers buys me time to improve my guide for first time Dungeon Masters and push forward my concept for letting Dungeon Masters create scripted sidequests to keep busy players engaged.
- I get to directly support TTRPG creators. Paying for people's work is a great way to directly support them. Supporting TTRPG creators is one of my core values. It's a win-win.
Why not hire freelancers?
To keep myself grounded, I'll play devil's advocate. There are good reasons not to hire freelancers. I want to discuss the two most important ones.
Freelancers cost money - money I may not have
This is completely fair. The truth is we don't always have funds available. If you don't have access to the funds you need to pay for work, freelancers are closed to you.
But "costs" are not as simple as they seem. Don't jump straight to the conclusion that you can't afford something. I have seen many people fail to properly evaluate costs. Money is only one type of cost. Your time is extremely valuable. Even with no revenue, you should decide on an hourly rate for your own time. This serves as a quick benchmark when deciding whether you should outsource.
For argument's sake, let's say I choose $30/hr as my 'hourly rate'. A hypothetical writer wants to charge me $40 for an article. A common gut reaction is: "I won't pay $40. I can write this myself!". But what if writing the article takes me 2 hours? At my personal hourly rate, that comes to $60 - a loss of $20. And it is unleveraged work. I can't continue working on strategy or directing other work while I do that writing.
The other factor in cost assessment is the freelancer's goals. You don't necessarily know what those are unless you talk to them. I've encountered many wonderful freelancers who want your project to succeed just as much as you. Many who are willing to discuss flexible payment options, or consider discounts. They can also suggest ways to reduce scope to achieve your goals at lower costs. I've also seen people in the community propose trades. You won't know if you don't ask. Just please, whatever you do, don't ask them to work for free. There is no faster way to signal to others that you are not a professional worth working with.
Freelancers will slow me down
This is the second big objection to outsourcing. And it's true – working alone tends to go faster. There is less need to communicate and organize. As soon as even one more person joins a project, you pay for it in communication overhead. You can speed things up by working repeatedly with the same freelancers, learning to communicate well, and predicting timelines to avoid blocking each other. It's not easy.
I think the saying is true: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together". Incorporating the creative influence of others can have fantastic effects on your work. As a newbie in this industry, I really want that input.
Where to find freelancers
This is not an exhaustive list, but rather a quick summary of where I found people for these projects. I'll provide a list of the pieces I went looking for, where I found the freelancers, the price ranges, and some lessons learned. I will highlight two important takeaways for you to consider: continuing relationships with good freelancers and targeting your search.
Norse creatures - monster illustrator
I was recommended Darryl from splattered ink but decided to hire Marcel who did the art for Novus Bestiary. Darryl had a great style and fair prices, but my existing relationship with Marcel made it easy for me to choose him. I intend on presenting this collection as a part of Novus Bestiary so the consistency in style was also a factor.
Price range: $100 - $200 USD per creature, depending on colour options.
A new thing I learned here was that colour work takes quite a bit of time. If you can create a style that works well with monochrome art, you should go for it! I also noticed the power of recommendations. A great way to find freelancers is to talk to the ones you already know.
Norse creatures - stat blocks
I am not a game designer. I'm interested in learning eventually but for this project I wanted to hire someone to help out with creating balanced stat blocks for each monster. I decided to post on Twitter and see what happened:
Call for D&D homebrewers:
I want to put together a collection of Norse-inspired creatures to publish on DMs Guild, etc.
I'm looking to $$ pay someone to create 5e stat blocks based on lore that I provide.
Respond with links to your work. #DnD February 18, 2021
This was a resounding success. I quickly got a lot of high quality submissions. The funny thing is I almost didn't post! In the past I had posted on Twitter to hire a logo designer, and it was a huge waste of time. I had about 100 submissions from people who were clearly unskilled or nowhere near the subject matter. I believe it worked this time because I was asking for a much more niche skill. The only people who could do this job would be interested in RPGs and in my network of followers. There was really good signal on Twitter.
In the end I went with TJ at The DM Tool Chest. He was able to show me examples of Norse creature stat blocks he had already made.
Price range: $8 - $30 USD per stat block.
I learned here that people want to know what strength of monster you are making. Common monsters cost less than legendary ones, which cost less than mythic ones. It makes sense that the price goes up as complexity and word count increases. I also learned that asking for something specific brings better results.
Mörk Borg creatures - creature illustrations and writing
For this project, I sourced someone myself on Twitter. It is common for the community to do art share threads, or put out calls for artists. These are a gold mine when you are looking for talent. Instead of putting out the call myself, I saw someone else's and crawled the thread. To my great fortune I found Thomas Novosel and loved his style. As a bonus, he clearly had game design experience. I was able to hire him for both the art AND the writing. This is an amazing deal because it drastically reduces the communication complexity in this project so I can delegate a lot more.
Price range: $50 - $150 per creature, no colour.
What I learned is that Thomas is freaking awesome, and that I don't necessarily need to create posts myself.
Quest RPG NPCS - illustrator
Again, I decided to source someone myself. This time I started with an artist I knew on Twitter (Marcel) and looked at their network. I browsed his follows and quickly found 3 promising artists. Conor Nolan ended up getting back to me first but I have a confession… I couldn't really afford him and stick to my budget. I was really torn. In the end I decided to engage him for the project because my god I just love his character work. It's everything I could dream of for this project.
You only live once right? Like I said in Part I: let me do the screwing up so you don't have to.
Price range: $200 - $250 USD per NPC, coloured.
I further justified the cost of art by asking Conor if I could use these illustrations in other projects. We worked out an arrangement that would let me do that. This means that I can lower risk by releasing future projects that use these characters. I am 100% confident I will find other uses for interesting NPC art.
Shoutout to Sara Zundra whose work I also loved for this.
Quest RPG NPCS - writer
I originally planned to write these myself, but decided to take a shot and ask a freelancer who helped me with Here Be Taverns. If the price made sense, it would give me even more leverage. (can you tell I'm obsessed with leverage yet?). Matt Ashcraft made me an offer I couldn't refuse, so I brought him in for some writing help.
Price range: $0.05 - $0.10 USD per word.
The lesson here is that maintaining good relationships is super important. Matt and I get along really well, so he gave me a great deal.
IMPORTANT NOTE ON PRICE RANGES
PLEASE READ THIS. The price ranges listed above are for the sake of transparency. They are meant as just one data point for the sake of discussing my projects. The ranges include quotes I have seen in other places from other people. They should NOT be considered a promise for how much these particular artists charge for their work.
Pricing is a complex issue. Many variables go into determining how much a freelancer will charge and those variables shift over time as their skill and availability changes. These freelancers all reserve the right to quote you whatever they see fit based on the unique needs of your own project.
The two things that worked best for me when hiring freelancers were leaning on existing relationships and targeting my search.
If you pay fairly, and do what you say you will do, freelancers will enjoy working with you. As you work together, costs go down because you figure out how to communicate. Whenever possible, engaging freelancers you already know is a great way to move faster and cheaper.
When you don't have existing relationships to lean on, I recommend targeting your search by searching in the right places and being specific about what you need. A broad post on social media to hire artists may yield some results, but there will be a lot of noise. To get better signal, try posting on a group or platform specifically made for artists. For even better results, be specific about what you need. Specific requests in targetted places will get you more signal than noise, saving you a ton of time.
With my freelancers lined up for each project, I need to communicate what it is I actually need them to do. This is surprisingly hard to do well, and honestly I didn't do a great job. Details will be in part IV.
Until next time!