Luke Johnson – Warcraft RPG Books Developer
I live in Sharon, Massachusettes. (A suburb of Boston.) I am unmarried. In addition to my writing and game design, I am also a professional comedian, performer (mostly comedy improvisation), and public speaker. (The lovely pictures on this page are actor?s headshots.)
I have a Bachelor?s Degree in Psychology, which some claim helps me in my work. I am undecided.
I’ve been writing my whole life—ever since I was old enough to dictate stories to my mom so she could write them down. The first stories I created involved a character named Chipmunk Chatter, and included morals like “Don’t Steal People’s Pumpkins.” My mom still has some of those stories, I believe.
When I was in fourth or fifth grade, a friend introduced me to the then-current Dungeons & Dragons game (not to be confused with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons—in this game you could play elven elves and dwarven dwarves). I never looked back.
I continued writing throughout elementary school, High School, and college. I ran campaigns for D&D and other roleplaying games as well.
In the spring of 2002, I submitted a Dungeons & Dragons adventure I had written for my own group, “Bloodlines,” to Dungeon magazine. They accepted it. (It appears in issue #94.) They also paid me generously for the article. Afterward, I thought, “Hey, that was cool. I wonder who else will pay me for writing game stuff?”
I then submitted a cover letter, resume, and writing samples to every roleplaying game company I could find on the Internet. This was at the beginning of the d20 boom—when Wizards of the Coast released the core Dungeons & Dragons rules mechanics for other companies to use for free—so there were plenty of companies out there.
My strategy worked. My first project after “Bloodlines” was Troll Lord Games’ The Book of Familiars; my second was Dreaming Merchant Press’s Tombs! After that, things just went up. Now I’m a full-time freelance writer, editor, game designer, and game developer. I write for Wizards of the Coast and White Wolf Publishing (the two largest roleplaying game publishers around) and am the line developer for two separate roleplaying game lines.
I taught game design at a college called Full Sail in Florida for a year and a half. (I quit to be a full time writer and game designer.) While I was there, I gave guest lecture every month in Dave Arneson‘s Rules of the Game class. This lecture was entitled ?Principles and Theories of Game Design,? so I have some ideas about what makes a game fun. I can’t really go into it all in detail here, though, but I will say that everything comes down to choice. Choices are what make a game a game (as opposed to another form of media): the audience is actively involved in the experience. Choices in a game are best when they are interesting (I have several criteria to determine whether or not a choice falls into that category). If you have a game with interesting choices, you’re on the right track.
I have another idea. This idea is: All games (with the exception of solitary games) are excuses for people who like each other to get together and engage in a common activity.
Nascent writers and/or game designers often ask me for advice. To those who are interested in becoming professional writers and/or game designers, I say: Great! Good luck. The world needs more talented people in those areas, and if you have some talent, you should be able to break in.
If you want to write for roleplaying games, I suggest that you determine which companies and/or games you’d like to work on. Then e-mail each of those companies or game line developers (for the Warcraft RPG or Etherscope, you’re talking about me) a cover letter, resume, and writing samples. The writing samples are key.
What if you haven’t done anything worth putting on a resume? Well, if you’re interested in breaking into this industry, I find it unlikely that you haven’t done anything related to it. Include classes that you’ve taken in college or High School. Articles published in your College newspaper and short stories in your High School literary magazine. Include on your resume that you play games and which games you’ve played. If you run a roleplaying game session, write that down. If you’re an active member of an online community, that goes in, too.
Writing samples. What should you include, exactly? Well, I ask prospective writers to send me three samples. One demonstrates their mastery of the game system (d20, dynamic D6, or whatever). One demonstrates their fiction proficiency (their ability to write what we in the RPG field call ?fluff?). The third sample is whatever the writer wants to include that will convince me to hire him. (Don’t pull your hair out agonizing over which exact except to include, though.) If you’re aiming to write for a specific setting (Warcraft, Warhammer, Eberron, or whatever), one of the writing samples should also prove that you are familiar with the setting.
I also recommend that you check the open call forums on EN World and RPG.net. I check those forums daily and have got work through them.
If you want to write fiction, my advice is probably less useful. I think writing a bunch of short stories and submitting them to literary magazines is a good idea. I’m trying that strategy myself, so we’ll see how it goes. I recommend the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market to help you out.
If you want to write nonfiction, like, if you want to be a magazine and/or technical writer, I suggest a combination of the above two approaches. Find the magazines you want to write for, and submit article ideas in the Image:
proper format (you can probably find the proper format on their websites). Picking up a copy of the Writer’s Market will help you in your quest.
People sometimes also ask me to recommend books about writing. My favorite so far is Stephen King‘s On Writing. If the only thing you get out of that book is the ability to recognize (and avoid) passive voice, you’re well on your way.
Hate takes a lot of energy. So, I try not to do it. In fact, there’s only one thing in the world that I hate. I hate passive voice.
When I’m not working, I like to read. My favorite authors include Terry Pratchett, the aforementioned Stephen King, Barbara Robinette Moss, and a myriad of others. Perdido Street Station, by China Mi?ville, may be my favorite book of all time.
I used to play a lot of video games, but the only one I’ve been playing lately is a Warcraft III mod called Defense of the Ancients (DotA). I think it’s because I can play it in hour-long bursts. My battle.net handle is CptLukebeard, so give me a shout sometime.
I also like cats, Broadway music, and stupid puns.
Judging by the length of this page, I also like writing about myself.
- Luke Johnson’s Website