Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Got the Publisher Blues

GDF4's proofreading is going (much) slower than expected. I think she's halfway through. Sorry.

Had a meeting with the new printer yesterday. We discussed paper grades. The rep has a big box full of little paper samples. And suddenly whether the paper is 80g or 90g seems like the most important decision in the world. Does the cover need UV-varnish? Lamination? That book with the water-varnish seems like it has a weaker cover than the others. The interior pages, is it really necessary for them to be bleached? 80g or 90g, does it make a difference to the durability of the book? How about the artwork, will it look bad on this paper or that? And those color insert pages, 150g or 130g or 115g paper?

I hope I made the right decisions there.

It's somewhat depressing knowing I won't have a new book for you guys until the crack of 2011, and it's crazy having all these plans for 2011 and not being able to tell you about any of them yet. "Second printing" and Death Ferox Doom you know. I will say that this has turned into a continual "go for broke" cycle and the necessary budget to make all this happen for Q1 is mid five-figures. I have to hope you guys really go in for each of these projects for the next one to work. Business really sucks sometimes.

But if it works...!

With that in mind, my two choices in 2011 are to be successful or to be gone. Step up or step out. (etc lame talk) There are two key needs to satisfy with every release: Utility and presentation. RPG products trade on inspiration and imagination (and thus all the negativity that is expressed when something disappoints is completely justified), and so I think it is not wrong to want to make RPG products that are inspiring as physical objects. I want to do things that other people won't. But I don't want it all to disappear up its own ass - it'll be gaming material where all the bells and whistles make it more useful at the table than a plainer presentation would be.

I do not think this is impossible to do. Whether I can do it, we will see. I'm going to try.

And as I look to see what my big summer release should be... this inspires me.

How crazy can we get?


  1. Looking forward to seeing the lamination of the Flame Princess...

  2. "Looking forward to seeing the lamination of the Flame Princess... "


    Well played sir. Well played.

  3. To quote Astérix:

    "Ils sont fous, ces francais!"

  4. I appreciate your candidness about your human nature, a quality that is sorely missing from many mindless drones and soulless corporations *cough cough*.

    Pep talk over, get back to work. Your adoring fanbase demands new material!

  5. "Presentation" and "Utility" as guidelines are really way too high-level for metrics. I can do you one better: "Value. Value for the consumer".
    What does presentation and utility mean? Needs more granularity.

    However, your follow-up generalities about "Inspiration" are more, well, inspired, and get at some of the below.

    As I mentioned in your self-grade post, I rate products below generally, with some separate consideration of their overall reach potential and conveyance/ go-to-market approach.

    1) Look & Feel
    2) Robustness & Clarity
    3) Functionality / Ease of Use
    4) Consistency & Compatibility
    5) Fulfillment & Expectations
    6) Differentiation & Advantages
    7) Delight & Surprise

    Think about infamous product introductions for D&D in the past... like the Unearthed Arcana that I argue actually set D&D in motion on its ruinous current path more than nay future edition save for the latest because it inspired all of the following: A> Splat book proliferation B> Power gaming tendency C> Loopholes D> Original Rule Supercedes

    Still, it was a winning product with a 90%+ adoption curve because though unbalanced, loophole ridden, and with major complexity adds...

    At the time, it created differentiated classes, abilities, enhancements to existing lists (e.g., spells). Very high on Fulfillment, Differentiation, and Surprise & Delight.

  6. >>What does presentation and utility mean? Needs more granularity.

    I think the definition of presentation and utility differs from project to project. What works best for one product won't be best for another, even within the same general product type.

    I think of the old TSR modules, and how different they all seemed while having the same basic format.

    Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Tomb of Horrors, and Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan all had illustration books, but you'd never mistake one for the other.

    I3-5 (Pharaoh, Oasis of the White Palm, Tomb of Market) all had that double-cover thing going on, and seemed very unified as a series of products... but they weren't going to be confused with (again) Barrier Peaks which also had that double-cover thing going on.

    You could really do that kind of comparison with most individual modules and series of modules TSR released up to, say, 1985. Things in the same series felt "together" (barring the A Slavers series for some reason) but they felt different from all the others.

    I think this helped all that TSR stuff be remembered as "classics" every bit as much as the content.

    And not that I want to throw anyone under the bus, but this reminds me of conversations I've had with people new to OSR type of stuff, and they're intimidated by the sheer size of XRP's Advanced Adventures line. Content of the text aside, all of those look and feel similar to each other, inside and out. It creates this "these are all part of a greater thing, you're missing out if you don't have all of them," which really discourages getting any of them if there are 15 of the things out there and are perceived, wrongly or not, as interchangeable.

    I saw the same general thing starting to happen with the S&W modules, and now I'm curious how unified or unique the promised onslaught of new S&W material will be.

    And I think of how my modules have been presented. Up until this past summer, they've all been unique because all that's been on the cover is full-page art (itself a commonality...)... and now a bunch of them have the LotFP logo up top and look more "unified."

    I'm not so sure this is a good thing to continue.

    So for the upcoming projects I'm going to try to step back and think what will work best for the project in question... and if it turns out that what works for one project seems to work just as well for an unconnected project, perhaps I need to rethink that so-close project...

  7. This is some great thinking James, whether to conform to non-conformity, and thus conform anyway,,, like the goth kids all wearing dark make-up and black clothes together at lunch table...calling everyone else conformists.

    Or alternatively, you remain a true bleeding edger you have been, blazing adventure paths that echo and nod to the greats of the past, but have their own unique high risk-reward and weird fantastical flair.

    Those old adventures you mention above were all differentiated in their plot-lines, tenor, etc. even if the structure was the same. Yes they had the advantage of being "first" but they stand up as great.

    Dungeon Crawl Classics tries to capitalize upon this "old fashioned" feel with some success, but the quality leans towards mediocre aside from a few gems.

    I like your point re: the externality effects requiring you to buy a minimum of a series of adventures to "get value". That sucks. Even loving Dragonlance growing up, buying all the modules as it seemed required was intimidating.

    If I was your manager, I would recommend you, with your talents focus upon what is truly lacking out there: A compelling, deep setting filled to the brim with weird fantasy possibilities and truly unique challenges and nuances like ... *Spoiler* a dwarvish culture that subsidize human superstitions secretly to keep out intruders, which includes a cost of innocents... yeah man, that is good stuff!

    Thus, I feel an optimized encumbrance or streamlined skill system is okay and all, but the grist for the mill for which there is untapped demand is something special that transcends game systems... something that has people going to bed and waking thinking about it.

  8. The new S&W modules are going to continue the trend of having a relatively uniform look and feel to their layout. I am very heavily weighted toward making the resources as usable at the game table as possible, which means being able to find information fast.

    My editorial preference is to have boxed text (avoiding the risk of omitting something vital from the description) but making it short enough to allow eye-contact paraphrase by the Referee when it is actually used at the gaming table (I hate long read-aloud box text).

    I sympathize entirely with you, Jim, at hitting this phase of the growth of a game/publisher. It sucks to have so many decisions to make, and that's actually another reason for standardizing the parts of the product you feel are less key ... you don't have to keep making difficult choices for each and every product. The exact sort of paper appropriate to a jungle-adventure as opposed to a Norse sea-travel adventure ... you don't want to be in that zone, you want to be writing adventures and visualizing the appearance of the art/cartography.

    But yes, in terms of S&W, there will be continued uniformity of appearance, although it is going to be a new appearance from the Black Blade editions.

  9. And I think of how my modules have been presented. Up until this past summer, they've all been unique because all that's been on the cover is full-page art (itself a commonality...)... and now a bunch of them have the LotFP logo up top and look more "unified."

    I'm not so sure this is a good thing to continue.

    But wasn't the whole point of publishing LotFP as your own rule set to lay the foundation for a line of supplements and adventures?

    If your supplementary product lacks a distinctive product identity you will miss your goal. Of course, your die-hard fans and (online!) customers will be able to identify your fare however you publish it, but the shops/distributors won't. If the shopkeeper is not able to immediately tell that book x from the latest distributor shipment is best placed next to the LotFP box/hardcover, all the hassle you went through with LotFP was in vain.

    Branding works. Just look at Pathfinder. And the irritations WotC created with introducing the Essentials line.