I’ve got two dozen pieces of art being worked on Dragon Heresy. I am starting to get either final products or color Wcore-b-finalIP. I thought I’d tease some examples.

The first is a small illustration that will likely appear next to a table on setting difficulty for tasks. My art direction asked for a dented helmet. Oh, it called for a lot more than that, but it’s a tiny picture, and it was the helmet that was key.

The artwork is by Gennifer Bone – I like the color palette used here, and the blend of the metal helmet and the mail face and neck guard. The final illustration will only be 1.5 x 2″ or so, so it’s a lot larger in this image than it will be in the book.

She’s working three more images for me. My 7yo daughter saw the two big ones (full-column illustrations that end the Core Concepts chapter) and went nuts. So mission accomplished there!

The second sneak peek is a Work in Progress by Juan Ochoa. He’s working the basic Races chapter, and we’ve been interacting very heavily to ensure that the culture and look I’ve written for each race gets imaged on the page.teaser02

The excerpt is a screen shot from what is starting to look like four of my “iconic” characters in the book. It shows a barbarian, ranger, druid, and monk. The barbarian has his hands on a longship he’s commissioned. The druid is not so sure this is all a good idea. The picture shows a zoom-in of the detail on the characters.

The scene is in winter, and while the three characters on the left are dressed fairly warmly, the only concession our monk makes to the cold is pretty much socks underneath her wrestling sandals. There’s a lot of character to each individual, and we’ll be seeing these four again.

This weekend was, in a word, good.

Dungeon Grappling

I did a triple-whammy. I finished a draft late Friday night that I thought – despite being bleary-eyed – was quite good. My readers confirmed it was the best version yet.
But the next day, one of my readers ran through a PFRPG fight with some purpose built grapple-monsters, both PCs and critters.
Whoa. Not good. The problem is that the source material – OSR D&D in various flavors – is fairly low in the HP department, and Dragon Heresy uses other stats to differentiate wounds from vigor, and control from vigor.
So converting over using HP to get to PFRPG or Fifth Edition? No. Does not work.
I real-timed it with Cole, and realized that at least for the moment, a new value for the grappling version of HP was needed. Came up with one, and that tested well. I knew it wasn’t quite right, and kept working while the playtest was going on. Found a good solution for all of the games treated, and realized (via math, backed up by 8 months of playtests) why Dragon Heresy not once had this problem.
Anyway, rewrote the drafts and got that into the hands of my layout and indexing guys. Wound up at 17,100 words, which (if we use the same layout template as Dragon Heresy) will turn into about 32 pages, which is right where I want to end up. That probably means about 16 – 20 pieces of art. We’ll see – it’s why I like to do a preliminary layout pass – to see where things need to go.
But once the fix was done, the feedback was:

Continue reading “Writing and Art for GB products”

Wow. I have traveled from Minneapolis to Penang, Malaysia many times in the past. This was my first business trip to Thailand.

Bangkok is closer than Penang by a bit – maybe two hours, but for whatever reason, this trip hit me harder. Both directions, the trip was pretty tight, and accomplished in three legs. First was Minneapolis to Portland, then to Tokyo, where we landed after boarding started on my final flight. Then to Bangkok, where I then had to catch a taxi downtown instead of staying at the airport hotel, and then three-hour commute to Korat (Nakhon Ratchisma) to show up for work at 9:30am, which was pretty good, actually.

I thought I’d get a lot of writing done on the trip. I got some done – a bunch of monsters for Dragon Heresy, plus going over some playtester feedback and fixing some inconsistencies that cropped up in The Book of Heroes through the many revisions the rules have gone through.

But I was really jet lagged through the first two days, then the third day was a night out to dinner in Korat, then some more socializing the next day, and then back home. Four or five hours in traffic from Korat to Bangkok (airport hotel this time!), a few hours sleep, then the 5:55am flight to Tokyo (6 hours, maybe 6.5), then a short layover in Tokyo, then 9-10 hours to LAX, two hours in the airport, then 4 hours to Minneapolis. Would have been 3, but we had to route around some significant weather. I slept most of the first two flights, which helped me with jet lag but did not help me write, since the two activities are mutually exclusive.

Anyway, the blog has been pretty empty over the last few weeks. What’s been going on?

GURPS DF Kickstarter

The big news in GURPS Land is the success of the DF Kickstarter. It is doing reasonably well against its stretch goals, and by internet chatter it appears that it is being primarily funded by existing fans, but is also reaching some number of new folks, which is the entire point.

Still a lot of confusion over how much it costs to bring this to market out there. I can only state what I’ve found in my own research into Dragon Heresy – things are a lot more expensive than you think.

But the project is humming along, and doing well. I may yet up my pledge to the “I want it all” level of $250 from my current $155, because SJG keeps adding more to the kit.

Also, a while back I interviewed +Phil Reed via text, and +Sean Punch by video. Check them both out!

Dragon Heresy Progress

So, things are still moving, despite my whirlwind trip to Thailand. 

Editing and Layout

I’ve spoken to my hopefully-to-be editor, and I think we’re close to signing a contract, after which I’ll be able to say who it is, when the time is right. He’s not available to start until very late in the year, though, and we agreed that having him edit the work in January would be better all around. So my Kickstarter deadline just got pushed to then, and I’ll have faith in the process and run the KS at the same time as he’s editing the work.

I’ve got a layout consultation with an award-winning pro that is scheduled to come up here in a month or so, which will help +Rob Muadib refine his technique, which he can then apply to The Book of Deeds, which is the “campaign and setting and monster” book of the two-volume set.

I’ve also hired an indexer. He’s going to start working that now, then again when final edits and layout happens, so there’s the right groundwork in place to put the funded PDF to bed.

I feel I MUST have an index, a professional edit, and a layout that’s gotten a professional touch. The rest – even art – is gravy. Important gravy, but folks may forgive public domain art, but they will not forgive an unusable or unreadable manuscript.

Nor should they.

Printing and International Shipping Issues

I’ve been steadily getting quotes to suss out the different options. I’ve gotten one very interesting quote from Thomson-Shore that allows me to print a small quantity in the UK for shipment to the UK/EU zone that is on the same price curve as the US printer. So basically if I get 1,300 backers, with 1,000 in the US and 300 in the UK, I can print the first batch for $17 per book and the second for $40 per book. That would allow me to charge (roughly) $40-45 for the US price and $65 for the UK, and shipping to the UK and US would be about $5, while to the EU it seems to be around $20. Total cost would be $50 for the US, $70 for the UK, and $85 for the EU. 

That sounds bad, but at $40 for a “one price fits all” plus something like $65 for shipping a 4-lb package to Germany (!!) it’s still a savings over print-and-ship. +Jens Finkhäuser is working other options for print-and-deliver for projects like mine, but it may or may not be ready by the time I’m looking to go. Still, my research sets the bar. Also, if I got 500 EU/UK backers instead of 300, the price drops by about $10-15.

I’ve looked into similar arrangements for Australia. 

I have to think that the right way to go here is to have EU, UK, and Australia/NZ backers pledge for the full-color PDF and somehow indicate that they would like to own a print copy. Then when all is said and done, I’d have to set up a pre-order or “interest poll” on my own e-Commerce site (to be created), and then if there is enough interest, I can get bids at the right interest level, arrange a local print job, and then put a special item on sale on my future website for those residents only. What I’d like to do is basically take pre-orders in escrow until the right number is met or exceeded, then order. 

International shipping is a pain, but print local, ship local really does seem to be a thing. 

I will try and work up a few novel pricing schemes for this. Maybe something like “buy a full-price PDF, and then you get a discount on the print copy.”  Not sure – the key is that there needs to be some way to gauge how serious individuals are about the pricing, because I would only want to order enough to cover the run, plus a few more. Retailers would help me huge by ordering five or ten at a time, if they’d risk it. Hard to say.

The other way is how SJG did it – commit to shipping a pallet to a central location, and they distribute from there. That spreads the shipping out quite a bit, and allows me economies of scale by doing one big print run.

Still: as the old SNL skit goes, it’s all about volume.

Art and Artists

I’ve got two lined up. I have sent out a retainer check to one, and I need to get my butt in gear and put up some guidelines for the other – I’ve been telling her “work is coming!” for so long it’s irritating (more so to her than me, I suspect), but I’m feeling better about where the progress and timing are, so I feel like I can start some art buying. It’ll help with the advertisements and Kickstarter promo.

I’ve also taken final delivery of my maps. There’s a sample to the right to show the style, but I’m quite pleased with the work Cornelia did on it. I’ve got color and black and white maps, so that I can make a fast-loading Black-and-White PDF and a full-color PDF for (a) people that just like color, and (b) it sets me up for the full-color print run.

I still believe I will need something like 350 pieces of art, so the two artists I’ve referred to are only the beginning.

Writing Progress

The monsters are the thing, and they’re progressing. I got such a good contribution from one of my playtesters in terms of finished work that I’m giving him Additional Material credit in the game. And compensating him, because good work gets paid.

I’ve got fluff text now for Undead (12), NPCs (22), Giants (5), Elementals (6), Fae (13), and Constructs (3). 

When I say “fluff text,” I of course mean “description of monster, appearance of the creature, what the habitat of the creature is, and a general outline of its behavior, including favored combat tactics.”

Still a lot to go, here, but bit by bit it’s getting done. I also culled the monster list by about 20,000 words, because it was too long as it was. I may yet cull more. My goal is to have both books come in at around 200,000 words, or 350-370 pages. That’s “Monster Manual” size, for reference.

The Book of Heroes also got a full reading by a few testers, and we’re resolving some inconsistencies that were introduced through version iteration. And one or two new rules, and at least one structure change, where “that should not be in equipment; that’s a combat rule” reared its head. The book is better for it.

Parting Shot

Ultimately, I’m shooting for a January Kickstarter, PDF availability in Feb/March, and print copies, if any, within a month of PDF release. We’ll see how that goes, but I really want to have the whole thing wrapped up by the end of March 2017.

Oh, and I’m also getting my website revamped. You can catch a glimpse of what the new thing will be like here. It’s not done, and more to go, but it’s yet another step on the way to making both my company and my game a reality.

As part of the run-up to Dragon Heresy, I quickly realized that the book was going to be very large. My initial estimates of a single 250-300 page volume were crushed under the heels of 90,000 words of just monsters. And that’s after culling things down and eliminating many that are thematically inappropriate. 

There are ways to deal with this, of course. One is “be even more ruthless about culling.” That’s valid. Another is to just suck it up, and publish a 550 – 600-page book, which would be even larger than the Pathfinder Core Rules (512 pages), and about the same size as Hero Fifth Edition (592 pages). Hero solved this problem in 6th edition by publishing in two volumes. This is the same tack GURPS took, releasing a Campaigns and Characters book with sequential pagination (if the Characters book stops at p. 250, the Campaigns book picks up at p. 251, in concept). Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition is something like 990 pages if you include every page (including the index and TOC, which isn’t entirely fair) of the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual.

By that yardstick, Dragon Heresy is the very soul of brevity.

Still – I was curious as to preferences, so I posted a poll, which was very well attended by the reading population – for which everyone has my thanks (the poll is still active here).

Poll Results

The results were illustrative. I figured “two volumes, please” would simply dominate. I was not entirely correct.

The first swing of voting broke sharply in favor of One Giant Tome. Subsequent voting broke hard the other way.

Eventually, things settled, with roughly 3 people preferring the two-volume set for every one person that wanted a single book. The most useful piece of advice came (predictably) from +Peter V. Dell’Orto, who suggested one PDF, but two (or more) printed books, so that you could have a combat rule, a campaign rule or map, and a monster open on the table simultaneously, but do a one-volume PDF search.

A Modern Print-on-Demand Solution?

Still, while from an RPG electoral college perspective, the multi-volume set won huge, 40% of the market, more or less, wants a volume they can just haul around. 60% wants multiple volumes. The reasons for both are valid.

A bit of a history of multi-volume sets

What I am considering, but I’d have to work out the logistics of it in a big way, is a “build-a-book” concept. You select a cover, get the intro, and choose the components of the book. Book A would be the character generation and core rules. Book B would be the campaign rules and setting information. Book C is monsters and stuff. The Index would cover A, B, and C. There would be three Table of Contents files, one for A, B, and C.

Each customer could then assemble the book or books that they want. Want the One Book to Rule them All option? Assemble Cover + ToC A, B, C + Intro + Book A + Book B + Book C + Index.

Want three volumes? Cover + Introduction + ToC A + Book A + Index; Cover + ToC B + Book B + Index; Cover + ToC C + Book C + Index.

Print on Demand how you like from the PDFs. 

Something like this was the favorite

The indices and ToC would obviously be free. The cover or cover variants maybe not, because you have to pay for good art, and if I have paid for a custom awesome cover, I need to charge for the work. If it’s my current decent but not eye-bogglingly-awesome cover, it would be free as well.

I would dearly love to do this. Everyone could get what they want, and Print-on-Demand means that I would not have to deal with the logistics and costs of stocking offset print runs of anything, much less infinite combos of A, B, and C.

Based on the poll results, though, my initial offerings will likely be “one-volume PDF,” “two-volume PDF,” and “two-volume print book.” If the product is well received enough to do more, I will do more.

Editing and Length

One reasonably-frequent observation was “if it’s that long, your editing is bad.” A less aggressive phrasing might have been “does it have to be that long?”

Yes and no. The largest sections of the book – fully half it’s length – are spells, magic items, and a gigantic section of monsters. I could easily chop the heck out of the magic items. I think I still need the 60,000 words (!!) of spells, since they’re core to at least five character classes, maybe more. The monsters could be reduced to “early challenges, a few big dogs, and if you want more monsters, make ’em yourself or buy this New Extra Volume!”

I’m loathe to do this, but it could be done.

I’ve never really asked for art before, so I’m going to post some art direction notes here and ask for reactions from artists as to whether this is the right kind of direction. Is this enough information? Is it too much? Does it get your juices flowing, or stifle creativity?

Art notes: Chapter 2 Core Concepts

Art Types

Full-page art.
These facing-page illustrations should tell a story.
Insert art. These
are small pieces of art that fill white space in the manuscript, frequently
next to a table that does not fill a column.
Column Art. This
is a full-column width, arbitrarily high (can be the entire column) piece of
art that tells a partial story or illustrates a concept found within a few
pages of the artwork. It is used for spacing out text.
Half-page art.
This is a full-page width, arbitrarily high piece of artwork that can be used
either for spacing out text or pushing an important section start to the
beginning of a page.

Art Notes

p. 4
Full page color art.
8.5 x 11, and art should run off the page/fill the entire sheet if possible.
Possible theme: Starting
out on the adventure! Fresh-looking adventurers depart from a safe haven.
Possible composition:
A group of norse-looking adventurers, starting out from a walled city or keep.
The mid distance should look somewhat inviting, and the far distance should be
threatening and dark, with wild woods and a scary sky. If it can be worked in,
mystical elements such as fae, goblins, and maybe a troll should be in the near
distance on the left. On the right, lizardfolk and kobolds, with a dragon
wheeling in the distance.

p. 7
Insert art: 1.5”
wide x 4.25” tall
Possible theme:
scaling, or anything that increases or decreases from up to down.
anything long and narrow!
scaling a ladder or wall. Yggdrasil – the world tree – done
in abstract view. A weapon rack with spears and swords.

p. 9
Insert art: 1.5”
x 2”
Possible themes:
the aftermath of doing something difficult
Possible composition:
A dented or pierced helm, Viking-style (please, no horns)

p. 16
Column Art. 3.5”
wide x 9.5” tall.
Possible theme:
avoiding a disaster by great effort. NOT avoiding a calamity. Calling on
powerful forces (magic or the divine) to help bring victory.
Possible compositions:
A dragon vaporizing one adventurer as another ducks behind a shield or other
cover. A powerful faerie casting a glamour or destructive spell on a group of adventurers.
A warrior in armor holding a glowing sword overhead, which is being struck by
lightning; a hint of Thor in the clouds providing the lightning would not go
Special Note on p.
 These two pieces of artwork could be pushed together into one piece that would cross over the book binding into each other, making a single wide piece of artwork.

p. 17
Column Art. 3.5”
wide x 9.5” tall
Possible theme:
avoiding a disaster by great effort. NOT avoiding a calamity. Calling on
powerful forces (magic or the divine) to help bring victory.
Possible compositions:
A dragon vaporizing one adventurer as another ducks behind a shield or other
cover. A powerful faerie casting a glamour or destructive spell on a group of adventurers.
A warrior in armor holding a glowing sword overhead, which is being struck by
lightning; a hint of Thor in the clouds providing the lightning would not go
Special Note on p.
These two pieces of artwork could be pushed together into one piece
that would cross over the book binding into each other, making a single
wide piece of artwork.

I’m looking for links and pointers to any of the following things

  • Verified public domain black and white and color with fantasy themes.
  • Images that you own personally but are willing to donate
  • Images that you own personally and are willing to defer payment on until a crowdfunding event at a later date

In the second two cases, I’d be looking for a non-exclusive use licence. Go ahead and sell it to someone else if you want. If I actively commission a work (which again would be post-funding or under the premise of deferred compensation), exclusivity would be negotiable on a case-by-case basis.

Anyway, my general philosophy is that you can’t eat exposure, but you can certainly die of it. So I want to pay my artists. In fact, I insist on it. But reality, for the moment, suggests I rely on public domain and donated art as placeholders, eventually to be replaced as I can afford based on crowdfunding.

And the sooner I can start working with actual images, the better.

Thanks for any help!