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E.G.O. Writer’s Spotlight: John Kennedy

Welcome back to the E.G.O. Writer’s Spotlight, an occasional series where we highlight writers of our E.G.O. Everyday Heroes adventures! As a former writing teacher and coach, world builder, editor, and writer myself, I always enjoy listening to writers talk about their craft. Hopefully, you do too. As the creators of the adventures that entertain and sustain our TTRPG community, these Everyday Heroes of the written word have fascinating stories to tell and interesting insights to share.

Our third writer in the spotlight is John Kennedy, the writer for the upcoming E.G.O. Assignment 5: Beyond the Blue Yonder, an out-of-this-world adventure in which REDEMPTION agents race through space to catch loons on the moon and recover a lunar artifact before it is snatched by the mysterious agents of M.O.M. John’s penchant for science fiction and comedy made them a natural choice for this story of low-gravity-hijinks, and we can’t wait to bring it to you. Let’s hear what they have to say…

Welcome to the Writer’s Spotlight! Can you first give us a sense of your background and personality as a writer. How would you characterize your writing voice and style, or the kinds of adventures that you excel at?

I have written so much in the past 20 years (adventures, fiction, comic strips, and more!), but if I had to characterize my writing voice and style I’d say that I really excel at world building. I love creating compelling, interesting, and—most importantly—fun lore for the players to read, follow, and draw from when creating their own adventures. I don’t spell out the entirety of the setting (‘cause where’s the fun in that?) because I love when players put their own twists on plot threads that I have created or when they create characters that follow my story threads to their own conclusions. I’m also pretty good at writing comedy; I’m especially proud of my work in Star Trek Adventures: Lower Decks and Staged Heroism, which is my homage to Venture Brothers

As someone who has been involved in a lot of world building, I totally get that. So, how did you get started as a TTRPG or adventure writer, and which projects/assignments are you most proud of or have been significant in your development as a writer thus far?

I had always wanted to write for roleplaying games because I was obsessed with them as a teenager. And in 2004, I was the stereotypical  aspiring young writer who was messaging big companies with pitches for 400-page sourcebooks or my own games without any regard (as I came to realize) for how  a professional should conduct themselves. As you can guess, it didn’t work out. Then, one day, I somehow became friends with Lynn Willis, who was a developer with Chaosium at the time. 

Lynn saw that I had a good heart, and he actually took the time to teach me the basics of how to be a professional in the industry. I learned more from him than I did in my Purdue undergraduate program. Lynn taught me to treat writing as a serious business, learn my basics like grammar and spelling, and that I couldn’t just sidestep the process and go straight to the top with big-budget projects. So, I worked hard, made a small portfolio, and got my start with a company that did d20 western adventures. There, I wrote my first published work, an adventure called The Coffin Box Murders. I kept working hard and got a few more things published in Chaosium’s adventure compilations as well as a few small fiction pieces. Eventually, I got to work on Shadow Nations for Apophis Consortium. After that, my career really started to take off!

As for which project I’m most proud of, it’s really difficult to choose. I’ve been privileged to get to work on some amazing projects with some equally amazing people: Star Trek Adventures, Tiny Supers, Ninja Crusade, and other great games like Stargate SG-1: the Roleplaying Game and, of course, Heckin’ Good Doggos! Each time I work on a project, I learn and take away something new that makes me work harder and be a better writer. 

It’s so helpful for aspiring writers in the industry to have a mentor, and in your case it really paid off. Tell us about your E.G.O. assignment. What did you enjoy about this assignment, and what were the challenges? Which aspects of this adventure do you hope GMs and players will particularly enjoy?

I was tapped by the E.G.O. program to write Assignment 5: Beyond the Blue Yonder. I’ve worked with Bryan Steele for years, and he knows how much I enjoy writing comedy in roleplaying games. Writing comedy can be tough, because humor can have an unpredictably short shelf life if you are not careful with it. You also have to make sure that the jokes are easy for the GM to convey and that there is enough room in the adventure for the players to have fun with them without getting too distracted. But when you do it right—comedy is fun to write and makes for a great time for both the GM and the players. 

You’re so right—comedy is a challenging assignment. Can you describe your current process as an adventure writer, then? Once you receive an assignment, how do you proceed from the initial setup to the final draft?

My first step is to ask questions. I love it when a developer sends me an outline filled with details and clarifications, because it helps me to establish a framework for what I need to do. Then, I start by asking a few simple questions of the developer about my initial ideas, such as, “Can I add this?” “What do you think of me adding that?” and “Can I add this new plot point?” Once I get my questions answered, I set up and get cracking!

I try to do more planning but, honestly, I find that some of my best inspiration comes while writing. I imagine how, as a player, I would want to play the adventure and what choices I would make. Then, I step into the shoes of the GM and think about how I want to keep it going. That helps me figure out where the weaknesses are in my own outline and also where I can bring in what the developer needs in the adventure. 

And beyond E.G.O, what projects are you currently working on, or looking to work on, next?

I’m currently working on Star Trek Adventures, 2nd Edition! It’s amazing to have been on this line since the beginning. I love working in science fiction and it’s a dream come true to pay tribute to a series that has been so influential on me and so many others.  And I also have a few indie games that I’m working on at the moment, including Pulsars, which is my love letter to cosmic superheroes, Lovecraftian horror, and space opera. In the future, I’m hoping—someday—to get to work on Star Wars, which also meant so much to me as a kid. That way, I can say that I’ve worked on, as The Simpsons would put it, “Stars Trek, Wars, and Gate.” 

Could you share any tips or insights for aspiring professional TTRPG adventure writers?

It can be really disheartening to be told no. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I still feel upset when people say no to me about working on a project, or having a rejection email, or seeing some intense redlines. So, it’s really important to realize that, in our industry, you will hear “No” many more times than you will hear “Yes.” But don’t let that keep you down! Even some of the most incredible designers, writers, artists, and editors in our industry still get told “No” and they go on to do great things! If you keep at it, your dreams will come true. 

The second-best thing that I can tell people is never be afraid to ask questions when working on a project and, if possible, ask them early. I know that, sometimes, work can get away from us and we can only start working on a project a few days before the first draft is due. But the more time that you give yourself to ask questions about things that you are not clear on, the quicker the developer can get back to you about it. 

Oh, and the last piece of advice that I can give someone is “Be kind to yourself.” Burnout is all too real, and sometimes the negative things that  people say online can build up and weigh you down. Remember, the first audience who gets to see the project that you work on is yourself. If you find yourself hating working on it because you are tired, or exhausted, or just downright anxious, talk to your developer right away about what you can do about it. We’re all human. Trust me, I still get burnout from time to time.

Do you have a website or a platform where people can access your other work?

I don’t currently have a platform of my own but you can find my work on DrivethruRPG! You can search for me either as John Kennedy or John D Kennedy depending on how my name is listed by companies. 


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