Last week I sat down with James Introcaso again, and spoke for more than an hour on grappling, Dungeon Grappling, how to publish a game, and how I approach running a Kickstarter, especially as a newbie.

It was a fun interview, and James is a great interlocutor.

Check it out!

TableTop Babble – 040 – 5e Sci Fi and Kickstarter Advice

The blog has been very quiet recently. But in the background . . .

I have a 19,000-word manuscript for my GenCon scenario. Renamed Domstollinn: Lost Hall of Tyr, it’s ready to go to layout.

I’ve got a layout person, who will likely sign our contract tomorrow, and then get to work. We’ve got some discussion of graphical elements and color palette to handle first, I think, but his projects are so very pretty I hate to interfere too much.

I have a line on at least one cover artist. For Dungeon Grappling, the cover came last. This time, it comes first, because I like having nice covers.

I reached out to a few dozen more artists I got cards from at GenCon. They’re slowly responding to my pings, but they’re expensive, by and large. If you do well enough to go to GenCon, buy a booth, work it, sell stuff, and make money – and most of these guys assuredly do that well – you’re going to be on the high end of the price curve.

I’m going to try and get a few more bids for the cover from some folks I’ve not contacted yet. I’m trying to reach out to folks I’ve not worked with before, so when The Big Project comes around, folks know what they’re getting into with me, for better or (hopefully not) for worse.

I condensed Dungeon Grappling into a one-page cheat sheet for inclusion into the back of the adventure. It’s not the full book; not all options are on, and some subtleties are deliberately not included. But you can run the system with the one-pager, which is no mean feat.

This has kept me very, very busy. But things are moving, and I hope to start assembling for a Kickstarter in early October. I’m strongly considering a Ransom Model, where if I hit a certain funding target, I will release the document as Pay What You Want, with the hopes that folks will contribute significantly to simply making the book pretty as hell. I’ve got other stretch goals in mind. Fantasy Grounds and/or Roll20 support (though I would need a lot of help with either; that’s not my forte) for one.

I think that the bare minimum, a laid-out file with no art to speak of other than some necessary encounter maps, will run about $3,000. To push the art content up but not hit the magic 32- or 48-page “offset efficiency” numbers I’d need about $6,000. For $8500 I double the art content in the book. At $12,000 I do all that and get paid for my efforts.

We’ll see. Some of the lower aspirations are definitely reachable. The higher ones will require something to hit.

I’m looking for some names and recommendations for what I hope will be a quick-turn project.

What is it?

Domstallin: Lost Hall of Tyr is what became of my “Grappling Smackdown” demo that I ran at the IGDN game hall for GenCon. I have expanded it into a full, if linear, scenario.

What’s the status?

The manuscript stands at 16,571 words, and I expect it to change a bit as I finalize the document. It has already been copy edited by John Adamus. I expect to have the true “final” manuscript ready to rock by the end of this weekend.

The manuscript is in Word 2013, in .docx format, and has extensive use of Styles for easier import.

Oh, you want to know more?

Continue reading “Looking for a Layout Pro for a fast-turn project”

Well, well. That GenCon 2-hour demo has turned into a 16,500 word first draft. I got some good feedback during the sessions, and still more afterwards. I think the flow is better, and it’s got a lot more meat to it.

What’s left to do?

  • I need to de-Dragon Heresy the SRD monster writeups. That’s pretty easy.
  • I need to write some random encounter tables. ACKS shows me the way there, as well as numerous OGL and online resources for what’s good. Really, I just need a few tables. Encounter type, and then some sub-tables for specifics. Animal, fae, weather/hazard, etc. It’s all hills/mountain terrain.
  • I need basic sketches for encounter areas and key art pieces. Not exactly art direction, but close.
  • I will try pouring the file into one of the two already-done layout templates I have in InDesign to see how it looks. Since the scenario is made to go with Dungeon Grappling (but can certainly be run without it!) I might default to that template.

One of the Kickstarter goals (and there will be a Kickstarter, oh yes) will be a fresh, purpose-built layout.

And I’ve got a great editor lined up, with preliminary agreement to start work tomorrow if The Legal Guys come through and get the contract into the signing program. So more tomorrow on that, I hope.

Writing is not always mechanical, nor is it always something that is amenable to a fixed structure.

But sometimes, perhaps even many times, it is. And game writing is technical writing for the most part, and that means structure, clarity, and ensuring the right information is conveyed.

For the Tower of Justice scenario I’m finishing up right now, that means that something was missing up until today. And thanks to a timely brainstorm over on the GURPS discord chat, that thing which was missing was a certain “be sure this information is in each part of the scenario” structure.

Things are going very well now. The organization ensures that each piece of the scenario will get equal treatment on paper, rather than easy treatment and improv in my head. Nothing wrong with improv! But if you’re buying a scenario, it’s likely because you want the bases covered for you so you either (a) have a good basis by which to improvise, or (b) don’t have to improvise in the first place.

In any case: structure is good. Having one means  you know what you’re leaving behind when you break that structure, too.

Wow. Big month.

Went to GenCon. Can find blog posts on that kickin’ around. I learned a lot, gamed a lot, and networked a lot. I still have to catalog the mighty stack of artists’ business cards I got.

I sold about 10 copies of Dungeon Grappling. That was good; more would be better.

To rectify that, I am hurtling towards releasing my adventure scenario that I ran at GenCon as a product. It’s designed to be used with Dungeon Grappling, but will be a viable 5e scenario on its own. I will almost certainly Kickstart it, and it will almost certainly be relatively low buy-in. There’s a high upper end on what I’d like to do with it (full color art is always a goal of mine), but even as-is, I can use the Dungeon Grappling layout template and re-use existing art. I have some outdoor maps, and will be needing some encounter-level maps as well. But more is better, and the fun thing here is that I can work with some of the exiting new artists I met at GenCon. Look for that pretty soon. Of the roughly 15,000-word budget I’ve given myself (32 pages), 14,000 are already written. I’ve got an editor lined up, with a mutual agreement on the work, and that’s exciting too.

Dragon Heresy continues to make progress. So does Venture Beyond. VB is getting closer and closer to “first complete draft” though it’s way over wordcount estimates. That’s not horrid, but it might change how I go about things. It might not, though. Plus, there’s the option of seeing what folks groove on and what they don’t in playtest/blindtest. It’s going to be a very, very cool product line, but “we serve no fries before their time” applies. I have a day job so I don’t have to worry about publishing before things are ready.

Otherwise, I’m cranking hard on the adventure writing, and hope to get that into editing and more playtest soon.

Also: I took delivery of more inventory from CreateSpace. But much of it was flawed. 8 of 25 had mistakes on the cover (was cut wrong), and all of them were only so-so binding quality. So once I get that replaced (they’re printing and shipping them now), there will be a buy one from my website, get a second (flawed, but signed!) physical copy free offer that pops up for the classic “limited time only.”

I found an interesting feature in MS Word that might change how I edit documents in the future.

It’s the “Compare Documents” feature. Take two files, say, Original and Edited Copy. Then insert them into the grinder, and out pops a marked-up document just as if you did the “one line at a time” thing with Track Changes on.

In short, if I’m editing, I can just make the changes I want to make. No notes, just change stuff.

Then I can go back, re-read without all the markup, see how it sounds.

Then when I get satisfied, I can use Compare Document and each change will be automatically called out. If I need or want to make notes, I can do it in the final. I can even send co-authors both copies, a clean one and a marked-up one, with no fuss. If I need to make annotations “I did it this way because . . . ” I can do it in a final “explanatory” pass.

I will be trying this on my next manuscript. We’ll see how it goes.

Note: This isn’t new. It’s not even technically new to me, having done this exact thing for Reasons for a colleague at work. But doing it this way in order to edit a manuscript cleanly and then give my collaborator something that calls out changes was a likely-belated realization and potential time-saver.


I was invited by Jasyn Jones and John McGlynn to join them on their Geek Gab podcast to talk about Dungeon Grappling, after I posted my GenCon reports about the playtest.

Well, yeah, we covered grappling. But we also covered GURPS, the DFRPG, game design principles, and many other things, including HEMA and how useful first-hand research can be if you can do it. Roland Warzecha’s Dimicator videos got honorable mention. We talked a lot of 5e, some Pathfinder, a bit of Fate, and WEG’s d6 and GUMSHOE got a nod. I talked quite a bit about Dragon Heresy.

I had a great time, and we spoke for about 75 minutes. I talk kinda fast, but I don’t think I was incoherent, so yay.

Anyway: enjoy!

So, GenCon has come and gone, and I got a lot of business done while I was there. Some of this will be reflected in what projects GB is working on.

The Tower of Justice – Adventure Scenario

The brief scenario that I over-prepared for (two hour session, but I wanted to ensure we didn’t run out of fun) went over very, very well. I can confirm that 15 folks, from newbies to grognards, went through it, and despite grappling appearing constantly, everyone was engaged and had fun. The give and take of control damage was as compelling to them as it was to me.

The scenario is built around the Dragon Heresy world, and the strong undercurrent of Norse-ish mythology that flows through it was well received.

The “do we or don’t we go this way” puzzle that was supposed to be one of the scenario forks (which one needs for a con game, though much less so for a campaign) was so compelling (and frankly, not hard enough) that both parties just got it. I came up with a good re-arrangement of things that will resonate better with sandbox play, as well as providing larger exposure to more potential resolution pathways.

So . . . I’ll be publishing this, for real. The GenCon folks that were at my table will get free copies and playtest credit, if they email me. Otherwise, I will work it up for 5e and Swords and Wizardry, at least, plus of course Dragon Heresy.

There’s a ton of work done already, and turning it into a short adventure supplement should be fairly quick. I suspect that I can re-use a lot of art I’ve purchased for Dungeon Grappling. I may even re-use the Dungeon Grappling layout template, which will push my InDesign skills to grow and improve.

In short, I don’t think I’ll need to crowdfund this one. We’ll see. I could also Kickstart it when it’s basically ready and see if folks have enough interest to help me fund custom art. That way, I’d be able to work with some old and some new artists – many of whom I met at GenCon – on a very short project with little risk. Test out working relationships and whatnot, and keep in practice for crowdfunding. Besides . . . I love generating new art (well, paying others to do so).

What about Pathfinder? I will need to consult my oracles; I’m not as good with this ruleset than others.

The adventure itself stands at 11,500 words – roughly 23 pages as-is, which would grow a bit with maps and fleshing out all parts of something designed for “until it’s done” rather than “cram into two hours.”

Dragon Heresy: Starter Set?

I watched “Ashcan” versions of various games in development fly off the shelves in the Indie Game Designer’s Network booth for four days. The 5e Basic Rules were pretty popular.

So, I’ve got a project that will be in editing for a while, but is fully playable. The system plays well and has some neat tweaks to it. The setting is compelling enough, and has loads of room to support adventures.

So I’m pondering and chopping a very, very limited version of the game that only covers Level 1-4, ditches all optional rules, and is otherwise a nice intro. I’m shooting for something like 60,000 words, which is about 15% of the total three-volume set.

I’ll see how far I can distill it. There are advantages to doing this that solve some issues I had with my Kickstarter planning, too.

The full game is still progressing! And again, with the artists I chatted with, I’m very hopeful I could go from “funded” to “done” in a reasonable time period through the glory of parallel processing. But . . . I think I can get something fun out there that’s playable, and will only improve with time as Ken does his magic on my writing.

Venture Beyond

Just for completeness’ sake, David and I are closing in on a first-complete-manuscript. We’ve nailed down a lot better where we’ll be conventional in business development process, and where we’ll take risks for the sake of time to market.

I’m feeling good about where we are, at least for now. Not much of an update, but as with a lot of “below the waterline” stuff, there’s a lot to unpack in the words “making progress.”

At GenCon, I sat on a panel. My first one, on how to get into the games design industry. I’d included this in my write-up/summary for that day, but the title didn’t give away the summary of the panel. So:

It was me, Andreas Walters (Baby Bestiary), a graphic design guy whose name I unfortunately can’t remember, and a real heavy hitter who was a big-dog project manager with a huge resume. I joked that I should just go sit in the audience.

In truth, though, he was talking mostly about how to manage a staff. Multiple writers, artists, a full time editing or layout staff (or at least many of them on contract), and running a big project by the scrum method.

For most of the folks there, I was a better model. I am currently doing what they want to do. So I added value.

Some things covered?

  • Yes, you need a professional editor. Yes, you. Always.
  • If you are looking to work with a game company, the first thing they will do is check you out on social media and see if you’re an ass-hat who picks fights. Several names were mentioned as folks not to emulate, including some fairly well-known names. But if you’re online picking fights, trolling, and generally being disagreeable, it is (in my mind correctly) assumed you will be a prima dona who is more trouble than they are worth, and your proposal and idea will be rejected (in truth, your proposal will be rejected anyway, by and large). If you want to be a game industry professional, the key words there are professional first, industry second, and game third.
  • Don’t pitch your new cool game to established companies. They don’t want it. WotC or Paizo or SJG have their own in-house things to do. This is probably true of most established companies. Want your game done your way? You’re going to need to do it yourself or find a company like Andreas’ or mine who is actually trying to build a portfolio of games and act as a rent-a-skill house for project management, art direction, etc.
  • When talking to a company about terms, rights, IP, etc., don’t expect there to be a One True Way of contracting and rights and IP assignment. Most of these contracts are ad hoc at the smaller guys, and negotiable at most of them. The folks that do have a One True Way probably don’t want your idea anyway. See a theme here?
  • No one is going to steal your Cool Game Idea. No one. Of the four folks on the panel, we probably had 20 or more ideas in the hopper. There are more ideas than time to work them. So we don’t much care about yours enough to steal it. That’s not an insult: you’re more likely to get helpful advice, and best wishes.
  • Much like in a roleplaying game, the key to happiness is to set expectations and meet them. Are you thinking you might be late? Say so early. Most companies can react to a well-timed and early note that things aren’t going well, that your computer or dog died, your wife left you, and your pickup truck broke down. They can’t react to “we needed this to be ready for GenCon, and your last minute note of panic means it won’t be.” You will simply never be employed by that company again.

Those were some remembered highlights from the panel. There was a lot covered, and it was a good time. I left my battle-mat in the meeting room, though. Alas, it was a casualty: missing, presumed lost.

I’ll add on a bit, thinking about it more.

Creativity and rules design are good skills to have for a writer and designer. For a publisher, someone that wants to bring games to market, you will need a whole lot of project and people management. You’ll need a suitably-sized rolodex (or digital equivalent) of contacts for artists, editors, layout pros, and printers. You’ll need to know more than just the basics of print specs, and what kinds of binding and production values are worth paying for. You’ll want to know the break-even points between POD and offset, and how to limit your risk. You need to know critical path theory, and what that implies for deadlines and parallel processing of work. You’ll need to know how to soothe ruffled feathers, give direction without giving offense, and work with folks you might not have at your dinner table, and to give hard negative feedback even to those you’d eat with, party with, or do adult things with. You’re a professional, and that has certain connotations. They can be a bit different for each person and company, which is why corporate culture matters. You’ll need to know the sticking points for artists, writers, and others. When to let folks keep their work as their own copyright, and when to insist it belongs to you.

Business is business, even when it’s the business of fun.

A Note on Book Pricing

This is an edit after the fact, because I know I mentioned this, but it’s buried somewhere else in a G+ or blog post.

I sat down for lunch with a pair of strangers on Friday, after my game. In discussing books and game design, I mentioned I’d come up with an algorithm which estimated pricing for a book as proportional to the square root of page count. A black and white softcover with descent illustration might wind up being 1.5-2x sqrt (Page Count), while hardcover, color, sewn binding (top production values) seems to fall around 3 x sqrt (page count).

One asked me how the heck I could come to that conclusion. I told him I’d gotten page counts and production values for the games and books on my shelf and others, and done a regression analysis. In short, I built a model that fit the observations. The other gentleman told me that I’d successfully re-created an old print industry rule of thumb: he’d been in the business a long time.

That’s not the only way to price books – you can use the “realtor” method and find a similarly-niched product of similar quality and type. In real estate, that’s called “comparables,” and is how houses seem to be priced. But since those books seem to follow the rule of thumb too, well, either will get you in the ballpark.

Let’s look at a few games.

  • My own Dungeon Grappling. 51 pages of content. Softcover. Color, nicely illustrated, but perfect bound. Print book for $18.99. Multiple is 2.66, and about 1.33 for the PDF. Truthfully, that might be a bit high. Not a ton: it’s still a nice book. But with softcover perfect bound from POD, the production values are good but not spectacular.
  • ACKS. Hardcover, black and white interior. 105# paper and a sewn binding. Retails for $40, and is 270 pages. Multiple is 2.43, which suggests about a 1.2 for the PDF. Color adds a LOT to the price of art buying (2-4x depending on the artist).
  • Shadows of Esteren. A4 size. Hardcover, gloriously illustrated. Sewn binding. 290 pages and $50. Multiple is 2.93, and is an archetype for what “high production values” means. I’d have pegged it as a 3.0, gotten a $51.09 price point, and then said “yah, $50, then” myself.
  • Pathfinder Core book. Letter, hardcover, 576 pages. Sewn. Thinner paper than ACKS, maybe 70-85# at a guess. Only $50, so a multiple of barely more than 2.0. With a multiple of $2.75 it would be a $66 price point, and fair for the cost of the book. I suspect they can do optimal 9,000-unit type print runs, and so the cost of the book is probably less than $8, which means that at $50 they’re still getting more than 6x their cost, allowing for good profits to be made even through wholesale (40-45% of cover).
  • GURPS Spaceships. 70 pages. POD. Black and white interior. Sparse art of mediocre inspiration value. $16 softcover through CreateSpace. That’s a 1.91 multiple, and that’s about right, I think.

My conclusion here is that DG is probably priced a bit high. That might help explain why it moves very well on sale but not as much regularly. I may wind up adjusting this by a buck or two.

So maybe start at 3.0 for full-on awesome. Drop -0.45 to -0.55 for losing color and about -0.25 for perfect bound vs sewn, and another -0.25 for softcover. Also consider your cost to manufacture and make sure you can make money, but realize diminishing returns. Fred Hicks has suggested PDF pricing should be about half of the physical copy, but one can see alternate philosophies. SJG has the PDF at about 70% of physical copy cost, but that might be as much that they priced their PDF at a 1.31 multiple, so could have/should have gone for a 2.66 physical copy cost, but instead did not. Through CreateSpace, the books are $2.15 each to print, I think; $4.11 through DriveThruRPG. If the PDF price was long-standing set at $11, then a $15-16 price would basically give them a tetch more profit than PDF . . . but of course CreateSpace takes their chunk of flesh.

Pricing is an art, not a science – but it’s informed by science and apparently an industry rule-of-thumb that I mathed my way into reproducing. It’s a decent guideline, though.