My Secret Insights on Paizo’s RPG Superstar

I’ve been an editor at Paizo through two RPG Superstar competitions, and overheard a lot of conversations about it. I have some secret insights that will give you an edge, if you’re interested in kicking some ass in this competition.

Related: If you’re not interested in Pathfinder, but are interested in breadth of design in that sort of deep ruleset space, you’d do well to follow the competition and check out the responses from the judges. The forum threads from prior years might also be of interest.

Down to fucking business. Here are my secrets. Share these with people and I’ll cut you. Or just tattle. Or do absolutely nothing; I’m just bytes on the Internet to y’all.

First, Read the Boring Crap

I know, you’re thinking “Macklin, I’m doing this to write, not read!” I hear you, person I made up in my mind. I’ll be the first to tell you that reading is for chumps. But not all of my fellow editors and developers see it that way; they expect participants to read.

They especially expect participants to read the rules and read the prompts. Don’t just skim these things—save your skimming skills for complex contracts and grad school courses.

Second, You Aren’t a Special Snowflake

Well, okay, you and I both know that you’re Aroden’s gift to writing, but you aren’t to the uncaring judges that would look upon your works and shit on them with abandon. If you break the rules—the rules those asshole judges expect you to read—they’ll enforce them. They’ve done it before, they’ll do it again.

Finally, Don’t Be Intimidatingly Clever

Of course you have this crazy idea for a mythic item capable of turning any loaf of bread into a sentient weapon, or a new monster that’s the product of an ooze and a displacer beast sharing a “special hug.” Shelve those for the moment. If you go that gonzo, you’ll force the judges to turn you down, because they know that if they accept the maker of such works into their ivory tower, you’ll outshine them all.

Tone it down an notch, then shatter them once you win.

Okay, I’ll Be Real

I should probably finish this off by breaking character. I wrote this with the same sort of tone that you see every year in those who aren’t ready to genuinely participate in a community challenge. You’ll see people genuinely post vitriolic junk after being eliminated for one reason or another, which could be from not reading the rules to making something that’s not really publishable to just poor luck at not quite making that round’s cut. So…

Do read the rules, at the outset and as a refresher before submitting on a given round. Check out the stuff that’s been said in this and previous years’ forum threads.

Don’t act like you’re an exception to the rules. The people who truly are exceptions to the rules are those who can’t enter in the first place. And respect the judges as humans who recognize that part of the task is the unfun part of dashing folks’ hopes. No one really gets off on doing that.[1]

Don’t make stuff so clever that you’d never actually see it in a publication. Of course, you also have to not be dull, so I get the sense of trying to go overboard so as to avoid being bland—but the judges are looking for people who are good at exploring the middle ground between.

To some people, these are actually secrets to be shared. But just as often, they’re things we know but forget in the heat of excitement. It’s cool to be excited! :D Just temper that with these tips, and you’ll already be ahead of the game.

Here are a couple links Adam Daigle told me about:


If you enter, good luck! May the odds be ever in your favor, or whatever the current nerdspeak for “good luck” is these days.

– Ryan

P.S. If you’re wondering why I started with sarcasm instead of being straightforward, the answer’s simple: plenty of people always giving straightforward advice, and these problems still happen. Sometimes, what it takes to help one person out is to try a different approach. If this post ends up helping one person cement these thoughts, cool.[2] :)

[1] Okay, there are some, but I don’t think such people are involved here.

[2] One day, I’ll write about the power of tone variance in information transmission. But I doubt I’ll be able to do it non-sarcastically. I was a teenager in the ’90s, after all…


One Response to My Secret Insights on Paizo’s RPG Superstar

  1. Chris says:

    I’m interested in the line between what is so clever it will never be published. Where do you draw that line? Is it something that’s completely original, or is it also regarding how simply you can get the idea across?