Writing Update: Dragon Heresy starts to see the end

I did a lot of writing last week, and was up until just shy of 4am on Saturday night trying to finish editing the magical items, treasure, and rewards chapters.

For those that come to these pages looking for tons of GURPS content, especially my semi-regular features such as The Reloading Press or even the Firing Squad, I can only apologize. I’ve been pretty laser-focused on Dragon Heresy since it became a real thing in Feburary, and I’ve come a long way since then.

So, where’s the game right now?

Dragon Heresy RPG

One of the things that happened last week was a major reorganization of all of the material that I’ve written to date, plus some things that I’d forgotten to include that are pretty key from SRD5.1. That’s done, and while I still think that there are some sections that could usefully be wrapped into their own chapters, the rest of the material now flows a heck of a lot better.

The Introduction got a long-ago rewrite to not mention certain game names, even as an acknowledgement, nod, homage, or a respectful comment. Alas, because while I don’t wish to claim compatibility with anything or camp out on a brand, the roots of the game are clear and SRD5.1-derived.

The Core Concepts chapter then introduces all of the things you need to know that are the same, and more importantly, the few things that are different, to play the game.

The Combat chapter comes next, with the new SRD sections smoothing out the flow, and making it more readable. Grappling is now four pages (well, MS Word pages) and it’s a lot more interesting. It’s been used quite a bit by both monsters and PCs in the test campaigns I’ve played, which has been fantastic. Damage Types have rules associated with them now, too. Getting slashed and getting burned are now different and flavorful.

Then Injury, Rest, and Healing, which details how the new rules for wounds and vigor interact with long and short rests, and the much-longer requirements to heal wounds than vigor. The emergent behavior out of this split system has been wonderful to behold, and is, I think, going to be a strong point in favor of Dragon Heresy for those that like it.

Then there are a bunch of sections on the adventuring environment that really need to be folded up into their own chapter. Probably need to create an Adventuring and Campaigning chapter that will be a natural place for all of this stuff.

Then the Characters set of chapters, which are everything you’d expect. All the classes, and sub-classes, backgrounds unique to the game, advancing beyond first level, feats, spellcasting, and the fully-adjusted spell lists, tweaked to incorporate the new Dragon Heresy concepts.

And the rewards and treasure section, which has personal and hoard loot, a new gemstone table, and the section on magical items, which again have been tweaked to fit Dragon Heresy. I do the work so you don’t have to.

What’s left to do?

I’ve got several chapters/sections left before I can confidently say “this is a complete draft.”

Monsters and Foes.

This is a big section – porting in from the SRD reveals it to be 90,000 words by itself, which could be as much as 140 pages. That’s in addition to the 215,000 words that’s already written above. 

So that’s just too long. It’s long to the point that I might just split the entire project into three books – that’s a model we’ve seen before – one for players, one for the campaign, and a bestiary. The imported monsters are fun, but some of them aren’t terribly setting-relevant, and there are others that need to be there – such as a monster based off of Grendel – that aren’t, that I know of. 

Plus, I’m going to have to go through every monster that I keep and rewrite it in terms of wounds, vigor, new attack and damage modes, damage reduction for armor . . .

It’s grunt work, but it’s 90,000 words of grunt-work.


I’m working with a pro cartographer on maps, and I’ve got a final map of my continent and starter maps of the sandbox. That’s helping define some of the setting details.

I have a brief history and some major events defined, which provides flavor.

I’ve got a reasonable start on a defining culture, and I think I can bang this out in short order. The real work is in the adventuring area, which will have sufficient defined areas to inspire, and sufficient “the GM puts whatever here” to keep it a sandbox.

There’s enough “kingdoms far away” that enterprising players and GMs can play the “outsider” if they want, because someone always wants to.

GM Advice

Some of the things that have come up in playtest – “watch out for X,” and “be aware of Y” will go here. So will suggestions on starter adventures and ways to kick the game off.

Dragon Heresy is, flat out, potentially more deadly than the SRD5.1 basis from which it derives. That’s not a bad thing. In fact it was a design goal, to take enhanced lethality and combine it with a certain amount of additional narrative cohesion.

But it makes the game play differently, and at least the GM should be aware of how. So I’ll be writing a bit on that.


My personal goal is still to finish a complete publishable text draft this month – that is, in the next 13 days. The Monsters chapter is what really stands in the way of that, as it’s the most time-intensive and fiddle-intensive. Plus the length, which is a problem by itself.

But with a finished draft, even if I don’t have the monsters done but if I do decide to put them in their own book, I can start layout and defining holes for art. 
Then August will be “find public domain art to fill the holes.”
September would be “launch a Kickstarter to take the book to ever-higher quality levels.” Things like, and in rough order:
1. Indexing. Probably wind up needing $2,500 for this, as I’ve seen budgetary estimates for pro indexing at $10 per 1,000 words.
2. Editing. I want to work with an established professional, and that means about $6,500 in the budget so that someone can look over my work and fix it. 
There are also some expenses I’ve already incurred such as the map, and I’ll need to bring the websites for the RPG and my notional publishing company online. 
I suspect that the prior two items will define the first goal: $12,000 to fund the Kickstarter, with backers potentially having access to a laid-out PDF with public domain art that’s already written as soon as the project funds (if, after consultations, it seems wise to do that; I’m going to be chatting with lots of folks who have run both successful and unsuccessful Kickstarters before I commit to anything), so there’s no risk there. That means I’ll need 300-400 backers just to cover the basics. 
3. Black and White Art. If the book is 250,000 words long, that’s probably 130 pieces of art. Figure that’s 30-40 full pages equivalent, and I’ll need something like $4,000-5000 for B/W art to replace the public domain art.
4. Color Art. That’s about an extra $10,000 right there. Some of that might be “the same as B/W, but color,” but I won’t necessarily constrain my artists that way,

5. Stretch Goals. The separate monster book is probably best left as a stretch goal. So would be additional setting material for Torengar (the country adjacent to the setting sandbox) to allow internal adventuring rather than just external. I’d love to have enough backers and money to do a hard-cover, full-color offset print run at high quality, but that’s a massive risk to all parties and involves me having tens of thousands of dollars of backing beyond the above, in order to afford both the printing and (more importantly) the shipping, which is where a lot of Kickstarters seem to go wrong.

But that means if things don’t go wrong, October-November would be the ideal cases for getting all that art in, and having the thing on sale by Christmas. That in itself is a stretch goal, because I suspect timing will not be that kind – real life tends to interfere. So Q1 of calendar 2017 might be the best date to look for a Dragon Heresy release.
Assuming it funds at all. But I think people will be pleased with the game for what it is, and I hope that I can scare up enough interest to do this project right, all the way to the finish line.

Got questions, suggestions, comments, or helpful advice? Please leave a comment!

6 thoughts on “Writing Update: Dragon Heresy starts to see the end

  1. Well, this is better broken down than most RPG Kickstarters I seem to remember. I intend to throw in something, since you've given me a hand with some GURPS stuff. Looking forward to seeing how this goes!

    What's the plan if the Kickstarter just doesn't fund?

    1. 1. Weep bitter tears of disappointment
      2. Curse the Fates for my poor luck
      3. Look to friends for help in indexing and editing
      4. Publish the thing anyway, with public domain art

    2. I've never had to publish anything before, so I don't know, but with this being OGL, perhaps another publishing company could be approached? That sounds dangerously like giving up control, though.

    3. When I go to crowdfunding, I will already have a laid-out book that has been playtested, had 30+ people reading and editing and making corrections for grammar, style, rules, and whatnot. I will, if I must, do the indexing and final editing myself, with playtester input and help.

      From that perspective, it means I'd only be out my own time and the money I spend to secure websites. Offering it for sale as-is on one of the online game stores will allow people to do Print-on-Demand as well.

      The Kickstarter is to make the book BETTER. I don't need it to finish the project from a playability standpoint. Technically, if I don't spend money doing any of my improvements, I have a much lower number of sales-to-payback.

    4. I think so. The advantage of working with (say) SJG on Technical Grappling was pretty clear, b/c they own GURPS and all rights to publish it. But beyond that, it gave me:
      1) Access to Sean, a rules expert
      2) Access to Sean and PK Levine, experienced GURPS editors who both play and write the game, and are familiar with the entire line
      3) Nikli Vrtis does layout for me
      4) SJG sources and pays for art
      5) SJG takes all the risk that the money that went into 1-4 isn't paid back

      In exchange for all that, I give up 80% of the purchase price, ownership of the ideas too.

      Anyway, the thing that a publisher would do for me right now is provide professional editing, indexing, layout, art sourcing, and marketing. All of these things I need, and must currently hire myself. But in exchange for acting like a project manager and sourcing specialist (two things I do in my day job), I get to keep my IP and all the returns. Plus: good experience.

      Re-reading my prior response sounded harsh to me – it wasn't meant that way. I hope to go to market with a basically-finished book to minimize the risks to backers. I hope they will reward me with their money and trust so that the book can be even better.

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