A mailing list is a key part of any company’s outreach strategy. In short, it’s the first line of defense against stagnation and starvation. It’s the folks that have come to you, and either expressed interest in, or outright purchased your stuff.

It’s probably criminal that I haven’t set one up by now . . . a crime against good business.

But I’m rectifying that.

  • There’s now a sign-up bar at the top of the page. If you’re interested in getting emails on current and future products, progress on projects, or generally wanting to be informed as to (say) when a Kickstarter of mine will launch, please sign up.
  • If you’ve purchased something from me before, I’m going to proactively add you to the list . . . and then immediately remove you upon request, of course.

You can probably look for an email from me maybe every two to four weeks, and no more. I don’t want to spam you, and it’ll be a bit before enough happens in every given week to merit such a thing.

But please: if you’re interested in Gaming Ballistic as a company that sells products, rather than just a nifty blog, sign up!

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.”

Reading an article on the differences between Pathfinder and Starfinder.

Well, I guess I was on to something with the Dragon Heresy Wounds/Vigor split.

I’m sure Starfinder has been in development for a long, long time. And I’m also sure I came up with Wounds/Vigor independently, though someone later pointed it out that Wounds and Vitality had long been tucked into an optional rule in the PFRPG Core book.

Still: let me echo that I think it’s absolutely the right call. Differentiating between “stuff that makes you bleed” and “reserve of skill, stamina, luck, and divine favor” as hit points were described on p. 82 of the original Dungeon Masters’ Guide by Gygax is, to me, incredibly useful and helps solve some real problems, especially when you push the game engine into the firearm era.

For now: yay, parallel evolution.

Also: Clearly Starfinder came out first, because, well, Paizo has resources and staff and I’ve got me. But Dragon Heresy, that rough beast, continues to move forward, slouching towards Bethlehem to be born, etc.

 

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.”

Saturday was packed for me. I was busy from 9am until 10:30pm with good important stuff. Sunday, the last day of the con, was basically open for me – a free day – until the show closed, at which point I was to help tear down the booth.

The Big Day

Well, I awoke realizing that I’d left my battle-mat in the booth. No big, assuming it was there. I beat feet over before, it turned out, that the convention hall opened, which was 9am. So I went over to my gaming room, set up early, then chatted with some of the IGDN members there. I described my grappling system to Sarah at the booth, and another member sat down, and “oohed” and “aahhed” over my book, which was on the table. She opened it up and started avidly reading. I just grabbed a pen, signed it, and made a gift of it to her. If she’s that enthusiastic, she can have one! Continue reading “GenCon: The Big, The Free, and The Teardown”

Today was eventful as hell, from a personal level, as well as a professional one.

Dungeon Grappling: Tower of Justice

So, I ran the Con Scenario that was shorthanded Grappling Smackdown but is formally called The Tower of Justice.

The seats were supposed to be filled; I had three initial no shows, but then three folks showed up and really wanted to try. So full house . . . and then the actual three showed up, which meant I had to ask the newcomers to leave. All were gracious about the entire thing. One player had his young son along, and it was very clear he was going to sit and watch. No frickin’ way. I asked “will your son be joining us?” “Can he play?” “You tell me . . . can he play? If he can, he’s very welcome.”

So seven seats for a six-player game. The young one was an Evocation sorcerer. Dad was a dragonborn bard. We had a human paladin of Tyr, a Thief/Rogue, another dragonborn bard (but he said that testing the new grappling rules was the ONLY game he insisted on playing; this guy was a dream player/playtester), a human ranger, and a young lady who had never played DnD before who took her hand at a half-elf fighter.

All played well, engaged in the scenario, and were gracious about learning the new rules.

I started by making them write down their grappling stats, which were not on the sheet. I did this deliberately so I could teach them the key levels and what they mean.

Your grapple DC is 10 + whatever. It’s your hit roll for grappling, and will nearly always be lower than the Armor class.

Your hit roll for grappling is 1d20 plus your athletics skill bonus.

Your damage roll for grappling is your hit die type, plus your strength bonus.

Write down the following levels: Grabbed; Grappled; Restrained; Incapacitated.

Calculate your restrained max, your grappled max, your grabbed max. Incap is higher than restrained by one.

There are things you can do with your control points. Here’s a list. If you think of anything else cool, let me know and we’ll adjudicate it on the spot.

So . . . what happened?

Highlights

  • They quickly figured out the puzzle that gave the directions to the back door of the Tower of Justice, and I figure that if I let the group tomorrow find the same puzzle, they’ll also go that route. I may just railroad ’em into the main way, to test the other half of the scenario. I have a reason why this isn’t completely lame, I swear
  • the fight with the hobgoblins between the waybridge and the tower went very well. I needed more monster tokens, but otherwise, the players were determined to grapple as much as possible, and so were the hobs. The fight went well for the players, and though a few wounds were taken, it wasn’t bad.
  • The climb of the 150 foot cliff ran into a major design issue that I know how to fix, but I saw the problem coming soon enough. More on that later.
  • The big fight with the Glabrezau demon (four attacks, pincers, fists) opened with the PCs deciding to whittle away the demon’s HP from behind a magical barrier. That would have been tedious but effective. Then someone (the Dad bard, actually!) decided to Leroy Jenkins the demon, several others followed suit. The demon grabbed the paladin for 45 control points, turned that into 10d4 injury . . . and rolled abysmally, doing fewer than 15 HP of damage. So sad! I was hoping to rip him in half.
  • The players saw the never-played-before fighter grapple the demon . . . roll a crit and max damage, and restrain him. They dogpiled him by grappling, and incapacitated it! That meant they could kill it by fiat, which they did.

That took the entire time. I got some great feedback on the grappling rules. In short: they were playable and fun, useful but not complex. These WORK. And they work with strangers who were not (to my knowledge) game designers, unless the 10yo was a ringer.

The Lowlights

  • Swapping out players was a time killer, and meant that we got very close to running out of time at noon. This will be an issue tomorrow since I have to be on a panel at noon in another building.
  • The climbing rules were cool on paper, but as we were about to run through it, I realized this was going to be an insane number of dice rolls and tracking. I figured out how to fix it, now I just need to implement it. No worries there.
  • The tree puzzle is too compelling and will likely 100% of the time short-circuit the bridge and front-door approach. I’m not sure if that’s bad or not, but it’s an observation.

The Booth

I did another stint at the booth today, five hours. Heel wasn’t quite as bad, but I took care to walk around today (walking and running are both better than standing for me).

Highlights here?

Sold some Dungeon Grappling

I was a lot better at pitching other folks products

I really need to pick up Fragged Empire. The graphic design is a thing of beauty. Setting seems interesting too.

I also need to learn about the Apocalypse World engine. A lot of the games seem to like using it as their core system, and there must be a reason for it. I may or may not agree with the reason.

Had a polite disagreement with a designer who described tactical wargame elements in RPGs as pointless. I think they have their place, and enjoy the hell out of them. The perspective has merit I think, in that it puts an adminstrative overhead on both player and GM in terms of stats, rigor, and play speed that you have to understand, accept, and find fun.

He does’t. I do.

That’s cool for both, but there are two sides to that coin, and if you think only one of ’em has value, you’ll be a worse designer than if you understand at least the impulses that drive both points of view, and consciously address them. Even if that means ignoring one; at least do it with malice aforethought.

I reviewed a set of grappling rules in another designer’s system. Pronounced them very abstract, but since they were the same level of abstraction and used the same mechanic as his other conflict resolution systems, I pronounced that they obeyed the rule of ‘use what’s there’ and was thus satisfied.

Steve Jackson(!!) dropped by the Indie Games Designer’s Network booth. Turned out he wasn’t just looking around. He was there to see me.

(swoon)

We chatted about the DFRPG, the Kickstarter, and I showed him my Dragon Heresy flier. He responded by telling me something that nearly made my eyebrows crawl out of my head (not sure I can say what it is), but that will make GURPS folks very happy. There was also some egging on by me of the notion of a modern action boxed set, since (sez me) “GURPS has the best firearms rules currently in the market. Clean ’em up, simplify for speed, and you’d have everything you need to shoot folks and take their stuff, or any other plotline.”

I also talked with D. R. Lunceford, gigerman on the forums, about a great many things. He is responsible for the graphical look of the blog. We agreed it was time to start the web design for the dragon heresy website and page. We talked about a few blog improvements, and game design. And shields and grappling and shooting. Good times.

I also made arrangements to have drinks with Ken Hite to discuss Dragon Heresy progress.

Spoke in rapid succession with the folks at Thomson-Shore and KrakenPrint. Now I know of four potential vendors for my books, all of whom are reasonably priced for offset and make great looking books.

All in all, an excellent day.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow is going to my equivalent of BUDS. Well maybe not. But it’ll be a busy, hectic day.

  • 10-noon: Second Dungeon Grappling demo
  • noon-1pm: I’m on a panel on how to get into the game industry
  • 1-5pm: DFRPG session with Sean, Christopher, Joseph, and others!
  • 7pm-?? First attend the Delta Green panel that Ken Hite is speaking at (’cause Delta Green is a great setting and I’m honestly curious), the go to drinks and talk Dragon Heresy

Sunday is all mine.

 

I think my first and only trip to GenCon was in 1994 or something. It was still in Milwaukee. West End Games was there, and I got to see Timothy Zahn and the WEG designers talk about Star Wars. Was cool.

Now, many (too many) years later, I’m GenCon bound again. I am kinda losin’ my mind about it.

First, the good: I’m playing in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG first-game experience with Sean Punch. That was a Kickstarter reward, and I expect it to be a hoot.

Next, the freakout. And while normally I’m good with crowds and pressure, this feels different.

  1. I’m a member of the IGDN and working the booth. I’m hoping that goes well, although there are things about it that are not optimal, it’ll be a good way to interact with a ton of folks coming by the booth, pitch my and others’ stuff, and see how things go.
  2. I’m running two games, the Grappling Smackdowns.
  3. The adventure I will run isn’t quite done yet. And I realized how much stuff I’d IDEALLY like to have to run a game (maps, tokens, lots of dice, all sorts of stuff) and how much I rely on my computer to run games these days.
  4. It’s been a while since I’ve GM’d at all; it’s been a while since I’ve GM’d 5e or Dragon Heresy in playtest, and that was with a very well-trusted group.
  5. I’m on a panel for the first time ever. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I’m sure this will be a wonderful experience yadda yadda yadda. But my demo session isn’t nearly as complete as I want it to be (of course, I would have ideally finished it a month ago an playtested it eight times with eight groups), and my not-GenCon/not-writing schedule is packed today and tomorrow.

So . . . feelin’ queasy.

I’m working through my Grappling Smackdown scenario here, and setting the DCs for various tasks is a thing. I wanted to make a table to quickly inform me of roughly how hard something might be, so I figured I’d share the results. This isn’t a revelation, but it’s useful to me so it might be useful to you.

One useful tidbit from the post on The Standard Array: Joe Human PC with the standard array and who is proficient in a given task will sport a 13.5 attribute as a median, and of course have a +2 proficiency bonus. This makes the average starting boosts to the die rolls about +3.5.

I’ve picked out some example DCs. Obviously moving the DC up or down a point changes the odds of success (on the average) by 5%.

DC 6

At this level, a potted plant that isn’t proficient in the skill has a 50% chance of noticing something or accomplishing a task. I’m having to significantly question why bother rolling at all here. It’s a level that might get interesting if due to unfavorable terrain or darkness or something everyone gets disadvantage.

DC 8

A first level, proficient character with a 10 ability score will still succeed 75% of the time, or a non-proficient character with a 14, a solid but not exceptional DX, for example. This is a good level for a simple task which requires some talent or expertise to get through, but by and large will be a speed bump. Even my potted plant, above (-5 ability score, not proficient) if allowed a roll will succeed on a 13 or higher, 40% of the time.

DC 11

This is still an entry level task, where a completely non-proficient average guy can succeed 50% of the time. The median starting human PC will be succeeding on this by rolling an 8, so 65% chance of success. There’s only a 10% chance of failure for a typical proficient 10th level PC operating in the expert zone. A DC 11 means that it’s still expected most folks will do this well, but the odds of failure for the uninitiated are high.

At DC 11 and DC 12, a non-proficient character rolling against one of their lowest two ability scores (9-11 as a human) will more or less have a 50% chance of success. So it’s the dividing line for “requires some sort of atypical ability or advantage to succeed better than half the time.” Atypical for PCs, that is.

DC 14

Odds of a median first through fourth level PC who is proficient in the skill failing this roll is about 50%. At this level if you’re positing (say) a forked path for adventurers of 1st through 4th level (+2 proficiency), you’re basically saying “flip a coin.” I feel this is a pretty important DC level, as it sets the boundaries for making decisions in adventures. Want your “secret pathway” to come up about half the time? That’s about a DC 14 check . . . but you better be darn sure you have it in your mind that if everyone is allowed a roll, half the median party will fail, and half will succeed, assuming their attributes and skills are spread around a bit.

Anything harder than DC 14 will require advantage, high attributes, and high proficiency to make it a cake-walk. For example, a +4 bonus and +4 proficiency, given as a 10th level character with an 18 or 19 ability score, will still fail this check 25% of the time, although if they have expertise or can eke out advantage from somewhere, they’ll only fail if they crit.

DC 17

Now you’re into telling the GM and PCs you expect them to fail. A first level PC will need to roll 14 or higher to succeed here, and even our hypothetical +8 bonus 10th level proficient character will need to roll 9 or higher (60%). An untrained person using their “dump stat” of (say) 9 or 10 will have a 75-80% failure rate here. Only a true expert (has Expertise in the skill) at high proficiency with an outstanding ability score will be looking at this as trivial.

DC 17, though, is also the level where your low-level party expert (+2 proficiency, +4 in their chosen skill at 4th level due to an ability score improvement) has a 50% chance of success. So much as DC 11 or 12 is the dividing line for making it hard for the unskilled, DC 17 is the line above which only the truly exceptional will succeed more than they fail.

DC 21

Now you’re just being mean. You need +5 proficiency, +5 attribute score, and you have a 50% chance of making this. It’s the break-even for high-level, high-skill “this is still hard” tests. At low level, you’re saying “only a crit will get you here, and only if you have a bonus, at that.” Again, one has to ask why bother unless it’s something that you think the PCs might try but it’ll be pretty silly. Well, yes, you could leap the chasm, but it’s DC 21 . . . chances of success are low.

Parting Shot

So, hopefully this will be of use as a quick reference, if nothing else. Good ability score bonuses to keep in mind are probably +0 (dump stat), +1.5 (median starting character), +3 (expert starting character), and +5 (fully developed unless you’re breaking the 20-maximum rule, as some classes do). Proficiencies are +2 (starting), +4 (mid-level), and +6 (pinnacle). Figure out how likely you want success to be, and adjust from there. Ergo, a handy table. Well, handy for me.

Ability Score Proficiency 25% Success 50% success 75% Success
0 2 18 13 8
0 4 20 15 10
0 6 22 17 12
1.5 2 19.5 14.5 9.5
1.5 4 21.5 16.5 11.5
1.5 6 23.5 18.5 13.5
3 2 21 16 11
3 4 23 18 13
3 6 25 20 15
5 2 23 18 13
5 4 25 20 15
5 6 27 22 17

About a week until GenCon, so what’s kickin’ in the hopper at Gaming Ballistic, LLC?

Dungeon Grappling and the Grappling Smackdown

To date, other than the 300 or so Kickstarter copies of Dungeon Grappling, I’ve moved 87 more via DriveThruRPG, of which nine were physical product. I’ve also sold 20 through my website, with a much higher fraction  (50%) procuring physical copies. My participation with the Indie Game Designer’s Network has moved a few more physical books (four, I believe). I have not sold a single copy through Amazon CreateSpace, and given how much of a pain it was to re-do the layout to their specs for active text and bleed (very large pain, with no help unless you want to pay them for a consult), I may reconsider doing that again. The print quality of CS did not blow me away, though it was a lot cheaper per copy than DriveThru. Case by case basis, I guess.

The Kickstarter itself broke even by the time all was said and done. I made a great looking book with solid rules content, paid for it all, and got it all out on time. I then ordered $662 worth of inventory. My revenue has been just north of $900, I think – which means that overall, Gaming Ballistic made about $300 in profit on a project basis.

I am, of course, substantially in the red as a company, because of things like paying for InDesign, hosting, and the remarkably non-trivial money of my own that has gone into Dragon Heresy in particular.

Still: Dungeon Grappling’s all-in profitability is on the order of 5% on a project basis.

I am still of the opinion that the Dungeon Grappling rules are very good for what they do, or at least the least-bad option of any I’ve encountered (unless as with many groups, you simply ignore grappling, which is the ultimate in rules-light play, I guess).

Which brings me to the Grappling Smackdown.  Continue reading “Gaming Ballistic Update and GenCon Grappling Smackdown”