Reflecting on 2019 – Part 2: Publishing

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challenge, but an enjoyable one, helped along by the thrill of getting to run playtests in an amazing (and at the time unpublished) world.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?

Demon Hunters

  • Clean-Up Crew
  • Dr Ahoudi’s Mutant Menagerie / Say Aaargh
  • Knights of the Dawn
  • Eat In or Stake Out
  • Motion in the Ocean
  • Rocket Demons of Antiquity
  • Rules hacks

D&D

  • Tales from the Campfire
  • The Dawnbreakers
  • Untitled Eberron adventure

Other systems

  • Project Cassandra
  • 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

Supporting Faith Corps: The system that powers Demon Hunters

Since I started blogging about RPGs the one game that I have come back to time after time is Demon Hunters. From the over the top setting through to rules that support both the supernatural and the comedy elements the game has pretty much everything that I’m after. Unfortunately, following the Kickstarter there was quite a lag between release of the game and of the two supplements. There was also (to my knowledge) no plans for any future material beyond that. It’s one of the reasons that I chose to publish my own material – I wanted to help support the game as it’s all to easy for a Kickstarter success to slip under the radar after fulfilment.

That should be set to change now as Don Early has started both a Patreon and blog to further develop Faith Corps, the system developed in collaboration with Cam Banks for the second edition of the game. He’s aiming to release material on a regular basis, with Patreon backers getting early access and a chance to contribute suggestions and feedback.

While Demon Hunters will be a core focus Don is also looking to tap into the raw potential of the Faith Corps system by adapting it in new ways, with the aim of emulating a range of 80’s blockbuster and TV settings. As I’d also like to push the system into a new genre (space opera) seeing how he approaches the task is going to be invaluable in guiding my own efforts.

You can find Don’s posts at https://faithcorps.blogspot.com/ or back him on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/donearly

As always you can find links to everything I’ve released for Demon Hunters here.

#RPGaDay2019 5th August: ‘Space’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 5: Space

I want to write an epic space opera setting using either Cortex Prime or Faith Corps (the Demon Hunters system). It’s only in the early stages but my current thoughts are centred on a single system that was colonised after the discovery of alien megastructures that appear to have been built specifically for humanity. I’m still trying to work out overarching details of the setting before I even think about the themes I want to explore but my current aesthetics are 70s/80s novel covers and various animated sci-fi shows. When coming up with scenarios I often start with a big picture mental image from a single scene. Whether it’s the setup to a fight, with an aging dragon prowling around the PCs or a setting overview, in this case a dysons array of synchronised orbital platforms with enormous solar collectors.

The trick will be going from that picture and building up the questions and details into a framework for a game. There needs to be a clear ‘this is what you do / what this game is about’ that I can then use to refocus the mechanics. I think part of the reason so many space games have failed is that they have made the assumption that ‘fly around, shenanagins happen’ is enough. If you look at the majority of space opera novels they tend to have this established, deep setting but the drive of the stories comes from an external change that pushes the characters forward. That’s what I want when I get around to writing my own setting, something people can pick up and say ‘I know what the author wants me to do here.’

The Voltaic Armadillo

Having done a full character in the form of the Aether Knight I wanted to turn my hand towards a simpler creature for the next release. With the Demon Hunters setting incorporating both magic and mad science it was all too easy to imagine a range of unusual and warped creatures. The Volta Cingulata, or voltaic armadillo, is the first of those, a mad science experiment that didn’t quite have the impact its creator intended.

As an opponent the armadillo is easily overlooked. Small, relatively weak and not particularly aggressive. In its favour is its armoured shell and lone stunt, which allows it a single strong attack in response to being startled.

In developing the stunt I included an option to recharge it through the use of Demon Dice. Overall I find that with the exception of invoking aspects I fail to really make use of this GM resource, especially as I’m not fond of clearing NPC conditions without an in fiction reason. So instead my aim is to start incorporating their use into stunts, to make them a little more special and unique, which led to the idea of recharging a single use ability.

You can download the Volta Cingulata character sheet here

Demon Hunters: Missionary Opposition

It’s here! Well actually it’s here, at drivethruRPG and it’s free to download!

Missionary Opposition is an Adventure Starter for Dead Gentlemen’s Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors. It was inspired by the first episode of Demon Hunters: Slice of Life and is the first in a series that I’ll be releasing for the game. Going forward each will be based upon an episode of the series and will provide adventure inspiration in a condensed 3-4 page format. In the vein of Dungeon World’s adventure starters these are not fully fledged adventures but serve as building blocks. Within each you will find:

The Briefing – The background to the mission, an opening teaser and the core Mission Sinistra to guide your planning.

Locations – Important locales with suggested aspects, intel, threats and events. How they link together is left for the group to determine during play.

DMCs – The individuals and monsters central to the events detailed in the briefing. The aim is to detail the primary antagonist, a supernatural threat or mob and a normal who has been unwittingly caught up in events.

As always please do share, repost and reblog to spread the word that this is out there.

Demon Hunters RPG – Stacking Aspects

One of the mechanics I love about Cortex Plus games is the way in which the way complications rise and fall with the narrative. With the right rolls your d6 mildly irritating can step up to d12 mortal enemy and back down again over the course of an adventure or sometimes even a scene. The same is true of physical complications, a flesh wound could be aggravated all the way to bleeding out without the need to introduce additional complications. Coupled to this is the dice pool mechanic, if an advantage or complication is relevant to your roll you can always add it to your dice pool before rolling.

Demon Hunters incorporates elements of Cortex Plus but, at its core, is a Fate derivative. Because of this aspects, while always true, have a single value (d6) and require either a free invocation or a faith point to incorporate into a roll. 

The below draft rules modification shifts the mechanics slightly more towards Cortex Plus by allowing for the creation of aspects with die values greater than d6.

Stacking aspects

Aspects that are narrative associated can be stacked together, creating a single combined aspect. Physically link the individual aspects together by drawing a line between them or stacking them atop one another. When invoking stacked aspects choose from the following

1. Invoke each aspect separately as per the standard rules at the cost of one faith point per aspect. Each aspect invoked adds 1d6 to your dice pool.

2. Invoke the entire stacked aspect for the cost of one faith point. For each individual aspect after the first increase the size of your bonus die by one step.

For example during a scene the following scene aspects may be in play

1. Stampede of people

2. Raging fire

3. Choking smoke

4. Demonic hieroglyphs 

The first three of these are narratively linked to one another, the fire that was accidentally started (because no Demon Hunter would ever start it on purpose) has built to an all encompassing maelstrom. These aspects can, if desired, be linked to one another. The fourth aspect stands alone and cannot be linked with the others.

Doyl, our demon Hunter, is trying to escape from the cultists chasing him but he’s not particularly sneaky or athletic so it’s going to be difficult. With plenty of faith points he could invoke the first three aspects to add a mighty 3d6 bonus to his roll. Unfortunately he’s only got one faith point, having relied on them rather heavily earlier in the scene. He invokes the stacked aspect to gain a bonus d10, hopefully enough to make his escape.

At this point astute readers will be noting that the standard 3d6 bonus will average a higher roll than the d10, so why bother with the stacked aspect? The answer is simple – cost, a single faith point rather than three while still making use of a wider range of the aspects in play. 

During the playtesting I’ve done with this rules modification I’ve also noticed a secondary bonus – it encourages greater player engagement with scene aspects. Knowing they can get a larger bonus for the same cost drives both the creation of aspects and their creative use. It is also intuitively balanced, there’s nothing to stop the DM from creating or invoking stacked aspects using demon dice.

As always I’d be interested in anybodies thoughts or comments on this.

Demon Hunters / Faith Corps: Tonal Conditions

Just a quick post to highlight a hack over at Spirit of the Blank, where Mike Olson has been sharing some details about using the Faith Corps system (aka the Demon Hunters system) for running Star Wars. One of the aspects he’s tweaked is the way conditions work, introducing the idea of predefined, character specific mild conditions. It’s a hack that I really like, especially for convention games where it provides players further insight into their character. This is especially emphasised by the fact that Mike has eschewed from the approach of describing physical harm but instead favours emotional responses to stress. For Star Wars it really fits with the tone of the films, where characters tend towards taking only a small number of moderate (or greater) injuries while also being constantly stressed by the scene or antagonists.

All in all it’s a compelling tweak and one that I’m likely to incorporate in future, both when running Demon Hunters and when designing my own systems.