As I’ve gone back to dive into the options that are 4e D&D, I took another hard look at something near and dear to my heart: my 4e published article, The Trinket Lord. Published in Dungeon 205 (August 2012), it was another article in the Court of Stars series about the Archfey. With GenCon 2017 occurring right now, I figured it's a good time to talk about such things again. I had always found the Court of Stars articles extremely intriguing and full of adventure hooks, but when I pitched this article, only two existed, The Prince of Frost (Dragon 374) and the Bramble Queen (Dungeon 185).
The Trinket Lord was originally pitched back in April 2012, when WotC accepted article submissions for their Dragon and Dungeon magazines. My contact for the entire process was Greg Bilsland (which was a major “whoa!” moment for me). I consider my relatively short interactions with Greg to have been extremely insightful, as he gave me a good mix of compliments and critiques and helped me improve on my writing abilities.
The original pitch had the Trinket Lord as a large squirrel with glowing green markings running along his fur. His demesne was a giant drey (a squirrel’s nest), and he collected and traded for items much like he did in the final article. WotC found the proposal intriguing, but kindly asked me to reconsider some of the silliness and re-pitch the idea with a more humanoid approach. With my second, expanded pitch, they asked me to start working on the article. During August of 2012, I was invited to attend a special session at Gen Con for the WotC freelancers. At the end of the seminar, I introduced myself to many of the people whose names graced the covers of all my favorite books and content. After introducing myself to Chris Perkins, he chuckled a bit and said “you know, the first thing that stuck out to me during your pitch was the giant squirrel”. It was a laughable, yet extremely humbling moment. It just goes to show you that your first ideas don’t always make it, but they can be just as memorable and tell a lot of great stories.
WotC was extremely kind to me during the editing process, gently coaching me along to meet their standards and improving my writing skills. I wrote a first draft and submitted it on mid April, to which they gave me some feedback and asked me for another due date, this time sending it to Chris Perkins himself (being a D&D rookie who had spent a good chunk of his time watching the Robot Chicken game and reading the DM Experience, you can imagine what reading that email was like). The requested date was late May, giving me about another month to polish it. I did, and heard nothing until a month later, when Chris replied telling me they liked my article and wanted to publish it. I got to see the rough sketch of the art they had commissioned for the character, and then it was up to me to wait. When the article was published in August, I was told it was one of the quickest turnarounds they had ever had (a good combination of luck and diligence).
When I wrote the article, D&D Next had already been announced, making the 4e fans feel like things were already getting sun downed. I know I felt that way, not wanting to see 4e go. The playtest changed my fears, and I think 5e is a super strong system, with the books and materials coming out at the right pace. However, back in 2012, I realized that 4e was coming to an end, and wanted to use my article as a tribute to some of the things that I loved that inspired me.
The Trinket Lord contains two magic items. I can’t remember why I decided on two, but my guess is that those were my strongest ideas, and instead of trying to pass junk off, I focused on the ones I felt the most passionate about.
My favorite pre-Essentials class to play in 4e was the Artificer (hence the name of my blog and my twitter handle). I loved the idea of empowering weapons and armor, and I also loved the idea of carrying around trinkets and gear to be used. I’m a huge fan of crafting, alchemical items, and potions so I wanted to include that I treasured about the game. With that mindset, I created the Potion of Feyspeak, a common magic item (since those were the easiest to craft). It went through a few tweaks, but by the end, it allowed the user to be able to communicate with any fey beast. From a 4e standpoint, this includes owlbears, displacer beasts, fey panthers, su monsters, feyspitter spiders, oblivion mosses ambush vines, treants, will-o'-wisps (for those that don’t speak Elven). Definitely something useful for exploring and making friends! I could see interacting with displacer beasts being like when Mowgli is talking to Shere Khan in the Jungle Book. The encounter should be very tense, with the creatures possibly striking at any moment. Now to order some miniatures for that…
The second item was me paying homage to the first dungeons I ever delved into, those in the world of Hyrule and the Legend of Zelda. I had no clue about d20’s and critical hits, but knew plenty about the Seven Sages, the Ocarina of Time, and the various treasures one would collect on their quest. To give a little shout-out to the game, I created the Amulet of Truth. This treasure allowed one to find hidden doors, disguised creatures, and upped your Insight score. It definitely hit the nail on the head, and spoke to all the fey trickery one would find dealing with those fickle creatures.
I also include a random table to roll on, indicating the various trinkets and treasures one could find at the Trinket Lord’s demesne. I included a number of items that had real life stories to them. The chair with the minotaur-horn headrest was a reference to an old chair my great-grandparents once had that my brother and I always dreamed about getting (because why not?). The chair and the Shadar-kai tattoo kit were call outs to both of my brothers’ favorite PC races, the minotaur and the Shadar-kai. The wooden ocarina was a callout to the Fairy Ocarina of Kokri Woods, and the gardener’s tools were an homage to another great writer I admire, J.R.R. Tolkien. From my own experiences, and talking to other writers, it is impossible not to put the things you love that have influenced you into your work.
Tony Foti did a great job with the art, and I was able to purchase a print off him, which he sent to me signed. The print was finally custom framed once I bought my house, and sits proudly in our office/game room.
After getting the article pitch accepted, I didn’t write anything else for 4e. I sent in many pitches, but they were all rejected. While that may sound sad or disappointing, I don’t think of it that way. Each rejected pitch was a new way of learning how to write them, and each “failure” only made my success that much more to be proud of. In the winter of 2013, I was asked if I wanted to be part of the Alpha Playtesting group, which I heartily accepted and have continued to be a part of for everything in 5e. I really enjoy being able to see thing from behind the scenes and make suggestions and provide feedback. I would like to think that I was able to get the tonfa included in the 5e DMG based on me suggesting it!
It's funny how goals and things can totally change over time. Back in 2011, I wanted to become a big name gaming author, seeing my day job as a way to support myself while I pursued such things. My experience with the Trinket Lord taught me a major thing about the business: it takes a TON of work to develop a good pitch and then write something of high quality to publish! As a reader, it might take a good half hour to read an article, but writing and developing the articles takes months of time! A lot of people don't realize this, yet I can't stress it enough. The creators that work on these things put a ton of time and passion into their work. Thank them!
Now, in 2017 (crazy how time flies), I have a very different perspective on the entire freelance endeavor. I've been able to talk to a lot of these authors (calling quite a few of them friends). These people have their own day jobs, balancing freelancing as a side project. I had unrealistic expectations for myself, and was pretty naive about the entire field and how it worked.
My gaming perspectives have changed as well. I legit used to think that my writing would be a measure of my worth as a gamer (silly, I know). I think part of it was the feeling of "selling out" as I went into the real world, taking a job I didn't really want, but needed to get my foot in the door. Like failure, humility is another huge step that helps mold us in greater things. There are always opportunities to learn, if we are willing to look for them.
As for my writing, it still continues, mostly in world building and session prep stuff that I have stored on my handy flash drive. Revisiting my blog has allowed me to share my thoughts with the gaming community. I published a dungeon crawl on the DM's Guild (that's another blog post), and I've contributed to another upcoming encounter collection as well. As I've learned, small steps always lead to bigger things, and taking the time to appreciate those steps is what's most important.
And that is one of the many lessons of the fey.