Writing for a Dungeons & Dragons character class: The Gunslinger

I recently got my first TTRPG writing commission and am thrilled to have a writer credit in the TTRPG industry! With brilliant game design, slick art direction, and awesome original artwork, I am proud to be the writer on this project. Here’s how I got the gig and what it was like to write for The Gunslinger.

The cover of The Gunslinger character class shows a clawed hand reaching for a revolver as two panther-like creatures advance

The Gunslinger project offers a whole new class for Dungeons & Dragons (5E) and is designed by respected D&D content creator, heavyarms (The Complete Armourer’s Handbook, 2019). Now available on general release, without further ado, let me tell you about my writer role on the project.

The Gunslinger is a new character class for Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition, bringing firearms into your game without upsetting the balance of play. With five original archetypes inspired by legends of the Old West and scenes from classic Western movies, it presents whole new possibilities for creating great characters and memorable encounters.

How I got the job writing for a TTRPG character class

TTRPGs are growing in popularity and there are countless people worldwide who want to create work in this field. However, it remains a relatively small industry. Only a handful of companies are large enough to employ teams of professional writers, artists, and designers in-house. For small to mid-sized indie publishers and creators, drawing on a diverse pool of skilled freelancers has lead to an incredible array of creative projects. Finding this community and taking part in it, was my first step towards writing for RPGs.

Through Ashley Warren’s RPG Writer Workshop, I joined a course to learn about writing RPG adventures. This was a brilliant experience, I quickly understood the important differences in writing for an RPG format and other writing crafts I have worked in. I finished the course feeling inspired by the possibilities in RPG writing and informed enough to see a path to find work in this field. One of the most important outcomes from taking part in the RPG Writer Workshop, was that I found the RPG writing community. I use Discord and Twitter over other platforms, through these I was able to engage with a thriving online community of welcoming, supportive, creative and open-minded people.

Being part of the RPG Writer Workshop was empowering and inspiring. It fuelled my desire to work in this field and gave me new avenues to pursue in finding paid opportunities as an RPG writer.

Jamie Rhodes

Through the RPG Writer Workshop Discord server, and by following lots of creators on Twitter, I was able to find new opportunities to get involved in RPG projects. I optimised my personal website to best showcase my work in comics, screen, and prose, then put my name forward for any gigs that seemed a good fit with my writing style. I received many polite rejections or sometimes no reply at all (there is a lot of competition for RPG writing gigs!). I saw heavyarms’ post on Twitter when he was seeking a writer and replied with a link to my website. Thankfully, he liked my work and invited me to write for The Gunslinger.

The RPG Writer Workshop has since become part of Ashley Warren’s wider creative writing project, The Storytelling Collective. I have completed two of their RPG writing courses and highly recommend checking out what The Storytelling Collective have to offer.

The 5 steps to my first paid TTRPG writing job:

  1. Find your TTRPG community and introduce yourself.
  2. Research and read the great work that other creators are putting out.
  3. Practice writing in this way to learn the nuances of the craft.
  4. Optimise your website and digital footprint to showcase your work.
  5. Put your name forward for TTRPG projects that need writers.

Who is heavyarms?

Heavyarms is best known as the creator of the legendary weapon and armour upgrade system for D&D (5e), The Complete Armorer’s Handbook.

Widely regarded in the D&D community as the most comprehensive, considered, and well-executed book of its kind, it holds the “Adamantine” best seller status. This is the highest rank selling status on the DMs Guild, reserved for titles with over 5000 downloads. It is a mark of some prestige and shows recognition of the quality and popularity of Heavy’s work.

After the success of The Complete Armorer’s Handbook, heavyarms decided to go independent. Rather than publishing directly on the DMs Guild, The Gunslinger uses the Open-Gaming License (OGL) that Wizards of the Coast created for the D&D 5E system. This means it is available through his own publishing label and opens up many possibilities for the content. I hope to get heavyarms’ thoughts on the pros and cons of using the OGL in a future article. For now, check out his newly launched website, it looks really slick and is packed with great content.

“With well-developed rules for weapon and armor upgrades, a runic system for enchanting equipment, and a gorgeous, professional layout, The Complete Armorer’s Handbook is one of the most impressive, and useful supplements.”

from review by Rogue Watson

What is the process of writing for a D&D character class project?

The Gunslinger is my first and, so far, only published work in the TTRPG form. This in mind, my thoughts here should not be taken as a definitive guide.

First of all, heavyarms and I had a project kick-off chat via a Discord call. We discussed the classic western gunslinger tropes and the tone this work would take to capture the feeling of that world, while remaining as setting-neutral as possible. This was particularly important for us because it allows the player to insert a gunslinger character into their own world, irrespective of setting.

A screenshot of a section of Heavyarms' Gunslinger briefing document given to writer, Jamie Rhodes. It shows word counts and structure for each section of the character class
A screenshot of a section of heavyarms’ Gunslinger briefing document

Heavyarms provided a detailed page-by-page breakdown brief. This included approximate word counts and suggestions for a desired approach in each creative writing section. Having such a clearly defined brief was extremely helpful for me as a writer and for the whole collaborative process generally. I was able to enjoy the creative freedom to write to a word limit, without worrying I would write too much and have to extensively re-draft sections.

He also shared work-in-progress pages giving a rough idea of the potential layout. These pages contained some sections of copy in which game mechanics took precedent over creative flair. Getting this insight was valuable. It helped me to ensure my creative descriptions made sense alongside the game mechanics of the archetypes, as well as maintaining a consistent voice across the work.

For stylistic references, we aimed to follow the familiar approach of the official D&D players handbook character class pages – but challenged ourselves to do it better. We felt we could improve the readability, excitement and general quality in the writing. My background in a range of creative writing crafts and Heavyarms’ experience in game design, were an effective combination of skillsets for the task.

I submitted my first draft pages to heavyarms in a Word document format, he then tested how they might fit in-situ in the layout in InDesign. My copy was placed alongside place-holder images because the artwork was still being created at this time. To see the work coming to life was the ideal way to better understand what was working and what might need re-drafting. Beginning from broad approximate word counts meant there were places where I had written too much, but we knew this might be the case. Now, with visibility of more accurate final word counts, it was much easier to tighten my copy to fit.

Once the copy was finalised and fit neatly with the layout work, heavyarms sent it to his editor, Iam Pace. It was out of my hands from here, so I can’t comment on the editing process. Heavyarms did me the courtesy of sending me the finished piece for a last look after edits. It all looked great and I did no further writing at the time, though we may revisit certain parts in future if player feedback suggests we should.

From a writer’s perspective, working with such a passionate and dedicated perfectionist game designer gave me the freedom to focus purely on the creative writing. I thoroughly enjoyed writing this work and being part of the project, safe in the knowledge that the end result would be of the highest quality.

Tips for those embarking on a similar TTRPG writing commission:

  • When commissioning writers: give us as clear a brief with as much detail as you have. This keeps everyone on the same page from the start. Heavyarms’ approach to briefing was spot-on. It achieved the ideal balance of being neither stifling in limitation nor rudderless in creative freedom.
  • When being commissioned as a TTRPG writer: don’t be precious about specific bits of writing. TTRPG layouts need many different components (feature artwork, spot illustrations, tables, section headings, to name a few) and game designers face a challenge to fit everything together. The pages also need plenty of open space for the work to “breathe” and not look cluttered. The chances are, you’ll end up changing/trimming your writing anyway. You’ll always have more ideas, so don’t get too attached to small details.

Creative flavour

The opening paragraphs directly under the class heading (here, “Barbarian”) are typically structured as short paragraphs of creative flavour. They aim to inspire players to choose this class by painting a picture of each class archetype. Usually, each paragraph describes a scene that spotlights one aspect of what makes each archetype unique.

These individual scenes are then followed by a brief summary-style paragraph of the class as a whole.

Deconstructing a D&D Player’s Handbook class intro page

Shown here, “The Barbarian” class follows the typical structure of the intro to a D&D 5E class in the Player’s Handbook

Class

The first descriptive subheading (here, “Primal Instinct”) focuses on what makes the class different. It typically narrates a general feel of the class. The focus is on any of the features in the class’s core, while not dipping into archetype specifics.

World

The second subheading (here, “A Life of Danger”) tackles how the class operates in the game world. For The Gunslinger, we wanted to capture the essence of the Wild West, but avoid specific descriptors such as “hot” or “arid”. This class is for any game world, so we aimed to be open enough to fit any climate/ geography.

Who worked on The Gunslinger D&D character class?

Heavyarms searched far and wide to assemble this team, scouring the four corners of the Earth to bring us together. I am honoured to be part of this project and be named alongside these brilliant creators!

An inside page from The Gunslinger. Shows three riders on the trail, one is an orc on a stag

Created by:

Heavyarms

Design Consultant:

Nicolo Dela Merced

Writing and Editing:

Jamie Rhodes, Iam Pace

Art Direction and Graphic Design:

Heavyarms

Cover Illustrator:

Sergey Gurskiy

Interior Illustrator:

Rendy Basuki

Cover Concept:

Damian Audino

The artists who worked on The Gunslinger:

The Gunslinger features original artwork, commissioned specifically for this work. I am a huge fan of illustrated artwork and, mainly through my background in comics writing, have had the privilege of working with fantastically talented artists. However, many RPG creators choose to use generic stock art. This is not necessarily bad; stock art is commonly used in the industry, even in some of the highest calibre work. However, I was delighted that heavyarms chose to commission bespoke artwork.

Supporting artists in this way makes the whole project even more appealing to be part of, as well as resulting in a more exciting and unique final piece for players to enjoy. Heavy’s choice of artists really raises the quality and originality of the work.

Sergey Gurskiy

Find more Sergey Gurskiy art here

Damian Audino

Find more Damian Audino art here

Rendy Basuki

Find more Rendy Basuki art here

Watch a review of The Gunslinger

TTRPG reviewer and creator, Indestructoboy, explains why he rates the heavyarms Gunslinger so highly and his experience of using The Gunslinger at his gaming table.

This Gunslinger feels like the ranged Barbarian rather than the ranged Monk. Which, to me, was a huge selling point…I love this Gunslinger so much more than the other options I’ve seen out there!

Indestructoboy – Game Designer and Reviewer

Looking for a writer for your next TTRPG project? Contact me:

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