December 26th marked the fifth year of Gaming Ballistic as a blog, and (roughly) the first complete year as Gaming Ballistic, LLC, the company. As I look at my year in review, I know in advance what it’s going to say: I ran out of time to do a lot of things I liked doing with the blog, and things didn’t quite go as planned with Gaming Ballistic, LLC either.
So, let’s take a look
I had 24 posts in December, which isn’t bad at all, though only 8 of them were about GURPS. And a lot happened. My webstore went live, and Dungeon Grappling, completed in December, began final distributions ahead of schedule.
Dragon Heresy was in editing, so nothing was written about that, and I see that at the time I was posting monthly Gaming Ballistic LLC updates.
Only 16 posts this month, 7 of them about GURPS. No reloading press nor GunDay this month either. This means that I’d already fallen off my daily posting schedule. Unsurprisingly, I made a lot of posts about Dungeon Grappling – it went up on Amazon, which has garnered me something like a single sale, despite a lot of headaches in the preparation and submission of the file. That was a lesson learned: for that book, at least, Amazon simply isn’t worth it.
February also marks the time where I started at Asfolk taking Viking Martial Arts, as experiential research for shield use in Dragon Heresy. While it doesn’t show up on the blog for a while, it makes a big impact in my thinking about fantasy gaming and combat in both GURPS and D&D-based games.
Back to 22 posts, which is better. Not daily, but at least hitting about two days in three. 14 of them were about GURPS, which was nice to see. I did a few reviews and commentary (ACKS, Dungeon Fantasy issue of Pyramid), and continued playing and reporting the very high point superhero campaign in GURPS, Christopher Rice’s Aeon. I made the first post on Venture Beyond with David Pulver, which was supposed to be a quick-turn project but turned into a much longer, drawn-out thing: it was supposed to be ready to playtest by the end of March. That got extended because the game scope expanded quite a bit, and making a complete game from whole cloth, which is what he’s doing, is hard. We thought we had a complete core that could quickly be polished, and we were wrong. As of Dec 2017, the manuscript is almost finished but he’s still tweaking.
From a business perspective, that was a big miss for my plans. I was hoping to go from $5,000 from Dungeon Grappling, to $25,000 or so for Venture Beyond, to $125,000 for Dragon Heresy. Wildly ambitious, I know, but startups like mine frequently are wildly ambitious, and I never wanted Gaming Ballistic to just sputter along. I wanted it to change my life.April
This month saw a return to GunDay, as I started really digging into the Ultra-Tech slugthrowers. I’m not sure what started it, but I still refer back to those posts: they were a lot of fun. I also got 31 posts in a 30-day period, which was really good output, and 23 of them had the GURPS tag.
April also saw a neat post called Less-Technical Grappling that has a lot of potential simplifications for it that really would be a good addition to a version of the grappling rules for the DFRPG. As the year drew on, and I saw how well Dungeon Grappling worked in play (very, and the reviews back it up), I realized that in a good world, I’d be able to do a Technical Grappling, 2nd edition where I apply all the lessons in writing clarity, organization, and speed of play that I’ve learned since when I wrote the original Technical Grappling draft. Remember, TG was published in 2013, disrupted by nearly a year by the Ogre Kickstarter, which means that the writing probably happened in 2012 . . . about when I started the Gaming Ballistic blog. I’ve learned and grown a lot, published a lot in Pyramid, and on my own, in that time. A new edition would simply be better.
In a truly ideal world, I’d get a licence from Steve Jackson Games to publish a 2nd edition of Technical Grappling through Gaming Ballistic, LLC and do it all myself. Full-color art, softcover, and a new layout that blends the GURPS Martial Arts and Dungeon Grappling style choices. I’d also ensure that the basic rules were fully compatible with the DFRPG, and the “advanced” sections pulled from GURPS’ many good options.
Another 31-post month! I start preparing for GenCon, announcing the Grappling Smackdown, which will eventually morph into Lost Hall of Tyr. I have a nice blend of posts this month, with 13 GURPS posts, five from Gaming Ballistic as a company, including a fun interview with Kenzer and Company, and 20 of the 31 were RPG-system posts, which means content. Some Monster Monday, some GunDay, some Actual Play reports, and some reviews.
But also a high proportion of posts started but never finished – they’re still sitting there in draft form.
We start the Chronicles of Ceteri campaign, which was modern-day monster hunting.
I also saw the loss of a dear friend in a tragic accident. Goodbye, Jason. You are missed.
Only 10 posts. I was in Thailand for a few weeks this month, and it absolutely killed my posting velocity. I did get a draft of Venture Beyond, edited it, and got it back to David. Not the final draft, but it gave us a chance to have a meeting of the minds on some core principles of the book.
I return from Thailand, but my posting quantity was still only 15, about one every other day. I begin a series of posts on fighting with Viking Shields that in combination will be among my best ever. I return to the Ultra-Tech slugthrower look-see with the rifle, from the ground up, which was a good post.
One word: GenCon.
34 posts this month. Unsurprisingly, 13 of them are about GURPS, and many of them are abot GenCon itself. I throw up my most popular single post ever, which was about upsetting the conventional wisdom on shields, and a link by Roland Warzecha of Dimicator brought a flood of folks to the blog: to date, that post was viewed 5,116 times (!!). I also posted about more of my efforts in crafting shields and training swords. August was a good writing month.
I also ordered more physical copies of Dungeon Grappling from CreateSpace, and they sucked. Sucked hard. They had to be replaced at least once; even DriveThru screwed up some printing, unfortunately to my first-ever retail customer, who took an order of 6. That had to be done twice as well. I went searching for a new short-run printer. Found one in Publisher’s Graphics.
I know that sometime in August and September I decided to turn the Grappling Smackdown into Lost Hall of Tyr, which at the time was called Tower of Justice. By the first week in September, I had an editable draft and incorporated GenCon feedback as well as external feedback. The draft was 16,500 words, which would eventually turn into a PDF wordcount of about 24,000 (though that includes the very-wordy OGL, Table of Contents, etc).
I really had my ducks in a row on this one, and lined up editors, artists, and layout folks rapid-fire. Also, Dungeon Grappling was the Deal of the Day on DriveThruRPG, and wound up selling something like 150 copies. I also set up a mailing list, because honestly, one probably needs 10-20x the number of folks on the list than you expect to have back your Kickstarter . . . and Dragon Heresy and Venture Beyond will both need a lot of backers to do “right,” which I define as a pretty high bar.
I do a nice post about comparisons between LightningSource (DriveThru), CreateSpace, and PubGraphics.
By the end of the month, Lost Hall is substantially finished, less art, and I’m ready to launch the Kickstarter in October.
The Lost Hall of Tyr Kickstarter ran all month. I posted 27 times, and 19 of them were Lost Hall related. Not surprising.
This month was bittersweet: the Kickstarter was up-and-down. I set my funding goal very low, as I had decided that I could risk my own money on the project, but I also thought that more of the folks that showed up for my post on shields (remember: 5,000 of them!) would throw $7 at me. My math was very simple, and very wrong: the 300 folks that bought Dungeon Grappling would return to the table, pleased at my early high-quality delivery on that book. I’d pick up another 150 because it’s “5e” and not grappling. And then 250-500 people would show up from Roland’s mailing list, since he was helping me promote the book and providing art for it, and was included in the stretch goals for even more art. At $7 base buy in, and $20 for physical-and-PDF, looking at Dungeon Grappling, I had a 2:1 PDF:Physical ratio, so the average pledge would be about $10. I should “easily” reach $3500, probably reach $7,000, and possibly hit $10,000 or more.
Yeah. Oops. The correct math was more like “roughly 1/5 of folks interested in Dungeon Grappling are also GMs and will buy the adventure,” (about 60 people), my estimate of the 5e crowd and adding OSR stretch goals was maybe about right, which put me to 210 or so, and then another three-dozen here and there got me to the total backer count of 240.
On the other hand, about half the backers wanted physical copies, and so my per-pledge average was good. Down-side, I had about $600 in high-value pledges cancel at various moments, which was extremely painful to watch. So I “only” hit 162% of my 2,500 goal during the campaign, around $4,000 worth.
On the flip side, the Backerkit part of the campaign was successful beyond my expectations, bringing in $1,345, meaning that all-in-all, my top-line income was $5,345, which technically is equal or a bit more than Dungeon Grappling. I wouldn’t get the final take on that until the end of November, though. Note that roughly $500-700 of this is shipping fees for the physical copies; even so, having Dungeon Grappling and a few other add-ons in the mix really helped my top and bottom line here.
Hit 21 posts in November, and most of these seemed to be either Lost Hall posts or actual-play reports, with some GURPSDay thrown in. So my “original content” creative juices were taken up with Lost Hall (and even were I in the mood to be creative, I didn’t have the time).
The first thing I did, very nearly, was post an estimate of what Lost Hall cost to bring to market: including notional payment to myself, about $7,500, and I brought in about $5,300. Not paying myself, treating my own time as “free,” and the out-of-pocket costs to write the book were about $5,000. I got about $4,900 from Kickstarter and Backerkit, in cash after fees. So while a truly detailed cost accounting needs to wait until after my physical copies ship, I probably about “broke even” in terms of making the book, which isn’t horrible. It’s not where I wanted to be – I had really hoped to bring in that $7,500 which means getting paid at market rates for my own work, but at least I didn’t lose too much money making the thing.
Thus far, I’ve posted 26 times, including this one. Just under half of those were involved with the OSR Christmas, which was, frankly, tons of fun. I gave away 18 copies of my works in PDF, and four print copies. Folks seemed to appreciate it.
I also announced that I was taking commissions on viking-style combat shields. They are much more historical than many of the other shields on the market, and will sell from between $200 and $450 depending on options. I expect to get those up on the WebStore early in 2018. I’ve sold one already, which was my first (and successful) experience with hide glue, rawhide edging, and linen stitching. The thing still only weighs 5.2 lbs, and it’s a 34″ diameter shield.
Scheduling and time-constraint issues with Dragon Heresy meant that Ken didn’t have time to work it anymore – between the Pelgrane work and being lead designer on Vampire Fifth Edition . . . he was buried. That has been the reality for most of the year, but we both hoped that things would hit a lull and he’d have time. Things did not lull, in fact they accelerated. We came to a mutually satisfactory agreement and the manuscript returned to my hands.
As with Technical Grappling, I’ve learned a lot about writing since I started penning and compiling the Dragon Heresy manuscript. Excellent advice from Ken, plus just general experience turned Lost Hall into a very light edit by John Adamus. So I’m going back and absolutely savaging my 420,000-word draft and attempting to do so at a fairly breakneck pace. I don’t expect to keep that pace up (12,000 words per day) but if I do, the draft will be ready to go to a real editor and my playtest group by the end of January, though February is more likely due to Real Life.
Year in Review
All in all, I have to admit to myself it’s been a great year. I published another high-quality book, and several other projects made progress. I did not lose money on Lost Hall. I learned a lot about writing, and I learned a lot about management of projects. I got nice feedback about being a real professional in the management side of things, and my relationships with my contractors, so to speak, on my projects remains strong.
One thing I didn’t keep up on as well as I should was my detailed business line-items. Dungeon Grappling did quite well, all things considered in 2017. In addition to the Kickstarter sales, which were just shy of 300, I moved 268 additional copies of Dungeon Grappling (255 digital-only, and 13 either print or print+PDF) for a net Earnings of $965. I seem to have sold about $485 through my own web store (I think that excludes updates to folks’ Dungeon Grappling copies when I pushed a new release accounting for errata) for about 40 copies of the book. So non-Kickstarter income was just shy of $1,500.
I think my miss on expectations from Lost Hall and my relative dearth of “let me write cool stuff about RPGs” let me with the impression that this year has been a bit of a failure; real-life frustrations with some things did not help this.
But in retrospect, things were much better than they seemed.
So in 2017, I got two books written and mostly on the market, really. This is good.
2018 will need some hard focus. I’ve got a big editing job ahead of me with Dragon Heresy, but this will put it solidly on track for release. Not in the above because I didn’t post about it, but my goodness there’s a lot done on graphical design and layout. I’ve got all three covers basically ready to go, though each needs back-of-the-book marketing text. I’ve got 20 pieces of art that will serve as marketing and previews for the Kickstarter. I’ve got a complete layout template that is really amazing. Once I have the actual draft, I can confidently launch a crowdfunding campaign for what is likely 750 pages of books (three volumes) where the only four things that need to be completed are a professional edit, final layout, art direction and execution, and a print run. Those are also the largest-dollar items (I’d estimate $15K, $2K, $50K, and $30K) and I simply can’t self-fund that.
I have a Level 1-5 adventure in the works that will likewise be a big project, with something like 100 encounters with 8 flavors of such, all set in Etera. It will be made available for Dragon Heresy, straight 5e, and Swords and Wizardry. I want to try some things with the layout of this book, too, that will be a bit more interesting than my prior works functional two-column look.
Venture Beyond is still out there, and while I do have a temporary layout for it that might need to be revisited when the final manuscript comes in.
There are two other authors – not me – that I’ve spoken to about bringing some of their works to life through Gaming Ballistic as well. Those may or may not be on the radar for 2018, but they’re still out there.
In terms of original game and blog content, I need to revisit my schedule and get disciplined about writing again.
There is one more thing I hope for in 2018, well, two actually, but I’m not going to talk about them. Don’t wanna muck with karma.
Here’s to looking back, and looking forward, at Gaming Ballistic.