Friday, July 31, 2015

Victory Speech

Thank you, thank you all for coming...
In approximately 4 hours, in the Grand Ballroom of Union Station in Indianapolis, Indiana, it will be announced that my game book, Red & Pleasant Land, nominated for four Ennie awards, has not won a single one.*

The math here is fairly simple and I've explained it before: there are 3000 print copies in existence,'s Ennie awards had 20,000 voters and--barring some egregiously quick pdf sales or egregious lack of enthusiasm for the well-distributed and promoted mainstream products, it can't possibly win.

All props, though, to James Edward Raggi IV for building a company that punches so far above its weight in over the last five years. Expect this to happen all over again next year with Broodmother Sky Fortress or Veins of the Earth.

But that isn't the math that I want to talk about today. Here's the math I want to talk about:

2000 x 15 = 30,000

I keep checking that figure because I can't believe it.

If you can sell a mere two thousand print copies of a book which retails for 30 bucks and you get half of that (15$) and it takes you 3 months to do the writing and art, you're moving toward something like a grown-up income. You won't win an Ennie--some thing 90 guys worked on and all of them feel kind of ok about will--but the tens of thousands of dollars will be some consolation.

The bad news is: it has to be both innovative and interesting. The good news is: it gets to be both innovative and interesting. It also has to be worth thirty dollars.

There are already simple, successful models for DIY publishing--the first is the one we practice on all the blogs every week, including here: make free or cheap content as a hobby, give to other bloggers, and don't worry about money, your profit is people building on your ideas and giving you more free content.

Kevin Crawford lays out a second model here and I don't think I'd get any disagreement from Kevin when I say his model is:

-Make things for a broad audience
-Make a lot of things
-Work hard year round
-Don't worry about being inspired, just work

Kevin is an honorable man who knows what he's about. What I am saying here is that Red & Pleasant Land proves a totally different and third model is also viable in 2015:

-Ignore what the audience wants
-Put all your effort into that one thing
-Work hard for a few months
-Keep your team small
-Put out a thing that is exactly and only the thing you are inspired to work on

A few years ago, I figured out that you actually make more money doing your own stuff than working for the majors. (Immediately after, noted White Wolf has-been Malcolm Sheppard made fun of my numbers and D&D head honcho Mike Mearls wrote an email to me to say they were dead on.) What I'm telling you now is stranger than that by an order of magnitude: doing your own weird dream project will actually make you as much or more money than worrying about what The Market wants.

The fact is game people want fucked up cool game stuff and just enough of them have the money to pay for it that you can make it work for you and, in the process, fund the creation of something genuinely creative that we all are glad was published instead of like more tastefully scrub-ass public domain art and hipster-graphic design microgames and Legolas-colored dicebags with "Hug Your DM" screened on them.

Here's what you'll need:

-Very good art--or at least art that 2000 fans will accept as "very good art"--you will have to hire or be Matthew Adams or Aaron Aelfrey or someone else.  Not "professional art". Every piece of d20 crap at the store has very professional art, and none of those guys are worth half a Scrap Princess. This is because Paizo and WOTC have that angle sewn up: they can hire all the artists that look like the professional standard and are actually worth a damn and pay them more than you can. You need art that is as personal a statement as the content is going to be. Of course: why the fuck would you hire less than a genius to work on your dream project?

If you're not the artist, pay them thousands of dollars: it'll be worth it, because you'll make thousands more. Even if we're still assuming half of your 30$ cover price disappears into a black hole, if you give the artist a profit split equalling 20,000$ for two months of painting, that leaves you with 10,000$ for one month of writing. Not a bad deal. This is not just borne out by the Raggi experience: by far the most successful StoryGame is Burning Wheel and--holy coincidence--it's one of the only ones which has art that doesn't suck all of the balls.

If Apocalypse World had had a real artist on it, Vincent Baker would no longer have a day job.

-A lot of art. There needs to be art on every page or damn near close. In color.

-Art on every page, seriously.

-If you aren't the artist, work with the artist to create the book. Art isn't decoration or explanation of your marvellous words. It is half the fucking content. Here. The art should make the idea seem cool to someone who never even realized it could be cool. Like that thief in Mentzer that made stealing and sneaking seem more fun than being Conan.

-Graphic design that goes all the way. This is probably the hardest lesson for the RPG business to grasp. Ok, watch, one of these books on the Gencon Ennie table is not like the others...
Ditto the inside, which you've all probably heard about ad nauseam by now. But the point is: we wasted lots and lots of time making sure not one single thing about the design was off-the-shelf, not one single thing was standard. It was designed to look original and memorable and, from the font to the ribbon (unlike nearly everything else on the market) to be the book we could use at the game table. RPL is not just a sexy book, it's arguably a book that's easier to use than a pdf.

Your thing won't be Red & Pleasant Land. It won't need to be used at the table the same way Red & Pleasant Land is, it may not even be a book, but it will need to be designed 100% around whatever its own unique use at the table is. Do something original and necessary and do it from the beginning. The conception of the book should include the design.

-Zero market research. Fuck what people want. Gaming is a lot of people--if Luke Crane can sell 10,000 copies of a game with micromechanized Elf Sadness and Fred Hicks can sell comparable numbers of Bland: The System you can fucking sell 2000 copies of whatever your fucked up idea is.

Spooky Alice In Wonderland With Vampires is seriously the most played-out hack idea imaginable (TSR had already done two Alice modules and built a whole setting around fake-Dracula) and what player wants to go near a setting where pretty much every monster has level drain? But I liked it and Jez liked it and James liked it and that's all that mattered for us to put enough energy into it to make a few thousand other people like it.

-Do everything you want done. You know who worries about whether what they want is the same as what they can sell? Businessmen. You know who is better at being an RPG businessman than you? Everybody in the mainstream RPG world. So give us a product no businessman would ever bet on. It'll be bizarre and we'll all want one.

-Take no fucking shit from anyone. I get a "you catch more flies with honey" speech from a different beardo with a different failed Kickstarter every week. Guess what? Flies don't buy D&D books. They don't even have wallets. Because they're flies. They don't even have pockets. They just have big roundy golfball eyes.

You catch gamers by giving them something they don't already have, and what they already have in spades is people constantly feeding them hype in order to sell shit or soft-pedaling to avoid pissing off moderators.

Maybe there are two thousand people who hate James Edward Raggi IV, maybe there are three thousand that hate me. Here's some...

Now you know who never to talk to
or give any money to. Don't do anything with or
to these people, ever, even if they ask you to.

The anger was real, yo.

But there are at least that many that know I'll never lie to them and nothing I say is just for effect or to make someone happy. If I say "I am very proud of what we achieved with this book" know that this is a thing that is genuinely up to the obnoxiously high standards I hold other peoples' things to on this blog.

This is an effect that only the small publisher can achieve. When a company reaches a certain size, every utterance they make becomes marketing-speak even when it is sincere. The fact that what you say about your work will rise from a ground of the grimy and unvarnished ground of all the other random shit you say on the RPG internet is not a weakness --you do not have to change this voice. If they trust that person who talks about all that is great or terrible about the Ant Man movie, they will trust you when you say your thing isn't coming out in April like you said because you broke your leg but when it does come out it'll be magnificent because you are excited.

-Be honest with your partners. To y'all, James Raggi has a reputation as That Gore Metal Dickhead. To freelancers, however, he has a reputation as That Freakishly Honest Guy. He pays you on time and well, he says what's on his mind, he shows you the balance sheets, he packs your books carefully, he replaces the damaged ones, he goes above and beyond. He actually delayed the RPL trailer to make sure I'd written to the band and gotten official permission to use the song even though there was no way we'd ever get any blowback from it. And y'know what? It's paid off. People want to work with him, customers trust him with their money, and the stuff that comes out is people's best work because they know it will be handled with care rather than chucked out in front of a micromarket that doesn't give a fuck.


And yeah yeah for those of you thinking But I'm not Tony Stark. Well then you've got work to do--the first step is realizing it.

Point is: that thing you thought you could do before you got on the forums and got all cynical, you can do that thing. But if you half-ass it, it will fail--there are unmarked graves overflowing with halfdone ugly heartbreakers and indie games with shit bestfriend cartoon art nobody will ever play or love.

Imagine the hell out of it, kids. The future is not yet written.
*EDIT: I was totally wrong, I won 2 golds for Best Writing and Best Setting and 2 silvers for Product of the Year and Best Adventure. So ignore this whole post I'm clearly an idiot.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Assume 'Nurture' And See What Happens...

Players do an important bit of worldbuilding for you every time they make a character. If they choose a half-orc, that suddenly means your setting definitely has human and orcs. If they have a crowbar, that means someone invented crowbars.
What's in the Hool Marshes? Something

Here's a way to squeeze a little more worldbuilding out of every PC at the table. It's based around some simple principles:

-It's nice to have some regular old villages and whatnot to drop on the map
-Making regular old villages and whatnot is boring
-They're a little more interesting if they have a relationship to the PCs
-Even if the PCs die and get replaced, the part of the map they created just by existing is there forever, so they've added to the world even after they're gone.

Pick up any player's finished character sheet...

1. Is the character from the city, the country, the woods, or what? Often this'll be established or strongly implied by the character or player right out of the box, and some character gen systems even nail it down for you--the urchin background in 5e heavily implies a city, for instance.

If not, roll d100 for the place the PC came from:

1-30 City (in which case subsequent rolls may be about the whole city or just a neighborhood)
31-70 Rural (like villages, farms, etc)
71-85 Wilderness
86-90 Rootless group (group of hunter-gatherers, caravan of actors, etc)
91-95 Castle or fortress
96-00 Someplace weird and setting-specific like an eternal combat flotilla or zeppelin-city (maybe wait until you've figured out a little more below before deciding what exactly)

2. How common is the PC's class in their home?

Roll d8:

2-6 Common unless it's a spellcasting class
7 If the PC is a thief, wizard or druid, the class is common, if not, as 8 below.
8 The place is specially known having a lot of members of this class (for example, if the PC is a fighter, the place has a large military encampment, if they're a cleric, it has an important and active cathedral)

3. How common is the PC's race where they came from?

Roll d10:
1 The PC is an exception
2-3 The place is a mixed society
4-9 The dominant race is the same as the PC unless they're tiefling, half-elf or half-orc
10 Dominant race is the same as the PC

4. Take a look at the PC's ability scores and roll below to see if any of them might be a legacy of their upbringing. If previous rolls show the PC's class is common in their home, ignore the ability score associated with that class (for example, if the PC has a high int and wizards are common in the PC's hometown, we know why everybody there has a high int).

Unusually High Charisma? Roll d8
1 Sexy local gene pool
2 The place harbors a vigorous service-economy (bartenders, palm-readers, carriage-drivers, etc) and the locals have thereby developed a reputation for silver tongues
3 The notoriously dangerous nature of local politics, feudal conflict, wildlife, gang activity or the like gives all natives a certain edgy romance
4 The place is considered somewhat of a center of taste, sophistication, and style
5-8 The PC or their family is just unusual

Unusually Low Charisma? Roll d8
1 Hideous local gene pool
2 It's boring there: if isolated, the place is the far from the center of the action, if central, the place is so like its neighbors as to be unremarkable
3 Local customs and habits are considered kind of broadly obnoxious outside the area (100% chance inhabitants are proud of this)
4 Folks here either drink alone lot or learned manners from people who do
5-8 The PC or their family is just unusual

Above-average Dexterity? Roll d6
1 The landscape in the area is treacherous (steeply mountainous, full of angry wolves, etc)
2 A dominant industry or sport in the area requires nimbleness (pearl diving, juggling etc)
3 Thieves are common in the area
4-6 The PC or their family is just unusual

Below-average Dexterity? Roll d6
1 Food is plentiful in the area and inhabitants are typically sedentary or overweight
2 A dominant industry in the area requires no particular agility (accountancy, etc)
3 People there have distinctly deformed feet, hands or spines
4-6 The PC or their family is just unusual

Above-Average Wisdom? Roll d6
1 The place is home to a major temple, church or other spiritual center
2 There is an ineffable harmony to the place, which the inhabitants absorb by osmosis
3 The place has recently experienced a great and chastening social upheaval (war, revolution), the lessons of which are fresh in the minds of the populace
4-6 The PC or their family is just unusual

Below-Average Wisdom? Roll d10
1 The gods hate and shun this place on account of the behavior of its past rulers
2 The place is home to a powerful but hopelessly superstitious temple, church or other spiritual center
3 The place is essentially a sucky place to live, antithetical to human pleasure and prosperity and those who remain are a self-selected group of lunatics
4 The place is fundamentally unsettling and Twin Peaksish rendering all locals a wee bit wobbly
5 The government or administration is unusually good at both sucking and propaganda, rendering those who live here unusually out-of-touch with reality
6-10 The PC or their family is just unusual

Above-average Strength? Roll d4
1 A major industry in the area is mining or suchlike brawny task
2 The folk of this place are warlike and might-thewed
3-4 The PC or their family is just unusual

Below-average Strength? Roll d4
1 There's a lot of tapestrymaking or other work here requiring little physical heft
2 It is a wealthy place and many of the inhabitants scorn physical labor
3-4 The PC or their family is just unusual

Above-Average Intelligence? Roll d8
1 There is a university, monastery or other center of learning in this place
2 This is a crossroads, wayfarers bring ideas from all over
3 There is or was once great wealth here and denizens have access to public amenities which abet learning such as an observatory or zoos
4 The place is isolated, requiring those who live there to create ingenious or original solutions to basic problems of survival
5-8 The PC or their family is just unusual

Below-Average Intelligence? Roll d6
1 The place was founded by possessors of a dogmatic philosophy antithetical to learning
2 The place is isolated, but still wholly typical of a larger culture, accepting what comes in but producing little that is original
3 Something in the water makes folks there Not Quite Right
4-6 The PC or their family is just unusual

Above-Average Constitution? Roll d4
1 A robust and rugged environment promoting general health
2 The place is well-administered ensuring most inhabitants have access to health care
3-4 The PC or their family is just unusual

Below-Average Constitution? Roll d6
1 A poisonous, famine-prone or polluted place
2 An inbred environment, natives lack hybrid vigor
3 The place is decadent and pampered, ensuring inhabitants are poorly-prepared for the outside world
4-6 The PC or their family is just unusual

5. Money/Social Class. If previous rolls haven't yet established whether the PC's hometown was rich or poor, take a look at the PC's own markers of social class. In Old School games this is typically the starting money rolled but there can be other indicators: Paladins or those with the Aristocrat or Noble background are high-status for instance. If the character is unusually rich or poor roll below...

Roll d6
1-2 The PCs relative wealth or lack thereof compared to the average reflects the prosperity or poverty of their place of origin
3-6 The PC or their family is just unusual

6. Extra languages.  If the PC has any extra languages...

Roll d6 for each extra language:
1-2 The extra language is often spoken in the PC's place of origin
3-6 The PC or their family is just unusual

7. Weapons

Roll d6 for each of the PC's major weapons...
1-2 The weapon is a typical hunting, self-defense or military weapon in the area the PC came from
3-6 The PC is just unusual in having skill with this weapon

8. Special abilities, backgrounds, skills and trades 

In some systems (AD&D by-the-book and 5e for instance) your PC will have non-class non-race associated abilities or trades (my AD&D half-orc fighter Slovenly Trull can sew for instance).

For each of these abilities or descriptors, roll d10
1 The PC's home is a renowned center of this trade
2-7 This trade is common in the area the PC hails from
8-10 The PC is just unusual in having this ability

Alright, go to it.


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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Gen Con, True Detective, Sleeping Kids, Merch, How to Run Vidchat Games and more

* Our wizard, Charlotte Stokely, was on True Detective Sunday night.

*If you're going to be at Gen Con, visit Booth 835, (Sigh Co), they'll have got signed copies of Red & Pleasant Land, R&PL bags as well as some very GenCon freebies we made just for y'all.

Also they've got some cool Lovecraft merch...

*In other Gen Con news, there is no way Red & PleasantLand is going to win any of the stuff it's nominated for. Like 20,000 people voted and there's only like 3,000 print copies of the book, so the awards are going to go to mainstream stuff. Just saying: chill. It's nice we got nominated. But the awards are going to skew toward stuff everybody's actually heard of.

* During last week's game, the party encountered the sleeping children room. After half an hour of being verrrry suspicious, they figured out the deal. Laney gave her child-self the Cymric Dirk, the weapon she held as the Knight Viridian, which meant she'd retroactively been the Viridan Knight her whole life and she was suddenly an anti-paladin, which she turned into just in time to heal people who'd had the shit beat out of them by a giant bat which I got to represent with a real taxidermied bat I just got for my birthday. Here I scanned it:
Then she re-went into the room and unpaladined herself and went back to normal. Also some other people gave their kid selves instruments so they have Performance at plus-whatever now.

Which, considering all the ways that room could go, is a little strange.

*Dak has created a group for Old School game merch on Massdrop which is basically a way to get discounts on stuff by working together to make bulk orders. There's an FAQ here.

*Speaking of merch: can get the Red & Pleasant Land art printed on anything now. If you just want a big print you can get that, too.

*We did a video panel on how to run a game over Google + here for Indie plus. It was me and Raphael Chandler and Contessa's Sarah Doombringer and other folks. A lot of people ask how to get started on GMing or playing games on-line: there you go.

“Whoever takes this book or steals it or in some evil way removes it from the Church of St Caecilia, may he be damned and cursed forever, unless he returns it or atones for his act” etc.

*This G+ thread has turned out interesting: 
Loose Ends Thread Have you dropped a chance detail into your game and have no idea where it's supposed to be headed? Put it in this thread.
Got an idea how to turn someone' else's loose thread into a new gameable for their upcoming sessions? Put it in this thread.
So far it's got sacrifices being enigmatically murdered before the cultists can get to them, an organ-harvesting witch and more. (If you haven't added me and written me a note telling me you want to be in my game circles, you won't be able to see it.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Ones With No Chill

Quicklings, only halfling-tall, are one of the many disasters made possible by the union of man and elf. When the humors mix awry, the resulting offspring inherit the capacity of experience of an elf, but only the mortal span of a human to experience it in.

You ever notice how capricious and stately elves are with their fucking stag horn crowns and twisty lathed smooth wood and shit? This is because they have all the time in the world. They wallow in unacknowledged temporal privilege.

Not quicklings. Their eyes are red with stimulants and bad frenzy, their homes are chaotic with the clicking of clocks. Their lives are desperations. They want more. You move so slow, you talk so slow. You bore them so much.

They always win initiative, their voices are shrill, and they attack three times per round. Their principle occupation is to acquire experience before death. They want more life, fucker.

A typical quickling encounter begins with the local lord awaking to find his cupboards bare, his animals behaving strangely, his maids terrified, his art stolen, his secret doors wide open, his drugs dispersed about the halls and maybe a lone leftover quickling on a chandelier--inebriated and dangling and babbling a poem about smocks or some shit. The rest are long gone.

Occasionally long but barely-legible works of food or art criticism are left in place of the items themselves, the ink still wet. The reasoning in these essays is solid, if unnecessarily prescriptive.

Parties occasionally encounter quicklings because they possess something unique, or have gained access to a unique place. The quicklings must sample it. A ring of fire breathing? Must know what that's like. The Unknown Caverns of Vacuous Glear? Must know them. 

What is that? A bootlast? What do you do with it? Why do you do that? Why do you exist? I hate you. Poke poke poke poke poke you full of holes I hate you so much. Now what do you look like inside out?

They are as culturally developed as any elves (they learn fast, naturally) but their culture is deeply unclean. They've already done everything normal-fun and have long-ago moved into fucked-up fun. 

True elves (what they call "snail elves") value their counsel on matters such as aesthetics, fencing and the natural world (their various analyses being the result of far more observation) though, being obviously abominations against the natural order, they are wary of them. A Seelie lord may ask a party to locate (never easy) and bring in a quickling consultant to address some pressing* matter.

They have names like "Skrinthian Ipting" and "Scree-Act Proth".

(*In the elven sense of the word, so this could be "What do we do about the fucking orcs over there?" but also "What is the ideal length of a horn to sound on the first day of spring after the meerkats wake?")

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Benefits of Being The Chosen of Tiamat

The Black Knight is dead and gone, thus the Black Wing of Tiamat will go unrepresented in the coming tourney. 

The remaining knights need abilities that:

-reflect their Churches 
-have a meaningful mechanical effect on the direction of the fight
-keep the players who aren't in the fight (ie everyone but Laney) excited to see the next die roll

So, treat them as 20th level fighters or paladins in plate mail except the following. Effects with durations last one round.

Cobalt Knight

On a successful hit..

1. Magnetic discharge knocks any nearby armored foe to the ground
2. Magnetic attraction draws enemy weapon to the Knight
3. Electric shock delivers d4 damage per point of metal armor
4. Mutation: Knight gains an arm and an attack
5. Mutation: Knight gains a head

Pale Knight

When initiative is won...

1. Last round repeats if it was favorable to the Pale Knight, or is erased if it was not
2. Next strike paralyzes for one round if it hits
3. If the next hit on an enemy is prevented by parry or armor, the object (armor piece, weapon, shield) ceases to exist
4. Slows enemy
5-6. Foe will momentarily forget where s/he is. The Knight has advantage to hit.
Red Knight

When struck...

1. Rage (advantage on str checks and damage)
2.-3. Flame (enemy catches on fire)
4.-5. Lava birth (lava baby crawls out of wound and attacks)
6. Mutilating strike (next hit removes an arm or something if successful)

Knight Viridian

When the enemy tries and fails to hit...

1. Regenerate d30 now or when next wounded
2. Anyone will believe the next lie you tell
3. Foe drops their weapon
4. Foe begins to hallucinate (as Confusion)
5. Poisoned bite (extra attack)
6. Scales grow (+1 AC)

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ok Weird Gnomes

Every gnome was once a home. Their eyes were once shuttered windows, their mouths wooden doors, their pointed caps once turret roofs. They bear inside of them the memories of vanished occupants and homely meals.

The process begins when the home becomes bored. Typically this occurs when it is abandoned, but in a few known cases domiciles have gone gnomish due to extraordinarily tedious occupants.

The dwelling, thus dispirited, is presented with choices. Large and sinister homes often go mad--resulting in dungeons. Small fortified places--rigid in their identities--become Tower Golems. Humble houses of homely aspect generally go gnomish in search of adventure.

Gnomes do not possess what we would term interior organs--they have instead a series of cavernlike chains of mineral tissue occupied by sparrows, gray mice, and the like. These are the lifeblood of the gnome and, if the creature is injured, they may flee the hollows of its enigmatic body.

Gnomes gain bonuses to wisdom and constitution proportional to those granted in the system they are in and have advantage when looking for hidden things in domestic spaces. They assuage their guilt over ceasing to be available to occupants by seeking gold, devices and precious stones with which to furnish and gild the new homes they build to replace themselves. In tomes bound in bone they record the process of birthing these imperfect wood and stone clones.

Being gnew to everything, they are intensely excitable--gnomes, who have been known to see merely moving across a field of heather desperately fascinating well into their eighties, find the kinetic thrill of traps and combats intoxicating. They despise any fire not properly contained in a hearth or lantern.

They get along with halflings but find their cuisine alien, as gnomes eat only eggs. Dwarves like to rub their noses for luck, but consider them dangerously naive. Elves, whose homes and purposes are eternal, simply find them baffling.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Maze of the Blue Medusa Available

This is probably my most D&Dish painting. You can now order a print of it here.

It's designed so it can actually be keyed and used as a map

You can also get it as a throw pillow or a shower curtain or a bunch of other things.