Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Reaping Of The Tears

Last night, working, I suddenly noticed I had 25 new messages...

Hey, that's that book I wrote, winning an award.
They told me Stacey's acceptance speech was very sweet.

I figured it'd be fun to check all the twitter accounts that had been harassing us all year... so was.

Meanwhile, Mandy was already at the bar...

I don't have a very good relationship with Fred, but if you do
you could explain to him that the reason his thing didn't win Best Writing
was because the writing in it was bad.

Stacy's third acceptance speech was a joke about how
she was running out of things to say. Actually it was
her fourth acceptance speech because her thing, Contessa,
won best blog.

Well, not everyone, Harassment Bunny.

(PS at some point a Japanese girl had painted a
bunch of swirlies on Mandy's face)

This, at least, is true. I entirely lack remorse.

Me too, it doesn't have 300 pages.

Responsible, grown-up commentary on what all this winning means by Stacy here. Visit booth 835 if you get a minute.
What a stupid bear.

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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