Fight Like You Train; Don’t Waste Your Time

Roland Warzecha has a new Patreon video out; it will likely be publicly available sooner or later. It was shot at the Berlin Buckler Bouts over the last few weeks. In it he emphasizes the similarities between weapons used in the off hand, and shields are definitely a weapon.

But in it, he really emphasizes how the motions you use with a center-gripped shield[1] are essentially the same training as with the primary-hand sword. “The shield-fighting is really no different than fighting with two weapons.”

So if you swapped out the shield for an axe or sword, there are only mild differences. Slight stuff due to the character and balance of the weapon.

But this is a gaming blog, so what does that mean for RPGs?

This suggests that a “one-handed weapon” skill with reasonable defaults would apply to swords, axes, and the use of the Shield (Buckler) skill. And that much of the training that at least we do (most of the stuff I learn is based on Roland and Arthur’s fighting style, obviously, as they’re our head instructors), we’re using the tools in a way where we more or less train “right-hand weapon,” and “left-hand weapon,” with emphasis on primary-hand sword, and secondary-hand shield, but it translates fairly well to sword-and-axe.

It does help that my own teachings emphasize symmetry of ability (OK, 50 cuts primary hand with the axe. Next, 50 cuts to the pell off-hand with the axe. Repeat for 2-4 angles of cut!). But really, what you’re doing, what works, etc is very similar.

In GURPS, at least, including most of its variants, there’s been recent discussion on a “Melee Weapon” Talent, with everything appropriate defaulting from that, in one way or another. I find this credible for most things (I find it less credible for knife-fighting, but that’s mostly because in my experience knives are utterly unforgiving and utterly quick, so it may be credible still, but at the extreme edge of penalties to be bought off). I mention that D&D handles this easily, and why it mattered recently, below.

In any case, there are some neat and subtle points in the video that I think lend some degree of support to reducing the number of skills. Much as Hans-Christian Vortisch published an article collapsing many Guns skills into “Guns (Longarm),” I think that at least for the right framing: “Reach 1 weapons,” or “1H Reach 1 Weapons” that such a thing fits in with two things:

  • It fits well with how folks wish to build characters in GURPS: put most of the points in one skill. It’s efficient, and effective. It’s how all the Dungeon Fantasy RPG characters tend to be built.
  • It fits well with how real people are going to apply and learn their skills. In a combat, adrenaline-filled situation, you will not wish to flip back and forth between two vastly different mind-sets and physical stances/procedures. That way will introduce openings to get you killed.

More commentary and pictures below the break.

Continue reading “Weapon Defaults, Sword and Shield, and Roland Warzecha”

This is going to be a bit of a meta-post, in that I’ve been trying to work around an idea about running defensive-oriented combat in RPGs ever since I published the related article Unpacking Failed Attack Rolls in GURPS.

In it, I note in the On Guard! and What’s the Point? sections that RPGs tend to prioritize attack over defense, while the practice of fighting with sharps and other potentially-lethal activity tends to bias towards setting up a defense and actively working to maintain that, and then open up an opening into which you can strike freely, with no consequence to yourself.

This is for a pretty simple reason: Attacking is fun. It’s also an outgrowth of the abstract nature of Hit Points, which can easily be reframed as something exactly like maneuvering for position, until you can land that fatal blow that reduces the target to 0 HP or fewer (this is very much a D&D-ism, but has application elsewhere).

I’m going to muse on this for a bit, and see if I can come up with a good way of making a “defense primary” mechanic that doesn’t actively suck. I will do it in GURPS first, and then see what I can do for Dragon Heresy.

I’m ultimately not sure that this will work. “Proactive defense!” sounds great in theory, and it’s a fighting style that can be observed, but we’re playing a game here, and games prioritize and emphasize action, not reaction or even positive defense. Folks “spam the Attack button” because it’s fun, and a mechanical system is going to have to go a long way to help those defenses become exciting, and emphasize the “victory” of achieving superior position on the foe.

Armor Class has DEX modifier in it; that’s a bit of ‘proactive defense.’ Hit Points have long had that mix of “defenses and active exertion” that we’re trying to capture here, and the more abstract games probably subsume a lot of what I’m talking about. GURPS has a series of maneuvers or options that somewhat enable this (Evaluate, Feint, Defensive Feint, Wait, All-Out Defense, Defensive Attack, Retreat, Defensive Bonus) that do allow one to prioritize defense. Mostly I’ve not seen these used, but they’re there. Might be something as simple as my favorite game design maxim: “Use what’s there.”

Stay tuned. I hope to think this through in a series of posts. Some of which will be inevitably “Game X already does this.”

If you don’t have a Cleric in your party, specifically one with Turning, you might not need this. But if you do, or just want to make the standard 250-point Dungeon Fantasy RPG characters work a bit harder to kill undead in Hall of Judgment, consider the following.

What follows inevitably contains spoilers. Continue reading “Cooler Undead Encounters for Hall of Judgment”

Rebuking and turning undead that still cling to a semblance of life is pretty much a fantasy RPG staple. It’s been part of Dungeons and Dragons since nearly the beginning – I believe Arneson added it as a foil to “Sir Fang,” and Gygax fiddled with it or dropped it in his games – there’s a nice history here at Hidden in Shadows by DH Boggs.

But this is an article about GURPS, specifically, the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, Powered by GURPS. It assimilates all of that old-school inspiration, plus more from rogue-like games and “stomp the bad guys!” games like Diablo III, and hones GURPS into a fairly high-power dungeon delving game. Characters start pretty optimized, begin at 250 points, and the social and in town aspects of the game are somewhere from “minimized” to “absent.”

It is ridiculous fun, and as I learned at GameHole Con 2018, is digestible by beginners if presented properly.

But about those clerics…

Turning in Dungeon Fantasy RPG

Let’s start off with as factual a description as I can bring to bear. This is important because as it turns out, I completely biffed it when it came time to run it at GameHole.

Even so: this turns it into a matter of degree rather than a binary “I win,” but some of the observations from GameHole still exist.

As a cleric with the Turning power (Adventurers, p. 21), anything “undead” and “truly evil” can be repelled by you if you Concentrate. You must win a Quick Contest of Will between yourself and each foe you might turn. This is impacted by the Rule of 16 (Exploits, p. 8). You add your Power Investiture, plus a bonus for the oomph of your holy symbol if you have one that’s +1 for blessed and +2 for High Holy. Another factor in favor of Clerical Awesomeness is that as written, Sanctity level doesn’t hinder the ability, so in an area of Low Sanctity (which is pertinent to the Hall of Judgment example), your Turning is still at full burn.

On the down side: Rule of 16 means that you’ll never roll vs higher than 16 (unless you’re very good and you foe is also very Willful), and you have to actually buy Turning, which is a 24-point opportunity cost.

It’s a 3d roll, and if your bad guys are anything but a Lich, Spectre, or Vampire (who all have Will 15 to 18, which is to say, “adventurer-class”) you’re looking at Will in the 8-10 range for our bad guys, and the distance they have to keep from Mister Cleric is going to be on the average about 6-8 yards, and that’s enough to keep the entire party more or less safe. On a good roll, say a 5 or 6, you’re looking at keeping the bad guys up to 15 yards away from you.

So What?

Part of the issue here is that Turning is pretty much designed to neutralize the impact of fodder undead, and what I’m complaining about is mostly that it does it too well. There’s also the fact that I made a few errors along the way in running it: in particular I play a lot with GURPS Powers: Divine Favor (still the best Clerical Powers system in existence). There’s a power in there called Protection from Evil which basically grants True Faith (the basis of the Turning Power), and an enhanced version gives a roll vs Will+10. So my cleric was rolling vs Will-24 to turn undead vs foes with Will-8 and Will-10.

In the end, I slapped on a -5 penalty for Low Sanctity (see above for why this is wrong), which for one of the groups made the usual roll vs Will-19; you can see, though, that for the pre-gen in question (Will-14, Power Investiture 5) that it made little net difference. Forgetting the Rule of 16 would have brought the radius in by an average of three yards.

So my errors were in magnitude but not in exists/don’t exist. Even so, I feel that the 24 points of Turning is a bit too much oomph as written. Continue reading “Turning Undead: “I win!””

I got a quick bit of feedback on using Conditional Injury in actual play. Recall this article was not playtested, and mostly theoretical. Granted I was musing on it for years, but it never really got a good stress test. So someone wrote me with one:

Dingo (Discord Forums) wrote:

A lot shorter than planned and got a ‘longer’ fight expected which I’ll do a proper play writeup for; but regarding the Conditional Damage it worked really well. It encouraged superior fighters to allow themselves to take more risks because being hit for low-damage hits wasn’t as threatening as before where 7 hits alone was enough to have you suffering penalties; there were a lot more all-out attacks and all-out defenses to set up counterattacks. It felt, to put a word to it – a great deal ‘meatier’. A 3v1 fight of one skilled fighter with just DR 1 on the torso involved a lot more hits than before without worrying about an instant escalation. Weak hits were still dangerous due to failed-HT rolls potentially making injury condition worse, but in practice this meant that the immediate danger wasn’t HP (a limited resource) but shock penalties, stunning, and knockdown – both attacking and defending these became priorities. Jabs to the face (using Defensive Attack) became a very effective tactic in the 3v1 for the trained fighter. So all in all, a good fun fight that didn’t cause the GM panic of ‘well it could end in 3 hits’.

Interesting. I’d not have figured that.

This report suggests that the GURPS Death Spiral has perhaps been tamed a bit. Risking more wounds, rather than fewer, wasn’t really a design goal. But then, it wasn’t not a design goal either. Some of the emergent behavior, such as more strikes to the face looking for knockdown and stun, are outstanding results, the kind of emergence one hopes for. An increased use of All-Out-Attack (I will take a minor wound in order to deal a major one!) seems more accurate for a game that tends to have to remind GMs that mooks, unskilled mooks, will not do the math on defending like players do. They want to hit you, and will happily fling Telegraphic All-Out or Telegraphic Committed (+8 and +6 to hit, respectively for the Determined option) blows to do so.

So this is a good report. I still have to do my Designer’s Notes commentary on the article; hopefully I’ll get to that today.

Ooo! Follow-up comment by Dingo (Discord Forums)

yeah it quickly became very appropriate to approach the fight less from ‘put hurt on the opponent’ and instead shift to ‘control your opponent’. The player I was testing it with wasn’t so confident with the grappling rules as to put that entirely in scope (It’s what we’re gonna add in for the next test to see how it comes together); but quickly made realizations like the importance of hits that risk stunning, or in a group fight – the fact going for more dangerous hits can be worthwhile if you’re confident you can handle the backlash.

Ultimately the fact victory comes down to a status game rather than a counter game meant you immediately had to shift tactics away from damage/attrition and instead towards control and disabling.
Especially if your opponent has a high enough HT that you can’t rely on Cumulative Wound severity increases without All Out Attack (Strong); one exchange against someone with 13 HT resulted in the player doing -repeated- Defensive Jabs to the face, solely waiting for a stun and outlasting their counterattacks. Once the stun hit – AoA (Strong) to the face over, and over, and over until they either were crippled from a sufficiently high damage hit, or recovered from stun (at which point it returned to jabs and defensive)

So really interesting stuff here, in that “go repeatedly to the face, and when stunned, ground and pound” is rather nifty because that’s exactly what you see in MMA fights with two skilled foes that are pretty tough, by dint of repeated experience.

When putting together some of the cities and towns in Dragon Heresy, I used an article by S. John Ross called Medieval Demographics Made Easy.

It’s pretty much what it says on the tin: a tightly-presented metasystem and consolidated research finding on the population of medieval towns, villages, and cities. It provides die rolls, tables, and other necessities to quickly understand how many of what profession are going to be in a given place, as well as talking about castles, agriculture, and more.

When S. John restructured his website, The Blue Room, it became convenient for him to offer this file to host on other blogs, and I asked if Gaming Ballistic could be one of them.

I intend to keep using this for Dragon Heresy, and I recommend it strongly, if for nothing else to avoid the trope of medieval villages that feel like 21st century suburbs and strip malls.

Enjoy!

Full File Here:

Medieval Demographics Made Easy (by S. John Ross)

Introduction to Medieval Demographics Made Easy, by S. John Ross
Introduction to Medieval Demographics Made Easy, by S. John Ross

Dragon Heresy is in the hands of backers at last, having shipped out all copies to those who backed the Dragon Heresy Kickstarter, and by this time tomorrow, I’ll have gotten all of the DH copies out to those that added it to Hall of Judgment as well.

As folks have received it, it is my sincere hope that they do as The Mixed GM did, and review it. His review is short, sweet, and to the point, which allows me to make some useful commentary along the way.

First Go Read The Review

“Now that’s a cover! (Please excuse my phone camera and lack of camera skills)”

He likes the cover. The art is by noted Western Martial Arts instructor and historian Roland Warzecha. He told me that he had so much fun embellishing and making the drawing that his wife (whom I believe is the warrior pictured) had to nudge him to stop spending time on it. Read about the details of the composition here on the Dimicator Patreon page.

“Honestly, it feels like a halfway point between 5E and the OSR.”

That, of course, was deliberately intentional. I like the OSR games for their speed of play, their reliance on the GM and player skill, and the open-endedness where rules are only invoked when needed.

I like 5E as a delightfully modular system that attempts – mostly successfully – to unify the basic mechanics of a very large amalgamation of various accumulated rules and ideas into a coherent whole. I’ve enjoyed the heck out of the 5E games I’ve played.

It’s also, as he notes, a hack – it adds a small number of subsystems (grappling, social standing, flyting) and rules tweaks (wounds/vigor, Threat DC/Hit DC, and Damage Reduction for armor) that I think add to verisimilitude and enhance epic play.

“Hopefully, the ‘X’ will be Kickstarted soon…”

I’ve been asked about this a few times by enthusiasts, much to my delight. Yes, I have further plans. Yes, Level 1 through Level 20 is already written.

But the art – all of which really ought to be new going forward – is going to be expensive, and I’d really like to see significant interest from the market at large before I do another big one like the Intro Set. I’d like the next book to be full-color hardback, with the same production values, just like the Intro Set was. That takes serious funding, which takes serious backer interest.

“Removed the Thief/Rogue Class”

It’s true that the thief/rogue is gone from the Dragon Heresy Intro Set! But perhaps not for reasons why you might think.

Thievery in general was a great way to get yourself outcast in Viking society. In Egil’s Saga, Egil, a loud-mouthed, distemperate and ridiculously effective fighter (berserker/barbarian, really) and raider, goes on a raid. His force gets captured, but by virtue of prodigious strength, he escapes (by lifting up the main pole of the longhouse that he’s tied within!).

They grab their weapons, some loot, and head back to the ship. Midway, Egil stops, and says that he cannot do this. He refuses to be so dishonorable as to steal. They go back, and I believe set the target’s longhouse on fire, and kill those who emerge.

See, stealing is bad. But setting a house on fire and killing the men as they emerge? That’s perfectly cool.

In any case, I had to make some hard choices when reducing my overall manuscript from 750-800 pages for my full three-volume original intent to 250-300 for the Introductory Set. Certain classes had to go. Berserkers had to be there; too Viking to not be. I added Skald (bard) back during the Kickstarter.

But there just weren’t very many Viking thief stories, and for an Intro Set, I had to make choices. So Thief, Druid/Trevinur, Ranger, Paladin, and Sorcerer went by the wayside.

They exist, though. So do some very cool “explicit multi-class” options I wrote. Maybe in a Character Building expansion; that would add back the missing classes, and push the levels covered from 1-5 to include maybe up to 12 or 13.

Builds in the grappling rules from ‘Dungeon Grappling’

I’m glad he listed this as part of “The Good!”

Interestingly enough from an historical perspective, the Dungeon Grappling rules existed first as part of the Dragon Heresy manuscript. When I got advice that no one in their right mind would fund a three-volume set from an unknown guy (true advice, if hard to swallow), I broke out the unique grappling rules as my first product.

They improved over time, and honestly improved again when I modified them for the Powered by GURPS supplement Hall of Judgment for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, and then were inserted back into Dragon Heresy, where they exist in their present form.

Grappling is now very intuitive and easily blends with regular combat. The way it should be.

FULL COLOR ART EVERYWHERE

Yeah. Won’t lie, I’m proud of that. And while he’s kind enough to ‘respect my IP’ by not publishing more images, here are a few more.

I really had a lot of fun specifying the art, and my art team: Juan Ochoa, Ricardo Troula, Christian “KrizEvil” Villacis, Roland Warzecha, Michael Clarke, Cornelia Yoder (cartography), Gerasimos Kolokas, Elizabeth Porter, John Blaszczyk, Gennifer Bone, Erin Arik, Dean Spencer, and Rick Hershey did amazing things with the book.

The Viking-ish world is baked into every aspect of the game, from class section to monsters

This is vital to the book, and to the world. I did everything I could – and given that the SRD is mechanics only, I had to do quite a lot – to ensure that everything tied to the world, to a viking/Norse feel, and had a reason. Even the Tieflings and other half-human, half-creature races, are tied to the world. There’s a reason that those exist (half-elves, half-dragons, half-fiends, half-Asgardians) and a reason the Dwarves have no half-human parts.

A Vigor and Wounds system that is a little deeper than just hit points

This bit was important to me, as it both makes being dogpiled quite dangerous, but it also resolves some weird edge cases. It’s also in keeping with the Gygazian notes on p. 82 of the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, where he notes that it’s ridicuous for a high level combatant to be robust enough to only be killed by 10 sword strokes that land home, where a 1st level guy only takes one. Humans are fragile. With wounds/vigor, so long as you keep your wits about you, you can probably take most attacks as vigor. But once wounds start accumulating? Beware the death spiral, and consider strategic withdrawal.

Playtesting revealed this was a lot of fun, and produced an element of risk in fights that those that enjoy games like GURPS will recognize and enjoy. Anyone who has had to blaze through a foe with 150 HP in an unadulterated battle of ablation will appreicate it as well.

The Bad:  It is based on 5E, so if you hate 5E and 5E-based things with a burning passion, this may not be the game for you

This is simply true . . . but depending on what you don’t like about 5e, you might find I’ve addressed some of it. Shields are way cooler. All battles aren’t a slog of HP ablation. Grappling doesn’t suck, and is in fact pretty fun. Monsters that grapple are terrifying. Vikings.

There’s a lot to like here, even if I say so myself.

The Ugly: It has Tieflings. I don’t like Tieflings

I have no response to this except an image of gratuitous Tiefling art courtesy of Juan Ochoa.

Parting Shot

The Mixed GM’s review is considerably shorter than my response to it. He definitely hit the highlights: if you like 5e, there’s a world to explore, some fun rules tweaks, and it’s a very pretty and well put-together book.

I hope you are encouraged to pick up a copy and see for yourself!

Just a thought about a thread kicking around on the forums. I don’t have a lot of time for this sort of thing these days, but I did want to note something. The thread is about whether DFRPG characters feel a bit like superheroes. This can be taken two ways: that they resemble such because of a special-forces-like division of labor and skills (or, as Kromm notes, Jungian archetypes or close to it). It can also be taken as “you’re nearly at ‘name level’ in a D&D game, and you’ve avoided ‘the grind’ of getting there.”

I wanted to offer a slightly different take, which is that the DFRPG is designed for introductory play. Now, building a GURPS character is pretty much where all the “pain” is, or at least the activation energy. A 250-point character could conceivably involve 250 choices (in practice it does not, but it’s usually a fairly large number). The template system used in Action and Dungeon Fantasy and the Dungeon Fantasy RPG is designed to bound those choices to only a few, to get folks playing.

But wow, 250 points. That’s a lot. Superhero, right?

No, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not that such characters aren’t powerful. They are. It’s not that they aren’t tough and name level and whatnot. They are.

But it’s a power level where every template starts more or less capable of doing effective work without during-play complicated choices or attack/defense options to stay effective.

Let me quote from my own melee skill levels post from long ago:

Skill-18
Attack: Ah. Sweet victory. This is an utterly achievable skill level for entry-level DF characters. The Knight can get there pretty fast, and even well beyond given things like Weapon Bond and Balanced and choosing DX over ST, you can easily push a single skill to 22.

Still, at Skill-18, you can now hit the Brain better than 50% of the time, and use a Committed Deceptive Attack to the Vitals (!) to give -2 to your foes defenses and skewer him 83% of the time. Might want to only DA down to Skill-16, though, to preserve the extra chance for a critical hit. You can target arms and legs and either hope for the 10% chance to crit, or “only” accept a 90% chance at hitting and impart -1 to the foes defenses. Leg-chopping for fun and profit is viable here. More importantly, on really tough foes, you can target Chinks in Armor, dividing DR by 2, at 50% success rate . . . more with various Attack Options stacked up.

Defense: Base Parry/Block is 12, and you’re probably sportin’ Combat Reflexes too. You’re now looking at base Block/Parry with the +2 DB medium shield of 15 – now your foes have to start throwing Deceptive Attacks just to think about getting to you. And that’s without you really trying hard. With the right kit (such as a +3 DB shield) and Defensive Attack (+1), you can Riposte with a net defense of 14 and bequeath your foe -2 to defend against your own next attack, reserving your offensive bonuses for target location or soaking other penalties.

Forget all the numbers for a moment. At Skill-16 to Skill-18, both “I whack him!” and “I whack him in the face!” are both entirely viable saying nothing else but that. You’re going to hit nearly 100% of the time for the first, and between 2/3 and 5/6 of the time for the second. On defense, especially with a shield, “I block!” is looking at Skilll/2 or 8 or 9, probably combat reflexes for the +1, and the base +3. Minimum you’re defending on 12 or 13 . . . and then you toss in +2 DB for a shield. That’s 14-15 for the line. Unless you choose to be daring and give up some defenses, “I use my shield to not die!” is, again, something you can just say.

This makes the game newbie-friendly, which was a primary design goal. Much less than Skill-16 to Skill-18, and one needs to have rules mastery to fight and win. This was on full display in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG demo game at GenCon 50. The demo was super-streamlined and effective, maybe even eschewing either attack or defense rolls, I can’t recall. But really, what the skill level (call it a warrior type with a DB +2 shield and Skill-18 with a sword) does here is allow a newbie to “spam” the I attack and I defend buttons with no more rules mastery than that and have a good time playing. They can watch their friends go for Deceptive Attacks (lowering your attack percentage in order to lower your foe’s defense percentage), Feint, or other things and then say “I want to try that!” But they don’t have to start that way. They can hear “Oh, I want to target the arms, or the vitals, or stab through the eye!” and learn that the first is entirely viable, the vitals is easier than the face but better armored, and the eye is only 50-50 at Skill-18, or a bit worse, but that the sweet, sweet x4 to injury can make it worth it.

But until that point: “I whack him” is a viable tactic. With (say) an axe or dueling glaive, whose high adds to swing damage make for a powerful force multiplier, cutting damage to the torso is entirely viable.

Ultimately, I think that’s one of the reasons 250 points was chosen for the sub-line and the stand-alone RPG especially. You can be awesome at your primary combat job, and not suck at several other things. The on-ramp is smoother, and merging into optional rules requires less driving skill.

All of the books have gone into the mail, and the expenses paid. So, where did the money go for this project? It’s my practice to be as transparent as I can with this little adventure in self-publishing and running a small business. So here we go. Hall of Judgment financials.

Costs

One thing about Hall of Judgment is that it was, obviously, a conversion of Lost Hall of Tyr. Plus a significant expansion. So the costs of the conversion do not reflect the cost to create a new book from nothing. Bear that in mind as we decide if the project has been successful (spoiler: I think it was), and to what extent (spoiler: pretty good).

  • The expenses for the project:
  • Writing and Editing: $1350
  • New Art: $1850
  • Backerkit Fees: $475
  • Printing: $3,000
  • Shipping and Fulfillment: $3,500
  • License Fees: Classified

So, in this particular case, it cost more to move the books from hither to yon than it did to create them in the first place. I’ll have to look into that.

Total expenses were about $10,200 plus license fees to Steve Jackson Games, and printing and shipping was the lion’s share of that, perhaps 65%.  The new artwork and editing was the next chunk.

The book was 128 pages as delivered, plus the cover. The total print run was about 500 books. So one can look at the development and printing costs as $80 per page or about $20 per book. Shipping is deceptive, though: it’s a pass through. I do my best to break even on it, and this time I was relatively successful there, perhaps losing about a dollar per book on shipping overall.

Revenue

For a “just the books” Kickstarter, this one was the most successful for me yet. Fully 1/3 of the backers of the Dungeon Fantasy RPG itself jumped in for the Kickstarter, plus more since.

  • Kickstarter Net Revenue: $14,350
  • Backerkit and Pre-Order: $3,825
  • Post-KS Sales: $500

So total revenue has been $18,675. Backerkit and Post-KS sales numbers both include shipping dollars.

On a project-only basis, this means it’s been profitable, by about $8,500 less licensing fees. Note that it did take about four months from Kickstarter to final deliveries, so even without fees, the INCOME of the project would average $2,000 per month.

That’s nice, but it’s not “quit your day job” for me levels by a long shot. Oh, and also . . .

Lost Hall of Tyr

Don’t forget that Lost Hall of Tyr was a bit of a net loss: perhaps $1,100. So there is that.

Of Lengi las Ekki

Too long, didn’t read? Well, Hall of Judgment is done, and has been a success as a one-off. It was profitable, and I still have roughly 100 books left to sell, which would increase the take if they get cleared out by about $2,000.

That’s not bad! What it won’t do, though, is pay easily for a second print run. The fact that it cost me more to fulfill the KS than it did to print the books is alarming. Not surprising, given the state of international shipping. No matter what, domestic USPS cost about a grand, and getting international books fulfilled was another $1,000 (for about 100+ books, so really not bad at $10 each), and getting the books to the USA accounted for about $1,000. The rest was supplies and hardware (label printer, boxes, tape, etc).

So there’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that overall, I think Hall of Judgment is a great book, attractive and solid, and the first print run will certainly be depleted over time. PDF sales will continue.

The bad news is that it’ll be quite a risk to reprint the book, and it’s not really sustainable using the same pathways I used before if continue to only use Warehouse 23 (though we’ll see about that; physical sales will start there in a few weeks, and they have much better reach than I do).

Hall of Judgment was able to take ridiculous advantage of being the fourth book I’ve produced. I had page after page of grappling-inspired art from Dungeon Grappling. I had enough viking-style art that fit in perfectly with HoJ from the production over the last two years of Dragon Heresy, which probably cost a total of $30-40K to produce, and of that $12K was the print run and a heck of a lot of that was pure art expense. Hundreds of high-quality images. Plus Lost Hall of Tyr itself was not art-light, either.

So the while the expected cost of making this book would usually have been $100-150 per page, plus the print run of $6,500 for a total of $19,000 on the low end to as much as $26,000 on the high end for a “from nothing” book, including paying the writer, layout guy, etc (that would be me) for work done . . . all of the “money spent” above are actual checks paid to others. The money brought in above would have been just enough to support the $100 per page plus printing level. If a second Kickstarter happened, from scratch, I’d have to keep that in mind and plan accordingly.

Back to good news, though: I’ve realized that the economics of success very much favor the low end of offset print. So from here on out, the only real question in my mind is “between 1,000 and 3,000 copies of [future product], how many will I order?”

Because at those levels, especially for the printer overseas, whatever I don’t sell in the KS can go into distribution, and Studio 2 will take the product to conventions, get it into stores, etc. The take is quite low as a percentage of cover price, but when you do offset, you can still go into distribution, pay for the line to be evergreen, and throw off some income to fund future work.

So no matter what: I consider this both a financial and educational success.

That’s the tale of the tape. Thanks for listening!

Douglas Cole
Gaming Ballistic, LLC
Sept 20, 2018

Just for giggles, after a quick conversation with an interested party on Facebook, I decided to see how much it would take – cost and price wise – if Gaming Ballistic were to produce a boxed set similar to the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

I used an online quote generator to look at the cost of standard boxes. One thing about this: there’s usually a good correlation between availability of an online quote generator and not being the best pricing you can find. Even so, upper bound.

I looked at custom-sized boxes. No. Don’t go there. Wow. So we look at 10.5 x 10.5 x 2″ box, and find that in quantities worthy of making a boxed set (1,000-1,999) we’re dealing with about $4 each for the box itself.

Hrm. OK. Looking at prior quotes of mine, and assuming either a 96-page book or a 128-page book, with good production values in 8×10 size. Hrm. The actual production cost is about $2 per book (slightly less at 96 pages, and slightly more at $128), but the place where you get bit is shipping the books to the publisher, which itself is about a dollar per copy pretty much regardless of size.

Let’s say we need four books, averaging about 112 pages each (so right in the middle). A characters book, an action book, a technology book (let’s say we’re doing a modern action game), and a foes book (a hypothetical Bug Hunt-ish game similar to my Alien Menace campaign would need information on worlds and aliens; alien tech would have to be squeezed in somewhere too). Four books at $3 production cost each. That’s $12 for books, $4 for the box. $16 total cost. Scope creep might push that higher if the books get thicker. An extra dollar per book would say $20 total cost.

So to survive a distribution model, that means a price tag of $80-100 for a “complete setting and rules set in a box” that would be a slimmer, books-only thing comparable to the DFRPG. No dice, nothing that can’t itself be sold as a book with an ISBN on it for Reasons (taxes, inventory, etc; “books” or “collections of books” are exempt from VAT in many places, but throw not-books in there and you make things more challenging).

Interesting. If the fan base would groove on it ($80-100 is still less than the three comparable books at full retail for DnD5e, and about what you can get the three books for at Amazon – $88 all told) it seems like a viable option.

The costs to produce it would be high. To get component prices in the right ballpark, you’re dropping about $16-20 x 1500 sets: $24,000-30,000 right there. You’re also notionally making about 400-500 pages of material, and PDF development costs as I’ve noted are $100-150 per page. So $40,000 to as high as $75,000 to make the thing. Total spread of production costs: $65,000-105,000.

Even at $100 per box, that’s 650-1050 backers required to get there.

That’s still a big lift. Not insane, but not yet proven: my best-ever crowdfunding has drawn about 550 paying customers. I’d need to double that, which means a very large interested mailing list. Probably double or triple what I have now.

Still . . . not out of possibility. But not right now.