RPGaDay 2021: 12th August

It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.

12th August: Think

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about publishing, what I want to get out of it and the intersection between hobby and business. Over the last year or so I’ve shifted towards releasing things that have a price tag affixed to them. The result of that is that very few people actually end up seeing my games – Signal to Noise released a week and a half ago and so far has racked up all of 8 sales. I’d obviously like that number to be higher but on the other hand I put a lot of work into the game and would like to see some earnings back from it.

Which, I suppose, brings me to the point of this and what I’ve been thinking about recently. This is a hobby for me, so should I even be bothered about price and earnings? You could make the argument that no, I don’t need to and I should consider just putting everything out for free or PWYW. The counter to that is that this risks devaluing the work that people doing it for a job do. How do you fairly price something when a hobbyist working in their spare time for fun can produce material close to or at the level that a professional working in the industry can do? It’s a conundrum and not an easy one to answer. I firmly believe that an individual should be able to make a living from making RPGs and actively want a wider more diverse selection of people who are able to do so. That can only make the industry stronger. I don’t think it will ever be an easy task, there are so few companies that hire people that the majority of designers are always going to be freelancers/self-employed while selling enough to make a living off of games requires an investment of either time or money – both of which I realise are privileges many people don’t have access to.

On the other hand how do you balance that when there are people like me who can do it for fun, don’t need to make an earning from it but can? As a hobbyist should I be expected to price my material at the same level as a professional working full time? Should I give it away for free? Is there a middle ground that doesn’t undercut the industry as a whole but reflects the intersection of the two? I just don’t know and I think the short form discussion that platforms such as twitter encourage really prevents us from having a proper, nuanced discussion about it.

The other issue that I think doesn’t help is the move towards digital. On one hand I think it’s great, as it opens up the door for people that just can’t afford a print run and games that don’t suit traditional formats. As a society though I think we still don’t appreciate the value of digital goods. The time and work that goes into a game is rarely focused on what it takes to get it printed and from what I’ve learned the actual cost to print most games reflects only 10% or less of the cover price. The rest goes into the art, the writing, the time it took to design and playtest. All factors that play into PDFs as much as print yet we value that printed book far more than the file sat on our computers and until we get past that I don’t think we’re ever going to value small games by indie designers properly.

RPGaDay 2021: 11th August

It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.

11th August: Wilderness

As a general rule I’m not a fan of wilderness exploration games. I just find them boring and I think that’s down to a few bad experiences with West Marches style games. The big one: A lack of plot. I’ve encountered too many people that think a West Marches game means the exploration takes over from the plot, even sometimes down to the level of individual sessions. They view the approach to the game as being little more than “you go here, explore, kill stuff, go home” which doesn’t excite me. I get that the characters are meant to be explorers and the GM in a traditional West Marches game has to expect different players each time but that doesn’t mean you can’t have plot.

I’d actually say that you need more plot – you need a reason for people to want to keep heading out into the unknown beyond a love of gold and XP. You need something more than a grind.

At the campaign level a West Marches style game is the ideal opportunity to have a large, emergent plot that is slowly revealed by the players as they realise that individual events and clues are all being driven by larger events that will require them to work together and plan their future expeditions. Give me the awakening evil and search for ancient relics that are foretold to herald a new age. That’s exciting. The procedurally generated quests that have zero impact on the wider world (yes, I’m calling out you out Skyrim)?

Boring.

As for individual sessions, well anyone that can’t fit a decent plot into a 3-4 hour session needs to sit down at some convention tables and learn from the GMs there who regularly do the impossible and not only teach the mechanics of the game but include a full plot arc with highs, lows and a satisfying conclusion.

Do all that and maybe then you’ll get me interested in the wilderness beyond the keep.

RPGaDay 2021: 10th August

It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.

10th August: Advantage

While it wasn’t particularly revolutionary if you consider RPGs as a whole I think the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanics in D&D 5E was an inspired move by the WOTC design team (unlike Inspiration, which never felt like it was anything more than a tacked on idea). With one fell swoop it drastically simplified the +/- modifier system that had become excessively overcomplicated in 3.5/4 just because of how many factors could come impact a roll.

Situation works in your favour? You have advantage. Situation works against you? Disadvantage.

It’s simple and elegant and I really wish that they’d come up with it for 4E as that was a game that could have really benefited from it. While there has been some resurgent interest in that edition I’ve not heard of anyone tweaking it to include the advantage mechanic and I’d be interested to hear how it impacts play.

RPGaDay 2021: 9th August

It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.

9th August: Percentage

Like a lot of gamers I’ve only run or played a small percentage of the games that I own. Just looking at my shelves I’ve probably brought around 70% of the systems to the table in one form or another but that’s a little deceptive. It doesn’t account for the various sourcebooks I’ve not had a chance to use or that I’ve slimmed down my collection over the past couple of years, which filtered out a lot of games I’d owned for years but never run/played. It also doesn’t account for the elephant in the room: PDFs. Thanks to various bundles and impulse purchases my PDF collection dwarfs that of my physical collection. Just using ZineQuest as an example I backed a single zine in print but around a dozen digitally. The number of those that I’ve run or played? Well I’d be astounded if it even approaches 20% and wouldn’t be surprised if was actually below 10%.

Oops.

All that said I am getting pretty good at reading through games. While the number is lower than I’d like I would say that I have read a significant chunk of everything I own, probably in the 60-70% range (though not necessarily cover to cover). Part of that is because I’ve been increasingly focused on design and want to get a feel for how other creators approach a challenge but the larger motivation is that I enjoy reading them. I always have. Is it as good as playing them? No, not even remotely but I enjoy the process of diving into a new world and set of mechanics, to see how it all comes together and the story the creator was trying to tell through it.

RPGaDay 2021: 8th August

It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.

8th August: Stream

I’m not sure that I will ever fully embrace streaming. It’s not that I don’t understand the appeal but they just don’t sit right with how I tend to connect to media. I’ve never really gotten into watching things on my phone, it’s just not something that I enjoy doing. Similarly I’ve never really made the jump to regularly watching things via a computer and I’ve no idea why. Part of it is probably that if I’m sat at a computer I’m doing something and I struggle to do that and watch a stream. I’m one of these people that when it comes to watching something I need to give it my full attention or I lose track of what’s going on. I think that’s why I like podcasts so much – I typically listen to them during commuting to work on the train or when I’m doing tasks I can zone out such as the washing up. Maybe that will change in the future, I’m probably going to need a new tablet soon and I might try again then especially if I can find some more UK/Europe friendly streams to watch.

It’s also interesting how a large part of the growth of the hobby seems to have come off of the celebrity culture that has built around the big streams. I think it would be really interesting to examine the average stream engagement, watchers, returns etc as I suspect the vast majority are really low and only a handful are actually getting enough to convert it into something that pays. Not that that should be surprising and I don’t doubt many people are doing it just for the fun but I wish people appreciated just how much work and luck goes into being a successful streamer, I’ve seen plenty of comments about not getting viewers or being able to build an audience and it’s hard knowing that you can produce amazing material and just not have the right connections or reach to turn that into noticeable numbers.

RPGaDay 2021: 7th August

It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.

7th August: Small

While I’ve been able to build a little momentum over the past year I am still operating on the small scale compared to a lot of people and other than the slow grind of releasing material I’m not sure what to do. Running my first ZineQuest kickstarter resulted in a significant boost to my sales but I need to translate that to a continued interest in my games, which so far has been difficult. I think the biggest part of the problem is me, I struggle to connect with people and put myself out there in the sort of way that is necessary to really make it. I don’t do hot takes, make giant sweeping statements or call out other games (ok, occasionally I call out 5E). It’s not uncommon for me to just avoid social media altogether for a few days which isn’t the way to draw attention to myself or my games. Of course adding the ongoing pandemic on top of all that hasn’t helped and I’ve struggled with engaging with online events for a host of reasons I won’t go into.

It’s also frustrating to not be getting eyes on my work when I see some people getting engagement from constant hot takes or just throwing half baked ideas out into the void but never actually finishing anything. If this sounds like I’m venting a little then it’s because I am. Maybe I need to do that a little more and just throw things up on the blog as they come to me. I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m under no illusion about the fact that the market is flooded with creators right now and that you need the right combination of luck, connections and just being out there to really make it. It’s just frustrating to release stuff into the wild that I think is good and see little to no response. I think it’s also annoying that I’ve let me put myself into the position of being bothered by it all. While I’m treating designing and publishing games as a micro-business it is, ultimately, a hobby and I’m in the privileged position of not being reliant on earnings from this stuff.

Anyway rant over. It’s Saturday so rather than dwell on this I’m going to go and check out the #selfpromosaturday tag over on twitter and see what others have been up to this week.

RPGaDay 2021: 6th August

It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.

6th August: Chase

I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a chase mechanic that really feels like it works in play and I think part of the problem is the way that mechanics typically take an overly literal approach of how far away from the target are you. Tracking how close you are is, on one hand, a fairly reasonable assumption. If you are chasing a person you either need to catch them or fall behind so much that they get away but in reality it never feels interesting during play as you end up rolling the same thing over and over. It’s also all too possible to get into an endless loop where you never catch up to them but they never get away, something that doesn’t make for much fun at the table.

Because it’s boring.

The games that do it best tend to be the ones that use a challenge based approach, so you need to overcome 3 out of 5 challenges to catch them. Why do I think that works best? Simple, it’s more cinematic. Think about how chases are presented on screen – it’s rarely about the actual distances involved but overcoming challenges such as dodging other traffic, finding shortcuts or knocking things into the path of the chasers. Ultimately though it all comes down to the final total where the chaser either catches up or loses their prey but only after all the hijinks involved in chasing them. A good GM using that sort of approach will think about 3-5 thematically interesting challenges that might get in your way and allow for a wider range of approaches than repeatedly rolling whatever skill you use for running.

RPGaDay 2021: 5th August

It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.

5th August: Throne

When I saw that the prompt for the day was Throne the first and only thing that came to mind was Stealing the Throne by Nick Bate. It’s a heist game where the player set out to steal a 1,000 year old mech from one of the ruling families. As one of the few remaining examples of these artefacts it represents power and wealth beyond belief and merely possessing one is enough to elevate even a ragtag group of thieves to positions of power.

With a setup like that it’s no surprise that the game grabbed me from the get go so I jumped at the chance to back it when it kickstarted earlier this year and was lucky enough to bag one of the annotated copies on offer. I could reel off a list of the mechanics and how the play style appeals to me but what really hooked me was the premise – it’s evocative and has a level of implied depth that brings you along for the ride. If you pull the text apart and examine it in detail there’s actually not all that much there beyond a framework but the design and writing makes it easy for your brain to just fill in the gaps and imagine a much larger world. The last time I found a game that had that effect on me was Lady Blackbird, which is a masterclass in design and presentation that sparked the initial ideas for Project Cassandra and I hope Stealing the Throne will do the same (Ok spoiler: It has and I’m planning a hack/supplement for the Dyson Eclipse that builds off of the game).

RPGaDay 2021: 4th August

It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.

4th August: Weapon

When I first got into RPGs one of the things I enjoyed was poring over Weapon books, such as the Kanawa Personal Weapons and Heavy Weapons books for Torg. The odd thing though is that I wasn’t doing it to mechanically optimise my character but to narratively inspire myself. In a combat orientated game weapon descriptions can tell you a lot about the wider world and how the authors are pitching the tone of the game. Is it full of pistols, each hand built by genius crafters and firing ammo with unique effects? Or are there a half dozen corporations specialising in a particular type of weaponry?

The pinnacle of these for me was probably Corporation, a game that is all about the gadgets and weapons that cybernetically enhanced agents are equipped with. As a GM I used to spend hours digging through the books looking for inspiration that was thematically appropriate to the NPC the players were about to encounter. Sniper and spotter? What would they need to infiltrate the city, set up in an abandoned tower block and ensure their target was positioned just right? Even if I did regularly find myself creating over the top experts it was rarely about the stats, my focus was always the concept.

These days I’ve drifted away from that sort of gaming, preferring to focus on the actual narrative rather than small details that the players rarely pick up on but every so often I do find myself tempted to sit down and just dig through a weapon book and think about the fine details.

RPGaDay 2021: 3rd August

It’s time, once again for RPGaDay and as always I’ll be releasing a short post each day inspired by the prompt from the table below. For the most part these are going to be off the top of my head, zero edit posts so I have no idea how much sense they’ll make or where each prompt will take me.

3rd August: Support

For today’s prompt I want to give my support to all of the amazing contributors to the ZineQuest Jam – As part of running my first Kickstarter this year I wanted to try and give something back to the community by organising the jam and using it as a place to bring together as many of the projects as possible once they’d been released to the wider public. We’re about halfway through the jam and already have loads of entries that you should check out. Right now the list (including links to each game) looks like this:

  1. The Sun’s Ransom
  2. Thursday
  3. In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe
  4. Aether Operations
  5. Microvania
  6. Project Cassandra
  7. A Complicated Profession
  8. Reliquary
  9. An Altogether Different River
  10. A Small Collection of Flowers & Entanglements
  11. Paranormal Inc.
  12. Weirdwood
  13. The Lord of Wolves – A Trophy Gold Incursion
  14. Two Summers
  15. Subtle Fluid – The blooder
  16. Cryptid (Mis)Communication
  17. Patchwork World 6E
  18. Trash Planet Epsilon 5
  19. The Collector
  20. Menagerie of the Void
  21. Hope Is Not a Plan
  22. Habits of the Common House Ghost
  23. Hinterlands: Peoples and Perils
  24. Gratitude: A horror game
  25. Two Summers: first holiday memories
  26. Network 23
  27. Rascals
  28. Vis-a-visage
  29. Peculiar Children
  30. Major Arcana
  31. Descending the stairs
  32. Lethal Fauna Bric-a-brac
  33. Most Wanted
  34. Contorta
  35. Coiled.Spaece
  36. This Night on the Rooftops
  37. Mage to Order
  38. GrimBlade
  39. Superstition
  40. Edinburgh Indie Gamers Zine
  41. Glitchspiel
  42. Infinite March
  43. Tomb of Immolation
  44. MechTek
  45. Grasping Nettles
  46. Monolith: Path of Transcendence
  47. The Soul Sword Forge