Getting into RPG publishing has involved quite a steep learning curve – from the basics of how to write a game (you just write a game) through to the intricacies of publishing that final product. Taking the dive right in approach I decided early on that I wanted to aim for a better layout than I could reasonably achieve with just a text document so I started to teach myself. Thanks to training in how to format academic posters I already had an understanding of the basics but dug deeper into the theory, guided by the The Non‑Designer’s Design Book.
Simultaneously I also dived into the software side in the form of Scribus, a free and open source desktop publishing program. While not as powerful or as intuitive (or as functional) as InDesign as a newbie doing this as a hobby it provided everything I needed and more. The difference between Channel Surfing, my first release using Scribus through to The Synth Convergence are a testament to the value of incremental improvements.
Last month though I made the switch from Scribus to Affinity Publisher, a vastly more powerful program and decided to go back to basics from the get go – everything from templates and style guides to page organisation and image assets. The difference was, once again, rather immediate even though I had yet to add anything beyond placeholder content.
This week though, after spending a number of hours just on setup and planning I made a rather hard decision. To start again. Why? Not because the template wasn’t working or because I’d abandoned the project but because of the slim possibility that I might want to submit these files for Print on Demand at some point in the future. It’s not the only thing I’ve thrown out this week – I’ve restarted a Sprawl mission draft three times because it wasn’t working. It’s only a small amount of text but it simply wasn’t working.
That willingness to throw material away, or even admit something wasn’t working has been a hard lesson to learn. A little over month into 2020 and happily going backwards. It’s not the position I’d planned to be in at this point but hopefully the extra work will pay off in the long run.
After a rush of activity at the end of 2019 I’ve started the year a little more sedately while I work out what I want to focus on. Right now that has involved a significant amount of jumping between ideas, making a little progress and then moving to the next one. I’ve completed a draft of The Geller Protocol, the first of my Sprawl mission packets (using a minimal one page format) and made headway with Say Aaargh, an expanded version of the very first Demon Hunters adventure I ever ran. Progress on Clean-Up Crew continues to evade me – the Fiasco format is harder to get my head around than I ever imagined but I would really like to get it completed so I can wrap up the Slice of Life material.
In typical fashion it is The Dyson Eclipse where my brain is firing on all cylinders. It probably helps here that I’m still at the ideas stage, so I can just jot down options and possibilities without needing to work them into a cohesive whole. What I’m still missing though is that central conceit.
What is the core focus of the game, what do the characters do.
Until I can get that solidified any real progress is going to be at a glacial pace as I can’t lock in mechanics without that aspect. So for now I’m researching – despite being a massive sci-fi fan my collection of sci-fi RPGs is relatively small. I’ve picked a few core systems to go over, to see how they work through the problem and what options they present for gameplay beyond the typical scoundrels in space.
The final thing I’ve been working on is learning to use Affinity Publisher after buying a new desktop computer for at home. That has been a lot of fun and I’ve been going back to basics as I get to grips with it. So far, so good and I think the fact that I have a much better appreciation of layout concepts than when I first opened up Scribus has been a massive help. I’ve started to put together a series of layout templates for Demon Hunters as once Clean-Up Crew is out I’d like to do a complete revamp of my layout. There isn’t anything explicitly wrong with my existing format but it could definitely be a lot better. The alternate badness table incorporated a number of new elements and going forward I’d like to have a template that would be useable for both PDF and print formats. Yes, that’s right. Print. DrivethruRPG offer print on demand options so I think it is worth exploring. It would be great if some day in the future I could offer material at a convention and this is one of the options that would facilitate that.
After saying that I’d started off sedately putting this together actually makes me realise that I am already making progress on projects even if it isn’t automatically apparent.
As the hobby grows and diversifies there has been a growing trend amongst indie developers to talk about sales and earnings. While I am only a small hobby publisher I wanted to put my numbers out there, partially so the info is available but also as a point of reference for myself for next year.
2019 Sales (Paid / Total)
Total Sales since release
– / 18
3 / 20
2 / 24
4 / 37
Trick of the Light
6 / 106
2 / 71
The Tannhauser Investment
– / 299
The Synth Convergence
17 / 17
Earnings represent my personal take home after deduction of marketplace fees and automatic payments to collaborators.
2019 Paid Sales / Community copies / Total Downloads*
0 / 0 / 0
0 / – / 1
0 / – / 1
Trick of the Light
0 / – / 4
0 / – / 2
The Synth Convergence
2 / 3 / 39
*Itch reports the total downloads for a product as the sum of each individual file as opposed to number of individuals who have purchased the product. For The Synth Convergence this sums both downloads of the free demo and the two files in the full trilogy – what I don’t know is whether those are by the same users or unique users. Earnings represent my personal take home after deduction of marketplace fees and automatic payments to collaborators.
Not listed in those tables is the £60 for Ghosts of Iron as part of the Crystal Heart kickstarter or a small amount of affiliate link earnings, adding those in brings my total earnings for 2019 to ~£110. Not exactly much but definitely better than nothing.
Looking at the tables there is quite a stark difference between the two platforms. DrivethruRPG is the dominant marketplace for RPGs and the number of downloads reflects this. It is impossible, however, to determine how many of those downloads represent active engagement with the product versus people scraping the site and downloading every free/PWYW release.
With the exception of Missionary Opposition, which started as PWYW before I switched it to a $1.50 paid product, each of my adventure starters for Demon Hunters have been released as PWYW. The main reason for this is because I originally pledged to produce them as a way of supporting the Slice of Life kickstarter. I said I would make them freely available and I have but going forward my plan is to switch over to a predominantly paid model. The overall sales will be smaller but I would like to price future adventures higher to reflect the work that has gone into them. The question here though is whether there is a market for more Demon Hunters material.
The big seller was obviously The Synth Convergence, which has quickly racked up a number of sales. I’d attribute this to two things – The Sprawl is quite a well know game and it received a number of promotional boosts thanks to people retweeting or mentioning it. Even with that though the number of sales on drivethruRPG were higher than on itch. I’ve seen people talking about itch being a better platform and getting more sales than on drivethruRPG but I think that is going to be very dependent on what you’re releasing, whether you’re a known entity and the circles you interact with. I’m not going to stop publishing there but clearly it will require more work going forward.
Alongside actually playing games one of my aims for this year was to step up my efforts as a publisher. It sounds weird to be calling myself a publisher but it is true. I’m a small scale, indie, party of one publisher but still a publisher.
Going into 2019 I had multiple projects on my radar. First off was completing the release of the Demon Hunters Slice of Life mission starters. It took me until July to release Trick of the Light while I only released Talentless Hacks this month, right before the end of the year. With those two starters out in the wild I have one left to complete – Clean-Up Crew, which I thought would be simpler because I had decided to turn that into a Fiasco playset, which is essentially just a collection of tables.
Well it turns out that writing 144 entries that mesh together into a cohesive and compelling whole is harder than it looks so that has sort of stalled for now. Before I push on with it I to spend a bit more time reading through existing playsets, as clearly there is an art to writing them.
Once the Slice of Life releases are complete I can focus on some of the other adventure drafts I have for Demon Hunters. I’ve got a number that are based on old adventures I ran with the original edition of the game, plus I am hoping to run a campaign of it during 2020 to playtest some new ideas. The big one there is Rocket Demons of Antiquity, my dual modern/Victorian adventure featuring Mina Harker and her team. I doubt I’ll write that up by the end of the year but it would be good to get all the bits into place for it.
My second major focus was Ghosts of Iron, a stretch goal commission piece for the Crystal Heart kickstarter. Writing that was a really valuable experience and one that I learned a lot from. First off was designing an adventure that would fit the world. My pitch had originally been inspired by a stock image, drawn by J. E. Shields.
From there I had to craft an adventure that would fit with the Crystal Heart setting, showcase both setting and system and then fit it all into a limited word count using the established ‘One Sheet’ format of Savage Worlds. It was a challenge, but an enjoyable one, helped along by the thrill of getting to run playtests in an amazing (and at the time unpublished) world. One of my big takeaways from writing for Crystal Heart was the value of editing, while I was happy with my initial submission the final release is polished in a way that isn’t really possible without the input of a second person. Sadly, as a one man operation hiring an editor for my future projects isn’t really an option but it’s definitely something I will be more aware of going forward.
The final project was The Synth Convergence, a trilogy of missions for The Sprawl RPG that launched right at the end of November. Initially a collaboration with Chris / @HyveMynd I ended up taking it on largely solo after they had to step back from it. By the end the manuscript had grown to over 10,000 words which needed formatting, edited and laid out – primarily during lunch breaks at work.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t immensely proud of the final product. It looks great and I really feel like the trilogy came together as a whole that groups will enjoy. This product required learning a lot of new skills, especially in terms of layout and graphic design so I’ve spent large parts of the last year just trying to get to grips with new techniques in Inkscape, Gimp and Scribus. It helped immensely that there was an established mission structure for The Sprawl, as I could focus on the content of the missions rather than how to structure them.
In terms of sales The Synth Convergence has already beat my modest target of 10 sales (currently sitting at 15 direct sales) and (not surprisingly) is also my highest earner to date. I handed out a number of business cards with free download links during Dragonmeet but so far only one of those has been redeemed. I could look at that as a negative, but just having the cards to hand out provided a confidence boost when it came to talking to people. Also they look just awesome.
Alongside these three projects there are a host of others that have yet to reach completion or even get off the ground.
After shelving it for far too long Project Cassandra returned to active development, with two playtests and a series of rule revisions. The last playtest highlighted a big issue that needs to be resolved (what is it with Dragonmeet throwing spanners into the works?) but I already have a plan for dealing with that. The big focus going forward is writing – I’ll probably start from scratch using the existing material as a guide rather than a draft so it will be interesting to see how much changes in the process.
I’d also hoped to dip my toes into the DMs Guild this year, but the ideas I had for that have yet to move past initial notes. Part of the reason for that was burnout – running D&D 5e blunted my interest in developing for it far more than I’ve experienced with any other system. With the Immortals campaign now complete I’m hoping that I can revitalise my interest in those ideas as I think they each have merit, especially Tales from the Campfire.
Finally there’s The Dyson Eclipse, a vague idea for a space opera game using an adaptation of the Faith Corps system that powers Demon Hunters. Right now that project is little more than a collection of scribbled thoughts. I’m going to work on it over the coming year but with no expectation that it will be complete any time soon. The first hurdle is likely to be the biggest – what do you do? I’d rather avoid producing yet another scoundrels in space game, there are enough of those out there already. Similarly I don’t want dungeon crawling in space, which I realised I was leaning towards during my first crack at outlining the game.
So what does the big list for 2020 look like right now?
Dr Ahoudi’s Mutant Menagerie / Say Aaargh
Knights of the Dawn
Eat In or Stake Out
Motion in the Ocean
Rocket Demons of Antiquity
Tales from the Campfire
Untitled Eberron adventure
The Dyson Eclipse
The Sprawl mission starters
7I/2034 V1 incursion for Trophy Dark
Plus a couple of unannounced hacks/adventures where I need to contact a few people first
At the end of 2018 I was in the process of rebuilding after a couple of busy years that included moving away from my regular gaming group in Wycombe and then floundering about for a while failing to find a new, consistent game. After moving to Liverpool I’d started running semi-regular one shots at Sugar & Dice but really, what I wanted was a weekly game.
As 2018 came to close I got that, with The Immortals, a (somewhat) regular D&D game that ran all the way through to November of this year. I chanced into that game, as a colleague at work had picked up the starter set and was planning on running it even though they’d really rather have played. So I volunteered myself as DM, with a group of players that were pretty much brand new to the hobby. As I discussed during the round up D&D will never be my go to system but it was a fun campaign and it was refreshing to play for people that had yet to experience so many of the tropes that I’ve come to take for granted.
While our D&D campaign comprised the bulk of my sessions I was fortunate to be able to fit in a number of one-shots, primarily with the main group and occasionally at Sugar & Dice. Those covered a mix of systems and included playtests of material that I was writing for publication (which I’ll talk about more in Part 2). Including D&D I think I ran six distinct systems this year, which isn’t as high as I’d have liked but not too shabby. There were some systems that I’d planned to run but didn’t get around to, most notably Legend of the Five Rings 5th Edition and The Cthulhu Hack so I’ll have to ensure I get around to them in 2020.
Beyond gaming with a regular group 2019 was also the year I got back to conventions. Starting with UK Games Expo in June I then managed to follow-up with a series of one day events, BurritoCon 3 and BurritoCon 4 over in Manchester before rounding the year out with Dragonmeet (and a pile of con loot). While I found Expo to be a little overwhelming it was definitely worth the trip just to see how well the hobby is doing right now. The two BurritoCon events were at the complete other end of the spectrum – small, personal and focused on playing rather than selling. It’s pretty much a given that I’ll attend them again in the future. Then, finally, there was Dragonmeet. After a few years away it felt like returning home, an impressive feat given how much it has grown in those intervening years.
Despite all of that the one thing I didn’t do much this year was play. I’m used to being the GM and it is my preferred role but looking back I’ve played in a total of only three sessions this year and each of those were convention games (Victoriana, Marvel FASERIP and Goblin Quest). I’d like to play more but have struggled to find the right games (>90% of everything available locally is, no surprise, D&D).
All of that re-engagement has carried over here to the blog. Compared to 2018 I’ve written twice as many posts, doubled the number of views and more than doubled the number of visitors. While I can attribute those increases to a small number of specific factors (I did daily posts or RPGaDay while over half of the additional views came from my review of the D&D Monster Cards) it is still encouraging to see posts building some traction. I’m under no illusion about the reach of this blog, in the grand scheme of things my numbers are tiny but growth is growth and I’m going to do my best to continue building on that in 2020.
That desire to maintain, and build on, the momentum of 2019 is my core aim for 2020. With the conclusion of our D&D campaign it will include the start of a new Demon Hunters campaign, interspaced with a mixture of one-shots. I’m also going to do my best to expand my gaming beyond my regular group, not only as a GM and player but locally and nationally given how much I have enjoyed getting back to conventions. All in all I think 2020 should be quite a year.
I don’t listen to much in the way of fiction, either as podcasts or audio books. Primarily this is because I find it difficult to follow a continuing narrative unless I can give them 100% of my attention. I even struggle with Actual Plays if they have been highly edited or had sound effects added. So when I heard about the adaptation of the Lovecraft story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward that aired on BBC radio earlier this year I was apprehensive. Thankfully, they’d decided to frame the story through the lens of a fictional investigative podcast and the result was amazing. Brilliantly acted, addictive and atmospheric.
The second season of the show, inspired by the story The Whisperer in Darkness aired this month. I binge listened to the first season again in anticipation and then raced through the new episodes as dropped and was not disappointed. The show is, frankly, excellent. It is a masterclass in world building, taking the seeds planted in the first season and expanding it out to a bigger world with history, conspiracies and consequences all lurking under the surface.
I don’t want to say too much because of the potential for spoilers but suffice to say if you enjoy the Cthulhu mythos and cosmic horror you should listen to both seasons of the show. It’s seriously good.
All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond my expectations. The Whisperer in Darkness is available as a free download through BBC Sounds and most major podcast apps.
Hollywood. People go missing all the time, it’s a big place and people don’t tend to announce when they’ve decided to give up the dream and head back home. So when a 3rd rate mystic was apparently possessed live on daytime TV the Brotherhood took notice and your team got the call. Track down the mystic and find out what’s really going on. They’re probably just another run of the mill fraud but if not we need to find the spirits and this group of talentless hacks before whatever they summoned gets loose.
Talentless Hacks is an adventure starter for the Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors RPG by Dead Gentlemen Productions. Inspired by the Demon Hunters Slice of Life bonus episode Feed the Beast this adventure starter provides a framework for DMs to adapt and run an adventure for their home groups.
Within it you will find a mission overview, breakdown of important locations, intel, threats and a collection of NPCs to populate the adventure. With an open ended structure it is up to you and your group to decide how the adventure will unfold
Will the Chapter save the day? Possibly.
Will they be lauded as heroes? Unlikely.
Will the chaos and destruction that follows them be captured on camera and risk exposing the entire Brotherhood? Almost certainly.
Talentless Hacks is available now from drivethruRPG and itch.io as a Pay What You Want release. Paid purchases, feedback or reviews are greatly appreciated and keep me motivated to produce more material.