Thursday, November 5, 2009

Updates and Commentary and Blathering

'allo!

I know I've been in "business man shill mode" more than "interesting blogger mode" for quite awhile now, but I've been busy working with publicity, distribution, tax issues, and in between all that stuff, sneaking in actual for-product writing. This in addition to having a bit of a life. I can't apologize for it, as trying to build a full-time business selling old-school adventures kind of requires full-time attention if there is even the smallest chance for it to not be a suicide mission in the first place, and beyond the writing I hardly know what the hell I'm doing. But I learn.

It's been almost three months since the last release. However, releases are on their way. Next up is The Grinding Gear, and I just received the first proof for the last map this morning. There are some changes to be made but I'm told by tomorrow I should have the final versions delivered. Laura has finished all of the major art pieces, and has gotten final approval for the filler sketch. This should be able to go to press at the beginning of the week... but the question is if I should release it that quickly since it's questionable whether my new British vendor will even have received their first shipment yet.

Another question will be how many to print. Death Frost Doom is my big seller so far, having recently hit the 200 sales mark (and is a Copper pick on RPGNow!). That's print and PDF combined. But to make a go of this as a business, I'm going to have to reach about 350 sales on average of my releases. I don't think this is impossible, I think our scene is still growing, and there is no reason that places like Germany and the UK can't be every bit as successful for me as the US - or even more successful if the dollar keeps losing value.

But I'm looking at quotes from the printer for Grinding Gear, and the difference between 250 copies (what I did for NDiD + PoP) and 500 copies means over $2 difference in final retail price (and more every day, with exchange rates - the dollar's decline has been my primary business concern for the past few months and people are probably sick of me worrying about it and talking about worrying about it) for you guys. 250 is safer, but it'll be more expensive, and to be successful I'd need to do a reprint anyway. 500 gets the price down to a more reasonable level (and means each promotional copy sent out is less of a financial bite!), and would cover what I'd need to sell altogether per project, but is it wise to risk that much up front?

Insect Shrine you know about, and I just posted a playtest report this morning. The maps are all done, the art is all done, all that remains is this playtesting, then rewrites based on playtesting, then proofreading and general editing, then layout, then printing and then selling the darn thing. I've given up trying to predict when this will be out, and I'm half convinced the world will end before all these steps are complete.

I am about one-third done with the first draft of a project with the working title The Old Miner's Shame. I'm not entirely happy with the title, but I haven't yet thought of anything better. The for-publication map should be finished quite soon, but I'm waiting until I see the final word count and some layout experimentation before I even commission the artwork. I'm not even sure what I want for the cover yet, although I'll get Laura working on one particular symbol after she turns in the final Grinding Gear art.

I'd also like to say a public Good Luck to Ramsey Dow. He's got some major projects coming up, including several with Pied Piper Publishing, so he won't be able to work with LotFP for awhile. It feels a bit bizarre doing a send-off when none of his work for me has yet been published (aside from this blog post preview), but he's responsible for all the maps for The Grinding Gear, Insect Shrine, and Old Miner's Shame and I've been in constant contact with him for the past two-plus months.

After these releases, I'm looking at the jungle/cannibal followup to Death Frost Doom (smart business says capitalize on it NOW, creative impulse says give it time to percolate and be natural rather than exploitative about it), the Sanitarium adventure, and I'm looking at doing a Knights of Science class/adventure supplement. Or maybe something else, and who knows what order.

I still believe that an introductory set of rules with tutorial-heavy content in the Mentzer tradition, in a box, is needed, and I'd love to do it, but I fear I'd be diluting the scene with yet another generic rules set. But doing the tutorial with the full rules wouldn't make sense, and certainly not by itself in a box. And how would I reach those that it is intended to serve? Doesn't do much good to go through all that effort and produce an introductory set that will be applauded by 25-year veterans and never reach the hands of a new player. hrrmm.

I'd like to take a few words to speak about Edition Warring. Not the way you think. I'm talking about why I don't publish for any specific game, and instead use a "big tent" approach.

There are some that are specifically publishing for early editions of D&D. While that's probably the most pure way to do things, I don't like the idea of completely tying my future to a trademark that I have to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge to mention.

OSRIC is getting left behind. It's odd, because 1e was the big one, but it's Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry which are getting the promotional pushes. They're also getting the variants and are the much more open systems. OSRIC, between its multiple contributors and much less open format, isn't going into distribution, isn't getting tinkered with nearly as extensively, isn't having the loving grassroots fan community that it could have had. In 2006 OSRIC looked like the future. Funny how that goes.

And while games such as Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord have a far greater support and collaborator network than I do (being a cranky old hermit has its "privileges"), and they are both going to be in stores very soon, and they will be the driving forces for recruiting new blood into our segment of the hobby, I don't get the feeling that either Finch or Proctor are necessarily much better businessmen than I am, nor do I have the impression that if things grew too big to be part-time they'd give up whatever their other lives are in order to run a middling-level RPG publishing company (no delusions of grandeur that the OSR will rule the roost) and all the headaches and poverty that go with that. So hitching my horse to one of them exclusively seems unwise.

I hope I am proven wrong. It's not like either discuss much with me (although both have been very easy to work with when I've needed to deal with them), and I'm just going by web-presence impressions. I hope they're both plotting their world domination, stockpiling their war chests and counting down until it's time. I hope both Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry do very well, gain many players and rake in a ton of cash. I hope I can sit here someday soon and say, "You know, I should have just published my stuff for [specific game], and I've missed a great opportunity because I didn't." That will mean the old rules are wildly successful and our community is successful, even if it costs me a bit in the process.

But it's too early to tell, and I always get in the slowest line at the supermarket, so this isn't something to risk. I'll tell you what though, if one takes off in distribution and achieves real popularity (I don't think both would at the same time because they're so similar, and which would be the more likely to do so is a question I can't answer because my personal preference won't decide it), I'll be pursuing a distribution deal and whoring myself out with the [Popular System] Compatible! graphic design.

Because there is the fact that I really don't see the difference between the systems. I was one of those people who played 1e way back when but unwittingly was really using a ton of "Basic" rules for actual play. The difference between "Basic" and "1e" and "0e" to me are academic, and not an issue of game play. I don't believe that tone of the rules dictates the tone of adventures. People houserule their 1e games as readily as their 0e games, and the level of detail in a setting or adventure depends more on the referee (or author) than the system used.

I don't agree that my releases are "essentially systemless" as some claim (People of Pembrooktonshire aside). All it requires is that you know what "leather + shield" or the speed of an unencumbered human means in the system you are using to play the game. There's no conversion involved. However, people have been telling me they have run, or will run, my games with all sorts of systems: Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer RPG (pre-3e, naturally), Dark Heresy, Castles & Crusades (which I consider now to be considerably different than LL/OSRIC/S&W/etc due to the Siege Engine - I think that changes everything) and probably another system or two I can't recall right now.

I love that this is possible, and I love that some people consider my work worth the effort to make the conversions to those systems, but those conversions are indeed necessary to use these other systems. My adventures aren't generic. But, as things have turned out, neither are they really for any one specific game.

So a big tenter I remain.

And with that, I will go back to work. I leave you with this: The Grinding Gear won't just be a cool adventure, it won't just be impressive, it will be fucking impressive.

14 comments:

  1. "I am about one-third done with the first draft of a project with the working title The Old Miner's Shame. I'm not entirely happy with the title, but I haven't yet thought of anything better."

    Probably a reference aimed other than at the intended audience, but I'll suggest it anyway: "Dark as a Dungeon," like the Cash song. Plenty of lyrics dealing with miners and mining and mines and such.

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  2. The adventure is more or less about dwarves, and it involves something called "the Old Miner," but the location is not a mine...

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  3. Anything involving dwarves are potentially very cool. I like the vertically challenged creatures.

    On another note. I think one reason OSRIC might not have taken off, is that 1st ed players seem to be the most conservative lot there is. They play their old game, and care little until the world ends. Other people probably still think AD&D/OSRIC is a mess of very complicated rules. Rules lite is almost a mantra of the OSR...

    It wouldn't surprise me a bit also if the mudslinging by people like Clark Peterson and David Kenzer have had some effect. I don't know if they are right, but they have quite a few followers.

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  4. Print 250 or 500? Either one are still good numbers for the OSR. Funny though, how most writers tend to think we are selling thousands of of copies. ;)

    Yup, is the OSR just on the rise (my hope)? Has it peaked? Is it beginning to decline? Or is it just the economy in many places. I don't think anyone is quite sure, but we can all hang on for the ride no matter which way it is going!

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  5. It wouldn't surprise me a bit also if the mudslinging by people like Clark Peterson and David Kenzer have had some effect. I don't know if they are right, but they have quite a few followers.

    To be fair, Kenzer never ragged on OSRIC to the best of my knowledge. All he said was that he believed it was possible to recreate AD&D via the OGL/SRD, but that he did not know if OSRIC had legally achieved that end. He was very cautious.

    Troll Lord Games did slightly more damage when they revealed that their lawyers had advised them to stay away from OSRIC, and Gygax initially repeated that assertion when questioned about the project on line, though he claimed to have never read it himself.

    OSRIC is still thundering away as far as I can tell, with Expeditious Retreat Press consistently releasing adventure modules and the main OSRIC project now complete.

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  6. I don't think OSRIC is at all dead or irrelevant, but I think S&W and Labyrinth Lord, offering system + support on store shelves are both (if they don't already) far outstrip OSRIC's popularity.

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  7. I think most people who are using OSRIC are playing first edition, so you do not see the "brand" aspect like you do with Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry, but that was the intention from the get go, which is to say that OSRIC supplement AD&D/1e. It is not popular in and of itself in the way that Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry are, I agree. At 402 pages I wonder about the economics of getting it into distribution, which would really be beneficial.

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  8. Aren't there a dozen or so people that would have to give permission for the current version of OSRIC to be made into a commercial product? (LULU version is just a penny over LULU cost, right?)

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  9. I am not sure. There was some talk a while back of possibly seeing an imprint of OSRIC as Advanced Labyrinth Lord, but whether that would have involved any actual profit I do not know. I think Matthew Finch indicated that the way the license was originally written any company could print and sell OSRIC if they chose to do so, but he would have to clarify whether such is still the case and whether the company would in that instance be free to set their own price.

    For instance, Lamentations of the Flame Princess could offer OSRIC from your website as a download as long as the content was not changed, but I am not clear if you could set a price for that download. I expect the case is similar with offering a print version. At the moment Lulu sets its own price for OSRIC and profits by printing it, so I think it likely that individual companies can do the same.

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  10. I still believe that an introductory set of rules with tutorial-heavy content in the Mentzer tradition, in a box, is needed, and I'd love to do it, but I fear I'd be diluting the scene with yet another generic rules set.

    Putting aside my own opinion of the Mentzer Basic set, that seems like a good effort. My advice for anyone attempting it would be to make it a version of LL or S&W to avoid dilution.

    I love that this is possible, and I love that some people consider my work worth the effort to make the conversions to those systems, but those conversions are indeed necessary to use these other systems.

    While I see the distinction you’re trying to make here, I don’t think it really exists.

    All it requires is that you know what "leather + shield" or the speed of an unencumbered human means in the system you are using to play the game. There's no conversion involved.

    Groups I’ve been in “converted” AD&D modules “on the fly” to GURPS, Rolemaster, Fantasy Hero, Hârnmaster, &c. We did exactly this. Ignore the stats in the module and just use the equivalent from the system we’re using. It doesn’t matter that mechanically armor is completely different than AD&D. All we need to know is how leather + shield is treated in the system we’re playing.

    Although, I think your approach to writing is still probably the best. Having a general system in mind (such as pre-2000 (A)D&D) makes writing an adventure easier than trying to write truly generic adventures. On the other hand, if an adventure is so tied to the mechanics that conversion can’t be done “on the fly”, then that’s a red-flag for me.

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  11. I see what you're saying, but you need knowledge of both systems in order to do that on the fly. I'm happy people are doing that, but "officially" advertising it doesn't sit right with me.

    With my adventures listing no skills (or feats) and using a specific sort of magic system, it would be outright dishonest of me, I feel, to say "Compatible with GURPS!" when some theoretical person that knows only GURPS wouldn't be able to use it as-is.

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  12. I should clarify that above I mean Lulu sets its own price as middlemen, effectively setting the minimum price the person uploading can charge.

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  13. Thanks for the clarification Matthew. I might have seen Troll Lords posting something, and not Kenzer.

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  14. I hate to choose between any of the retro-systems, partly because I have such admiration for the people who poured their shepherded those projects.

    As long as you are writing adventures that are themselves 'rules-light' 99% of your buying audience will purchase them and convert them as needed to fit their preferred system and style.

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