Well, here we go, Last day of the year.

So, where did I go in 2015?

Volume

I wrote 211 posts in the last year, or about one every 1.75 days. That’s about on my dsired pace of 4 posts every 7 days, so mission accomplished there. 

Content

I only got one or two Firing Squad videos out, and those early on. I had made arrangements to get two more and utterly failed to deliver my usual and desired pace of one every month or two. So that was a miss.

I started playing, and blogging about, D&D Fifth Edition in 2015. Unsurprisingly, these posts utterly dominated my “best posts ever” list due to the huge player base in D&D. My post on the probabilities and math behind The Standard Array rose to become my highest-viewed RPG post. The next-best? Exploring the Advantaged/Disadvantaged mechanic. Two more D&D-themed posts, one on grappling and another using my Horcpower calculator, round out my top 10. The rest are Firing Squad interviews, and the top is a comparison of two real-world pistols on a real-world range. Yeah, there are GURPS stats there, but I think I drew in a lot of people deciding between a Walther PPQ and a Springfield XDM. To quote Tony Start: “Is it too much to ask for both?”

I started to get tired in a blog sense in about June, and I even wrote about it. My daughter was just getting over (or in the middle of?) colic about then, I was travelling a lot, and generally having a rough time. So volume started to decline a bit.

I published a few articles in Pyramid this year – only three, though. They’re fun – Dire and Terrible Monsters was co-authored with Peter. On Target might be my favorite rules hack ever. And Schrodinger’s Backpack was a rare “let’s do less with specificity, rather than more.” I’ve got one more article in the slushpile, but nothing after that, though I’m starting to write a novel alternate set of rules for damage and injury, but I suspect it’ll be quite a while before I up my efforts there. 

I did, however, write 13 posts on comparative RPG design that seem to be well thought of. They were a bloody ton of work to complete, but they helped me flesh out my thinking on RPG combat mechanics, to see where rules matter, where they help, where they hinder, and what works for me from both a design and play perspective. 

I still didn’t get around to finding a Fate, Night’s Black Agents, or Savage Worlds game to try out, which means that some of the writing above was just theoretical.

2016


I’m currently either playing in, or about to play in, two GURPS games and one Basic D&D game. 

I would love to get in on another D&D5 game. I enjoy that system, and the Majestic Wilderlands game that +Rob Conley was running was great fun. Real Life killed that one for many of the players, and we’ve not made the effort to restart it.

The GURPS Castle of Horrors game is struggling a bit. The game is very house rule intensive, and some of the mechanics (Path/Book Magic, a new system for determining number of hits for high-rate attacks, Technical Grappling) require a certain amount of mastery to pull off smoothly. Plus the interface (combo of MapTool and Skype) often leaves something to be desired, and a lot of silence due to lack of clues. And we rarely finish a combat – we tend to call it as “the tide has turned.” This can be frustrating, and we’re in the process of figuring that out. 

Plus,  more philosophically, I think I have an issue with “fish out of water” campaigns in general. I designed my own character, of course, but I made a fairly mundane former special ops, SWAT, private investigator type. He’s got some melee skills, is very, very good with a rifle, and he’s one of the few with Tactics (which we always forget to roll). But this makes for very bimodal fights. Three 7d6 attacks against any mundane creature is pretty much “deader than hell in one round.” Any non-mundane creature tends to be immune, and that puts me in the “flailing around with limited armor – though we fixed that recently – and a sword that I’m not great with.” 

The upcoming game will be +Christopher R. Rice running a Supers game, also in GURPS. This is going to be very eye-opening for me. The highest point totals I’ve played or GM’d with in any GURPS 4e game top out in the 250-400 point range. As a player, I think Cadmus the Warrior Saint was the highest. 

My PC in the upcoming game is just shy of 900 points before he straps on a powered armor suit that adds about 300 more. I’ll probably write more about him in the future, but I want to play a few games and let that settle out.

The final Basic D&D game is with +Jonathan Henry, and it’s got a strong nostalgia factor. Basic D&D has few hard-and-fast rules, so there’s a lot of GM arbitrage. Characters are very fragile, which is part of it. So that one’s just like buttered popcorn to me.

I hope to get my daughter into RPGing this year. Maybe a Fate superheroes game, which would give me a chance to play/run Fate, and the rules-light nature of the system should allow her age group to rock out. More boardgames with her as well – she’s taken to Pandemic like a fish to water, and we were gifted with King of Tokyo, Rampage, and Castle Panic for Xmas this year. Maybe get her into X-Wing Miniatures, since she loves Star Wars too.

Looking back at 2015, it feels like it was worse than it was. I mean, +Jeffro Johnson hit me with the #3 spot in his Blog-olympics for the year (I was #1 in 2014 on the strength of the Firing Squad interviews, and #3 for Violent Resolution), so there was something valuable there. I had some of my most widely-read posts as well, thanks to branching out into D&D. 

But with a severe injury setting in for the last quarter (I blew myself up on Oct 6, 2015), sitting at the computer has felt like a chore. I did write 37 posts in that time, or about 2.5 days between posts. But that’s why it seems slow, I guess – that’s a significant slowdown from my usual pace.

I think I need to return to my prior habits. Two gameplay writeups a week, and two or three RPG content articles. The Melee Academy and GURPS 101 (maybe expand that to Gaming 101?) series were quite fun and popular, and those haven’t seen real attention for a while.

So, 2015 felt like a loss of focus. 2016 needs to get it back.

Challenge accepted. Happy New Year!

New blog alert!

+Michael Eversberg II is blogging, and covering topics near and dear to my heart. Weapons, guns, fighting, GURPS, and he’s got d20 stuff in there too.

Go check out his stuff, and you’ll find longish, well thought out posts covering a lot of combative stuff.

Chain Link and Concrete. Go read it.

On December 28, 2012, I made my first post to this blog. My first year seemed to go pretty well.  Looking back, over GB’s second year, how did I do? Was it worth it, and is it still?

Content

Well, start with my own content. Including this one, I’ll have made 474 posts total, or an additional 224 posts. Slightly off pace, but averaging 1.6 days between posts, or 4.3 posts per week. That still exceeds my goal of about a post every other day, so that’s fine.

I tried to to continue my posting of one or two actual play reports, and a couple of gaming articles, and some entertainment/inspiration pieces. The birth of my second daughter in June threw me off my pace for a bit; as well, work heated up and I have not had as much time in the evenings to sit down and really focus on content creation. Still, my posting velocity seems good, so it’s really been other things that have suffered. A project that should have been completed a long time ago needs to be polished off, and I’ve got a few articles and books I’d like to write that are still in the “when I have time” stage.


The Melee Academy joint blog posts still occur, as do GURPS 101-type posts. I’ve thrown down a few “opinion” pieces (but not many), which generated a lot of response/discussion/argument. All well and good. 

I’ve also started some commentary and reporting on D&D-flavored games, both S&W as well as D&D 5th edition. Given the overall size of the D&D and derived segment relative to GURPS, it’s no surprise that they are among the favorite posts of all time. In my Top 10 since the blog’s inception, five are Firing Squad interviews, one is my Walther PPQ range report post, one is Technical Natasha, and the remaining three are two posts on D&D5 and one on the S&W B-team – an actual play writeup that hit over 800 views.

That’s not to say my GURPS content is unappreciated, but it’s clear that the market is dominated by D&D.

The big add, and dominating my Top 10 list, has been fourteen additional interviews on Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. These are tremendous fun to do, and get very good response when I do them. They aren’t going away any time soon, though I can always use suggestions – or volunteers, for that matter – for people to interview. I’m hoping that they’re popular enough that I can score a few more big names. I did get Ken Hite and Steve Jackson in the last year, and that was great.

Response

I increased my readership over the prior year. While in my first year, Blogger put me at 125,000 pageviews, this year I increased that to about 318,000, which at 193,000 more is more than a 50% increase in pageviews using their algorithm. 

Google Analytics clocks in lower. It puts me at about 101,000 pageviews in the prior year, compared to just shy of 70,000 for my first year. And from 14,000 to 43,000 “users,” which is a 200% increase. That’s good growth for any business. 

Using the number of “sessions” launched, I increased that from 108 to 175 per day. Great growth, but still a modest total. My best week ever was when I threw down some numbers and thoughts on DnD5’s Basic Set, which earned me something like 300 sessions per day for a week. Again: market matters.

I about doubled the number of comments received, but that doesn’t count people who only comment on Google+. The comments made there are good stuff, but not captured in my records. A brief flirtation with all G+ commentary using that feature on the blog proved unsatisfactory to me.

The big news for the year was that I got some recognition. +Charles Akins pegged mine as one of the Top 10 blogs everyone should be reading in a guest column over on ENWorld, This says something given that a lot of my content is GURPS. +Jeffro Johnson also did me the honor of naming mine the Best Gaming Blog of 2014, thanks in largest part due to the Firing Squad interviews in general, and my interview with +Steve Jackson in particular. I’ll note that his #2 was +Peter V. Dell’Orto, who’s content probably beats mine, but Jeffro’s interest is captured by the “journalism” that I do.

The Future

Once again, I’d like to get back to both running and playing games in 2015. I had a brief campaign going, Alien Menace, which spawned some really good ideas and fun play reports. Also got me involved with VTTs as a GM rather than as a player. I remain convinced that sanctioned VTT support in some or all of the major programs would do a ton to bring people into using GURPS. You don’t need it, but having played some really cool D&D style games on Roll20, it can really help. Even if you’re +Tim Shorts and are a strange attractor for quantum 1’s.

My interview pace was good this year, clocking in more than one per month on the average. They do tend to be “bursty,” and I’ll land a few, and release them pretty much close together, and then pause to catch my breath. I’ve gotten the form and format down better, but the transcribing, even with +Christopher R. Rice‘s able help, takes a long time. Plus, I’ve started adding more “post-production” work to the video itself, as seen in my interviews with +Steve Jackson and +Hans-Christian Vortisch . I like the look of that very much, and will continue to do it – though it makes for several-to-many late nights, plus taking nearly overnight to spool to the final MP4.

I’ll try and get back to a couple play reports per week. I’ve joined +Ken H‘s DnD5 group, and they seem to not hate me. I jumped in at 5th level with a Fighter, so my character is simple but it gives me a good feel for the basics, which is what I wanted. I’ll also continue to play, in all likelihood, in a weekly GURPS game. 

I still wish to join someone’s FATE game, as well as Night’s Black Agents, for enough time to get used to the system. I want to take a look at the most popular games over the last few years and get familiar with them, because if I’m going to continue gaming journalism, I want to be more broad than GURPS and D&D. Though I have played Pathfinder in the past, and participated in a brief Trail of Cthulhu game, both with +Jeromy French at the helm. But there are other games/systems I should probably be more familiar with.

In terms of my other writing projects, non-blog related, I continue to collaborate usefully with +Peter V. Dell’Orto, and will continue to do so, I hope. There are a few other things in the works, and I’ve got, oh, maybe four to six Pyramid articles already in to Steven, if not yet with any sort of idea as to when they’ll be published. Three of them I really can’t wait to get into print; they represent some really good tinkering. A few more are just fun. One big one needs to figure out what it wants to be.

There’s one honest-to-goodness book I’d like to write or help with, as well, that I think would be a hoot. Plus, there’s a short article for another game system that I think could really be a thing

Oh, and one more: I got invited to contribute a freakin’ column somewhere. I have a title/concept, and I’m working some thoughts on topics. I’ll build up a head of steam, a buffer or slushpile, as it were, and then start releasing them. Look for that in 3 months or so, ’cause you know I’ll be talking it up when it comes out.

Parting Shot

Thanks to all those who read (and share!) this blog with me. I’m certain had I not gotten such good feedback from everyone, I’d have just stopped doing it. I hope to grow and grow the blog’s scope and content, and I’m always looking for a line on fun interviews.

I love hearing from people, and even criticism is quite useful, as are suggestions of what to look at next. I’m always itching for more topics! Thanks for coming by, and here’s to another great blog year!

+Jeffro Johnson put together his list of best blogs of 2014, and much to my surprise (especially since I had no idea this was being considered) Gaming Ballistic was his top choice.

He was quite clear on his reasons, though: #1 on the list was my interview with +Steve Jackson, and the rest of the Firing Squad journalism a close second.

But I also have to give a proper shout-out to +Peter V. Dell’Orto, who (if you check back to 2012) got me into blogging just shy of two years ago. His content on Dungeon Fantastic is uniformly interesting, and from the perspective of a very experienced GM and writer of fun, playable rules. In fact, his touchstone post, “Has That Problem Come Up In Actual Play?” is such a good read and bit of advice when thinking about starting a Forum flame war that I try and refer to it as often as possible, both in my commentary on replies to mechanics questions, as well as when I write rules.

I’ve benefited tremendously (and still do) from my collaboration with him – in fact, we have at least two or three co-written projects in the hopper right now.

Anyway, once again: thanks to Jeffro for tapping my blog as interesting, and I’ll be sure to make more use of the Recommend pathway to link to my stuff in the future! Be sure to go read all the stuff on the list, though – uniformly good, and as +Kenneth Hite noted in my interview with him, being widely and deeply read on any subject is its own reward.

After I noted that’d I’d picked out Sons of Odin for music to be played if/when I win an Ennie for this masterpiece of a blog (and when you say masterpiece,you have to say it like Zola from Captain America: The First Avenger).

+Peter V. Dell’Orto responded with the audacious and patently invalid suggestion that his blog doesn’t need a theme song.

Wait. Let’s say that again: Dungeon Fantastic doesn’t need a theme song.


Bah! I say. Bah! I wave Peter’s Dismissive Hand at its owner.

Back when I gamed at Rice, we had a rule about creating PCs. If you refuse or hesitate to name your character, a name will be provided to you by the court. Or the group. Whatever. That’s how my friend Anne’s Jedi PC became Winnebago.

But I digress, and we really must right the wrong that Peter has wrought here, by providing him with a theme song.

Let the nominations begin. Please provide a link to a sample of the song.

Let me start with Tubthumping.

I’ve been having issues for a while updating certain parts of my Blogger page. I’d try and add a link or something, and get a javascript(0) error – the only browser I use for posting and editing is Chrome. I’d click Save once, and . . . nothing.

I accidentally solved this – as have probably many, many before me – by simply double-clicking in the OK or Save box. This works 100% of the time. Click once, javascript(0). Double-click rapidly, works fine.

If anyone else is having this problem, this is how you solve it. If it was only me, well, some posts are bound to be useless, and thus this would be one of them.

Hope it helps someone out there.

A reader noted that I seem to, almost always, wear the same red sweatshirt whenever I do interviews.

This is true – if it’s clean, and I try and make it so that it is, I like to wear it. Sort of a signature look. That was, in fact, the reason I re-skinned, albeit very temporarily, my blog to have that red background.

In the future, you’ll see something new. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to easily digitize my logo and get it embroidered on a sweatshirt thanks to Logo and Team Sportswear. I can also (much more cheaply now that it’s digitized) get this on t-shirts, collared shirts, etc. Should I ever find time to go to a convention, you know what I’ll be wearing.

I will probably also do the logo with a white reticle and writing, so I can put it on dark shirts as well, such as the aforementioned red. Because I do like red.

We’ll see if people like it or hate it. I hope it grows on y’all.

I wanted a logo that would look good on a red background, because I’d like to get a GB sweatshirt designed, and the red dice weren’t going to work.

So I recreated the dice using powerpoint (yeah, yeah) and put them in blue. Then I picked out a Blogger style with a red background.

I then used a program called Pixie by Nattyware to pick out the RGB colors of the pre-determined fade, and let PowerPoint match them, putting it behind my logo.

Upload, and it’s not bad.

I’m a few posts short from 300 posts, so it seemed time to make a change.

This session of Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad has me sitting down with +Erik Tenkar of Tenkar’s Tavern. I first became aware of Erik through a few links to his blog, and rapidly realized that he puts a lot of content on there, as Dyvers estimated in his Great Blog Roll Call: an average of 85 posts per month.
As a side note: Hero Press updates a shocking 115 times per month!
In any case, I was encouraged by +Peter V. Dell’Orto to apply to Erik’s “B-Team” Swords and Wizardry Complete campaign, and I asked, was accepted, and had a great time.

After playing his game and reading his blog, I realized that the over eight thousand people in his Google+ circles knew something, and given this sort of success, I wanted to know more.

Click for MP3 Audio File

Text Transcript

(as always, this transcript was provided with extraordinary speed by +Christopher R. Rice. The transcript was in my mailbox about a day after the video was available on YouTube. If you have transcription work that needs doing, you would do well to send it to him.)

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Alright, welcome to Gaming Ballistics’ Firing Squad.
I’m here with Erik Tenkar today about blogging. Erik is a blogger of no small
repute . . . with a fairly substantial following. I’ve been blogging for about
a year, but with far less attention than yourself.
Erik Tenkar (Tenkar’s Tavern): Thank you.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah. I wanted to sorf of just grill you a little bit on how you gathered over eight thousand people in your circles
and a few other details.

 

Erik Tenkar:
Oh, well, people…eight thousand people to my circles. I’m not a hundred percent
sure. The first four thousand was very gradual and that last four thousand,
kinda from four to eight thousand, took place over the course of like four
months last summer to early fall. So somebody of more repute than me obviously shared
me out to their followers . . . which I’m not complaining. Yeah, it’s slowed
down now, but it was a wonderful ride while it went on. It was nice to log in
every day and see how it changed.
Douglas Cole:
Indeed. How long ago did you start your blog?
Erik Tenkar:
I reserved the name in like spring of 2008 and made like one post and I didn’t
go back until the following May.
I didn’t go back, because
I didn’t . . . I wanted to blog, but I had no idea what to blog about. So when
I came back I didn’t know what to blog about. I was blogging about the Amazon
Kindle, which had just come out, and gaming PDFs, and [sighs] RPGs . . . but I
was out of focus.
I learned one thing very
early on: nobody wants to hear about your basic “crap” for lack of a better
phrase until they get to know you. And since nobody knew me, nobody wanted to
hear about you.
So I visited other blogs
and forums and I posted and became part of the community, but I didn’t start
seeing real traffic till I reviewed
Grinding Gear for James Raggie’s Early Releases over at Lamentations of theFlame Princess. That was a spike of activity, I got like sixty hits that day as
opposed to normal ten which was probably me
hitting my blog a few times to look at it.
That was the point where I
was like “Oh, wow, I can actually do this. I can actually enjoy this.” You
start finding your feet so to speak.
Douglas Cole:
Right. But at some point you started posting what seems like every ten minutes
. . .
Erik Tenkar:
Yeah, I think I averaged about three and a half posts a day for 2012 and 2013.
Or something like that. Someone actually edited it up and figured out what I
did.
Douglas Cole:
Dyvers when he uhh, he had the huge list. [The Great Blog Roll Call]
Erik Tenkar:
Yes. At some point I hit my stride. And part of the way my brain works. It
works in the times between. I might put up three or four posts that day, but
it’s not like I’m spending an hour at each point in time, writing up that post.
I’m already, in my brain, writing them up while I’m in the shower, on the
crapper, on the commute, at lunch at work, listening to one of my supervisors
drone at work at me.
My head’s…part of my brain
is always working, so when I sit down to type it out, nine times out of ten
it’s done in ten or fifteen minutes because I already have it prewritten.
It’s just how my brain
works now; it didn’t work that way when I was first blogging. I wasn’t able to
use my time effectively and the worst thing you can do is sit in front of your
keyboard for a hour and a half because you have nothing.
Douglas Cole:
Right.
Erik Tenkar:
When you have nothing, no matter what you put out, people are going to know it.
Douglas Cole:
Right, right, right.
Erik Tenkar:
And I don’t have much to blog, those days where you see maybe one post. I’ve
had weeks I’ve had maybe eleven posts all week, which for me is slow, which for
other people is not as slow, I admit that.
I find that as long as I’m
putting out something people are reading then I’m doing something well. If I
see I’m losing the views, obviously I’m spreading myself to thin. Sometimes
life happens. I don’t believe I’ve missed a day of posting in probably a year
and a half.
Douglas Cole:
Wow. That’s impressive. I’ve managed about…I think I’ve got about 265 (or
something like that) posts in about 365 days. Largely I think because my
viewership, such as it is, is low enough that if I post and post and post…Peter
Dell’Orto, who runs Dungeon Fantastic, once made fun of me for putting up a
really cool post and following it up that day or the next day with some little
trivial thing that overwrote the
impact of the previous day. And my readership is not large enough that people
are going to go back and track it.
Erik Tenkar:
Right. And I know what that’s like because I’ve had great ideas hit me
one-two-three and you put up the one, and you happen to check your traffic and
it’s really going. And you have this stuff you want to say, you got to hold off
on it. Cause you will lose it.
You don’t want to do that
to your readers or yourself, you don’t want to hit them with so much stuff that
it isn’t . . . A lot of times, I didn’t used to: if something occurs to me at
night, I’ll save it at night and post it in the morning when I wake up or when
I get to work, hit send and post it up. It spreads it out a little bit.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah. What I wound up doing, and this actually interesting and gets into the
next question I want to ask you: How much is your blogging is informed by
scoping out the ‘Net and how much of your blogging is informed by games you
play, and how much of your blogging is inspired by flights of fancy in the
shower.
Erik Tenkar:
The flights of fancy in the shower is a little bit of all of it because, when
I’m surfing the ‘net or when I hit G+ . . . At the same time I have readers
that will send me emails and give me a heads-up on what’s going on, things I
might have missed.
And it’s a lot of times it’s
things that I’m reading for review purposes that strike me. Like the d30 sandbox
companion, which I’m all about right now, and I got my hard copy in the mail
today which was nice.
And sometimes…I try to
force myself to do things outside of my normal routine. I’ve done 30 days of
content, where for 30 days in a row, I’m putting out content, whether it’s a
new race or a monster or it’s spell.
And that to me, it forces
me to think in a different than I normally would. When you’re blogging, it’s
one thing: it’s news or opinion or talking out of your ass, whatever you’re
doing. Creating content is a different mindset that you got to put yourself
into and I wanted to see if I could do that thirty days straight, and I did.
Would I put myself through
that again? I don’t know, it was really hard and there were times that were
where I stared at the keyboard for an hour and had to walk away, but I didn’t
have it, but I wanted to meet that challenge.
Douglas Cole:
With the good news is, with the d30 Sandbox Companion you will never have to do that again.
Erik Tenkar:
Oh no, it is awesome. [both laugh] I picked up the GM companion, but no I’m
sure I’ll have more posts using that for inspiration becaue one of the cults I
designed, I used on Saturday, and that was from the d30 companion. I can’t
really sing its praises enough. It’s a lot of inspiration for a small price.
Douglas Cole:
I agree and I have interview scheduled with +Richard LeBlanc and he’s gonna
bring some of his guys on there along with.
But the one thing that was
nice, and I purchased it online in PDF version: the way its formatted, I
dropped each of the ten tables from the game into Excel and so at the push of
F9, it randomizes all ten and I get all ten rolls of an adventure.
Erik Tenkar:
That’s awesome.
Douglas Cole:
It took me five minutes to do it; maybe ten. And I could just hit F9 and there
is a new adventure seed. I’m going to start doing it every Sunday or Monday or
something like that. Every week I’m going to hit F9 and come up with an
adventure seed based on that, I’m going to try and make it a little more
generic because I’m positive you could take something that says “Oh, it’s a
level 3 fighter, or a low level fighter” into a 62-pt henchman using Peter
Dell’Orto’s and Sean Punch’s Dungeon Fantasy Henchman for GURPS.
Erik Tenkar:
Oh yeah, definitely.
Douglas Cole:
It would be trivially easy to do, to use that for inspiration. That was one of
the things that really struck me about it, is that I estimated that it’s 80% to
85% generic out of the box, and could be made 90% to 100% generic with just a
tiny bit of work.
Erik Tenkar:
And that’s the great thing about it. Historically, I have the Tome of AdventureDesign, by Matt Finch. I love it; I have it in PDF and hardcover. But it’s huge
and sometimes it’s intimidating to go through, and when I do go through it, I
tend to look at it more like for inspiration and I’m picking through a Chinese
menu.
But with d30 Sandbox
Companion, I told myself I was going to use it for the post, is whatever comes
up is what it is and I’m not gonna…again, it was a exercise I put myself through
to see what I can come up with when the dice fall. It was damn good.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah, it was really neat and I did the same thing when I reviewed it. And sort
of spoiling the [upcoming] interview, I generated randomly three different
adventure seeds and sent them to New Big Dragon Games. And I’m going to write
some stories based on the three adventures and I think Richard is going to do the same thing and we’ll see what the
same random number seed, so to speak, how similar or really how different a
potential adventure could be.
Erik Tenkar:
That’s pretty cool. I’m looking forward to seeing that.
Douglas Cole:
I think in the next week or so we’re going to have our interview and I think
next week I’ve got +Kenneth Hite [chuckles ominously]. No, I’m sorry, it’s two
weeks, two weeks, he has so much content that I want to talk to him about that
I don’t want to disrespect him by saying “Ken, I want to talk about Night’s
Black Agent’s which I have never seen.
Erik Tenkar:
[laughs]
Douglas Cole:
From what I understand all I have to do is say “Night’s Blank Agents” and
[mimes zipping gesture of mouth] zip my lip closed and Ken will talk
entertainingly with great erudition about stuff. I feel it would be a better
use of his time if I actually knew what I was talking about.
So other than the swords
and wizardry game I played with you once and it was a hoot. What other games do
you play?
Erik Tenkar: Right
now, I’m running Swords and Wizardry.
When I got back into GMing,
which was almost two years ago, it was because we’d been playing the D&D
Next playtest and basically we burned out in the playtest and our DM burned out.
So I stepped up and I took the reins and I ran ACKS.
Which was fun and we had some split up in the group and had some turnover.
From X we moved over to
Osric AD&D and ran that for a bit, but I really wanted to play Swords and
Wizardry
As a DM and a player, it’s
the closest to, in my opinion, AD&D first edition as we played it. Not saying
as it was written, but as the groups I was part of played it, it’s Swords and
Wizardry Complete . . . maybe not the illusionist, but who took an illusionist?
[Doug laughs]
It evoked that for me and
it brings it out in my players. I’m very happy with the way its worked with
both groups. It’s something I can for the most part without looking at the
book. If I can run something without looking at the book it means I can spend
more time running the game, as opposed to rereading rules.
Douglas Cole:
Right, right.
That’s actually one of the
things I like about families of games.
GURPS obviously is its own family of games. If you’re a Hero person you can do
generic stuff that way.
GUMSHOE, though there is a
mechanical issue I have with it, I’ll talk about that later maybe – there are a
couple of things about the mechanics that kind of rub me a little bit the wrong
way – but the fact of the matter is that once you know the GUMSHOE system you
can play Trail of Cthulhu, or Night’s Black Agents, or any one of those
varieties. Although they do a lot of what looks like great work tailoring the system for the game. They
effectively rewrite it, it’s almost a new . . . but it’s based on the same
framework . . . and if you really want to start fights, you can propose, for
the ninth time, on the Steve Jackson Games Forums.
But Discworld Roleplaying Game
is that.
Erik Tenkar:
Right. I have that, and both of those, there are two books or three. The
Discworld GURPS system, I picked it out because I love the game.
Douglas Cole:
This is a new one, the new one for Fourth Edition. It’s not out yet.
Erik Tenkar:
Oh shoot, I didn’t know that.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah.

Erik Tenkar:
I played GURPS back in my early days when I was in high school and college and
you played everything and I was younger and could understand the rules for
everything I picked up. Whether it was Rolemaster, or GURPS, or Hero and
Champions, or Warhammer, nothing fazed you.

Douglas Cole:
I loved Warhammer Fantasy Role Play.
Erik Tenkar:
I got that when it first came out. That huge book you could kill somebody with.
I ran some great games, you know, Death on the Reich. And threst, there were
some really great campaigns in that. I had a lot of fun with that.
Now  I’m older, I’m 46, my brain has limited
capacity to learn, and Swords I didn’t have to relearn.
Savage Worlds, I wanted to
be able to fully grok it and I had to run more than session. I know it’s not a
hard system, but I got to change my mind set, your mind gets set in its ways
after a certain age and it is not as easy as it was when you were younger.
Douglas Cole:
I’m forty-two, so I’m right there with you.
Erik Tenkar:
Yeah, you’re catching up.
Douglas Cole:
So, we just talk about games that we like. What, either games or game systems,
or mechanics: what rubs you the wrong way?
Erik Tenkar:
You know, I want to like FATE, I supported the Kickstarter, I have the Dresden books. And it’s something that I can’t wrap my head around as much as I try,
and I’m sure it’s a very thin wall I’m banging my head into. I’m sure with a
proper group I could figure it out, but I’m sure I want to so much at this point.
Again, I started with
AD&D when I was 13 or 14, we didn’t have the Players Handbook, my friend
had to call another friend to see if I leveled. [Doug laughs] I had a first
level fighter named Cyrus who made second level before dying.
It’s that what I grew up
on, the games I grew up on, again with Warhammer and Rolemaster and MERPS and
Hero. There is a certain mentality behind those games, A lot of it is, say,
hack and slash or whatever it is, it’s combat oriented.
But a lot of the new indie
games, I want to, like Spirit of the Century, I love the book, love the
setting, I love the idea of playing it. But I really don’t understand the play,
and that’s my mindset and I don’t know if I ever will.
I…Spirit of the Century –
I would probably make that into a Swords and Wizardry variant that I would have
fun running as a DM. I don’t think I could run that setting as the FATE setting
because I just can’t wrap around it.
Douglas Cole:
Okay. I had a great conversation with Leonard Balsara about FATE and GURPS and
I think we both came to…and actually Sean Punch said the same thing. In a way,
FATE and GURPS are two sides of almost the same coin.
There is a lot of work
that you have to do in both systems to create a character, a lot of
front-loaded characterization. And whether it’s numerical characterization,
which I think is how people would hit GURPS, or method acting or narrativistic setup
which is a fair point at FATE, there is a lot of work you have to do. And there
is certain ways to play each game for different effect. If it works for you it
works, and if it doesn’t you gotta look somewhere else.
Erik Tenkar:
GURPS you’re designing your character, with FATE everybody’s designing the way
the world works with the aspects with input from the other players. And well
with the groups I generally play with I don’t think that would work, it’s like
herding cats in the first place and I don’t think I could herd cats into a FATE
system very well.
Douglas Cole:
Right.
Okay. I’m going to change
gears for a bit if you don’t mind.
Erik Tenkar:
Sure.
Douglas Cole:
So you have a lot to say about Kickstarter.
Net good thing? Net bad
thing for the hobby?
Erik Tenkar:
Net good, but I’m gonna [sighs exasperatingly]. . .
…it adds visibility for
the hobby and funds projects which might not get funded prior . . . and it gets
abused.
It gets abused by people
who have what they think is a great idea, and they can sell their idea, they
are great pitchmen, but they don’t bother writing
their idea before it funds.
So they have nothing ready,
but they’ve taken the money, or . . . there are a lot of examples.
Dwimmermount. Great pitch,
James had some great ideas, but he had notes and outlines that you and I would
make for our campaign that we would understand, but wasn’t publishable ready. And
that’s part of the downfall/death spiral.
You have Mike Nystul who
had some great ideas, but oversold
himself, and just got himself in a deep hole, and he went beyond the
projects and decided to make it into a whole career and a company.
I think that’s part of the
problem with Kickstarter is that it allows people to overreach. You see that
money coming in and some people, I’m not saying the purposefully forget, but
they get money coming in, isn’t a paycheck . . . it’s people paying you for a
product. And until that product is over and done with, you owe people
something.
Companies treat it like a
preorder – and that’s a big argument I’ve had with people on my blog and G+ – It’s
a preorder, no it’s not . . .
The fact is, that if the
company treats it like a preorder, then it’s a preorder. I don’t care how sell
it behind the scenes, you’re taking money for a preorder. You’re not telling
anybody “ths might never come. If I decide not to finish this I’m sorry it’s
not going to happen.”
Nobody’s selling it that
way. They’re selling it like a preorder: that’s effectively what it is, treat
it as such.
My long term fear is that
the bad apples are going to rot the rest of the cart. And there are games out
there or supplements out there that deserve to get published that wouldn’t
under normal circumstance, or might only come out in PDF or POD, that will
never have a chance to reach greater audiences.
But people that abuse
Kickstarter creators, and I don’t think people going into it thinking they’ll
abuse it or can’t complete their projects on time or can’t ship their product
because they ran out of money or misplannned things. I don’t think anyone goes
in with that idea behind them.
The thing is people are
going into and raising $30-, $40-, or $50,000, and they’re not business people.
It’s not they’re…they might be creators, they might be great at writing stuff,
or selling stuff, but they’re not publishers and they don’t know the business
sense of it. I certainly don’t know the business sense of it or run a
Kickstarter because God knows balancing those books is a big thing.
Douglas Cole:
I almost wonder if one thing would help. So I’m a manager at a R&D company
and one of the things we do as we set contracts, or whatever, is we have
milestones, which is the Kickstarter equivalent of stretch goals. And they’re
‘pay for performance.’
So if I’m buying a piece
of 5 million dollars equivalent – and not like Hoover Vacuum, but a vacuum
process, ion beam deposition and stuff.
They frequently will give
a little bit of money up from, what we call a nonrecurring engineering charges:  you’re paying people to think . . . but then
after that you have milestones.
So it would be something
like: the first $5,000 dollars is seed money so I can eat for the couple of
months it takes to incubate this.
The second stretch goal or
whatever – all the money that would be raised you’d prorate – it’s sort of in
escrow. If we can’t release this first stretch goal by such and such a date, we
eat the first pool of money, but the rest goes back to the givers.
Right? So if I donate, if
I pledge $100 and there is something like $10,000, $20,000, $40,000 goal and
they only get to ten, well, I get $75 back. So that you’re only really claiming
that money as you consume it.
That would be a phased preorder as opposed to right now,
the model is to, use your own words: it is sold like a preorder, but it’s run
like venture capital. Which from back in my consulting days…5% of VC projects
break even or better. So the fail rate for VC is 95%. So you either you go in
there expecting to lose your money or you’re going in there with the wrong
attitude.

Now, to your point: That’s
not the way people approach this, and certainly for people like myself or
probably you or most people who aren’t like I’ll throw a quarter of a million
dollars at this solar energy company or this green grass company or whatever.

If you’re doing that, not
only do you expect to lose, but you expect to reap 10x your profit, right? I’m
putting in ten thousand dollars in the hope that I get $100,000 or more, right?
I’m putting in $10,000 so I can get a book, right? Woo hoo.
You’re looking to make a
return on your investment, not effectively a preorder.
Erik Tenkar:
Right. And I don’t think anybody goes into with the idea that they’re going to
make this money and not produce the product. But I think they don’t really sit
down, the postage costs on the projects that ran long, and then shocked them
with how much postage went up . . . that hurts.
Again, they’re not
business people for the most part, they’re not planning that stuff in advance
and it’s not easy.
There are people that do
great jobs, Joe Bloch putting out the Adventures Dark and Deep, he was on time
and early. Spears of the Dawn from Crawford: that was early. These are people
who have a business sense, they budget and they’re confident these people.
Douglas Cole:
The FATE Kickstarter . . .
Erik Tenkar:
That was awesome, it was well run, but at the same time…it was well run and
what you have to remember is the stretch goals were not physical books. You
weren’t paying…you were getting PDF and the cost of PDF is in the writing of
it. But compared to the cost of giving somebody a physical book, is huge.
Douglas Cole:
That’s a good point because I remember reading on your blog recently, sort of
the tale of the tape of one of the recent Kickstarters, and it really seemed
like there had been some naïve – and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way – but
it was a “Oh! Of course we can get this…oh, no we can’t.”
This [Kickstarter] is a
lot harder to do business well than it seems.
Erik Tenkar:
Yes. These people are creators and everybody wants to get their baby out to
their world and places like RPGNow and Lulu allow you to do that in either PDF
or POD, but the idea of having physical books possibly in a store – you’re not
going to get that from Lulu or RPGNow, you need to get the project out.
And Kickstarter is a money
machine, at least that is its perception in a lot of ways, but they’re spending
the money before the baby’s grown up and that’s part of the problem.
Again, they’re not
business people and hopefully their will be a self-sorting of sorts that people
will do their due diligence and people will remember which folks were the
failures and weren’t able to produce and which ones produce well and on time or
nearly on time and came within budget and hopefully it’ll sort itself all out.
I couldn’t make a
prediction on how that’s gonna work. A lot of this stuff is going long.
There are projects like,
you know, Far West that are two years past what their projected date was.
Through a large number of issues . . .but that’s from somebody who knows the
industry!
You can’t always predict.
I understand there are variables that nobody has controls over, but again you
are taking money upfront. People took preorders before . . . Brave Halfling. John’s
a nice guy, but he’s never been quick at getting stuff out. He puts out quality
stuff, even when he was taking preorders, people were taking a long time – a
year, or a year and a half – to get their stuff that they put money in for.
And whenever you preorder,
whether it’s Kickstarter or regular preorder, there is a risk involved . . . and
I’ve taken that risk many a time [Doug chuckles]
Douglas Cole:
I almost wonder if, and I’m sure harkening back to my consulting days which
were brief and not terribly successful. But I learned a lot.
So I worked for 1998 to
2000 for a big management consulting company. And if you recall, 2000 was the
end of the Dot Com bubble.
Erik Tenkar:
I remember very well.
Douglas Cole:
But one of the things that was big then was these incubators.
You had people who knew
business and people who knew how to do planning of business, and how to get
ideas out and structured. These people with really interesting ideas for software
companies or internet businesses would come, but frequently they would be
missing something. These incubators would help them along.
I wonder if eventually
what is needed out of Kickstarter is a staff of people who are professional
project managers.
Erik Tenkar:
You are getting that to some extent. The Larry Elmore art book, the same guy
that helped him run that was the same guy that’s trying to run the Knights of
the Dinner Table web series.
So it’s somebody that has
a idea that puts together a Kickstarter, how to keep things moving, how to keep
within your budget, work out what your goals have to be, where you can stretch
without losing money on the stretch.
Which again, is a problem
for some of these Kickstarters when you start making your stretch goals a
physical product. Maybe you’ve raised it to $10,000, but you might spend 15
from what you added from the stretch goal. It doesn’t balance.
Douglas Cole:
Right. Right. So, for some of that if you, if a company like Kickstarter or
some new venture were to have people like that on staff where you have Kickstarter overhead so you pledge $100,
and $15 or whatever which would go to this management staff, I don’t know if it
would work…
Erik Tenkar:
I think Kickstarter likes to keep themselves a little distant from the projects
just so they don’t feel responsible for them.
Douglas Cole:
And that would make some sense, but it would be the kind of thing, from
Kickstarter’s perspective that would be where management . . . product and
project management companies could be hooked up like uhh…the dating service,
like Match.com for business ventures.
Where you have content
creators shopping around or building reputation with a project management . . .
and there are a lot of certified project managers out there who would probably be
pretty gleeful to try and make it into any kind of industry. Because they’re
freelancers every bit as much as the content creators are.
People who can structure
technical writing can’t always structure deals – or frankly have the time.
I wrote the one tiny book,
35,000 or 37,000 words, and that took a while, and it’s hard technical writing
. . . and I’ve got a day job.
So if I wanted to do
Pathfinder Grappling or something (which I actually do). So if I wanted to do
that I would have to fit it in and if I wanted to make that a physical product,
I’d have to print buy and all kinds of stuff, that probably being beyond my
capability just from a time perspective.
Erik Tenkar:
I can understand. Over the summertime I had a great idea to start up a zine as
I sat down to try to find the time do it, between work, family, blogging,
renovations around the house, I realized that something has to give and it’s
got to be the newest piece on the plate. That’s gonna have to be on hold for as
long as it needs be until I can find the time. I don’t have it.
Douglas Cole:
And that’s the trick, right?
And it may be, obviously
I’m not privy to any kind of real sales figures . . . But I can go on certain
websites that publish, how many of what product are sold at what price. And you
can look at the revenue streams for some of these small companies, and there is
nothing there, really. Relatively speaking.
Erik Tenkar:
I know that because I’ve spoken to a lot of them, what I probably make on my
RPGNow commissions, which I cycle back as prizes or gift certificates to my
readers or occasionally review copies of stuff I’m not getting as a reviewer. A
lot of times I’m making more than they are in a month.
Douglas Cole:
Okay. That was actually a question I was going to ask later. You have three to
five articles per day that you spit out there. Do you feel that you’ve
successfully monetized your blog and what are the keys to that, if any?
Erik Tenkar:
I think if you’re a blogger, a RPG blogger and you’re looking to make
significant money off it, you’re out of your mind.
That being said, there is
money to be made off it, but I’ve used AdSense, which made virtually nothing
except complaints from people who couldn’t read my blog at work, so I took that
out.
I’ve tried Amazon, and
that made me next to nothing.
So what I get is the
RPGNow/One Book Shelf referral sales. As my traffic on the blog has gone up the
referral sales have gone up, and I’ve been able to give more prizes out.  My opinion is this is money coming in from my
readers and they donate to my contests and I donate to my contests, it’s fun. Giving
away stuff is fun. But it’s easier when you don’t have to dig into your own
wallet to do it.
To put things into
perspective, in 2012 I think my blog made like $200 that year, no 2011 $200.  2012 it would have been about $400, of which I
didn’t cash anything out, it all went back into blog expenses. Last year I hit
about $800, which blows my mind that I even hit that much.
You’re not going to make –
when I got into blogging, you read books on blogging, because first off those
books are worthless. Blogging is not something you can learn from a book.
You gotta blog about what
you are passionate about it. If you’re not passionate it about you’re not going
to enjoy doing it. If you don’t enjoy doing it, whatever you write is not doing
good, it’s gonna drive you nuts to do it and you’re not gonna stick with it.
So, people want to find a
way to monetize it. You’re not going to get rich being an independent publisher
of a RPG – you might do well enough to even make your car payment. Supplement your
regular job. People like Louis Porter or Purple Duck Games – some of the larger
of indie publishers that aren’t hitting the levels of like Frog God.
Blogs…you’re not gonna…if you’re in it for making money off it, it isn’t there.
Which I have no problem sending it right back to my readers on the most part
because it isn’t there.
Douglas Cole:
And honestly I’m right up there with you, the three interviews, this one plus
the next two will…
I love talking to people
and it’s much more spontaneous, but I don’t like being forced to watch sixty
minutes of video with maybe questionable audio to get the content.
So I get these transcribed.
I have a friend of mine who is a ferocious
typist, and he is content creator of role-playing games and so he knows the
lingo and knows the people and whatever.
But when I did that with
CastingWords, the first interview, it averaged about $1.50 and $2.50 a minute
of transcription because it is technical and the audio isn’t professional with
all the microphones and super-clear quality.
So the market rate is
about $2 a minute for this kind of thing, and that’s what I pay this guy, because
that’s what would I pay any other going outside. And rah-rah capitalism and all
that stuff and I want to make sure I’m not cheating him.
Anyway,  these interviews are non-trivially expensive,
I’ll probably edit that out. This whole thing feels like I’m trying to…ahh..
Erik Tenkar:
No..
Douglas Cole:
. . . milk it for money, but . . .
Erik Tenkar:
My blog readers tossed in $10 today, that’s basically what it was. Y’know what
I raise on the blog, it goes back to my readers and it’s play money, stuff that
one way or another will influence what I post on the blog.
Douglas Cole:
Right
Erik Tenkar:
And that’s what I think my wife will be very happy if in the long run, my blog
can support my gaming hobby? She’d be thrilled.
Douglas Cole:
[laughs] So let me change gears one more time.
You review a lot of
products. You read stuff. You put stuff on there. I sent you a copy of
Technical Grappling, you’re going to look at that . . .
Are there themes on what
you review on what makes a good product or a bad product in your eyes?
Erik Tenkar:
Themes? I don’t if I can actually say themes.
I like some stuff that has
no art, has amazing art, has stock art, woodclipping art basically. There isn’t
a certain theme when it comes to art or presentation . . . the worst thing is:
Listen, I’m a blogger, I
type something out in ten minutes and proofread it once and I put it out there.
If you’re producing something and you read it once and don’t have a third party
or two third parties or three third parties and I’m not saying professional
editor because for the most part these are indie publishers and we understand
that.
But if you’re full of
typos, full of misspellings, you’ve ruined the reading.
There is stuff that I set
out to review and I wound up…I don’t really want to trash any product. Some
stuff might not appeal to me, but will appeal to others, but if it doesn’t
appeal to me I’m surely not gonna post about it on my blog. Because I’m not
going to be passionate about my writing and it’ll be very mechanical so what’s
the point to that?
So there have been things
that I’ve looked at and then started looking at, and just put aside.
But I couldn’t say that
there is one thing or another that makes me sing or not sing.
There are certain
companies that I expect more from, or certain people like, and I always expect
to hit. If I’m looking at Tim Short’s Gothridge Manor, I know him. Tim’s on my
wavelength so I know I’ll enjoy what I’m going to see.
Crawl Fanzines, I love the
fanzines. I know whatever Jack puts out there, I’m going to get use out of it.
Even if I’m not playing DCC right now, there’s stuff I can use in Swords and
Wizardry. A lot of times is how can I convert this, even if it isn’t for Swords
and Wizardry right now. How can I use it in my game? If I can use it obviously
I’m going to have a better change of actually reviewing it.
And that’s just me, but a
lot of times, there are times, where I like to go on a tangent and find
something that is outside of my box and step outside that and see what else is
out there.
Douglas Cole:
So where is Tenkar’s Tavern going next?
Erik Tenkar:
Damn good question. I’ve learned that I don’t have as much control over it as I
think I do. The 12 days of OSR Christmas was not my idea, and I had a reader
who gifted the package we gave off on the first day, and he’s the one who kind
of kicked it off. And I still have stuff I have to ship. I still have stuff
that I have to give away, because I was waiting for other stuff that was coming
in on the tail end, but after running that thing ran for 13 days straight and I
needed to take a break.
There should be either
later on this month or early February, there is going to be a competition or
contest if you want to call it that . . . it will basically be an OSR-themed
contest, probably Swords and Wizardry rules because it’s a nice grounded base.
I have, I don’t want to
call it a almost an OSR super-star contest. If you know the Pathfinder thing,
it’s going to be sort of around that kind of concept, and I’ve already got two
donors who pony-up $350 in cash prizes and I’ll see what we have in the Tenkar
Tavern till and we’ll add some more to that.
But again, this wasn’t
something I thought up,  someone else
thought up, “listen, I have this amount of money and I’d like to donate to the
cause and this is what I’d like to do.”
My community at the Tavern
influences a lot more than they think they do of where the Tavern goes. It really
does make me feel like I’m part of the community, I might be the tavern keeper,
it’ kind of like Cheers where everyone knows everybody else. It’s a nice
feeling to know that I have readers on my blog, people that follow along that
are willing to be a part of the community and give to the community.
Like 12 days of Christmas,
people donated stuff. It was amazing. I could never have planned it if I had
wanted to.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah, that seemed really neat. That seemed really neat. So anyways, this comes
more or less to the end. I always give my guest the last word and I want to
think you for your time.
Erik Tenkar:
Thank you for inviting me.
Douglas Cole:
It was good fun and look forward to seeing what’s on the Tavern in the future.
Several times a day.
Erik Tenkar:
[Erik laughs] I do try.