ISBN and Barcode

A Sample ISBN Barcode and Pricing code
                                   A Sample ISBN Barcode and Pricing code

So, as I mentioned, I just purchased my first 10 ISBNs (international standard book number) on behalf of Gaming Ballistic. I also bought 6 bar-codes, which have to be purchased separately,

apparently. I was tempted to get a whole bunch of either, but right now, I can only see my way to three releases – Dungeon Grappling, The Book of Heroes (for Dragon Heresy), and The Book of Deeds (also for Dragon Heresy).

You need a different bar code and ISBN for each type of book, even if the content is the same, is what I’m gathering here. So for Dungeon Grappling, I’ll need a unique ISBN for both eBook and PDF versions, maybe. It seems if you select “Digital” for medium, you can select both ePUB and PDF. If you select eBook, you get one choice – “Electronic Book Text.”

So, while it appears I might be able to use a common ISBN for my PDF and my eBook, I suspect that’s a bad idea. Especially since they will be different – the eBook will be a one-column easy-read layout for small screens. PDF will be basically “you could print and read this if you wanted to.”

So there may well be some choice involved here, and for my first few products, I’m erring on the side of proliferation, to ensure I don’t bollux it up.

That means I dropped $250 on the 10 ISBNs, and another $138 for six (6) barcodes.

Required ISBN Information

There’s a LOT of information you can enter when assigning a title to an ISBN. There is some information you must enter. I’ve tried to list these below, in case others find themselves where I am.

The information you enter is in four sections at the Bowker website. Continue reading “ISBN Navigation – Musts and Wants”

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.

A bit of bullet-point news, because I have a review of Dungeon Fantasy 19 I want to write.

Gaming Ballistic is now Gaming Ballistic, LLC


Anticipating a real product with real sales, and not wanting to lose my house, ever, over a game, I have stood up a company for the purpose of selling the Dragon Heresy RPG, running the Kickstarter, and other commercial transactions. I’ve got an Employee ID number and everything. And a Linkedin posting that had all of my contacts thinking I quit my day job.

This is a big step for me, though the company isn’t terribly important to anyone else until it starts selling something.

Look and Feel


The Gaming Ballistic blog will be undergoing some major changes. 

For one thing, I’m getting a new look, and a new template. It will be responsive, which should help those on mobile devices. It will also be migrating to its own domain, which I secured a while ago.

The masthead and look will be refined, as well. I’m working with a friend and colleague, and we’ve already got at least one thing set up – two versions of the new masthead.

Here’s one of them:

There’s a 3d6 version as well. 

I have plans for both 3d6 and 2d20 versions and how to use them. 


Dragon Heresy Progress


I’ve been doing a lot of blocking and tackling recently, but I’ll admit I hit a willpower bump that’s been a challenge.

Still, I got some good feedback from a new source on The Book of Heroes, and have incorporated that feedback.

All of the core elements – other than the monster fluff-text descriptions – are now first-draft complete, and the monster lead-ins are slowly but surely getting done.

I got near on 20,000 words of text about my fae from one of my playtesters with a passion fr them, and am in the process of editing that to be in my voice and what I think is slightly better presentation of the information.

I’ve reached out to my hopefully-editor with some business conversations and scheduling.

Kickstarter: Later or Sooner


So. The Dungeon Fantasy Kickstarter is on track to probably hit $120-140K by the end, assuming it doesn’t accelerate – which it might. SJG is being very responsive and I’m learning a lot from watching them. I’m in on this one for $155. The Box Set ($50), the PDFs ($35), and a year of Pyramid, which is always useful for me ($70).

On the other hand, the World of Aetaltis, which is a new setting for 5e, did not get that “Day 1 boost” that seems so critical. I’ve backed this one, and am interested in its progress, for somewhat selfish reasons. The KS goal is about $70K, which as I’ve said before is about right for a hardback book with good art, pro layout and editing, and which pays market rates to writers and editors. I’m in at the “PDF-only” level, for $85.

On the one hand, both Kickstarters seem to confirm that for hardback books or sets, you get some serious cash coming in per backer – about $85-$100. That’s good.

Aetaltis is bringing in about 2,300-3,000 per day, which would get to the goal in time if it’s linearized (which it’s not usually – Kickstarters don’t always work that way). The DF boxed set is bringing in an average of $7500 per day, but a ton of that came in on Day 1 and 2, and since then they’re in the $2,500-4,500 range.

Here’s my worry: DF and Dragon Heresy are both the same basic type of game. Complete RPGs. Aetaltis is a setting-only game, though with high production values. Mine will be 5e/OGL-based (good for me, I think), is a complete game in two volumes, and has a setting as well.

But right off the tail of the DF Kickstarter, when a lot of my user base is, I think, shared?

That makes me think that my planned October launch date would be unwise. November and December aren’t BAD, but January seems much better. Plus, it gets out of the holiday season, which might put a strain on my editor. 

(Did I mention I’m just giddy with who I think I managed to hire? No? Well . . . more on that some other day.)

It would also give a bit of a breather to ensure that the book is as good as it can be before it goes to him. And with all the tasks required to get the Kickstarter stood up, including the very, very terrifying combo of “Kickstarter Video” and “European/non-US shipping”, a bit more time would be good.

I think it’s time for another poll.

The To-Do List


I’m really down to the wire here. I’ve got some rewriting/organization work to do on the NPC motivations section for The Book of Deeds. I have a bunch of monsters to knock down, which involves 250-500 words of fluff text each. I may wind up culling the monster list quite a bit – I’ve got a LOT of types of critters, and a LOT of sub-types, which at 350 words per entry could add an unforgivable 75,000 words to an already-full manuscript.

Culling the list and offering up the balance as a separate add-on later might make sense. I’d not nix any critters crucial to the game, of course, but there are always monsters that really don’t need to be there, and there are monsters and other foes that do.

Then there’s a short list of optional rules that I want to include. I have an option for fighter-types that I really like. I want to include rules for different-size shields as options. I want to include an option to make Dexterity and Strength both matter all the time for combat. One or two more things.

I think I also need to make a few changes to the sea travel rules.

And a real examination of the Domain Management rules that +Alexander Macris gave me permission to borrow and convert to SRD5.1. Got to make sure they’re sensible (and any nonsense is my doing in the conversion, not his).

But it’s starting to look like the monster mash, followed by tweaking, and that’s very good.

I’ve also started to narrow down print options for hardbacks. It really will depend on backer count. It’s also last on the list, or close to it, for funding, but I went from despondent (Lulu wanted $65 per book even at quantities of 1,200), to cautiously optimistic (Drive Thru RPG was a lot better), to very optimistic. PrintNinja and Thomson-Shore both look very strong for smyth-sewn, full-color hardbacks. Thomson-Shore apparently has a partner printer in the UK that might make inside-the-EU printing and shipping cost far less than otherwise. Shipping can run $20-90 per book done unwisely, since it’s shipping, customs, and taxes. If I can get it printed in Europe with a sufficient number of orders, it’s totally win-win. And I WANT to do that.

I’ve initiated conversations with Backerkit, and confirmed reasonable prices (1% of raised funds, plus 5% of any last-minute “upsells” people do for add-ons), but they’re a data management service. Thomson-Shore also does Kickstarter help, and they’re looking very, very promising as a nearly one-stop shop.

Still. That video. Shudder. I do have nice maps, courtesy of Cornelia Yoder. I have a book laid out with art holes, so I can show backers that the risks of not getting a playable game are very low.

Anyway, the next few weeks are nose-to-the-grindstone time for writing, editing, and tweaking. And then it’s making the arrangements to get the thing out the door. 

One thing that I’ve seen a few times here and there is surprise that the goal for the project is set so high. One commenter even likened it to exortion – buy our stuff or GURPS will get it’s throat cut, mwa ha ha!

Maybe I would have thought that, too, once. But my recent examination of pricing for just the books for my own kickstarter and RPG project has changed my mind. I actually expect my own Kickstarter to require more than the DF one, because while +Sean Punch has estimated about 250,000 words for the GURPS DF compilation, mine is 400,000 words (roughly 100,000 of which are monsters – the SRD5.1 has a lot of monsters in it, and I’ve not finished culling them out).

Anyway, the final books come in at 408 pages. That’s 612 words per page, smearing it out over every page. As an interesting note, that’s almost exactly the wordcount per page of The Book of Heroes. So I feel like I’m not in crazy town.

But I digress. These things are expensive to put together, because very clearly, SJG is working off of their experience on “how not to get utterly floored by your own Kickstarter.”

They have limited stretch goals, zero commits to “out of the box extras,” and have given the shipping costs to Backerkit to manage as an extra. They have not done the project KS until the writing was done, and maybe the layout too. Art is still being worked.

This is all fantastic news. It drastically limits the risks for the vendor, and that means the risks to the customer are also minimized.


And I’ll say it again, though +Phil Reed has said it frequently and well: International shipping sucks. It’s terrifying and terrifyingly expensive. Sending individual books overseas can easily be multiples of the cost per book. The only way around that is either to to have them printed and distributed from within the target market zone, or to ship pallets of books to try and average out the shipping. Both require perfect knowledge of who’s ordering your product, and are not predictable ahead of time.

But let’s get back to it. In a KS, or any business, you should seek to cover all of your costs – including “sunk” costs like staff writing and editing, because if Sean isn’t writing DF, he’s writing something else. Also, writing and editing are two different jobs, best handled by two different people. There’s a reason I’m going to outsource editing to an industry pro and pay him, in his own words “an adult wage.”

Anyway, let’s do this:

Note: I’m making lots of very specific assumptions here about quality, quantity, and form factor. Can a game be published for less than what my numbers suggest? Sure! But read on, and you’ll see what I’ve done is provide “middle of the road” estimates for things.

  • Writing and editing each range from 3-8 cents per word. Lets book 5 cents each.
  • Indexing is ballparked at $10 per 1,000 words.
  • Art is ballparked at $250 per full-page, but could be much more, for full color. You want 1 piece of art every 2-4 pages. Or at 625 words per page, about 1 piece of art every 1,800 words. Each piece in my experience tends to average about 1/3 page: $80.
  • Layout is harder to find benchmarks for – let’s say a penny per 200 words. That may be wrong.

So for a 250/400K project, you’re looking at 
$25,000 and $40,000 in writing and editing
$2500 or $4000 in indexing
$1250 or $2,000 in layout
$14,000 or $20,000 in artwork – oh, add another flat grand or two for cover art, which is more expensive.

That means that for first order, costs to make a 250,000-word PDF ready to send to a printer is about $43,000, and for my project it might be $66,000. Roughly a dollar for every 6-7 words of the project!

And that’s not including printing costs. But my reading of things is that to cover taxes, Kickstarter fees, and backerkit, plus incidentals that come up during the project, you’d best raise at least 1.5x your projected costs. Maybe double.

Note this gets the smaller project – with no extras, to about $65,000 with no printing costs. Price breaks for this sorta stuff don’t even start until you hit 1,000 books. And this is not one book, but five, and smaller.  But using the PrintNinja estimator, 1000 x 8×10 books at 128 pages, softcover perfect bound are $5 per book, and down to $3 per book if you order 2,000. Less then $2 for 5,000 copies. So let’s go with $10 to print all five books. So $10,000 just to get some scale for the books alone. Then there’s the adventurer screen and dice. No idea there. But based on the price point for the game and PDFs, I’m going to estimate $10-14 as total cost of materials, including the box. So cost of materials, including gross-up for fees and incidentals, will run $30,000-$55,000.

So look – $95K to $120K target for the DF boxed set, “just” to get 2,000 copies made in a fashion that the customers are demanding[1] – high production value, boxed set, all in.

So don’t be surprised by requests for $100-200,000 for getting a game launched in a way that emulates the Big Dogs. If I were to be selling a 304-page hardback with 188,000 words in it, expect costs on the order of $41,000, and a Kickstarter ask of $60-80K per book.

Note I expect long-time industry pros with go-to contacts in the industry – and especially in China – might be able to do better. But my point here is that there’s nothing extortionate about the funding level here, and in fact is likely just the bare requirement to make money on the project. Note how I left off “profit” from the equation? That’s not a valid business  model. So whatever savings a set of experienced pros can do off of my numbers, that goes into “yes, this is a viable investment we should repeat.”

Edited to Add: Now, consider what happens when you add shipping into the mix. Media mail for a single book is the only well-known quantity. If your package is a book that weighs 4lbs or less, you can get anywhere in the USA for $5. If it’s more, you can do some sort of flat-rate box.


Internationally, it’s a total crapshoot, and ranges from $20-90 per package. so let’s take a lower-end but not unrealistic value. $30. For 1,500 backers, you would have to add on another $45,000 x fees and taxes (KS revenue is taxed as income) – probably another $60K, because you don’t want to take a bath on shipping. That turns an average requirement for print-only from about $65 to about $105 pretty fast. If you didn’t account for it, it can take your notional profit, or your salary for writing and editing your own work, to zero pretty fast, and it’s easy to see how a run-away successful kickstarter from the revenue perspective can bankrupt a company.

[1] Buy in for D&D5 is something like over $100 for PHB, DMG, and Monster Manual. The Dracula Dossier and Delta Green Agent’s Handbook are ful-color, high value books. All are going like gangbusters in their market. The market demands high quality books. 

This one’s unusual, because I didn’t do it. My Aesir-level playtester +Luke Campbell loves fae and sidhe and all things funky, and he ran a playtest on his desk, taking a notionally high-challenge sidhe – not the rulers, but still powerful – of the Fey and pitting them against four 8th level characters with a typical party makeup. I’ll just post his words and you can see how this turns out.

Pre-fight Commentary by Luke

I volunteered to help write up some of the monsters.  Oh whatever did I get myself into?  But it has been a real blast, even if a lot of work.

I’ve tried to get a set of antagonists and actors in the world that are evocative of real-world beliefs about mythical and legendary creatures with a Norse focus (although with influence from all around Europe).

Recently, I’ve been working on the upper level fae, what the Norse would have called alfar.  These were powerful beings, almost divine in some ways, hidden spirits of nature that were set apart from and (in some ways) above men.

One question during the design process is figuring out how much of a challenge an encounter with one of these beings would be.  So I took a typical alfar (or fairie, or sidhe, or whatever one might call it) and set it against the archetypal party of a fighter, cleric, thief, and wizard. Then I tweaked the fae’s design parameters, and ran it again.  And again.  And again.  Our poor party was caught in a Groundhog day-like cycle.  Sometimes it was a cakewalk.  Sometimes they got curb stomped.

I finally got dialed in on a design I liked, of about the desired challenge rating, which I could use as a base for ever more powerful variants as the fairie nobles and ladies acquired power and mystical connections to their archetype.  I reported back on some of my findings to the playtest group, and Douglas asked me to do another test with some minor rule tweaks.  So I did, and kept careful note of what happened.  In the process, my generic party acquired names, and perhaps a bit of personality, as did their wily foe.

Then I sent my notes to our playtest group – and here they are. A blow-by-blow breakdown of the fight, in all its gory detail.


Prelude

Our setting: my computer desk … err, a windswept ledge crawling along the sheer cliff-sides of the Frostharrows.  The path has just passed under an overhang (that looks oddly like a computer monitor), widens out to a ledge of relatively flat ground with good footing about 40 feet across with a sheer cliff plunging down to the right and jumbled scree and boulders to the left (difficult terrain, odd that they are in the shape of keyboards)), before turning 90 degrees and continuing along the front of the desk, err, mountain for about 100 feet before turning again.  A clever person with sharp eyes might notice a narrow path between the keyboards – um, scree and boulders.  Just before the path turns, sits a large boulder (mouse), and beyond there are large rocky outcrops (books and piles of paper) around which the path winds, with broken ground and difficult footing.  The boulder is where Fairlane will be sitting when first encountered.  The characters will be represented by lego minifigs, and distances measured with a ruler, using 1 inch = 5 feet.

The wind blows chill, bringing with it a light dusting of snow and making eerie howling sounds in the canyons.  The sun has risen, with the crisp light of late morning that you get in the mountains.  Since our heroes are on the east face, they have had daylight for several hours, and got an early morning start.  Although chilly, once started the hiking has invigorated and warmed them although they are likely to stop soon for refreshments.

Fairlane has spied the party approaching – trespassing in his hold! But they might make fine tools with which to harass his neighbor-enemy.  As the party rounds the bend, they see an old man, possibly a goat herd (but we know him as Fairlane in disguise) sitting on the bounder, scratching designs in the dirt with a stick.

… and that’s enough for now, until I get down to actually gaming things out.  I may run several tests – previously some were very short when the entire party got charmed and were sent off on a wild goose chase.

Dramatis Personae


Frode the Fighter, Human Fighter (champion) level 8
Str 20 (+5); Dex 13 (+1); Con 17 (+3); Int 9 (-1); Wis 12 (+1); Cha 11 (0)

Vigor 74 (8d10+24); Threat DC 16, Hit DC 27 (+4 from shield); DR 8 (plate armor)

Wounds 20; Control 21

Proficiency +3; Saves: Str +8, Con +5
Skills: Athletics +8, Intimidation +3, Insight +4, Perception +4
Defense fighting style
Second Wind (1/rest): As bonus action, +1d10+8 vigor
Action surge (1/rest): +1 action
Extra attack
Improved critical 1
Remarkable Athlete: +2 to Str, Dex, Con if proficiency doesn’t already apply

Longsword: +8 to hit, 5 ft. 1d8+5 damage (crit 19-20)
Handaxe x 4: +8 to hit, range 20/60, 1d6+5 damage (crit 19-20)

Welch the Wizard, Human Wizard (school of might) level 8

Str 13 (+1); Dex 16 (+3); Con 20 (+5); Int 20 (+5); Wis 14 (+2); Cha 13 (+1)

Vigor 74 (8d6+40); Threat DC 13, Hit DC 24 (+4 with shield spell)

Wounds 21; Control 16

Proficiency +3; Saves: Int +8, Wis +5; Skills: Arcana +8, Investigation +8, History +8, Insight +5

Spell Save 16, Spell Attack +8; Cantrips; Acid Splash (2d10), Mage Hand, Prestidigitation, Mending; 1st (4 slots): Magic Missile (2x2d4), Shield, Sleep (5d8 vigor), Mage Armor; 2nd (3 slots): Continual Flame, Invisibility, Web (2d8+8), Scorching Ray (3x3d6); 3rd (3 slots): Counterspell, Fireball (4d6), Lightning Bolt (4d6), Fly; 4th (2 slots): Black Tentacles (3d6/4d6), Polymorph

Sculpt Spells; Arcane Ward: absorbs 13 damage

Quarterstaff: +4 to hit, 5 ft., 1d8+1 damage; Dagger: +6 to hit, range 20/60, 1d4+3 damage

Ragnar the Rogue, Human Rogue (thief) level 8

Str 15 (+2); Dex 20 (+5); Con 12 (+1); Int 14 (+2); Wis 16 (+3); Cha 9 (-1)

Vigor 51 (8d8+8); Threat DC 15, Hit DC 26; DR 2 (studded leather armor)

Wounds 14; Control 20

Proficiency +3; Saves: Dex +8, Int +5; Skills: Acrobatics +8, Athletics +5, Investigation +5, Perception +6, Stealth +11, Insight +5, Sleight of Hand +8; Tool Proficiencies: Theive’s tools

Sneak Attack +2d6; Cunning Action: Hide, Dash, or Disengage as bonus action; Uncanny Dodge: Use reaction to halve damage from attack; Evasion: 0 damage if Dex save succeeds, half damage otherwise; Fast Hands: bonus action to disarm a trap, open a lock, sleight of hand, use object; Second Story Work: climb at full speed, +5 feet to running jump distance

Rapier: +8 to hit,5 ft., 1d8+5 damage; Dagger: +8 to hit, range 20/60, 1d4+5 damage; Shortbow: +8 to hit, range 80/320, 1d6 damage (crit 18-20)

Carr the Cleric, Human Cleric of Justice and War level 8

Str 20 (+5); Dex 11 (0); Con 18 (+4); Int 12 (+1); Wis 20 (+5); Cha 14 (+2)

Vigor 75 (8d8+24); Threat DC 14, Hit DC 25 (+4 from shield)

Wounds 21; Control 18

Proficiency +3; Saves: Wis +8, Cha +5; Skills: Insight +8, Religion +4, Medicine +8, Persuasion +5

Spell Save 16, Spell attack +8; Cantrips: Light, Guidance, Resistance, Mending; 1st (4 slots): Divine Favor, Heroism, Bless, Cure Wounds (1d12+8), Detect Evil, Guiding Bolt (4d6), Protection from Evil; 2nd (3 slots): Magic Weapon, Zone of Truth, Enhance Ability, Lesser Restoration, Prayer of Healing (6 x (1d8+8)), Protection from Poison; 3rd (3 slots): Righteous Fury, Remove Curse, Dispel Magic, Protection from Energy, Magic Circle; 4th (2 slots): Banishment, Locate Creature, Freedom of Movement

Channel Divinity (2/rest); Destroy Undead (challenge <= 1); Judge of Character: advantage to determine falsehood; Righteous Arms: Use channel divinity for maximum damage for 5 turns; Improved Heroism: add +11 to vigor when using heroism spell; Divine Strike: extra attack as bonus action

Mace: +8 to hit, 5 ft. 1d6+5 damage; Shield: 3 hits

Fairlane the Fairie Freeholder


Medium fey, chaotic neutral
Speed 30 ft.
STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
13
20
15
16
16
20
+1
+5
+2
+3
+3
+5
Defenses
Wound Thresholds
Threat DC
15
Morale
Injury
KO
Death
Hit DC
26
0-4
5-8
9-17
18+
DR
0
Control Thresholds
Vigor
112
Grab
Grapple
Restr.
Incap.
Vigor Dice
15d10+30
0-4
5-9
10-18
19+
* DR +1 to +5 with mage armor.
Proficiency +3
Saving Throws. Con +5, Cha +8
Skills. Acrobatics +8, Deception +8, Insight +6, Perception +6, Persuasion +8
Damage Resistances. Bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from non-magical and non-ferrous weapons
Condition Immunities. Charmed, sleep
Languages. Sylvan, Common
Challenge 8 (3900 XP)
Innate Spellcasting. The fairie’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 16, spell attack modifier +8). The fairie can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components, as a 10th level sorcerer:
  • cantrips: dancing lights, mage hand, mending, message, minor illusion, prestidigitation
  • 1st level (4 slots): detect magic, mage armor, sleep, shield
  • 2nd level (3 slots): hold person, suggestion
  • 3rd level (3 slots): counterspell, major image
  • 4th level (3 slots): arcane eye, polymorph
  • 5th level (2 slots): creation
The fairie has 10 sorcery points, and the Heightened Spell, Quickened Spell, and Extended Spell metamagic abilities.
Magic Resistance. The fairie has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects. This power does not work if the sidhe is in contact with iron or steel.
Trackless. A fairie leaves no tracks. Although it has a normal scent, it leaves no scent trail. Difficult terrain is treated as normal terrain.
Fleet Footed. The fairie can take a dash or disengage action as a bonus action. Climbing does not cost the fairie extra movement.
Elf-Stroke. Any physical attack by the fairie, unarmed, melee, or ranged, deals an extra 10 (3d6) necrotic damage as vigor. This can be delivered as a touch attack, if no weapon damage is to be caused. DR subtracts from weapon damage first, and then necrotic damage.
Actions
Multiattack. The fairie makes two attacks.
Fey Charm. The fairie targets one creature that it can see within 30 feet. If the target can see the fairie, it must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or be magically charmed. The charmed creature regards the sidhe as a trusted friend to be heeded and protected. Although the target isn’t under the fairie’s control, it takes the fairie’s requests or actions in the most favorable way it can.
Each time the fairie or its allies do anything harmful to the target, it can repeat the saving throw, ending the effect on itself on a success. Otherwise, the effect lasts 24 hours or until the fairie dies, is on a different plane of existence from the target, or ends the effect as a bonus action. If the target’s saving throw is successful, it is immune to the fairie’s Fey Charm for the next 24 hours.
Fey Veil. As long as it maintains concentration, or until it attacks or casts a spell, the fairie is hard to notice. It can make Dexterity (Stealth) rolls in plain sight, at a bonus of +8. There is no need to roll a Dexterity (Stealth) check for creatures with a passive perception score of 21 or less, they will not notice the fairie without actively looking.
Shortbow, Magical. Ranged Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, range 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: 3 (1d6) piercing damage plus Elf-Shot ability (critical on 18-20).
Shortsword, Magical. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) slashing damage plus Elf-Stroke ability.
Change Shape. The fairie magically polymorphs into Medium or smaller beast, humanoid, or fey of its challenge rating or less; or back into its true form. It retains its Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, its Vigor, its traits and actions (except for armed melee attacks, if the form lacks hands for holding weapons). Otherwise, it takes on the physical (but not mental or magical) traits of the creature it changes into. The fairie’s equipment can polymorph with it, remain carried or worn, or fall to the ground, at the fae’s option. A fairiecannot polymorph if in contact with iron.

Fairlane is scheming against some of his neighbors, and plans to use guile to get at them.



Play of the Fight

The kids are in bed, the chores done, and the pythons fed.  Lets do this.

The fairie casts Mage Armor on himself well before the heroes reach him, expecting there may be trouble, and using a level 5 spell slot to gain DR 5.  The wizard has long ago cast mage armor on himself using a 4th level slot, and then took a short rest before setting out for the day to recover that slot.

Our heroes approach the old man sitting on the boulder, cleric and fighter in the front, rogue and wizard in the second row. The old man, actually the fairie, attempts to charm the fighter, figuring him to be the weakest-willed among the group (turns out he’s right).  The fighter rolls a 12+1=13 for his save, and fails to meet the DC of 16.  Frode the fighter doesn’t know why, but he feels he can trust this man.  The party reaches the fairie.

“Greetings, good sir,” says the cleric.

“And a good day to you, my lords,” replies the fairie.  “What brings you to these lands?”  The fairy now tries to charm Ragnar the rogue.  Ragnar rolls a 15+3 = 18, easily beating the DC.  He feels a cloud pass over his mind before he shakes it off.

“What trickery is this!” shouts Ragnar.  “He is not what he seems, he is trying to befuddle me!”

“Nae,” says Frode.  “You must be mistaken.  We can trust this man.”

“Fool!  He has already taken you.”  Ragnar retorts.

During this exchange, the fairie tries to charm the wizard.  Welch the wizard rolls 10+5 = 15, and succumbs to the fairies charms.  “Ragnar,” Welch calmly explains, “there is no need to get paranoid about this old, harmless man.  Likely, he needs our help.”

“Not you, too!’  cries Ragnar.

And now it is Carr the cleric’s turn. The save is 5+8 = 13, not good enough.  “Ragnar, be reasonable” says Carr.

Ragnar looks at his companions wildly.  There is only one thing to do – kill the vile sorcerer trying to enchant his friends.  Quick as an ermine, he slips around past the front of the line, draws his rapier, and tries to impale the fae.  His attack roll is 12+8 = 20, threatening the fairie.  Fairlaine ducks just in time as the blade whistles over his head, taking 3+5 = 8 vigor, with 104 remaining.

“Help!” pleads Fairlaine.  “He’s mad!  Won’t someone help a poor old man?”

Time to roll initiative.  In order of initiative Fairlaine (25), Carr (15), Ragnar (14), Welch (10), and Frode (9).

Fairlane waits, preferring to let the party fight each other rather than risking his charm by attacking.

Carr will not let that scoundrel Ragnar hurt this poor defenseless old man, but neither does he wish to hurt is friend.  Grappling it is!  Carr steps around behind Fairlaine and tries to tackle Ragnar.  He rolls 9+8 = 17, threatening him and causing 8+5 = 13 vigor as Ragnar avoids Carr’s lunge.

Ragnar disengages and slips into the rock fields, then uses his bonus action to hide.  He rolls 3+11 = 14.

Welch tries to spot Ragnar.  He rolls 13+2 = 15.  Good enough, but he just spent his action peering around.

Frode tries to spot Ragnar.  He rolls 1+4=5.  No good.  Frode steps out between Fairlaine and the scree jumble to try to protect his new friend from attacks coming from that direction, if needful.

Fairlaine rolls 2+6 = 8.  Not good enough to see Ragnar.

Carr doesn’t have to roll, his passive perception is 15.  Fearing his friend is under the influence of some malign magic (ha!) he tries Protection from Evil, which would give Ragnar an extra save (at advantage, no less) if that were the case. “Ziu, protect this man!”  Of course, Ragnar is the only one not affected by fell magic, so nothing happens other than Carr expending a 1st level spell slot.

Ragnar pops up and looses an arrow at Fairlaine.  He rolls 7+8 = 15 and 2+8 = 10, and takes the 15.  This just barely threatens the fae, but it’s enough.  Damage roll 3+2+3 = 8.  Fairlaine dives aside at the last moment, losing 16 vigor and leaving him with 88.  Ragnar takes his bonus action to hide again: 13+11 = 24.  He vanishes like smoke in the wind (well, better than smoke in the wind.  Smoke tends to hang around and be visible for a while).

Welch drops a web spell on Ragnar’s last known location.  Since Ragnar didn’t move much, he may be caught.  The spell rolls its attack: 9+8=17, and Ragnar takes 5+6+8=19 vigor as he avoids the sticky strands.  Ragnar now has 19 vigor left.

Frode looks for Ragnar.  20+4 = 24.  Just barely, he sees Ragnar, crouching behind a rock, with webs all about him.  “I’m sorry, my friend, but this is for your own good.”  He strides forward, navigates the unstable talus, and tries to grab the rogue.  Welch sculpts his web spell so that Frode can pass through.  Frode rolls 19+8=27 for his attack.  That’s a solid hit.  The damage roll is 6+5=11 – Ragnar backpedals furiously, spending 18 of his remaining 19 vigor in vigorous defense to reduce the control to 2.  Frode has a tenuous grip on Ragnar’s boot.

Fairlaine feigns concern, but does nothing else other than laugh inwardly.

Carr turns to Fairlaine.  “Let me help you, good man.”  He uses a cure wounds spell to allow Fairlaine to recover 3+8=11 vigor.  Fairlaine is now at 99 vigor.

Ragnar starts his turn in the web, so he takes 4+5+8=17 control.  He is now well and truly restrained (19 control, control maximum 20).  Ragnar tries to escape.  His roll is at disadvantage for being restrained.  He rolls 5+8=13 and 3+8=11, so he gets the roll of 11.  Okay, what do you need to roll to threaten a web spell?  It doesn’t say?  I’ll say he needs to meet the spell save DC, which is 16.  Ragnar goes nowhere.

Welch concentrates on his spell.

Frode tries to get a better grip.  He has advantage because Ragnar is restrained.  6+8 and 20+8, for a critical hit with 28.  He causes 12 control.  Ragnar is now incapacitated.

Fairlaine says to Carr “Thank you lord.  But my nerves are still shaking.  Can you spare another?”

Of course, replies Carr, giving Fairlaine another cure wounds spell.  Fairlaine heals another 5+8=13 vigor.  He is now at 102 vigor.

Ragnar can’t do anything.  Technically, he takes more control from the web, but at this point, who’s counting?

Welch concentrates on his spell.  “Do you have him yet?” he asks Frode.

“Not yet” Frode replies, and tries to get Ragnar in a come-along.  Since Ragnar is restrained, I’ll just give Frode an auto-crit.  3+3+5=11 control, for a total of 25 control from Frode alone.  “Now I’ve got him!” exclaims Frode.

“I’m still not quite back to normal” says Fairlaine to Carr.

“Ziu heal you” prays Carr, and Fairlaine recovers 11+8=19 vigor.  He’s now back at his original 112 vigor, and Carr is out of 1st level spells.

“Many thanks,” replies Fairlaine, and then (since he was waiting) activates his fae veil.  He rolls a 13+8=21 on his hide check.

Ragnar does nothing.

Welch drops the web spell.  It is no longer needed.  But where did his new-found friend go?

Frode drags Ragnar out of the rocks and into plain sight.  Then looks around in confusion for the old man he was helping.

Fairlaine realizes he will get no good out of these fools any more.  Might as well dispose of them.  The wizard is most dangerous, so Fairlaine stabs Welch in the back.  17+8=25, 5+8=13.  Fairlaine takes the 25.  This is a solid hit.  Damage is 3+5=8 for the shortsword, and 4+1+4=9 for his elf stroke, for a total of 17.  Welch takes a frantic defense, and suffers a loss of 34 vigor.  He has 40 left.  Since Welch was attacked, he can make a new save against the charm – 13+5=18, and Welch is free!  “What?  Who?  YOU!  FIEND!”

Carr suddenly notices Fairlaine as he tries to stab Welch with his sword.  An attack on his ally, enough to allow another save against the charm.  17+8 = 25.  Carr’s mind unfogs.  Ragnar was right all along!  Carr casts protection from evil on Frode using a second-level slot.  Frode rolls 15+1=16 and 8+1=9, taking the 16.  Frode can see freely now!  He releases Ragnar.

Ragnar hides as a bonus action, rolls a 10+11=21, and disappears behind the boulder Fairlaine was first sitting on.

Welch turns on the fae that just attacked him.  “You worm!  Be a WORM!”  He casts polymorph on Fairlane.  Fairlaine’s Wis save is 16+3=19 and 18+3=21 (remember, he gets advantage on saves vs. all magic).  Both succeed, so he could take either one.  No matter, Fairlaine is not destined to spend the next hour eating dirt.

Frode turns on Fairlaine, his blade flashing.  His first attack is 7+8=15, his second 8+8=16.  Both threaten the fae.  Damage is 3+5 and 4+5, for a total of 17 vigor.  Fairlaine is now at 95 vigor.

Laughing, Fairlaine turns on his veil again.  12+8=20.  Where did he go?

Carr casts Detect Evil using a second level slot.  He now knows where Fairlaine is.  Then he uses his Divine Strike to attack with a bonus action.  14+8=22 to hit, 4+5=9 for damage.  Fairlaine is now at 86 vigor.

Ragnar tries to spot Fairlaine.  19+6=25, That’s more than enough.  Unfortunately, he just used his action trying to find the fae, so he has to wait until next turn to do something.

Welch doesn’t want to waste time trying to look around.  He drops a fireball on his own location (offset a bit to avoid anyone hiding behind the boulder, like Ragnar).  He uses Sculpt Spell to exclude Carr and Frode from the blast.  Fairlane was still right behind Welch, so he is caught in the detonation.  His dex saves are 1+5=6 and 15+5=20.  He takes the 20, and only loses 2+4+6+1=13 vigor.  Fairlaine is now at 73 vigor.

Frode tries to see Fairlaine.  1+1=2.  No dice.  Still, he moves to where he thinks Fairlaine might be.

Fairlaine stabs the wizard again.  14+8=22 and 4+8=12, taking the 22.  Damage is 4+5 and 6+6+4, for 25 total.  Welch has 15 vigor left.  Everyone can see Fairlaine now.

Carr uses a 3nd level slot to cast cure wounds on Welch.  9+10=19 points are cured, and vigor recovery is doubled.  Welch now has 53 vigor.

Fairlain’s back is to Ragnar.  Ragnar darts from behind the boulder and strikes with his rapier.  14+8=22 and 15+8=23 – good enough to hit, and the 23 is a crit.  Damage is 7+7+5 for the rapier, and 4+4+6+6 for sneak attack.  So 39 base damage.  Fairlaine spends 72 of his remaining 73 vigor in frantic defense to cut down the wounds to 3, which are soaked up by the mage armor.

Welch blasts Fairlaine with magic missile.  Does casting a spell within reach of an enemy give the enemy an attack of opportunity?  I’m not going to bother looking it up at this point, and say no.  Fairlaine uses his shield spell as reaction to negate the magic missile.

Frode steps around opposite of Ragnar, Fairlaine is now flanked.  Frode attacks twice, both times at advantage.  18+8=26 and 8+8=16 for the first attack, 2+8=10 and 3+8=11 for the second.  One solid hit, doing 5+5=10 damage.  Fairlaine loses his last vigor point, his mage armor absorbs 5, and he takes 4 wounds.  He rolls an 11+5=16 to avoid demoralization, and succeeds.

Fairlaine doesn’t like his position right now, and uses his bonus action to disengage, strikes at Welch as he leaves, and moves 30 feet away.  His attack roll is 12+8=20, a threat.  Damage is 5+5+6+4+5=25.  Welch has 28 vigor left.

Carr chases Fairlaine down and strikes him twice with his mace (once for his normal action, once for his bonus action).  First strike 4+8=12, second 7+8=15.  The second connects.  Damage is 6+5=11, minus 5 for the mage armor, for 6 wounds.  Fairlaine is critically wounded but rolls a 20+2 on his con save to avoid unconsciousness,  He succeeds, and is only injured.

Ragnar takes a bonus action to dash after Fairlaine, then shanks him in the back with his rapier.  Fairlaine is not flanked or surprised, so Ragnar doesn’t get a sneak attack.  He rolls 14+8=22, good enough.  Damage is 6+5=11, reduced by 5 for mage armor, for 6 wounds.  fairlaine is now at 16 wounds out of 17 wound maximum.  He rolls 18+2=20 to avoid unconsciousness, again succeeding.

Welch lets lose a lightning bolt.  It doesn’t matter whether Fairlaine succeeds or fails his dex save, he’s going to take wounds.  I’ll roll anyway … 16+5 and 4+5, for a save.  But with no vigor left … 4+4+5+2 = 15 wounds.  Reduced by 3 for the mage armor to 12.  Fairlaine is now at 28 wounds, and automatically falls unconscious.  He rolls a 6 to avoid death, and fails.

Post-fight Commentary by Luke

The fight is over.  Fairlaine lost, and lost his life.  But our heroes are pretty banged up.  Ragnar’s vigor is almost entirely depleted, and Welch is at about 1/3 of his normal vigor.  Both Welch and Carr have used up a lot of their spells.

Since it is getting late, I won’t tally up the damage inflicted by each individual right now, but we see that Ragnar’s one sneak attack was the decisive blow that changed the fight around.  The discussion of removing the critical threat range bonus would have meant that it would have been far less devastating.  It would still have been a good, solid blow that would have cost a lot of vigor, but it wouldn’t have been the one attack that mattered the most.

There are probably some rule errors here – misinterpretations, and math mistakes, and so forth.  A number of character choices were probably sub-optimal.  They would have been made in actual game play, too, so I’m not too worried.

D&D is a fun game.  I have many fond memories of playing AD&D in grade school, engaging in epic quests to save the world in Junior High, and sitting around the table with a handful of good friends from the university, laughing, eating pizza, and wrecking carefully imagined worlds with our character’s antics.

Still, when I sit down and think about old AD&D and the newer SRD that more modern versions are based on, there are a number of weird bits that bother me.  They don’t get in the way of a good game, but the model builder and simulationist in me makes me want to fix them, tweak the game until I get a beautiful, consistent framework of rules that is not only fun to play but scales well and does a fair job representing real world antics (albeit with a heroic bias).  What I’m looking for is probably impossible, but can be approached, even if at a distance, to get something less able to break suspension of disbelief.

Dragon Heresy goes some way toward this goal.  By conceptually separating vigor and wounds from hit points, you get rid of a number of bizarre results that come from the traditional conceit of the ever-increasing spiral of hit points at higher levels.  Now your 16th level barbarian doesn’t causally shrug off a sword through his guts, he nimbly sidesteps the blow … for a while, until he gets too tired out.

A neat idea, but does it work in practice?

Yes.  Playing the game is as easy as the traditional SRD, with more dramatic results.  The grappling system, in particular, is a work of genius.  Douglas has done an impressive job putting together this rule set, and his dedication to seeing it published and available to the table-top gaming community is simply inspiring.  It has been my privilege to help in this process, in my own small way.

It is enjoyable seeing the setting develop.  From a nebulous initial concept into a fully fleshed out world.  It is enjoyable to be involved with the creation, working toward a realized world with strong motifs and influences from Nordic culture.  It is enjoyable to be a part of getting the rules and descriptions to evoke a sense of northern pagan Europe in the early middle ages.

And I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.  A world with fae spirits hidden in rocks and hollows, where great and terrible gods occasionally walk the world of men, where brave adventurers set forth in their longships to go raiding and pillaging and exploring in exotic lands.

Douglas did specifically ask me to mention what I don’t like about Dragon Heresy as well as what I do.  They’re minor points, and will not get in the way of having fun, but here are a few additional niggling details that scratch at the back of my brain when I spend too long thinking about things rather than just getting out the dice and gaming:

  • The way ranged combat versus melee combat works is a bit odd, in that an arrow is assumed to cause wounds unless you take a frantic defense, while a sword causes vigor.  I understand the rational behind it – you can’t parry an arrow very easily, but two sets of rules for different kinds of attacks breaks my desire for simplicity.  Is there a way around this?  Maybe, maybe not.  Having been through many rules revisions over the course of the game’s development had me starting out these playtests with a misconception that got fixed when I actually read the more recent set of rules – treat an arrow (or other ranged) attack like a normal vigor-causing attack, but don’t include your proficiency bonus to your hit DC.  This has the advantage of a more consistent conceptual way of handling things, and the disadvantages of requiring keeping track of two different hit DCs for your character depending on circumstances, and of needing to go back an re-write the rules again, and making sure you catch all the places in the text where things need to be changed.  
  • A wimpy goblin with Str 6 and Dex 20 will do massive damage with a shortword since he gets to add his Dex bonus to damage instead of strength.  Weird.  He should do wimpy damage as well, because even though he’s squirly and sneaky he’s still a wimpy goblin of wimpiness.  A gargantuan Str 30 lindorm gets +15 to hit with his massive venom-dripping jaws lined with rows of serrated steak-knife teeth, in addition to any proficieny bonus.  What ever happened to Sinbad gracefully evading the blows of an immense and powerful yet clumsy monster?  I understand there will be an optional rule somewhere about using Dex for all hit bonuses and Str for all damage bonuses, but I don’t know what shape it will take, how it will interact with finesse weapons, or any other details.  Still, it would get around issues I run into when finding a tiny orm gets to add lots of damage to its attack because it has a high Dex and similar confounding events I find as a monster designer.
  • Making monsters big and small leaves me wanting some basic guidance on how attributes and damage scale with size.  Unfortunately, the SRD is inconsistent on this.  Dragon Heresy has done some great things on getting critters to scale better across a vast size range, but its still not perfect.  Of course, getting a truly consistent set of rules would take you so far from the SRD that you probably wouldn’t be playing a D&D-like game any more.
  • I’m not sure armor or shields should impose penalties on Dex bonuses or as much disadvantage as they do on some skill checks.  This is a bit of a case of getting hoisted by my own petard – Douglas asked for ways to keep sheilds from being overwhelming, and I made a bunch of suggestions, and they actually got used.  Perhaps if you have proficiency you can ignore the Dex penalties and disadvantage on ability checks?  I don’t know.  But as it stands you can have a very high Dex character actually get easier to hit if he uses a shield.  You certainly do want to preserve character niches, allowing your viking warrior to have his mail byrnie and shield while the outlaw rogue puts on a more modest apparel and your wizard wise in the ways of seidr to merely be wearing a robe, cloak, and floppy-brimmed hat.

As I said, minor points.

Overall, it’s a good game, fun to play, fun to be involved in the design process.  I look forward to seeing it turned into an actual product, one I can hold in my hand and see displayed on the shelves of game stores, one where I can feel a sense of accomplishment at being involved, in however small a way, in giving back to the community of like-minded gamers that has given me such joy over the years.

Post-fight Commentary by Doug


First, I have to thank Luke for being a ridiculously awesome playtester. He’s written a ton of monsters, is tireless at stress-testing the game, and knows a lot about fey and Nordic mythology, which has been very valuable during the test.

Discussion, then!

Sneak Attack

The discussion over how much damage a sneak attack ought to do, and on what frequency, has been an active one. The relative ease by which a rogue can gain advantage means that they will frequently outdo fighters as damage-dealers. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I have groused about that in the past in certain games – I want to say even Swords and Wizardry, but I might be wrong there – but the two of us have noted that it feels odd and aggravating when it’s way scarier to stand at the line of battle with a rogue than with a fighter. I have zero problem with a rogue on a sneak attack getting a very high burst or effectiveness capability – the ability to halve DR or go straight to wounds or something. He sneaks up on you and sticks a knife in your neck or armpit. 

But toe-to-toe, and on a sustained basis, one should be scared to stand next to a fighter, and not just because he’s got more hit points than you. The switch to vigor and wounds helps this a bit, but only from the defensive end. The fighter can whittle away your vigor and then deal wounds and he has more of his own to lose in the process. But that’s not terribly satisfying; the fighter should be dishing out some hard stuff.

Anyway, we toned it down a bit for Dragon Heresy, but doing some math revealed that some of the benefits I’d given really tipped the scale back to the rogue in a huge way. A few modifications later, and I’ve got an answer I’m satisfied with that does the least violence to the expectations of playing an SRD-based rogue when sliding over to DH, but still caps out the one-turn damage of a rogue to just under that of a fighter at mid-level. Early on, rogues are just better from the sneak; at high levels, fighters can dominate. I’m comfortable with this.

Playtest Artifact


This battle was over before it started, because the Alfar/Sidhe/Fey’s greatest ability is the charm ability, and that was quite successful. Only when Luke clearly and obviously decided to have Fairlane throw down and start a real fight at four-to-one odds did it turn against him. That was a playtest artifact, to be sure, but a deliberate one. A “real” GM and circumstance should have the faerie continue to plague the party, acting as friend while trying to set them up to get horribly killed. For fun.

Under the Hood


I hope this extensive example gives some insight into where Dragon Heresy is going. You can see the new monster stat-block, the interaction of wounds and vigor, and some of the other mechanical differences – shields, Threat DC and Hit DC, and other things.

Ranged vs Melee Combat


I think the latest rules resolve this. You roll hits the same way vs the same numbers – you have the same Threat DC for ranged and melee in nearly every case. You only get your increased Hit DC against arrows, though, if you have a shield or something else you can interpose (a Monk can do it with the right ability, for example). But you don’t get to parry them, and sidestepping and dexterity-based avoidance is rolled into your Threat DC. If you do have a shield, it enables your Hit DC, much like sword-on-sword, and with the same rules and targets.

The lower damage for arrows that you see on the weapon chart is a direct outgrowth of this – vs no-shield foes, the easier hits mean higher damage output, and I wanted to keep it balanced. You do get an expanded crit range for arrows over other attacks, though.

DEX and STR based damage


I’m with Luke on distinguishing between attack (DEX) and damage (STR). But that’s not the official SRD way to do things. I’ll write it last, because it’s an optional rule, I’ll offer up a way to just have DEX be the to-hit modifier, and STR be the damage one. That will also get into an optional rule for higher STR bows doing more damage – the draw weight effect. 

Optional! But it’s a nudge towards plausible verisimilitude for those that care.

Armor and Shields and DEX, Oh my


By now, if you haven’t seen the videos of people exercising and doing all sorts of things in full plate and other heavy armor then you might not care about this. But really, instead of armor being classed as having DEX penalties just for it’s type (light/medium/heavy), there should probably be a factor that says “this armor is heavy, and you take a DEX penalty for every N points of STR your Strength is below Y value.” You might split proficiency into armors that require extensive fitting and buckling to assemble (splint, plate, half-plate, and maybe scale) vs armor you just wear like clothing. But to be good as armor, it needs to move. Armors that don’t move well are a real drag, and would be a good point of differentiation.

I like this concept, even played with a bit (and every armor in DH has a Strength value now) to put the hooks in place to do something like this. Ultimately, I settled for minor tweaks to the SRD way. 

But I do like the concept that if you want a full DEX bonus for full plate, you need STR 18, and each 2 points below that removes -1 from a prospective DEX bonus (just making numbers up here). So your typical STR 16, DEX 14, CON 15 starting fighter type that found a suit of full plate would have a natural DEX bonus of +2, which would be cut down to +1 by his Strength. This would grow to +2 when he got stronger, but no higher unless he also improves his DEX.

A STR 12, DEX 20 archer that found the same armor would start with a natural DEX bonus of +5, but being 6 points under the STR rating would cut that down to +2 as well.

Make the STR requirement 5 + Weight/5, for example, for armor.

I do still like limiting DEX bonuses for shields, though. It’s a 7-8 square foot chunk of wood (more or less) strapped or gripped in one hand, both encumbering the hand and taking it out of play for fine work. It’s somewhat awkward and harder to move around object with it than without it, impacting Stealth.

But Luke and I are in agreement in principle on this – I do not like the extreme reduction in DEX and mobility caused by the type/class of armor being worn. I left it as-is, though, because of the reach of the concept. It impacts class balance, feat choices, and bounded accuracy for the classes. Giving full bonuses would make various armors insanely good – if you can get +5 DEX bonus with DR 8 plate, you’re nigh-unstoppable. 

Maybe that’s OK. It’s certainly hard to damage a guy in properly made full plate.

Parting Shot

Once again, thanks to Luke for such a huge playtest and full-detail report. 

I hope that this provides a good view into what Dragon Heresy will feel like to play, and hope it gives a reason to back my Kickstarter when it shows up.

Cheers!

We finished up the clearing of the village from last game. I’m not going to do a full session report, because I’m a bit burned out at the moment. Not in a bad way, but if you’ve been keeping track of what I’ve been up to, you’ll see that the game last night came at the end of a frantic week.

An awesome week, true. But frantic.

So, what happened in the game?

The Village is Secure

The group picked up at least one PC stronger than we left off last game. We had all 1st level characters, or maybe 1 second level, but mostly 1st level. We had

  1. Sunshine, a Monk. Low DR from Unarmored Defense, uses an axe and martial asskicking
  2. Adaemis the Servitor, Cleric of the Light. He was created before I had full domains so he used the SRD5.1 straight out of the book, and that’s fine too. Any domain that can be associated with a Norse god or goddess can probably be shoehorned into the setting. Chain mail (DR 6), spear, shield, and the usual compliment of healing and damaging spells.
  3. Graves Battleborne, a fighter. Chain mail (DR 6) and a glaive. He uses the reach to very good effect, usually. 
  4. Jack Redwald, Ranger. Leather Armor (DR 1), rapier, longbow. Very good tracker, good stealth, perception, Insight, and Animal handling. He and Adaemis made most of the key spotting rolls this game.
  5. Yuri is our Warlock. Quarterstaff, dagger, and studded leather, but who cares when you have Eldritch Blast. More on that later.
  6. Tomas (Tom Rakewell). Rogue/Thief. Rapier, dagger, shortbow. Stealthiest of the group.
So the party started out looting the bodies of the dead Lizardfolk shaman, and they found a key on him. Almost immediately thereafter, they found a locked chest, and the key fit it. There was also a bunch of blacksmithing raw materials. Total loot about 473 gp. 
There was discussion about making hide armor from the lizardfolk skin, since they have DR 3. The group correctly identified the likely reaction of any and all lizardfolk that see such armor, but then, lizardfolk eat people, so I’m not sure there’s going to be much “Coexist” going on here. I think they did eventually decide to skin the guy.
There was also some sort of discussion and die roll about what happened when they killed the shaman, and Tom (I think; it might have been Jack) rolled a 1 on History, which is the skill used to get information on humanoid and civilized groups. We decided that he was absolutely certain that all of the lizardfolk and kobolds were spiritually bound to the shaman, and when they killed him, any remaining would just up and die. 
Certain. He must have read it at a scribe-site on EteraNet or something, and EteraNet is thoroughly fact-checked (WodenFact certified) and never wrong. So to quote Lieutenant Gorman from Aliens: “The village is secure!”

The only houses they hadn’t dealt with were the four village houses to the northeast on the map. The one labeled 10 was unusual in that it did not seem to have an adjoining field, but was set away from the main square. The PCs didn’t know this, but it was the ranger/scout of the village, who liked to live away from things, but wasn’t a farmer. 

Adaemis and Jack, I think, both noticed that the house was sealed to be light-tight, and the right kind of rolls provided that it seemed quite similar to the treatment the Inn/Tavern had been given to keep light out when Kobolds were home.

Adaemis passes along this warming. But no, no. The village is secure. Tom just opens the door and walks in. Two kobolds rush him, the other wakes up groggily. He backs out frantically, and we’re treated to the lovely spectacle of a STR 9 rogue trying to hold the door against two ST 7 kobolds.

His fellow team-mates stand back and ask him if he really needs help. After all, the village is secure. Perhaps he’s dealing with ghosts? Should the Cleric try and turn undead?

Guys! Guys! A little help? Please!

From what? The village is secure, after all.

Empty Featureless Plain

Anyway, at this point, one of our eagle eyed characters – I seem to recall Adaemis rolled a 20 on damn near every perception check that game – noted that a fully-armed lizard man had stuck his head out of House 11, some 135 yards (about 400 feet) away. Within longbow range. Jack fires an arrow at it, and the lizard-warrior uses his reaction to simply brush the arrow out of the air with his shield.

He and one other lizard man emerge, form up two abreast, and start dashing into combat.

We decide that three PCs would make mincemeat out of the kobolds, as they let the door open, the kobolds rush out into the sun, gain disadvantage, and are very nearly slaughtered on the spot. At least one injury, one injured with broken morale, and one groggy. We rule that there’s no point playing that out round by round.

The lizard-man fight is the first “close from long range” fight we’ve had. The PCs rapidly developed tactics to deal with shield-wielding foes. Well, for one, once they closed to within 240′, Eldritch Blast kicked in.

It’s a cantrip, so it does vigor rather than wounds as a basis. But it also does force damage, like magic missile, which means armor doesn’t protect and you cant take it on your shield, because force damage. This more or less makes it better in every respect than a longbow. No ammunition. higher damage roll, the damage type bypasses armor, and a gigantic range. I know I have to tone this down or provide countermeasures.

Anyway, the archers (short bow and longbow) and the Warlock keep up a steady stream of pain headed downrange, and by the time the lizards close to 100′, one of the lizardfolk is hit and his morale breaks. He flees, breaking the two-lizard shield wall and allowing the team to concentrate fire on the lizards. They have decent DR and high Threat DC from their shields, but dude, it’s six-on-one. But the second guy does manage to throw a javelin through Sunshine, who gets mad and delivers two crushing blows that either fell the lizard or damn near. At 22 vigor and with a shield, he’s a tough defensive nut to crack, but crack him they do.

After that, a few arrows and an eldritch blast at the fleeing opponent ends the combat.

Lessons Learned

  • Playing once a month and handing out experience like a bean-counter is no fair to the players. They all happened to level up this game, but three months per level is not fun.
  • Game hasn’t broken yet. Some rules questions came up, and my on-the-fly ruling (I have not memorized 367,000 words of rules and setting) tended to match the rules.
  • I actually had a laid-out and printed copy of The Book of Heroes, and that matters.
  • As +Peter V. Dell’Orto mentioned in his own report, shield are good, but they’re not perfect
  • Eldritch Blast is way too strong
  • To no one’s surprise, charging across an open field for 400′ was stupid. 
  • That said, the second lizard was able to close to 30′ and put a javelin through Sunshine (doing some serious wounds, actually) before being slain.
  • Players like to take trophies. Gross ones. I think a few sessions ago they collected the scrotum and d20s of an ogre or something; this time, they killed and skinned lizard-folk to get the raw materials to make hide armor.

So, I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I’m convinced Dragon Heresy is a solid foundation. There’s enough similarity with the parent system for easy entry. There’s enough differences that it’s its own thing. Those differences impact play choices, which is exactly how it should be.

This is not GURPS DnD. This is Dragon Heresy, an SRD5.1-based game that has some mechanical differences and distinctions that are holding up well in play. Honestly, while there are a few things that need tweaking (my team and I are having a serious discussion over the Rogue’s Sneak Attack ability, and the power of Eldritch Blast, a cantrip, makes us think about force damage, the Shield spell, and how strong a cantrip should really be), these things are tractable and relatively minor.
What’s Next

Well, of course Group 2 plays this coming Saturday. They’re a 7th level party going through a module written for 5e that I’m deliberately converting somewhat on the fly just to see if I can. These are, after all, playtest games. That group needs to head around to the front entrance, where they’ll be met by a new player. Yay, and yay for more women in the game. 
As you probably read, I had a busy week last week. I’m well on my way to forming Gaming Ballistic, LLC. I have identified an editor, an indexer, a layout consultant, and +Rob Muadib, who has done an excellent job thus far in bringing The Book of Heroes as far as it has gone, will still be with me to finish the project, though at a reduced frequency of contribution because real life. I also got a bunch of quotes on printing books, and wow, if you do your homework that full-color, smyth-sewn hardback is damn affordable. Very reasonable stretch goal.
I also got the first color version of my map for the game (one of three), and HOLY CRAP it’s good. I may see how the cartographer feels about leaking a glimpse. But it’s good enough that I will be featuring it prominently in my Kickstarter video. Which I have to write and produce. But I have some friends, like +Jay Meyer of Great Northern Games, who have done this before. And I’m sure I can ping +Erik Tenkar about what he likes to see in a video, as well as others in The Industry for advice. I feel like I’ve not been an ass-hat to folks, and that is returning to me with tons of help and advice. +Amanda Valentine has been world class, as has +Ryan Macklin, in helping me out. +Alexander Macris is a gentleman and very generous to give me the nod to pillage ACKS for a few things.
This industry is filled with a sufficient quantity of awesome folks that no one will lack for advice, help, and guidance should they want to walk this path. Because as we all know, the best, surest way to make a small fortune in Independent Publishing is to start with a much larger fortune.
But that’s OK, because the availability of The Editor isn’t until late in the year, and so I get to slow down a bit (or really, just multitask more reasonably) anyway. I still have writing to do, but it’s mostly creative, not mechanical, so can be banged out with a minimum of fuss.
As the poets and historical figures Martin L and William S once said: “This shit just got real.”
(Martin Lawrence, not Martin Luther. And William Smith, not Will Shakespeare. Geez.)

I got the first laid-out copy of Dragon Heresy: The Book of Heroes from +Rob Muadib this week. We’re still working on it, though work will slow down a bit as he goes back to school. That’s not actually a big deal – technically, the layout comes last, after writing and editing and lots of other things.

But I’ll tell you what – I’ve come to the conclusion that having a preliminary layout is all good, no bad. And I’ll tell you why. Actually, I’ll tell you why in another post. 

This one? This is about printing.

Dragon Heresy is not just going to be a big book, it’s likely going to be two big books. While there’s editing and tightening that will and must be done, I’ve got rules, character generation (that’s over 100 pages), spell lists (that’s another 100 pages in SRD5.1 books), a full setting  with “what’s it like to live there, and recent history” for each nation/realm, a sizeable list of magic items, and 100,000 words of monsters – likely 160 pages right there.

SRD-based book that are complete are going to be big. Limited ways around that, because that engine rewards giant lists of things rather than the build-your-own metasystem approach of a HERO or a GURPS or Fate.

But I digress. The layout plunked down on my desk at 370 pages. That will almost certainly compress, and Rob and I are working hard to make that so. 

But 370 pages means that a typical “perfect-bound” hardback is going to be fraught with peril, because the glue won’t necessarily keep the pages where they need to be. GURPS books had this problem early on – and SJG being SJG, they replaced every book that had that issue free of charge. I doubt I can afford to do that.

But looking at Dracula Dossier and the Delta Green Agent’s Handbook that plunked down on my desk over the last year or so, I don’t have to – both have sewn bindings. That means when you open it up, there’s a flexible bit in the spine that allows it to remain intact and open fully. 

For a big book, this is both more customer-delighting and will probably save the publisher/RPG company money. If you have a going concern with plenty of cash flow from other products, you have more to think about. If, like me, you don’t – at least not yet – you probably can’t afford to play the odds that it all goes to plan.


Putting me in a bind

The jargon of the printing and binding industry is dense and technical. I won’t try and get it all correct, but documenting what I’ve learned might help someone.

Perfect-bound books are glued into the cover. Many RPG books are made this way, as are many trade softback books. Grabbing the manual for Matlab and Simulink that is on my shelf, it’s a perfect-bound book. It will not lie flat when opened. 

You can also get lay-flat perfect-bound books, which still glue the pages in, but there are design elements present that allow the glued spine to fold more sharply.

There  seems to be some level of innovation (expected!) in the lay-flat technology in the form of adhesive selection. Polyurethanes (PUR-binding) are advertised to lay flat, stay flexible, and be up to 40% cheaper than smythe-binding, which I talk about below.

Another option is the Otabind. This seems to be the technology described to the right as well. It uses selective glue application to allow the flexible glue-strip to lay flat, while the cover floats.

One thing about glued technology is that I strongly suspect it’s page-count independent. If you want to have a 161-page book, you can. 

The next pieces of jargon revolve around sewn bindings. This is classic bookbinding technique, and involved printing pages on both sides of large sheet, folding them together into “signatures,” which are the folded sheets, which seem to be required to be 8- or even 16-page increments, due to folding. If you’re going this route, plan your layout ahead of time to meet this requirement for lowest cost.

But there’s no question – it gets the job done, and is very attractive and durable.

I believe that case-wrap and sewn binding are synonymous, but I’m not 100% on that.

I would print 1,000 copies, and I would print 1,000 more


I won’t make you wait for it. 1,000 is the magic number, it would seem, for an offset print run. Fewer than that and the prices tend to go up, More and they can go down. Way down, in some cases.

Many of these companies have online quote generators. But I’ll throw down what I’ve found. Let’s take a look at a 352-page book – a hefty one – with a standard hardcover with matte laminated print and matte (dull) pages, in 100% full color. The interior page weight will be between 70# and 85# paper – I’ve seen stated preference for both.

Check out the 5e Monster Manual. 352 pages. Glossy cover. Perfect bound (not sewn). I think glossy pages, but could be wrong. So this notional book is “how to make the monster manual with sewn binding and slightly difference aesthetic choices.”

One thing to find out first, and ask specifically: not all binders are printers, and not all printers are binders. What you want as a small-fry publisher like me is to send a company two files: a PDF of the cover, and a PDF of the interior pages. If you get a quote and it seems low, make sure you’ve asked this question! I got a call back from a vendor today that was asking me from where I was going to ship them hundreds or thousands of pounds of pre-printed spreads!

OK, to arms, then:

Victoria Bindery/First Choice Books: Hardcover/Smyth Sewn. 370 pages printed full color, 50# text stock. Hardback, matte laminate cover. About $55 per book.

Victoria Bindery/First Choice: Sent me soft cover perfect bound too. $37 per book.

Lulu: US Letter hardcover casewrap. Full color, 352 pages, 1200 quantity. $61.42 per book.

Drive Thru RPG: Hardcover, Standard Color Heavyweight, Large Size, 352 page. I think these are perfect-bound. $14.50 per book if you order 250 or more. 

Colorwise has a wonderful and comprehensive online quotation page. They quote up to three quantities. 352-page, case bound, 70# uncoated paper. $49.65 for 500 books, $33.14 for 1,000 (!), and $22.08 for 2,000 books. 

Star Print Brokers goes for printing in Asia. They quoted me about $12.50 per book with my general specs, delivery of 1,000 books to my door in Minnesota. I didn’t give them enough detail for a precise quote, but I asked for: hard case, 370-ish pages, 1 color ink, printed cover. So this might be basically a monochome book, which will be less than color. Still – lowest price yet.

Thomson-Shore thus far is my “wow, these guys are good” winner. They referred me to someone that had done RPG work before, guy named Bill Wearne. He said he’d just printed 1,000 copies of 400-page 8.5×11 full-color for $12.50 per book. Explicitly states that using color throughout the book is the highest cost; separating color into 16-page sections can get you big discounts. He then noted (based on my mail) that he’d used incfile to set up an LLC – so he went above and beyond to help me with my project. He noted explicitly that it’s a “email print-ready PDF, four weeks later get books.” He also sent me a ridiculously attractive “sell sheet” on how they support crowdfunding, including domestic and international shipping.  New winner. Seriously.

Bind Tech is a bindery, but the contact sent me names for local printers in Nashville. 

PixArt Printing seems to offer 1,000 copies of sewn-binding hardcover books at 352 sides (the first time I encountered this term) with 70# matte paper, full color for $6.72 per book. Seriously. Looks like 10-day delivery too. For these guys, an equivalent perfect-bound book is $17.62 per book, which seems to invert conventional wisdom. 

PrintNinja gets it done as requested for $15.46, but that includes about $3.25 per book for shipping -they recommend saving money here by making a deal with a freight-fowarder, which may be beyond the skill set desired for a person in their house. Still, the raw book cost is about $12 per book.

Parting Shot

I was dismayed at the cost of Lulu, and though perfect-bound books are how WotC delivers their product, I love the quality of Dracula Dossier and the new Agent’s Handbook both have sewn bindings, and it’s just a good feel.

I don’t know what to make of PixArt. If their price for sewn binding is for real, it’s ridiculously good. 

For the rest, you’re looking, for a seriously good-quality book like what I’ve specified, at about $10-15 per book, which still leaves you out $10,000 or $15,000. But there’s a lot of room to offer a great book at a good price. The Dracula Dossier, a 368-page book at least as good as what I got quoted for quality, sells for $50 (includes PDF) while the PDF sells for $25. With a $50 cover price and a $15 print-and-ship cost, you’ve got a lot of room to actually make a few bucks on your product.

A note on profit

I’ve done a bit of “break it down” on what that means. Let’s say I do a super-limited Kickstarter, with one reward level ($50, for a  hardback book). People sign up, and pledge enough to sell out a 2000-copy run for a full-color hardback. 

Woo-hoo, $100,000 is mine, right?

No. Kickstarter fees are 8% + 0.20 per pledge – for me, notionally, that’s $8400.

MN sales tax and local taxes will ding me for $7125.

Federal taxes depend on what other income you have, but plan for the maximum, and all your surprises may be positive – 25% is 25,000. [See the end for a correction here – 25% of top-line revenue is a gross over-payment, but it saves you from WTF! moments where you owe money you may not have. This is usually not a money-wise strategy, but it is a risk-averse one and not-awful for budgetary and goal-setting purposes. If you have a good idea of your net income and can plan ahead for what the actual rate on that will be . . . do so!]

So, of that 100,000, I now have $59, 475.

I have had to pay for maps, indexing, editing, and layout. Call that $10,000. Indexing is budgeted at $10 per 1,000 words. Editing can be 2.5-8 cents per word, and for reasons I figure on the low end. Call it $6000 for a 200,000-word book. Layout is maybe $1,000 per book, but that varies all over the place.

Oh, and now art. Full-color art at one piece of art per three pages, and 1/3 page per piece, at $250 per full page of art? Another $10,000.

Don’t forget – print the book is $30,000 at $15 per copy. Let’s presume that includes shipping to US customers. International? WAY more. I’ve seen rates as high as $30 per book.


But even with domestic, your costs to edit, put art in, index, and print the thing are $50,000.

Cash left to you? $9.475 (about 5 cents per word), out of which you still haven’t dealt with international shipping, setting up a website, marketing, legal fees or fees for making an LLC (and you DID do that, right? To protect your house from legal liability in case someone with a bone to pick sues you?).

You need that kind of margin if you’re dealing with physical media like books. If you’re PDF only, well, the Pelgrane example suggests the price for the PDF goes down to half. Call it raising $50,000 instead of the full $100K.

You still have to pay the $20,000 for what goes into the book. Taxes are halved to about $16K, and Kickstarter fees to about $4,000. So you still keep $10,000, and your per-word rate is about constant. 

So hardback and print aren’t that different using this model, and a lot of money goes away very, very quickly. Do your math.

A note on taxes (edit)

+Eden Brandeis made a fair point on taxes that bears repeating – you pay taxes on the profits, not the revenue, in the end. That was my line about “all surprises being pleasant ones.”

 The thing for me there is that I would rather send the taxes in early and get a refund later as risk management. No accountant would agree with me – and they’re right – but by planning it my way “all your surprises will be pleasant ones.” I have followed this strategy with selling investments that are part of my work income (always paying 25% taxes right away) and it has provided an important cushion in the past.

It’s a good point, though – if you assume a net 15% rate on the 35K profits, you’re out $5-6K in taxes, leaving $30K in profits. That’s an authorial pay rate of .15 per word, which is more in tune with being both a writer, early editor, project manager, art director, and Chief Everything officer. But your actual tax rate will depend on your other income. If you have a day job that is well compensated, you may wind up paying the top rate on all of your profits – maybe $10K total. If the publishing industry income is your only income, firstly I might question your sanity, but secondly, your next taxes will be lower.

Also – this math is for one book at the $50 price point. Dragon Heresy will be two, at roughly the same point, so things will scale accordingly. It will also vary by what your reward levels are.

But you can see where the cost of obtaining and shipping physical stuff plays merry hell with things – which is why offering free dice, free T-shirts, free tote bags, etc is a huge risk for the creator. I will definitely not be doing so – certainly not for my first time out!

I continue to get layout in on The Book of Heroes. It continues to look good. There’s four small and one giant chapter (the spell lists) yet to do. I’m very happy with the layout of the book, and I will likely be taking the time to make art notes for the first ten chapters over the next few days.

I’m also making progress trolling for editors. Two of my top choices can’t do it, but a surprising opportunity may exist that I will likely snatch up if he becomes available. And one of my choices is going to refer me to a few men and women who would be well suited to editing this game.

Down side is that it’s a big project. So expensive. I wonder if I should try alternate funding rather than kickstarter just to get this part done. Not having to kickstart for editing (and maybe indexing) would greatly enhance the project, but I will also probably need $15,000 for the two tasks. I will ponder (and take advice). 

For writing, the Book of Deeds is at 171,000 words or so, and I have relatively few things left, though one of them is a bit of a monster.

  • Write Wilderness, Dungeons, Settlements and Ruins, Unusual Environment sections. This may or may not be required, but I think a short section talking about these parts of the sandbox would be useful guidance. It won’t be anything profound, though. 
  • Write and Expand Between Adventures section. This got some good work today, but needs a bit more polish. I think a few hours will finish this off. Maybe less.
  • Populate the section on the Aesir, Winterfey, and Elder Dragons. This will probably be treated like the Races Chapter, and in about as much detail. I’ve got the Aesir section done in draft form, and the Winterfey and Elder Dragon section will be shorter.
  • Finish the monster fluff-text for all 300-400 gorram critters. Sigh. This is, both literally and figuratively, the “monster” task. The SRD does not include fluff text, so I have to write my own, and there are a lot of critters. 

But once these things are done, the entire draft is done. So we’re close. Very close.