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.”

Gaming Ballistic is a publisher of roleplaying games, and this note lets you know where you can find Gaming Ballistic on the Web.

As a company, I support the 5e-derived Dragon Heresy system, D&D5e through the Open Gaming License (OGL), and OSR products, usually with a focus on Swords & Wizardry, especially since I’m getting to know the guys and gals at Frog God better over time. Zach Glazar, for example, is basically the guy who spent an hour or two of his own time to help me get my bearings in InDesign.

I am also a huge fan of the GURPS-related variants by Steve Jackson Games, and through the product Hall of Judgment, am one of their few license-holders, and to my knowledge so far the only one for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. Which is different from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, itself a sub-line of the overarching GURPS portfolio.

All that said: if you can’t find me, you can’t play my games and buy my stuff. Buying my stuff lets me make nicer things for you.

Finding Gaming Ballistic

As seems to be required these days, you can find me all over the place:

Buying Stuff

To date, I have written four books through Gaming Ballistic, and one through Steve Jackson Games. They are Dragon Heresy (DH), Hall of Judgment (HoJ, for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, Powered by GURPS), Lost Hall of Tyr (LHoT1e; for 5e and S&W), and Dungeon Grappling (DG; for 5e, S&W, and the Pathfinder RPG). I also wrote GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling (TG) and published a bunch of articles in Pyramid Magazine since 2002 for Steve Jackson Games.

Where can you find these fine products?

  • Main Web Store (DH, DG, LHoT, HoJ all formats)
  • DriveThruRPG (DG, LHoT in PDF and POD)
  • Warehouse23 at Steve Jackson Games (DG in PDF; HoJ; this is the only place to buy Technical Grappling!)
  • Studio2 (Dragon Heresy in Hardcover only; these guys are distributors; DH releases there in December)

The main web store is best for me, because I get a larger cut, and that means more wherewithal to make more games.

I absolutely support direct-to-retailer purchases, with a usual discount of 50%. If you are a buyer for a retail store, you’ll need to contact me (see below!) and I’ll get your store email address entered into my Coupon Code section, and I’ll get you a coupon that will let you get a 50% discount on orders direct from me; larger orders will get free shipping.

What’s this about “LHoT1e” you might ask? I am currently revising and refining Lost Hall of Tyr to directly support the Dragon Heresy game. That means pulling in all the worldbuilding stuff I did for Hall of Judgment (which is essentially LHoT pushed up to 128 pages from 64 and then opened up as a more sandboxy campaign rather than what LHoT was designed as: a convention one-shot), and making the challenges mostly suitable for a starting party of level 1-5 adventurers . . . but don’t count on all encounters being “balanced.” Some need to be avoided or you’ll get flattened.

In any case, look for a second edition. If you already own Lost Hall 1e in PDF form, you will get the Second Edition free of charge. Comp copies will be delivered by DriveThru to those who purchased there, and by the Gaming Ballistic website for all Kickstarter backers or direct-purchase customers who have an account on my website (and if you don’t have one but do want one, email me).

Contact Gaming Ballistic

I am easily accessible via email, Discord, and the Facebook Group.

In addition, I am a frequent contributor to the RPG Breakfast Club over at the Tenkar’s Tavern discord.

I tend to answer most questions on a “right the heck now” basis. Sometimes it might take longer.

I’m also increasing my convention presence over the next few years. I was at GameHole Con in Madison in Nov 2018, and will try and make appearances at Con of the North, Convergence (both in Minneapolis), GameHole 2019, and GaryCon 2020 if I possibly can do so!

You can also sign up for the Gaming Ballistic mailing list. I try not to use it much, to prevent spam-induced unsubscription, but I try and announce upcoming Kickstarters and projects there first. And if none of that suits, here’s a contact form:

I was on a lot of podcasts this week. All different. Our discussion with Eric F on “martial arts in old-school games” was a different type of discussion than the “get deep into the mechanical weeds” with Chris S. Matt and David were both very interested in specifics on shields, while the second part of my discussion with Derek was about getting into, and staying into, the game design space.

A friend of mine told me that he was impressed I managed to cover substantially the same general territory with enough differences to make each podcast worth listening to without being repetitive.

Of course, that has a lot to do with my hosts . . .

Podcast Palooza

Each of these is pretty worth listening to, even if I say so myself.

First, I was on The Established Facts with Derek Knutsen-Frey, whom I’ve gotten to know through the IGDN. We had a long chat divided in two parts: a bunch on Dragon Heresy, and then 45 minutes on game publishing as a business.

The always-awesome James Introcaso hosted me for a while on Table Top Babble, and we mostly talked about Dragon Heresy

Chris Sniezak and I got deep into the depths of the game mechanics

Jason Hobbs had me and Eric Farmer on at the same time, and our take was more broad. Can you do “martial arts” in Old-School systems? What does that even mean?

Matt Finch and I had a great chat, and he was absolutely enthusiastic about the materials, construction, and use of period weaponry, and egged me on effectively.

Finally, I was on with Nerdarchy Dave for a live discussion and chat, and I had a great time talking with him and taking questions

Derek Knutsen-Frey and I chatted a lot about Dragon Heresy in a prior interview. It was a great chat. We also spent another hour (ish) talking about the business of game design. Even if I do say so myself, it’s a very good discussion.

EPISODE 171 – DOUGLAS COLE DRAGON HERESY PART 2

Other links:

RPG Development Costs

Economizing on RPG Development Costs

I was on The ESTABLiSHED FACTS podcast with Derek Knutsen-Frey the other day, and it just went live.

The Established Facts Podcast

We talk about all sorts of thing

  • How I got into the business
  • The Dragon Heresy system
  • The Kickstarter (now funded!)
  • Gaming and Game Design
  • Gaming as a Business
  • Getting into game writing
  • Vikings

and a lot more!

Check out THE ESTABLiSHED FACTS

It’s taken a bit, mostly because I was working personally with two busy folks, but all Kickstarter rewards have now been delivered: the two character sheets with portraits were finalized and delivered for my Styðja-level backers last weekend.

It was a fun ride. As I noted before, I indulged in a bit of extravagance by splurging on a piece of art that took the project to date from break-even to a bit of a loss. However . . .

There’s more coming for Lost Hall of Tyr. I wish I could discuss it . . . but look for an announcement on my mailing list and blog in a week or two.

I’ve also been hard at work on the next voyage into Etera – a very important one. The core rulebook for the Dragon Heresy Introductory Set is in layout and final assembly. Sometime this coming weekend, I should have the chapters on Foes (80-125 pages and about 100 critters, depending on how it lays out) added to the 140-150 pages of core rules for level 1-5. That’s right down the pipe for what I wanted.

Here’s an image of a sample of interior layout:

And another WIP of the cover:

I expect you will see this in Kickstarter some time in April. Early April if things go well.

Thanks for joining me for Lost Hall of Tyr!

Douglas

Earlier I went through and took a stab at what it costs to develop an RPG book. One can consider these, in somewhat imprecise terms, economic costs, rather than an accounting or cash-flow cost, in that it’s not required to write checks for all of them. Further, the costs presented represent doing everything on a contracting basis, and everything bespoke, meaning created for your game from scratch.

This is not remotely the only way to do it. It’s probably not even necessarily the best way to do it.

So I’m going to muse here on ways to reduce both the economic cost as well as the cash cost of RPG development. Continue reading “Economizing on RPG Development Costs”

I tend to be pretty transparent here at Gaming Ballistic, perhaps even too much so. Still, it came as a surprise to me – though it was, in a Rumsfeldian sense, a known unknown – just what it took to make a game. For example, I had always thought that print games were simply much more expensive to design and produce than PDF, and the casual derision occasionally flung at PDFs on some boards reinforced that.

Turns out that with modern publishing methods, at least for me, the only difference between “make it a PDF” and “make it print” is your InDesign output settings. Exaggeration? Perhaps, but not by much. The print costs are non-trivial, true. But they’re also not nearly the bulk of the cost.

There was a discussion of “Production Values” on the SJG Forums, where I offered to lay down what my estimates of costs were to make a game. It’s not universal – every company is different, I’m sure. There will be a lot of “from X to Y” in it, because sometimes you pay what you have to, and sometimes you pay what you want to. It’s also going to include some things that many small companies don’t “pay” for, because they do it out of sweat equity. I do this myself, and it’s probably not smart.

Linear and Non-Linear Costs

Many of the things here are what I’d call linear costs. They scale very directly on a per-word basis, or indirectly, in that you don’t technically pay by the word, but you might pay by the page, or have an average number of things you have to do based on layout, which will put a certain number of words on a page.

I’m going to use Lost Hall of Tyr as my primary example in most cases. Mostly because start to finish, it’s completely done, and I have a very good idea of what I spent on it, having maintained my spreadsheet and updated it as “projected cost” turned to “real cost.” If you really wanted to get good, first make your budgetary sheet, and then copy it and lock it, and make “actual expenses” a separate tracking item. Continue reading “RPG Development Costs”

Just a quick note on some behind-the-scenes stuff that’s exciting to me.

First, I’ve nearly completed one of  my Styðya-tier backer character sheets and illustrations. Michael Clarke made this 5e version of the Dragon Heresy character sheet for me, and Rick Troula provided the illustration for this particular backer. I’m quite pleased with how it’s all turning out.

Continue reading “Dragon Heresy and Lost Hall Progress”

DM Guild Logo links to DM Guild on OBS/DriveThru

Rob Conley over at Bat in the Attic just put up an important post for those considering using the DM’s Guild as a vector for publishing.

Here it is, complete with provocative title!

OBS Content Program is terrible and it is now not just an opinion

Basically, the net/net of it is that if you publish in the DM’s Guild, you’re basically doing a bit of retroactive Work for Hire. You can reuse your own stuff, but only on the DM’s Guild. Others can re-use your stuff, but only on the DM’s Guild. If you want to incorporate pre-written or pre-published content into your DM’s Guild work . . . don’t, because the content on DM’s Guild is exclusive to the DM’s Guild.

I had considered using DM’s Guild as a vector for my Dragon Heresy work, but even without Rob’s recent clarifications, the “no Kickstarters” rule scared me away, as I wanted to develop my own look and feel and layout and fill my stuff with cool art. Can’t do that on DM’s Guild.

Not saying DM’s Guild is all bad all the time. If you want to create content and have it released once and for all into the WotC ecosystem and only in that ecosystem, it might still be a great thing for you. But do so with your eyes open: content created in this program is theirs, not yours, after you put it on that platform.

One might say, and be correct, that this is the price one pays for having all of the Product Identity, from Beholders to Tiamat to the Forgotten Realms and others, at your disposal. And that’s true. If that’s your thing (and fine works spring from it), than that’s great. It’s a reasonable vector for things as long as you realize that once on DM’s Guild, your stuff is not yours anymore. It’s part of a shared IP gestalt that’s available in and through the DM’s Guild infrastructure and that’s all.

For me, it was never an option, because Kickstarter. But if you ever think “Hey, my setting would do well in [Some Other System],” then the  DM’s Guild is not for you. If you want your own brand to be important, then DM’s Guild utility is much lower (you can’t put your logo or brand identity on the outside of the work, only on the inside).

It’s a good set of Q&A, and Rob’s right: his musings aren’t opinions anymore. They’re policy. Read it, ask your own questions, and if you want to go into the DM’s Guild (and there are many fine products available through it), do so with your eyes fully open.