Design diary: Going backwards to go forwards

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.

2020: Initial Projects

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.

Reflecting on 2019 – Part 3: Earnings

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.

DrivethruRPG

ProductRelease Date2019 Sales (Paid / Total)Total Sales since release2019 EarningsTotal Earnings
Towerfall05/2016– / 18207
Channel Surfing05/20173 / 20283$3.50$5.13
Missionary Opposition12/20172 / 24241$4.55$7.80
Lockdown08/20184 / 37162$3.75$5.77
Trick of the Light07/20196 / 106106$7.02$7.02
Talentless Hacks12/20192 / 7171$0.70$0.70
The Tannhauser Investment10/2019– / 299299
The Synth Convergence11/201917 / 1717$48.00$48.00
Earnings represent my personal take home after deduction of marketplace fees and automatic payments to collaborators.

Itch

ProductRelease Date2019 Paid Sales / Community copies / Total Downloads*2019 EarningsTotal Earnings
Channel Surfing05/20190 / 0 / 0$0$0
Missionary Opposition06/20190 / – / 1$0$0
Lockdown06/20190 / – / 1$0$0
Trick of the Light07/20190 / – / 4$0$0
Talentless Hacks12/20190 / – / 2$0$0
The Synth Convergence11/20192 / 3 / 39$10.72$10.72
*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.

Thoughts

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.

New Release: Talentless Hacks Adventure Starter for Demon Hunters RPG

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.

New Release: The Synth Convergence

Initialising subroutines… decryption protocols active
(cy2.12) CaseHD@AlphaC
Password: *****************************
Identity confirmed… Welcome back runner

Encrypted message incoming
RouteTrace.ise: Interrupt error 2.5 – dumping log
Message begins:

Welcome to the future hackers and runners, mercs and shadows. Welcome to The Synth Convergence from LunarShadow Designs.

It takes time and money to be a professional which means one thing – jobs. Off the book, spec-ops jobs run by deniable resources that work outside the Corporate system that runs the Sprawl and every other one just like it. The Synth Convergence provides teams with a trilogy of new missions built around synthetic lifeforms. Push the limits of technology with independent, autonomous artificial intelligences that require no sleep, no wages and no rights.

In The Tannhauser Investment (also available as free demo from drivethruRPG and itch.io) your team are brought in to negotiate the tricky process of a hostile Corporate takeover – all while evading the awareness of the synth consciousness built into the super-luxury hotel the target is holed up in.

The Infinitive Extraction takes the team to the beating heart of the entertainment districts as they seek to extract Infinitive Cascade, the hottest DJ on the circuits from an exploitative contract. But do your employers want them for their musical talents or the military codebase at the core of their personality matrix?

Finally in The Vanda-Weiss Demolition the past catches up with your operatives as they face off against The Evolved, a radical fringe group dedicated to wiping out synths and returning humanity to the true path before they are toppled by their own creations.

Get in, do the job, get out. It’s never that simple but if it was they wouldn’t have hired professionals like you.

The Synth Convergence is available to purchase now from driveThruRPG or itch.io. The Synth Convergence requires a copy of The Sprawl RPG to play. Purchase it from Ardens Ludere on driveThruRPG. Support the creators – buy the game.

Con Report: BurritoCon4

It feels like it was only yesterday that I was reporting on BurritoCon 3 (was it really all the way back in July?) yet I find myself back from BurritoCon 4, held once again at FanBoy 3 in Manchester. Organised by @OldScouserRPing I had another amazing day of gaming that just highlights what small events can achieve. Games were once again split into two three-hour slots with five tables a piece (though one morning game was unfortunately cancelled due to GM illness) and a host of systems on offer (none of which were D&D!).

For the morning slot I gravitated straight to Goblin Quest, a comedy, semi-narrative game of incompetent Goblins attempting to complete tasks that are beyond their feeble capabilities. It was an utter blast and I’ll be keeping an eye out for a copy of it in the future. Somehow, despite our many deaths (each player has a small contingent of goblins at their disposal) we completed our simple task of putting on a play and even avoided being fireballed by evil Wizards at the end.

The well-seasoned clutch of Yark, N’Gargh and Mesk. None of whom survived their mission.

For the afternoon slot I had volunteered to run a game and keeping with the comedy theme I went with Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors. I’ve been working on Talentless Hacks, the latest Slice of Life adventure starter, so this provided an excellent field test of the material.

With only 3 hours I chose to cut a number of the investigative elements, to the extent that I was worried about finishing early but we came in almost exactly on time. The game was great fun and all of the players really got into the characters and setting, culminating with the fight against REDACTED. There were definitely elements that could be improved and I don’t think the PCs were ever in any real danger (it is one of my consistent weaknesses as a GM) so I’ll be upping some of the threats during editing. Overall though the adventure works so it’ll be my priority once The Synth Convergence is released.

One of the nice touches of Fanboy 3 is their approach to supporting GMs, players pay £3 per session while the GM not only gets to run for free but receives £1 store credit per player! I’ve been consuming snippets of Cthulhu inspired material recently so my credit went towards the Mother’s Love hardback for The Cthulhu Hack, an excellent lightweight take on the genre. I don’t tend to run much in the way of prewritten material but flicking through the adventures in the book they grabbed my attention so hopefully I’ll get a chance to run some players through them soon.

While there are no immediate plans for the next BurritoCon I can say for sure that I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next one as the event and venue have been excellent each time. My next and final convention attendance of the year will be DragonMeet at the end of November, an event I’ve not been to since moving away from the South East. If you’re going to be there give me a shout.

New release: The Tannhauser Investment, a mission for The Sprawl RPG

Initialising subroutines…
(base) Cereal.K@WJOHM_internal1:/usr/lib/resolvconf$ GaffEm -i rutger.bat -a 256k -t 1.1m
task = get() “/opt/conStruct/envs/cy5/lib/sitepackages/
joblib/pool.cy”, line 147, in get
racquire()
KeyboardInterrupt
KeyboardInter……

Encrypted message incoming
Target: Chenda Phy, CFO Bora Industrial
Regards: Hostile takeover

Specification: Initiate contact with target at secure public location and negotiate transfer of controlling stake in Bora. Phy currently resident at  secure, independent accommodation. Caution advised – significant intrusion countermeasures in place.

RV @ [DECRYPTING]] if interested.

Welcome to the future hackers and runners, mercs and shadows. Welcome to The Synth Convergence, a new trilogy of missions for The Sprawl RPG built around the thematic core of Synthetic Intelligence and the societal fallout that follows their emergence. The Synth Convergence offers teams a chance to push the boundaries of technological progress and answer the question of how far they will go to secure their lucrative Corporate payoffs.

Today we are releasing the first mission, The Tannhauser Investment, as a stand-alone preview while we complete the final editing and layout of the full collection. This asset acquisition contract will require your team to infiltrate a super-luxury hotel operated by a dedicated synthetic personality and secure the biometric signatures of their target. Why? To enact a decidedly hostile takover of a subsidary Corporate asset. All in a days job for a professional, in and out without collatoral damage.

The Synth Convergence reflects a new direction for LunarShadow Designs – It is my first publishing foray into the vibrant space of Powered by the Apocalypse games. It is also my first time working in collaboration with another designer, Chris Stone-Bush (@hyvemynd), who created the outlines for two of the three missions. Between design, writing, editing and layout the process has been one of continual development and I’ve learned numerous lessons that I’ll be putting to good use in the future.

You can download The Tannhauser Investment for free from driveThruRPG or itch.io with the full trilogy scheduled for release in November. This mission requires a copy of The Sprawl RPG by Ardens Ludere.