Sunday, January 10, 2010

oof! Reflections of the Past Few Days

Economics. Box sets. Reality. blleeehhh...

The reality is that producing a box with nothing in it would result in a retail price resembling The Grinding Gear. Looking at the cost to get dice in bulk, and thinking of retailer markups putting an empty box with dice into distribution... brrrr


I'm doing a short run. 500 copies. The temptation is to do 1000 to bring the price of everything way down, but the resulting debt and clutter around the apartment would likely be intolerable as it's not like 500 will fly out the door, let alone 1000.

Being in Europe. 1€ = $1.44 right now. That's better than what it's been, but effectively, what I call 5 bucks, you call seven-twenty. The sales tax here is 22%, which affects the cost of every bit of manufacturing I do and every bit of supplies I buy. Also, shipping of a box from here to there... *shiver shiver* The one saving grace here is that there is no import duty into the States on either books or games.

There are several reasons why I don't move the printing offshore.

A- One of the points of the project is to have a complete game to present to European markets so I can then sell my adventures. Why the hell should Fantasiapelit (Finnish game store chain... literally "Fantasy Games") stock Death Frost Doom, or any other module of mine, if they're not stocking any game that Death Frost Doom is advertised to be compatible with?

B- I'll be assembling the boxes and filling them by hand. There will be a decent amount of loose sheets in the box (character sheets, introduction page, graph paper, reference sheets, etc) and I'm just paranoid enough to not trust some production guy at the printers who I'm sure cares very very deeply about such things to put it all in the box in exactly the right order.

C- As far as my research shows, those big Chinese printing discounts require rather large runs. I suppose I could look into Estonian printing but I sometimes have communications issues with the printer down the street, solved by showing them examples of existing products by other publishers. Outsourcing to another country where I don't have that face-to-face contact seems like nothing but stress.

So the final product will cost a bit. I have shaved the total page count a bit, as the Tutorial section was originally envisioned to be a fully functional Mentzer Basic clone. Seriously. I'm that bugfuck nuts to have conceived of an entire clone as just the first part of a larger box. Sanity has prevailed, and the tutorial will just be solo adventures, following Mentzer in format, but of course completely rewritten with a more LotFP atmosphere. Probably not going to have people making Kill Iri-Khan shirts and dice games in 20 years though.

I should have a completed draft of the entire tutorial book ready at the end of this week, at which point I'll know which terms are defined and how in the Tutorial so I can tackle the main rulebook without repeating effort. Two weeks after that I hope to have a serviceable rules document document that I can post and pass out to my players to transition my weekly game from BFRPG to this. "Go along with this and you'll get a free fancy box in a few months!" will be the bribery method. And then all the tweaks I've made on a rules-theory standpoint that I haven't used in-game yet will get weekly play while I'm working on the Referee book which will be the biggest pain in the ass to organize and write intelligibly, since it's going to take all the assumptions and standard bits of Our Favorite Game (can't mention any specific compatibilities on an OGL project! *sigh*) and throwing them out and redoing them from scratch. Not that I'll be making that stuff up from whole cloth, but I will have to take my philosophies and approaches and make them accessible to Joe Reader.

But there will be no monster lists or bestiaries, standard magic item lists, or encounter charts as there are in every single version or clone of the game.

The one bright spot in this morass of planning and work and hair-tearing (this is my job, so it's entitled to provide some of that), and something that has energized me about my project, has been this Brave Halfling box set and its success. I don't know how much John has told people publicly and how much that he's told me in confidence, so I won't repeat any production details of the product itself. Suffice to say when he announced a box set with graph paper and pencils and dice I was all "aarrgghhhhhhhh!" Since Brave Halfling has a couple things in the distribution chain, I thought that $29.95 was an in-store retail price. I was really tearing my hair out wondering how he did that (much like I'm puzzled about Goodman Games' low prices on a few things lately). But it isn't so. It's a short-run direct-order item, and at $35.95 (the pre-order price plus shipping as I checked for several US ZIP code) still sold out in very short order. It confirmed that the old-school community will pay a bit for a premium item simply for the cool factor.

Whether my final result will be cool or not remains to be seen, but I have reason now to believe it can be a success if it is.

(of course, they were sold out before I had the money to place my order, frazzlebapgrrrrcrunch)

I still don't know what the final costs for LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing will be, and I have a lot of writing to do before I can find out, but I know it won't be a budget item. So the question is, how far do I go?

I've been contacting dice companies looking for quotes. Including Gamescience and Q-Workshop. Those are not cheap dice. One might say they are extravagant dice. But I want all options open when it's time to pull the trigger.

And then we come to artwork. I posted my call for artists in a few places, and the portfolios and quotes are pouring in. Let me tell you (and I am not going to name names), there are a lot of artists that are simply delusional. I guess it goes with the artistic talent in some ways, or overestimating their own talent, but whew. They either think I'm an idiot or they need some perspective.

But there are also a lot of really great artists out there looking for work. Absolutely phenomenal talents.

The quotes I've received for the box cover artwork have started at 25€ and have gone all the way up to $1000 and even more.

My thoughts on artwork (this is where I start collecting pissy people points):

When it comes to interior illustrations, I'm a lot more flexible. I love the black-and-white stuff. This stuff (my old Artwork post). The work that Laura has done for me in my adventures rocks. I can't imagine anyone doing a better job on the High Priest's Temple in Death Frost Doom. That moon piece especially in The Grinding Gear was almost a formatting afterthought illustrating a moment's diversion within the adventure but is absolutely flawless in execution and gives the whole package a more surreal vibe that helps it overall. A few of her pieces in the upcoming Hammers of the God and Insect Shrine are so good that if Trampier decided to get back in the biz just to re-do those illustrations for me, if Otus or Holloway or whoever offered to donate free art to replace what Laura did, I'd turn them down.

In other words, I'm quite happy with the way my interior artwork looks, and will be adding to the stable only as projects become more demanding than Laura's time can deal with (which will be the case for this set).

But covers? There is a reason I wanted a photo for the box set. Because I couldn't think of an artist that can do this without making it look fake. And I don't want it to look fake. I want it to look like it is in my head.

To explain a bit: I can't think of a simple RPG company whose cover art I like. Much of it comes down to art direction I know, but if Bob in the office tells Mike at the easel to draw something stupid, no matter how good the technical quality of the final piece, I'm going associate Mike with drawing stupid shit.

Black and white art invites a viewer to fill in mental blanks. At least it does for me. Color art does not, and my mind fights what a lot of color art is showing me because my brain is telling me there should be something else there instead. Artistic stylization in color clashes with my imagination. Everyone from Vallejo to Frazetta to Royo to Earl Norem to Pete Mullen and the rest of "our guys" and the stuff I've released and have in the queue fit this category.

You have to look at things like Dragon Magazine covers to get fantasy color art that I get excited about. Robin Woods' stuff on issues #97 and 105. Daniel R Horne's cover on #126. Parkinson's "What Do You Mean We're Lost?" and "The Big Stash." It seems that this sort of thing doesn't get put on the cover of many RPG books. ACTIONSTYLE seems to be what people use high-end artists to do (thought exercise: Imagine Boris Vallejo doing the original cover for the 1e Players Handbook). My current cover concept isn't without action, but more resembles Dragons #109 or 126. Confrontation and anticipation. But we'll see what happens with it.

I'll be waiting a week or so for the submissions to trickle off and then explore these portfolios a bit more, narrow them down, and then decide how much I really want to spend, and who I trust to make my vision real.

(more insanity: I've made a couple offers to people about publishing their stuff after my box set comes out, and I'm already thinking about this level of art on their stuff... I need a production staff, dammit, but it's not in the budget)

But this project is going to be a serious investment and risk. Do I mitigate that risk, or go for broke? "As special as I can make it within a reasonable budget?" or give in to the fact that "reason" and "RPG Publishing" are opposed concepts in the first place and just make it unqualified "As special as I can make it"? Do I think about market issues or do I just do what I want to see without compromise (this is the question of breasts but I don't intend any erotic imagery at all in this image)?

Questions that must be answered, but not quite yet.

And I've got a game in two hours that has nothing to do with any of this. I've been writing this all morning while making game notes while holding conversations in IM at the same time.

Exciting times, may they continue for a good long while!


  1. Mr. Raggi, a few things:

    1. Thank you for Death Frost Doom. You nailed it. It was the first 'module' I've purchased in twenty years, and it exceeded the great reviews. More creativity than a lot of the classics. The potential fate of the hillside puts it over the top: an adventure that can spawn an entire campaign. Many, many thanks.

    2. Cover Process: As an ex-artist, here's my two cents: I think you want a very finely done painting. 'Dry' media probably won't get you the realism you want, but painted media may not fit in your budget or timetable. Painting realistically usually requires photographic or sketched reference and is a very long process.
    You'd probably be best served by staging the photograph, but focus on a tight frame. A well done close-up photo will be more striking than a moderately done 'scene'. Even a fast painter might struggle getting a whole scene done in time for your March deadline...

    3. Cover Content: in your previous post you mentioned some clues to the cover's content: winter, two female figures, fifteenth century, a forest. For what it's worth, female adventurers would almost certainly disguise their appearance to look like men. They would face everything from harassment to actual prosecution under the primitive 'laws' and ordinances of small villages, etc. As for breasts: if you see one in a cold, snowy forest - run like hell.

  2. "I've yet to meet a professional western artist that doesn't think a 5-minute napkin sketch shouldn't pay his house-payment for that month."

    This quote pretty much summed up my forays into the world of DeviantART commissions etc.

    I sometimes think there is a very unrealistic through process running through the artistic community these days.

    I am all in favour of reasonable prices, but reasonable as well.

    Especially for unpublished, unproven nobodies.

  3. Artists are not cheap, at least not good ones. Most RPG companies find this out the hard way.

    I am likely to buy your box set if it's around $35 or so. More than that, it becomes too pricey. But that's my personal cut-off point. I'm sure there are others who would pay more or less.

  4. Call me crazy, but my gut says that the old school fans are generally a bit older, and therefore are likely to have more money to spend and will spend that money on a good product. Yours have been good so far. To the extent that the final product is more than just a S&W modification, and actually integrates the "weirdness" in all aspects of the game, and helps the players and DM's do it well during their games, I think it could sell well. So basically, the weirder the better, and hence the more you can sell it for.

    Didn't Dancey or someone talk about treating D&D like a high end collector's game, like high end model railroading or something? I seem to remember him saying that they considered putting out high end fancy high quality books for the hobbyist/collector. I wonder if that niche is still out there and willing to buy in this climate?

  5. "But there will be no monster lists or bestiaries, standard magic item lists, or encounter charts as there are in every single version or clone of the game."


  6. If my experience is worth anything, Jim, it's the artists that need some perspective. You are very lucky to have found a talent. Many wannabe talents seem to think charging high prices makes them talented.

    That being said, many gamers are cheapskates. Interesting combination when trying to sell to them and pay decent price for art...

  7. SOD:
    1- Thank you. :)
    2- Some of the digital painters look really good. I do realize end of March might not be realistic.
    3- You won't be surprised by how the final result looks, that's for sure. That last sentence about sums it up. :)

    Joe- The rules of play won't really be that different than what people know. Just variations on the same thing. I'm not trying to create a separatist movement here, so that is extremely important to me, no matter if it hurts the sales in the end.

    However, all the back-end stuff, all the referee material, that will also be significantly different than what anyone else has been doing, and it is my hope anyway that it is enough to make it come across as a different game. Most games seem to gloss over that stuff these days, but I'll make it just as important (and pagey) as the game rules.

    Plus the tutorial, 2 adventures, etc.

    I hope the final product will not induce sticker-shock, I really do, but I'm going to pack in as much value as I possibly can regardless.

  8. I'd buy two copies just based on the fact that you actually went out and did it. And I'm broke as hell.

  9. I'd buy it too -- I plan to, even up to $40-ish, given the quality of your other products so far, esp. DEATH FROST DOOM. To me, once you're spending $30-ish on a thing, what's another $5 or $10? This is particularly true when, as with LotFP, I feel confident about your ability to deliver VALUE. Looking forward to it!

  10. If I ever see your boxed set and adventures in Fantasiapelit I know that finnish gaming scene has received what it's been needing. Now dead Roolipelaaja magazine had several retrogaming related articles by quite a many writers and I'm not sure how many people did manage to jump through hoops to order any of the retro rulesets from foreign countries, at least many publishers have the PDF's of the rules avaible free.

  11. Placing dice and pencils in the game is superfluous;
    most of your audience already has plenty of high quality dice.

    “Just because you are NOT paranoid,
    doesn’t mean everyone is not out to get you.”

    Sicilian Proverb

  12. So is placing a Mentzerian-style tutorial but I might only get one shot at this and I haven't a thing to gain by cutting corners.