TTRPG Editing Tips for the Non-Editor

For close to twenty years I have freelanced as an editor for both speculative fiction and tabletop role-playing games. I started with fiction editing but when I saw there was a dearth of editors available on those RPG forum “Help Wanted” threads, I hung out my shingle there as well. I think having the services of a good editor can vastly improve any TTRPG project and I wanted editing to be accessible to more people. I’m happy to see that in the intervening time period, more editors have made their services available.

Still, not everyone can afford to hire an editor for their first project or projects. While many editors (including myself) are happy to adjust our rates to try and accommodate clients, even that reduced expense can keep a project from turning a profit for the creator. So long as that is the case many creators will continue to self-edit their work.

As well, when they are ready to hire an editor, many creators are unfamiliar with the various types of editing and which one their document needs. For the #TTRPGResourceJam over on Itch, I am finishing up a primer on TTRPG editing for the non-editor: the best ways to self-edit, as well as things a creator should know when engaging an editor for their work. I will come back and link it here when it goes up, but I thought for today I would tease a bit of it. So here are my top three tips for self-editing when hiring an editor is not possible. UPDATE: You can grab a copy of Editing for TTRPGs: A Primer for the Non-Editor over on the Prairie Dragon Press page on Itch. It’s PWYW so yo could get it for the low, low cost of free. But any proceeds from this go into a fund that allows me to edit for marginalized creators free-of-charge.

Trust your Software – Desktop writing software has come a long way since it first appeared on computers back in the age of DOS and floppy disks. While I firmly maintain that no software can take the place of a skilled editor, the spellcheck and grammarcheck functions inside many document creation softwares are quite good. They may still struggle with homophones like “meet” and “meat” but generally they do a good job of alerting you to potential problems.

So get yourself a good writing software and make sure the editing prompts are all on. You don’t have to break the bank to do this, either. While I use Microsoft Office Word for most of my editing, I actually spend a great deal of my writing time inside Google Docs (in fact I’m writing in it right now!). A Google account won’t cost you money to set up, and the editing functions inside Google Docs are pretty robust. And Google Docs can export as a PDF, so depending on how much additional formatting you need to do you may even be able to publish straight from Docs; I have seen basic but professional looking products published straight from Google. And if Google isn’t your thing, there are free programs like Open Office that are essentially Word clones.

Trust your Guide – Just about every game out there has a formatting and grammar style, even if they don’t talk about it. For example, open any WotC D&D product and you will find spell names like continual flame written in italicized lower case, always. Does that mean you can’t write that spell as “Continual Flame” in your product? Of course not, it’s your document. But your readers will be used to a certain visual shorthand because of the parent company’s products. Choosing to deviate from that should be done deliberately and in order to make your reader’s experience better.

Luckily, many of the companies for which you may write supplements have style guides available. These will explain all the formatting and grammar details that make a product fit best with the company’s primary publications. There are a number of guides available for Dungeons & Dragons, for instance, and anyone creating content for that game would be wise to give them a look. Chaosium also has a style guide web page, updated regularly, which is invaluable for anyone writing for Call of Cthulhu or RuneQuest.

If a company doesn’t have a readily available guide and you intend to write a bunch of product using their system, it might be useful to create a style document of your own. Go through a few of their books and make a note of what they capitalize, what phrasing they use around skill checks and combat checks (and are they the same or different?), is there a particular formatting they use for stat blocks, and so on. Yes, you may be able to remember a lot of it, but having a guide you can check will make things easier in the long run.

Trust your People – If you are in the TTRPG hobby chances are good you know a bunch of smart people also in the hobby. While they can’t take the place of a skilled editor, getting feedback from folx who understand the game for which you are writing can be valuable. You can offer them an early look at the work and a published copy later in exchange for their critique. Be sure they understand you are looking for details, not just an affirming, “Looks great!”. Try to share with at least three or four people so you get a good sampling of tastes and different sets of eyes on the product. I would also recommend crediting them in the final product somehow. It’s a small thing, but credit and a free copy of the finished product is a small price for their help.

As well, keep your eyes open for opportunities to trade for editing services. There might be an editor out there who could use someone with your talents in layout, for instance, willing to trade skills for the betterment of both your projects. I haven’t added it to my page yet, but as I look to begin publishing regularly in 2021, I will be offering to trade editing for layout and art help. Not only is it a great way to acknowledge the value of the labour involved on all sides, but it gives you a list of folx to eventually call on when you reach a point where you can pay directly for work.

That’s all from me today! Stay tuned next Monday as I jump into this month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme and visit the Bazaar of the Bizarre! See you then!