RPGaDay 2021: 14-18th 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.

14th August: Momentum

Momentum – When it comes to one shots, convention games and even shorter sessions during a campaign I think it’s vital that a scenario has the momentum required to get through to the end of the session and reach a satisfying conclusion. A 3-4 hour window isn’t long, especially online where there are the inevitable connection issues and slower pace of play necessitated by the inability to have more than one person talking at a time. My advice to GMs is pretty simple – have a clear objective and get right into it. A clear objective tells the players what they should be seeking to achieve and sets out the focus of the game. Take the following setup:

“You’re a group of paranormal investigators and you’re here to investigate some recent sightings.”

It’s not a terrible opener, it tells the players who the characters are, why they’re present and gives some idea of what they’re here to do. But “investigate some recent sightings” is rather weak, it’s vague and lacks any specifics. As a result the players might dither or spend ages just trying to work out what the sightings were.

“You’re a group of paranormal investigators and you’re here to deal with a civil war ghost that has been attacking people at the mall.”

Is a much better opener. It provides far more in the way of details and makes it clear what the problem is (a ghost), where it is (at the mall) and that they aren’t just here to investigate but to deal with it. Combine that with a strong opening scene:

“It’s nearing midnight, you’ve been wandering the halls of the mall for over an hour without any signs of activity when a scream rings out. It’s coming from the security office…

Bam. Now you’ve got a problem and action. It starts you off from the get go and if you can do that then it’s far easier to maintain the momentum. Start a session by spending an hour picking gear and chasing vague rumours before you even stumble into the mall and you put yourself in the position of needing to overcome that initial inertia which is a far harder problem.

15th August: Supplement

Supplement – I don’t ever expect game design and publishing to become my primary income but it is a very nice way to supplement it and provides earnings that I am able to reinvest in the hobby. My hope going forward is that it will provide enough going forward to cover not only the money I spend on games but convention travel and accommodation. Right now, for the past 2 years my profit margin is about £500/year and if it stays at that then I’d be quite happy. A substantial portion of that was from ZineQuest, take out the income and costs I can directly associate to it and it drops to ~£130/year (though obviously this tax year still has a while to go). It’s a big difference and while I know a lot of people have issues with Kickstarter I’d have had a fraction of the success on other platforms. As an example Signal to Noise, which I’ve been trying to itchfund has sold a total of 9 copies right now whereas I’m pretty confident that had I launched it during ZineQuest it would have easily done 10-20x that.

16th August: Move

The emergence of Moves as a mechanic is, I think one of the defining features of the last decade of game development. They’re an elegant way to move past the very naturalistic idea of actions as defined by older RPGs and to incorporate the impact of the narrative on what you’re doing. Take, for example, jumping from one building to another. In an action orientated RPG you’d probably resort to something like rolling dexterity or acrobatics. The thing is that action would be the same regardless of the situation – jumping a chasm full of lava? Acrobatics. Jumping it to try and impress your crush? Still an acrobatics check.

Switch it to PbtA though and the move you use could be wildly different depending on the combination of what you’re doing, your motivation and what you want the narrative impact to be. Jumping out of danger vs showing off would be two completely different moves despite your action being exactly the same. It’s one of the things that I like about PbtA style games.

That said I also regularly find myself struggling with moves. Because of that need to incorporate the fictional positioning moves generally need to be wordy and describe the situations where they apply. They’re also typically paired with a name that while evocative isn’t always clear. Even faced with a PbtA game I’m familiar with I find that I have difficulty recalling exactly what each move does or when it applies. I can learn it with time but most of my PbtA experience is with oneshots so the lack of clarity is frustrating at times.

17th August: Crime

Given its popularity across wider media I am very surprised that crime solving games are not a bigger part of the gaming scene. Off the top of my head I can think of a few but very few that I would say are police procedurals or crime dramas. That being said investigative mystery is a fairly big category, especially as you could potentially say that games such as Call of Cthulhu fall into it.

The emergence of the GMless, clue driven Brindlewood Bay games is an interesting development and I’m keen to see how they develop in the future. It’s a system that would be ideal for a police or detective game, though I appreciate that many people would be reluctant to explicitly play as cops right now.

18th August: Write

I find the switch from development to writing hard. I always have and I say that with the experience of having written a 70k word doctoral thesis. Going from the ideas in my head to word on the page is just a difficult process and I often find myself self editing as I write which is NOT a great way to do things. For one it means that it takes forever just to write each section but it also doesn’t save me any time. I still need to go back to do edits/rewrites once everything is in place just to ensure that what I wrote at the start works with what I wrote at the end. When it comes to games I’ve actually found that working directly in layout helps me immensely. One of those weird tricks you won’t believe things. I think it helps being able to see how everything will work on the page and where I need to consider page breaks, art etc. It’s obviously not really that suitable for larger projects but for items under <10 pages it is my preferred option.

So what am I in the process of actually writing rather than designing right now? The first is the next in my fantasy adventure pamphlets. These are really small double sided releases that are designed to be printed and folded into a small pamphlet. I’ve released two so far for both Brighthammer and for D&D 5e via the DMs Guild. They’re built around a central map so the word count is really low and they make for an enjoyable creative distraction. Alongside that I have adventures for The Cthulhu Hack and Demon Hunters that need finished. Both of these have already been sketched out and I just need to get the words onto the page so I can release them. I’ve spoken before about Red Roots of the Rose and I’m really keen to get it out into the wild as I think it is an interesting adventure. I’m also really proud of the cover image that I’ve made – I’m not an artist so to be able to create artwork rather than just photoshop together existing pieces is something that represents a big step up for me.

RPGaDay 2021: 13th 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.

13th August: Improvise

I learned the hard way how to improvise by diving in at the deep end with a creative group of players that often latched on to elements that I, as a rookie GM, hadn’t expected them to. Some of those situations I handled well, others not so well. Those early experiences have had a massive impact on how I approach games as a player, GM and designer. I lean in to lightweight adventure design that focuses on the situation, the driving forces behind the plot and the goals of those involved. I’ll sometimes plan out key locations knowing I expect to drop a clue that will lead the players there but just as often I end up throwing something together just because they took a left turn.

That all comes from experience though. I once had a new player, during a game of Honey Heist, ask how I was able to come up with all the details on the fly and my response was simple – practice and experience. I’ve been gaming for well over a decade and the majority of the time I’m a GM. What I can do now without thinking would astound the me that first tried to GM and started out with a session of Serenity that was so comically disastrous that we shelved the campaign after that single session. We did eventually come back to it and treated that session like an unaired pilot to be reworked as the plot of the true session 1. While that campaign went on to be a nightmare for scheduling it eventually produced some of the best RP I’ve ever come across.

Improvisation was also at the heart of Project Cassandra, where I wanted to mix the traditional GM role with the player input that many indie games favour. The ability for characters to add details that can drastically shift the plot or tone of the game was key to making it feel like they really had prophetic abilities but that does mean a GM can end up running an adventure that is totally different from what they’d expected. I’ve heard from a few people that have since run it that they found that one of the harder aspects of the game to handle, to flip things in an instant and rework a scene to fit the new truths that had been revealed. I wish I knew how to bottle that, or present the skills I’ve picked up for others to learn as I think being able to improvise is a key skill for GMs. All I can really say is play more indie games, get the practice in. You can learn the skills if you want to.

I did.

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

RPGaDay 2021: 2nd 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.

2nd August: Map

I virtually never use combat maps during play. My preferred approach to GMing is to improvise each session on the fly, which makes producing anything more than a quick sketch fairly difficult. As a player I also prefer to avoid them as it drags me away from the RP and into a more wargaming focus. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I enjoy wargames, I just prefer not to mix them with my RPGs. Whenever I see a fancy combat map and minis in use I do feel a little jealous, they look awesome but outside of a streamed game I do wonder how many people can really justify set pieces like that. It would be awesome to find a gaming space that allowed you to rent stuff like that and had a big enough stock that you could mix things up, even if only to use it as a centrepiece for the table.

All that said I do have a soft spot for hand drawn maps. I really like the styling that tends to be used for both world and dungeon maps. I’ve tried my hand at them a few times but never really gotten into the habit when it comes to just drawing them for the sake of it. Art isn’t my strong point so I tend to get frustrated when I can’t get things the way I want, even with relatively simple concepts. I really should try and get back to trying, it would be a nice way to take my eyes away from the computer and just focus on creating something.

RPGaDay 2021: 1st 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. With that said lets get going.

1st August: Scenario

When it comes to writing scenarios I like to focus on what I call a ‘starter’ approach. This sets up the major locations, antagonists and goings on but isn’t constructed as a narrative adventure. I’ve run so many sessions where the players threw curveballs and did something unexpected that I’ve learned to instead think about goals and motivations than an a->b->c approach. The other thing that I focus on is the opening hook – why are the PCs involved and what’s their motivation to go along with the plot. Why should they care that somebody is Godzilla is robbing banks (you are the sole team of superheroes in the city) or that the local crime boss has a suspiciously generous job on offer (you’re broke and if you can’t pay your debts you’ll lose you ship). All of this is especially important when it comes to convention play – if you can’t get the players invested in the plot in the first scene then the next 3-4 hours are going to be a drag.

Why is the world still here? Musings on the Mythos

I’ve been thinking about the Mythos lately while I work on bashing into shape writing up Red Roots of the Rose for publication (initially for The Cthulhu Hack but with plans for a Call of Cthulhu version to follow). One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is the question of why hasn’t the world ended already?

It’s a simple enough question – if those dabbling with forces beyond human comprehension are constantly trying to bring great old ones into the world surely one of them would have succeeded by now. If we look back to the original Lovecraft short stories then the answer is, largely, because people are not trying to. The majority of the stories are about personal revelations as the protagonists stumble across evidence of the Mythos or, alternatively, personal quests for power. The type of large ritual trying to summon ancient powers to bring about the end of the world is relatively rare so why do we gravitate towards it in gaming?

I think the answer is fairly simple: In traditional mythos games we regularly position the characters as heroes. They are rarely the protagonists of Lovercraft who uncover a horror and seek to escape and forgot what they have encountered but proactive individuals that work to unravel the mystery in front of them and stop the great plan that is taking place. As a result games often tend towards situations where the world quite literally needs saving, especially when you’re running a campaign and need to build the threat and tension. It’s the same problem that games such as D&D have – there’s only so long you can murder goblins before you feel the need to murder increasingly bigger foes, slowly working your way up to dragons.

Taking that into consideration raises the question of why, in games where world ending situations are common enough for the characters to consistently encounter, has the world not already been consumed/corrupted/destroyed? These are a few of the explanations that I’ve been considering:

  1. It’s exceedingly difficult, to the point that the people who attempt it would fail most of the time even if the investigators never got involved. Sure there may be chaos and death on a local scale, explained away as mass suicides or a natural disaster but not the arrival of a great old one or elder god that those involved were hoping for.
  2. Humanity is incapable of actually summoning anything powerful enough to end the world. This is related to the above but draws from the idea that to the most powerful entities of the Mythos we’re simply so inconsequential that they don’t take notice and ignore our attempts to attract their attention.
  3. Something, or someone, acts to counter every attempt. While this goes against the concept of a hostile and uncaring universe it does work well with the idea that the various factions and entities are locked in an eternal struggle against one another. Followers of Dagon trying to open a portal? Well maybe Hastur surreptitiously arranges for the PCs to be in the right place to intervene. Combined with 1 or 2 it is the approach that I personally would favour if I even ran a long campaign within the wider setting.
  4. Finally there’s the possibility that they have already succeeded but humanities perception of the world is so restricted that we haven’t noticed yet. Maybe we’re so incapable of handling the truth that humanity has fashioned a collective hallucination of the world we know. This is, perhaps, the most intriguing approach but also the most difficult to fit into the gaming side of the genre. How would you even approach this in such a way as to reveal the truth of the world? Certainly not with the more traditional systems out there.

So which approach am I taking in Red Roots of the Rose? In typical fashion the answer is none of the above. The scenario, while built for ‘heroes’ intervening in a deadly mystery is also built around personal power and what individuals will do to maintain their own small slice of it. It’s mythos with a small m, driven by human greed. Failure won’t tear open reality or summon an endless wave of unspeakable horrors. It may leave the investigators scared, broken or dead but that is all.

Project Cassandra: Kickstarter Thoughts 2

Barring any packages going missing during delivery I’ve now completed the primary fulfilment on Project Cassandra, my ZineQuest 3 kickstarter. That covers finishing the game, layout, distribution of digital copies, an initial print run and physical fulfilment. While I still have to finish the final stretch goal I wanted to provide an update to this post on how I’m feeling about the campaign, hurdles, costs etc.

But first, a promo shot.

That’s my game! In print! Honestly, when I first started work on Project Cassandra I never thought it would end up like this. I fully expected to release it as a digital only game that would hardly be noticed by anyone outside of my immediate gaming circles. The game is available now in print and PDF from my ko-fi store or just PDF from itch.io and drivethruRPG.

Some numbers

For a breakdown of backer numbers take a look back at the first post in this series. For this post I’m going to focus on production and spending.

During the campaign I stated that I was expecting the game to be around 40 pages. The final count was 52 pages, including covers, printed in full colour on 115gsm paper while the covers were 170gsm with matt lamination. Slightly heavier to give a clear difference in feel but not the 250-300gsm card stock I know a lot of people prefer for covers. For the initial print run I ordered 160 copies, coming in at a price of ~£1.30 per copy.

I decided against a higher print run than that as I’ve heard too many horror stories of people ending up with boxes of unsold books. 160 copies should cover the kickstarter backers, a missing in the post margin of 10%, a small number of copies going into retail distribution and still leave me with ~20 copies to sell directly. Selling those final few copies would also cover the cost of a second printing should I decide there’s enough demand for one.

Sadly, when the initial print run arrived I discovered that 30 of the 160 were damaged by scratch marks on the covers. While not a significant visual issue the problem was very obvious to the touch due to the lamination. Thankfully Mixam were quick to respond to the issue and did a replacement print run, which arrived within 2 days of being submitted. Excellent customer support and ensures I’ll look into using them again in the future.

Post Kickstarter the game is on sale at a RRP of £6 for digital or £10+p&p for the print edition, including a digital download. Conventional wisdom seems to be that print copies should sell for approximately 10x the cost of the actual printing so based on that logic £13 would be a better price. I’ve gone for £10 for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I think that’s a fair price given the size and what other games in shops tend to go for.

Second, this was primarily a vanity project. While I would like to make a micro-business from publishing games Project Cassandra was written as a labour of love so the profit margin was never a driving factor. I could have opted for black and white printing or keeping to that original 40 page estimate but I wanted the game to be the best I could make it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t like it to continue to be successful but knowing what the average ZineQuest campaign earns it was never going to earn back all the labour that went into it.

So what about the costs?

If you remember I put together an initial Kickstarter goal of £400, which broke down roughly as so:

Lets look at this in detail. I budgeted printing costs at £1.50 per unit, shipping at £2 for UK backers and £5 for international backers. All of these were slightly over my true estimates to provide a small safety net at every level. The print tier was priced at £10 during the Kickstarter which included the shipping for UK backers while the rest of the world paid a £3 surcharge top top it up to the £5 I’d budgeted for.

Fixed costs included part of the editing (with the remainder paid for by profits from previous projects), a 10% contingency, test prints and some packaging materials. I made sure to include both the final Kickstarter fee (5% of the total) and per pledge fees that cover payment processing (3% + £0.20 for pledges of £10 and over, 5% + £0.05 for pledges under £10).

I also set up the budget and goal with the worst case scenario assumption of every single pledge being from an international backer at the print tier. The reason for this is that these backers have the highest per pledge costs, primarily due to the shipping. So the budget was set up to ensure that it would break even in this worst case scenario. Every UK or PDF only backer I got increased the final ‘profit’ margin (see below for why this is in quotes).

The two biggest costs using this model were the fixed costs and shipping. The shipping costs covered postage and a supplement to the packaging materials budget. The fixed portion of the packaging materials ensured I could purchase a bulk pack of envelopes while the per pledge supplement ensured I could then scale up if necessary.

You’ll notice that the “Personal earnings” section of that chart is non-existent, or in other words it does not make a profit. There is a lot of discussion amongst the indie RPG scene about paying people fairly, including yourself, but by the point Project Cassandra got to Kickstarter I had already invested a significant amount of time into the game and it was going to be released regardless. The Kickstarter was there to push it over the line and provide the funds to both pay for an editor and an initial print run. If I had just released the game online I can guarantee that it would have failed to achieve enough sales to fund either of those and I still wouldn’t be getting paid for the work that went in.

The budget was set up so that once we’d hit the initial goal I would start earning a share of the pie, to the point that the final post-fulfilment spending looks like this:

As you can see “Personal earnings” in that chart, which accounts for ~£650, is actually a significant chunk of the final total. But that doesn’t really tell the whole story. Amongst indie developers there’s a push to pay a writing rate of 10 cents per word, which equates to ~7.5p (GBP) per word right now. Paying myself at that rate would account for ~90% of my personal earnings.

Which seems OK, until you add in all the design work, playtesting, sourcing and editing art, layout, packing orders for shipping and admin that I did. The only reason I “made money” on this was because I did all of that myself, I couldn’t realistically pay someone a fair rate to do it and still compensate myself in any way. I was also fortunate that I was able to use stock art, hiring an artist at standard rates could have easily blown through everything I earned from the campaign.

The second biggest chunk of that pie chart is shipping. I expected this, budgeted for it, included a buffer and thankfully came in slightly under my original estimate. Even then it was a significant proportion of the budget and we’re only talking about a zine here. I don’t want to imagine how expensive a 200-300 page, standard sized hardback rulebook costs to ship and if I ever get to the point of producing one I will definitely look into professional distribution or print on demand.

Being under budget on the final shipping helped offset a cost that I hadn’t originally factored in – purchasing a second hand label printer (which I’ve added under the supplies slice). I bought one after seeing them being discussed by other ZineQuesters and had originally expected to take the cost of it fully from my personal earnings. I can say without a doubt that it has been worth every penny. The amount of time and hassle it has saved is enormous and I fully recommend investing in one if you plan to run even a small Kickstarter. The Zebra GK420d I picked up typically sells for £120-150 second hand on eBay.

Lessons learned

Those are some of the raw numbers but how do I feel about the whole thing? Honestly, pretty good. With 175 backers in total the scale of the project was more successful than I’d expected but still manageable. I know a lot of people find running a Kickstarter can be overwhelming but personally that wasn’t the case here. I think I can attribute that to 3 factors.

  1. I started planning early. As I have mentioned previously I started investigating the feasibility of running the Kickstarter in November just to get a feel for what was possible. That included familiarising myself with the Kickstarter back-end, creating a test project and putting together basic budgets. Plural. I tried out a number of permutations before I settled on the one I used.
  2. 80% of the game was written prior to launch. That was mostly just a quirk of how long this game has been in development limbo but it helped with allowing me to show off a preview (including a full quickstart) explaining what the game was about and ordering test prints of the layout.
  3. I kept the campaign simple. Of all the stretch goals only the final mission trilogy added any extra work to the campaign. Adding colour printing increased the cost of each copy but not the workload as the PDF was always going to be in colour. Similarly unlocking What’s so [redacted] about [redacted]? to make it a PWYW product may, in the long run, cost me a small number of sales but it didn’t require any additional work or spending.

The things that I would definitely do differently are relatively minor. The first is a slightly heavier paper weight for the cover. As printed the cover works well, especially as I went for lamination but a denser paper would have added that little bit more stability and strength so it’s something I’ll keep in mind if I get to the point of needing a second print run.

The second is to rethink my approach to a special edition. Like many ZineQuesters I included a limited number tier for those wanting a copy of the game with some unique alterations. Keeping with the theme of the game I thought why not offer a redacted version, where I had gone through and blocked out sections of the text to the point that the game was unplayable.

I thought it would be a nice nod to the genre and it was fun to be paid to deface copies of the game. It was also incredibly time consuming. While I only had a dozen copies to redact doing it by hand was a far slower process than I originally anticipated and it contributed to a delay in sending out the final batch of zines.

Finally I’d make a slight adjustment to the design of my budget with regards the contingency funds. While I had included this in the initial budget at 10% of the goal I made it a fixed cost. So that £40 was going to be £40 regardless of how successful the project was. I got away with it this time but going forward I’ll be ensuring it scales with the campaign total.

ZineQuest 4?

I’ve already started thinking about ZineQuest 4, not so much in terms of content but logistics and planning. I think this campaign worked well so I wouldn’t change too much. If I run one next year my aim is to once again have as much as possible in place by the end of December. That will include bringing people on board earlier – an editor (probably Emzy if she is available) at a minimum but ideally an artist as well. That will obviously raise the campaign goal but for the direction I’m leaning towards stock art isn’t likely to be an option. My hope is that my sales this year will be sufficient to offset some of those costs and allow me to launch the Kickstarter with at least one showcase piece.

Obviously, unlike Project Cassandra, this won’t be a game that I’ve been working on for years which means I need to get it outlined and workshopped ASAP. Having seen the range of games on offer this year I think that I will aim for a less traditional system that embraces more indie concepts. Partially because I want to explore that space but also because the indie approaches I enjoy the most tend towards lighter systems with less mechanical crunch. I think Project Cassandra was about as crunchy as I’d be comfortable with given the constraints of the format.

One of the things that I need to change from this time round is promotion. While Project Cassandra reached more people than I ever expected I’m also not under the illusion that it was all (or even primarily) down to what I did. ZineQuest is one of those force multiplier events that allowed me to reach a lot more people than I normally could and I’ve no doubts that without its community I would have struggled to reach even the initial £400 goal.

That said I think with the proper promotion a future project could do even better but it is going to require work. Self promotion and networking is an area that I find excruciatingly difficult, both in gaming and my professional life as an academic. It’s also an essential aspect of this publishing gig – unless you manage to accidentally go viral with a new game it’s hard to get noticed unless you have an established following. I’m also extremely clear that this is an area where a) I’m going to have to push myself to consistently engage with more people and b) I’m in the privileged position that I can afford to fail. I’m doing this as a hobby and while I can day dream of one day making it a major part of my income I know how unlikely that is.

So what am I going to do about it? First up try and just put myself out there, primarily on twitter and to join conversations (while also being careful not to push myself into them when I’m not wanted). I’m also going to do my best to convert as many backers of this campaign as possible to being fans of my work. This is one of the reasons why I’ve started the LunarShadow Designs Newsletter, as an attempt to build awareness of my work and that of other indie creators. It’s slow going but I’ve made those first few steps. Once in person conventions return I’m going to do my best to attend as many as feasible, including looking into a stall at smaller events just to be seen.

The other important thing is to continue to release new material. I’m never going to be one of those designers that is constantly releasing games or supplements week after week but I’ve got a number of unfinished products in the pipeline. I’m slowly building up a portfolio that showcases what I am capable of and I think Project Cassandra is an excellent example of that but it’s only a start and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.

Talking Numbers: On being Deal of the Day

Back at the start of the year I finally found myself in the position of having sufficient Publisher Points on drivethruRPG to submit a product to the Deal of the Day queue. As my (at the time) biggest seller I submitted The Synth Convergence, my trilogy of missions for The Sprawl, and sat down to wait. For close to five months. Towards the end of May I finally received a notification that it had hit the top of the queue and would be the featured product on the 25th. I’ve mentioned before, both here and on twitter, about wanting to be open about sales and numbers as an indie publisher. Part of that is because I’m very much in the long tail at the end that you normally don’t hear from – many of the small publishers I see talking numbers are doing sales that are already an order of magnitude above mine (my 2020 numbers can be found here as an example). The Project Cassandra Kickstarter is going to shift my earning considerably but that’s a topic for when fulfilment is complete.

With all that in mind I want to talk about how well the missions did, my thoughts and general sales numbers. Prior to the deal of the day The Synth Convergence had sold 80 copies on drivethruRPG, with gross sales of $248.08, earning me $148.85. That comes in to an average purchase price of $3.01, compared to the list price of $5.00. The differences there are due to two factors – for much of 2020 I reduced it to $1.50 as part of a pandemic sale while it is also part of a Sprawl bundle including Mission Packets 1 and 2 that retails at $6.00.

During its 24 hour run the Deal of the Day promotion, while it was available for $2.50 (or less as part of the bundle), it was purchased 47 times, bringing in $122.54 in gross sales and personal earnings of $73.65. That may not be much for publishers with a more established following but personally it represents a massive up tick in sales and earnings.

That’s not the end of the story though.

With the increase in people looking at my publisher page I saw other releases picking up additional sales . The Sprawl Bundle sold 9 copies thanks to the fact that the Deal of the Day sale price was automatically factored in to its retail price. The Tannhouser Investment, the first mission from the trilogy is available separately as a PWYW demo but 3 people paid for it, either not realising it was included or because they wanted to send a little extra my way. The Synth Divergence transmission for Technoir and my Demon Hunters Fiasco playset both picked up a sale. Altogether those boosted my earnings by another $20.37. Finally, in the days since there has been a small trickle of sales – 3 sales of the bundle, 1 of The Synth Convergence and 1 of What’s so [redacted] about [redacted]?

So those are the numbers. Now for some thoughts/analysis. Emphasis on the thoughts given my limited data.

Was submitting the missions to Deal of the Day worth it? Yes, undoubtedly so. Those numbers speak for themselves and represent a substantial boost to my sales. Over a third of all sales I’ve had of the missions were in that 24 hour period.

Would sales have been higher if I had chosen a stand alone game for my submission? Honestly, I have no idea. As a supplement they are reliant on a purchaser owning a copy of The Sprawl but on the other hand it is a well known and popular PbtA game. Combined with the sale price I suspect a lot of people will have purchased the missions on impulse alone. I just don’t have the data to know if they’d have done the same with a stand alone game.

Do I wish I’d have saved the points for using with Project Cassandra? Also yes. While I would have probably ended up waiting another year to use them it would have been nice to ensure that the game got in front of as many people as possible. It cost 577 publisher points to submit to Deal of the Day. Right now it’s over 650. As a non-exclusive publisher I receive 10 points a month plus 1 for every $10 of sales that month. So unless I can significantly increase my monthly sales it will be a few years until I can submit again. What I will do though is look into other ways that the publisher points can be used – the cost for banner adds is currently low, and with the impending digital release of Project Cassandra I intend to use them to boost visibility of the game. I’m not sure how effective banner impressions are but I’ve got enough right now to trial it and see if there is a boost to sales.

All in all being deal of the day drove a significant increase in my sales and that, ultimately, was always the goal.

What’s on my Shelf 4: Trad

It’s taken me a while to get to posting about the bottom shelf of my gaming collection but, for the most part, it’s where you’ll find my trad games. It’s also the portion of my collection that has shrunk the most over the last few years as I have condensed it down in response to multiple moves and a dramatic reduction in how often I game.

There are two main blocks of books amongst all that – Legend of the Five Rings and the original Torg. As I’ve mentioned previously on the blog my first real exposure to tabletop RPGs was through Torg but not until it had long gone out of print. I’d just started my PhD and for the first time in my life had a regular income (and quite a good one for a PhD programme) so it probably wasn’t surprising that I started to hunt down books on ebay. At one point I probably had ~75% of everything that had been printed for the game but I’ve trimmed it back considerably since then to the main setting books and the big centre piece adventure trilogy that kickstarted the living campaign. I’ve managed to hold off diving into its reboot, Torg Eternity, simply because I have no idea when I’ll ever get a chance to properly play the game. Maybe one day.

The second big collection is Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition (and the starter set for 5th Edition over on the right). This is one of those games that I am deeply conflicted about. Having been introduced to it by an amazing GM I’ve grown to love the world building and setting of the game. I’m also, however, aware of the extent to which the game only exists due to cultural appropriation of Asian cultures and I’m ashamed to admit how long it has taken me to really appreciate that. I’ve not picked up any more of 5th Edition even though I’d like to properly check the new system out.

Dotted amongst those collections are a range of books. There’s 2 WEG Star Wars books, the original game and the Rebel Alliance Sourcebook. I picked those up as part of a bulk collection in a charity shop but again, most of them have since been sold on as I’ve moved towards a focus on core books only. Masks (not the superhero PbtA game), from Engine Publishing is one of those books that has earned its place many times over given my preferred role as a GM. How? Well it’s a collection of generic NPCs separated by genre that includes names, descriptions, backgrounds and story hooks. Invaluable for when inspiration is lacking.

You might also note the cardboard folder sticking out on the right hand side. That’s the one non-trad game on the shelf – a physical copy of Time & Temp by Epidiah Ravachol. You’re probably more familiar with his games Dread and Swords without Master (which is in Worlds without Master Issue 3). Time & Temp is a game of time travel that in over a decade of ownership I’ve yet to get to the table despite being so intrigued by it that I paid to have a copy shipped over from the US. One day I’ll actually find a group interested in trying it.

So there you have it. My little collection and not a dragon in sight.