Friday, May 28, 2010

The Making Of the Cover!

I posted the LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing cover art yesterday, if you missed it.

And now, the BEHIND THE SCENES story!

The original plan was to do a photograph. My wife was going to do all the costumes and the snake demon was only going to have two arms. The Flame Princess would have had a shield to hide the "transition area" between the human and snake bits of the demon (the snake bit was to be digital manipulation of course).


Arranging that quickly became a nightmare, and there was doubt that the final product would look authentic. Arranging models, figuring out costumes (and cost!), locations, getting it done before the snow melted, finding a snake to photograph for that part and getting it inserted in... uggh uggh uggh.

Time to look for artists.

The Flame Princess was originally going to have a Viking outfit in the photograph. Fairly easy to make. But since it was now going to be art, I could be a bit more extravagant.

So the idea became "Female Solomon Kane type versus the Snake Demon!"

A bit of the Solomon Kane bits didn't survive the various drafts (there were other elements like the hat and a pack which were supposed to be in to make it a more "realistic" scene - this woman isn't traveling across the wilderness with nothing but a sword - but it ended up cluttering the image), but I'm not complaining about that at all. But that was the original idea of the artistic rendition of the Flame Princess.

With it being art, the snake demon could then have 6 arms and we could see the full body without it looking any faker than the rest.

The simple setup for the cover was a necessity because putting together a good looking photo demanded a simple idea. But when I decided to have it rendered artistically, the concept didn't change at all. A bit odd, in retrospect.

The artist selection was tough. My original budget for the cover art was $250. And I could have gotten a decent artist who did good stuff for that amount. But looking through my classic RPG stuff, if I had my choice of a TSR artist to do this, it would have been Keith Parkinson. Now he's no longer with us, and I couldn't afford him if he was, but that was my standard. I wasn't going to get that standard for $250. It was clear that my whole concept of budget for the box set was about to explode.

Choosing the artist was difficult in the end. It was down to Cynthia Sheppard and Nicole Cardiff. I don't know if it's proper etiquette to mention the person I didn't choose, but it was pissing me off for awhile that I couldn't afford both. And I could only have one cover. Both are absolutely awesome, and both make fantastic situations look real. How the hell was I supposed to pick?

In the end, I just had to make a choice. Cynthia did a great job, but of course I'll always wonder what it would have looked like if I'd gone the other way. (would have also happened in reverse if I'd chosen Cardiff)

I can't currently afford this kind of art for every release (and I know it seems rather unkind to all the other artists I work with to say that, but I'd like to think we're not all bullshitting each other and blowing smoke up each others' asses when we work together... and just the front cover for this box has cost far more than any previous project's TOTAL budget), but I hope the box set does well enough that future big releases get made so I can commission more fancy art. I have ideas for a few new color pieces if Weird Fantasy Role-Playing needs a second printing done (would be a color hardcover book rather than a box set - I'm already dreading assembling those things), and I'd want to continue to work with Sheppard because I like visual continuity, but I will find something for Cardiff to do in the future.

So that was all settled.

Oh wait, it wasn't. Good art needs models.

Finding a model for the snake demon was easy. I had four or five people (can't remember now) with the right physique (slender and no huge bazongas which would look gratuitous on the page) ready to do it. That blows my mind. Luna was chosen because she was by far the most enthusiastic about the whole thing, and she had the real-life long hair. The closer the reference is to the final picture, the more real the final picture would look. Luna also does modeling on her own, and knows photographers in her area, and she passed along over TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY reference photos to Sheppard. I think that really shows in the final piece.

(the winter background was less of a problem... I had taken a ton of reference photos here over the winter, but of course this was the year that there were massive snowstorms all over the US, so Cynthia was able to be more familiar with snowy landscapes than I think she cared to be, haha)

The Flame Princess was a pain in the ass to find a model for (and that's the fully-clothed one!). In my single days, I had a rule. If it has red hair, or long hair, chase it. So I had quite a selection of redheads and longhairs on my contact lists, and it was time to go hunting once again. Marjut was the first person I asked because she's got the best hair ever, and she said no. Over the course of the next month or so, I bugged the shit out of so many people, and I think due to my wish to be as close to the part as possible, and as usual, I overdid it. This is probably why when I was dating, I'd go out with so few redheads or longhairs. I just creep the shit out of them. I think I was responsible for at least one severe haircut and one dye job because I made them hate their hair. ay ay ay. I came crawling back to Marjut, and after some begging, she agreed. She set up a session with a guy that does a lot of concert photography and delivered a couple dozen reference shots to the artist (with a carpet beater standing in for a sword...).

So then it was on.

For awhile, everything was OK. Planning and every prelim piece looked awesome. But then it got too finished, and...

OK. I've mentioned before that I'm an asshole when it comes to art. Sometimes I don't communicate my wishes very well and the impression I give with the art specs isn't actually what I mean. Sometimes I communicate it quite well but seeing what something looks like sometimes just isn't as cool as it was when I was just imagining it. So I request changes. Tons of changes. Back and forth.

Ask Dean Clayton, who isn't getting paid a tenth of what Sheppard is for interior pieces and there are a couple of those we've been going back and forth with for months. Remember my Erol Otus rant some months back? Well I don't just do that on the blog. I was in talks with another classic TSR artist (that I won't name) for a black and white interior piece, we'd agreed on the content and the price, and when it came time to talk specifics, I wanted to make sure I was getting the best he had to offer, and gave specific notes about which pieces of his work I liked and which I considered substandard. That killed the whole deal, but I don't mind. I'd rather that happen before any work starts then get into a "this is crap, why don't I get your good stuff?" argument when a final piece is submitted. The fact is none of these artists' reputations are going to be made or broken on my game, but my reputation very well depends on their work. I behave accordingly.

So yeah, so early on everything was awesome with the cover, but as it got towards the end it seems nothing was good enough. "Change this, change that!" I admit to being awful and probably unreasonable. It's not like I know how other art directors deal with things but I know I have a rather abrasive personality at times so I'm always worried that the next adjustment or criticism I have is the one that's going to make an artist say "Oh fuck this, I quit!" And lately, that's freaked me out. It's a late date to try to recommission such a big piece of art.

On the other hand, the piece turned out how I want in the end, so maybe I'm not so awful or unreasonable?

Here are the original design notes I sent to the artist, three different emails, so you can see how the early concepts changed as work continued:

LotFP COVER DESCRIPTION

The final product is right now intended to be A5-sized, but may be A4 depending on specs on the items in the box, but won't know that for a couple months yet.

I'm not a fashion designer, choreographer, or graphic designer, so your input (after final agreements are made, of course) on both the clothing and actual pose of the piece would be appreciated.

The Setting

Forest wilderness, winter, shin-deep snow, trees iced (example from my balcony recently: http://www.lotfp.com/images/dump/icetrees.jpg), fog in the distance and edges (not obscuring either of the characters). The entire thing should look as natural and unstylized as possible given the subject matter.

Character 1: Demon

Woman with 6 arms (4? 2? Whichever looks best), no clothing, long hair, no legs - instead a snake's body, with the transition point being below the navel. Long, sharp claws, otherwise unexaggerated human features. No jewelry, piercings, tattoos, etc. Should look feral, not erotic - this is a beast hunting for food. Snake body should be as brightly colored as a temperate-climate snake can be - no tropical patterns

Character 2: "Flame Princess"

Long bright red hair, waist-to-butt length.
Clothing: Cape (with mantle, perhaps with a hood which is down). Knee high boots. Trousers and waistcoat. Longsleeve undershirt. Colored sash under a leather belt. Sword & scabbard on belt. Gloves. Nothing that would obscure the hair or face. Looking for a 1500s vibe of fashion and materials, original inspiration was "woman in a Solomon Kane outfit." No jewelry, piercings, tattoos, makeup, etc. This is a traveling adventurer, not a glam shot. Clothing should look worn, with old mudstains, etc along the lower portions.

Pose

Pose must be such that the front of both figures must be visible. Not side-views, backs to the viewer, cape in the way, etc.

The snake woman is attacking the Flame Princess, but combat is not yet engaged. If the Flame Princess has the sword in hand, she has not yet attacked with it.

then

... For the Flame Princess character in the pic. I'll be throwing over some (stick figure) pose suggestions in the near future as well for your consideration.

References for the Flame Princess

Hair Color: http://www.impawards.com/2009/posters/red_sonja_ver2.jpg

you know... RED! heh

Clothing 1500s - 1700s
(no guns, no skirt)
Should be a stylish mix of believable traveler's gear and looking good! Man's clothing, female cut

http://www.catskillcomics.com/grell/SOLOMON%20KANE.jpg
http://dungeonhack.webcindario.com/SolomonKaneCommission.jpg
http://www.majorspoilers.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01a/darkhorseapril09/SagaOfSolomonKane.jpg
http://www.benespen.com/storage/Solomon_Kane.jpg

http://www.season-of-mist.com/common/bands/arcturus/arcturus.jpg

http://img12.nnm.ru/5/f/d/6/b/5fd6baf34a177c35dfc7fb3112a363af.jpg

.. Of course, since there's no costume budget to worry about anymore, there's always the fancier stuff:

http://www.pirates-cave.com/moviecostumes.htm

Sword:
http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~wew/images/rapier14.jpg
http://bjorn.foxtail.nu/images/barta_a14-.jpg
http://bjorn.foxtail.nu/images/barta_a15-.jpg

and

Some ideas for the artwork.


Coverformat- Self explanatory. No matter what the art is, this stuff is going to be over it.


Idea A- For reference, this was the idea for the cover when it was going to be a photo. The shield was there only to obscure the transition point from snake to person on the monster, since that was going to be where it looked most fake. I figure since that's not an issue now, I figure we don't need a shield to take up space.


Idea B- Here's one idea I had. (it's also the only one of these that suggests both these people are going to have A LOT OF HAIR) The moment the monster reveals itself, and there's the other one going for her sword. I like this idea for its suggestion of action to come, but it's also been done to death: http://index.rpg.net/pictures/show-water.phtml?picid=7734
http://index.rpg.net/pictures/show-water.phtml?picid=8376
http://index.rpg.net/pictures/show-water.phtml?picid=7024
Just some examples.


Idea C- Flame Princess just walking along in the woods minding her own business, doo de doo... When the monster creeps up behind her, ready to strike! I don't know that this is a dynamic cover concept though.


Idea D- Monster rises out of the snow where it's been hiding, ready to pounce on the prey! The Flame Princess crouches and shields herself from the flinging snow.


Idea E- Flame Princess walking along, doo de doo, but she knows something is up and is going for her sword, and here's the monster at the point of contact after sneaking up. Again, I dunno about how exciting a cover this makes.


Idea F- Flame Princess walking along with a walking stick, but from a different angle, and here's the monster creeping out behind some trees. Same issue with it being a not-exciting cover, I seem to have a lot of those ideas. :P

My issues:
Do you think the monster is better served with 4 (or 6) arms, or will the nature of the snake-body be enough to make it all weird and stuff? However many arms it has, I hope you have ideas for its pose beyond "RAR, I am a monster with arms outstretched, RAR!"

You're the artist, you know what works best as a picture, and what you can do best, better than I. I guess we need to figure out the pose as well as the rough format of the cover - how much of the space the figures will actually take up is probably an important decision! :)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Cover Art


This is going to be the box cover art for LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing. The Rules book cover will be a close-up of the Flame Princess, and the Referee book cover will be a close-up of the snake demon.

Still to be completed is the censored version, which will have a bit of hair over the snake demon breasts. The censored version will be used for the online catalog thumbnails and for the non-European retail sales posters so stores can put those up in their front window without any problems, but the actual boxes will all use this as the cover art.

Artwork by Cynthia Sheppard, the snake demon model is Luz de Luna Duran and the Flame Princess model is Marjut Mykkänen.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing version 0.07 now Online!

Download it here.

Changes this time around:

Revised Maritime rules and ship stats, and boat prices, consolidated class tables, Plate Mail now costs two encumbrance points, changed shield prices, changed the Starvation rule, XP for foes defeated changed again, added Physician to Retainer list, adjusted Firing into mêlée rules, removed Feign Death spell and inserted Gaseous Form, changed descriptions for the spells Contact Other Plane, Control Weather, Cure Disease, Divination, Enlarge, Exorcism, Hold Person, Levitate, Massmorph, Neutralize Poison, Power Word Stun, Prayer, Prismatic Sphere, Ray of Enfeeblement, general text cleanup

Time's running out to find any real screwups... :D

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dear Internet (Plans and Woes)

The only thing worse than writing is revising.

There are two things in publishing that are fun to do: Coming up with a great idea that survives the fleshing out and development process, and holding the final published book in my hands.

Everything in between sucks.

There, I said it.

But I'm making good progress on all this stuff that sucks, so that I may get past it.

Along with that, I've spent the past few days working on my Ropecon booth, both in gathering more merchandise to carry (my table is going to be the OSR Mecca the likes of which can't be seen unless you travel to 2242 Kennedy Rd in Janesville, WI) and designing the actual look of the table as far as display options and such.

I'm risking a fair bit on all this hoping there is an audience at Finland's largest RPG convention, because all those other publishers are going to get paid for their goods even if I can't sell a thing... but I think it's a smart move for me to do. Here's my theory: I believe when you're selling RPG stuff, you can't just sell a game. The game can be great, awesome even, but if the potential customer questions his ability to find other people to play with, he's not as likely to put his money down. RPGs are social games, and to get a foothold, you really have to sell a community, or rather a network of players that will give potential players the confidence that all this shit isn't just going to rot on their shelf.

By gathering everything I can from the OSR, I can show people that there is a community around these games. And it's not out there across the world, it's now right here, in your face. So spend your money with confidence that this gaming stuff you're buying will be able to be used for gaming.

I've found myself in the position to spare no expense on the effort (but since I'm a low-class guy from the projects, that really doesn't mean all that much; my vendor table vision doesn't go far beyond banners, tablecloths, and magazine racks...), so it's actually a bit more stressful making decisions rather than just having to deal with the least of conditions.

We'll see how accurate my theories are and how well this all works at the end of July. If this does work, it's going to be a deal (not necessarily a big deal, mind you) in the greater RPG world, not just the OSR. If this fails, well, it's certainly going to be a talked-about disaster outside the OSR.

(this is called hype)

Obviously, since I'm going forward with the whole plan, I like my chances.

Back to work... revising. (current job: making sure the spell list is consistent in terminology and consistent with my rules changes and aren't still reflecting their original OGL sources... things like that... yuuuucck)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Posts Like This Are Why I Still Visit RPG.net Daily

From here.

"So you kill Cthulhu. But that doesn't mean you've won.

When the stars were right the thing's dreams made artists, poets and madmen create works of art and insane genius. That was only when the stars were right.

What if the only thing that kept humanity 'sane', the only thing that created a civilisation for the poor ape, was the dreams of the alien under the sea?

When the star god was killed, people all over the world simply stopped dreaming. Sociopathy increased, men became monsters, little more than apes with tools. Soon the whole world collapsed, because our intelligence, our sanity was nothing more than the dream of an ancient alien being, momentarily trapped under the ocean until we had the presumption to kill it."

Weird New World: Session 1 Notes

  1. Buying and outfitting a ship takes a good bit of time.
  2. I need mapping aids for the players and methods of communicating map features. I have what I think is a cool map, but it's not easily describable to the players, what with the irregular coastline, archipelagos, straits, etc.
  3. In what is probably a related issue, I'm out of practice with the hexcrawl style, which wasn't helped by the fact that
  4. I wasn't very well organized. I'm working from handwritten notes, preferring to play through things before typing them up. But in this case I had 3 different maps, 2 pages of weather notes, encounter tables, keeping track of the NPC names, plus the map key, all on different full-sized sheets of paper, all handwritten. Typed up, the weather and encounter tables will be on one sheet, which is most of the flipping around as the players travel.

It looks like the basic ideas of the adventure are solid, but it's the presentation that needs refining, and I hope to get that nailed down over the next couple of sessions. There are some important features in the adventure that everyone is still to discover, and I hope over the next two weeks those are all discovered to see how they work in play.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Help me Obi-Blog Kenobi, You're My Only Hope

I think I've mentioned before that I royally suck at promotional copy. I've been struggling for the past few hours trying to come up with some decent examples for the upcoming releases. Because these will be popping up in stores, there needs to be something on the back covers to hook people a little bit... but...

Here's what I've come up with. I fear it's very terrible, especially for the full game. Suggestions and help would be appreciated.

LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing

Mystery and Imagination, Adventure and Death

LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing presents a sinister and horrific twist on traditional fantasy gaming and provides you with all the tools needed to create and run a long-lasting campaign. Simple enough for a beginner – with material intended for those that have never before played a role-playing game – yet meaty enough for the veteran, this is a complete game in one box.

Included in this box:

• Tutorial Book – To introduce the basics of this game and role-playing in general
• Rules Book – The comprehensive reference to play the game
• Magic Book – All the details on spells and magical research
• Referee Book – Advice and tools to create a campaign suited to your tastes
• 7-piece Dice Set
• Pencil
• Character Sheets
• Graph and Hex Paper
plus two bonus adventure modules:
• Tower of the Stargazer
• Weird New World
And more!

Tower of the Stargazer

Legends tell of a wizard so arrogant that he felt the entire sky was naught but a lens for him to view the stars. So great was the hubris and defiance of this man that the gods smote him with the power of storm and fire. Oh did the wizard laugh at such a pathetic gesture. He did not fear the gods, for he drew his knowledge from something greater. Something darker.

The legend of this wizard grew, first whispered by men in fear, and later in awe. The wizard, they said, attacked the gods just as they had attacked him. And his joy only grew as the land around him died.

But then there was no more news. No more talk. Something had finally brought the wizard low, for though the sky still blazed down on him and his abode, he no longer blazed back.

And now you’re going to walk right through this wizard’s front door.

Tower of the Stargazer is a specially designed introductory module with material specifically for beginning Referees, with notes detailing not only what is included in the adventure, but why.

Tower of the Stargazer
For Beginning Players, Characters, and Referees

Weird New World

Journey to the Top of the World

The coldest north is the ultimate frontier for adventure, and nature can prove just as challenging a foe as any monster.

Included in Weird New World:

• A full color map detailing a continent-sized arctic area
• Over forty encounter areas are included, many of which are suitable for expansion into full adventure scenarios in their own right
• Rules covering survival in the furthest north
• Rules for trading with both the natives and the “civilized” trading posts
• The ultimate secret of a fallen race
• An open-ended sandbox setting that you can insert seamlessly into your campaign!

Weird New World
For Character Levels 4 – 7

Hammers of the God

The Vengeful Never Forget When They Have Been Wronged

A mysterious map and a promise treasure to be won, these are all that are required to set any adventurer worth the name into the wilderness. But sometimes what is found is far more than treasure.

Many that are good and noble will kill to make sure the secrets to be found under the old mountain stay buried. Many that enter the darkness will become beguiled by the splendor of the halls in which they walk, mesmerized by the riches to be found there, never realizing that death follows their every move.

Beware the god who has been discarded.

But What Happens When the Vengeful Wrong Themselves?

Hammers of the God
For Character Levels 2 – 4

Death Frost Doom

Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Their Souls?

Up on a mountain sits a house by a cemetery, haunted by the memories of atrocities past. People remember that horrible things happened up on that mountain, but not exactly what those things were. Still, they stay well away, and live long and prosperous lives for their wisdom.

But rumors of abandoned treasure and magic always bring those wishing to recover it. Brave, skilled men need not fear that which terrifies the common folk.

The cult on the mountain is long gone, yet the music of weirdling death carries on the wind.

The mountain is cold. So very cold.

And the greedy and the foolish will march bravely up the mountain for gold and glory.

Death Frost Doom
For Character Levels 1 – 6

“Death Frost Doom may be the best published adventure I have seen in recent years.” – OgreCave.com

“Quite simply, an inspiring product” – James Maleszewski, Grognardia

"James [Raggi ] is one of the most interesting and daring writers *period*, no matter what school of gaming you like." – Mike Mearls

Friday, May 21, 2010

What Is Swords & Sorcery?

I think the absolute common definition is this:

"It's in ancient times, see? There are no phones, no lights, no motor cars. No guns. So people use swords."

combined with

"Magic is real! So maybe you have wizards or dragons or other unrealistic stuff."

... and that's pretty much it, really.

That sound you hear when the words "Tolkien wasn't swords and sorcery because yadda yadda yadda..." are spoken, or any argument claiming that "swords and sorcery" is a specialized, specific form of fantasy, is the sound of eyes doing revolutions and brains clocking out in the face of a truly insignificant argument. I'm as big a pedantic categorizer as you'll find, as I like having labels that identify the differences between things, but honestly, nobody really gives a shit.

So let's review:

Conan? Swords and sorcery.
Lord of the Rings? Swords and sorcery.
The Odyssey? Swords and sorcery.
Sinbad? Swords and sorcery.
King Arthur? Swords and sorcery.
etc...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Weird

“The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain--a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”
– HP Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature

The term "Weird" seems to be used more and more these days to describe a certain feel or atmosphere or setting elements. Attempts to define it in any universal way are pointless. In fact, it's hard to imagine usage of the word "weird" in a fantasy context where it would be completely misused.

But I've got a game I'm calling Weird Fantasy Role-Playing coming soon, so I thought it might be useful to define what I mean by my use of the term. I go into far more detail in the Referee book of the box set, but a short version is probably in order so people have the correct idea of what it is they'll be getting if they decide to invest in the game.

To me, the Weird is a measure of contrast. There is nature and civilization and and it is not Weird. It is mundane. True-to-life, farmers and merchants and rulers and all sorts who never encounter the supernatural, and if the don't live near the borderlands, couldn't be blamed for not even believing in it. And then there is Something Else. All that magic, the monsters, and everything that goes along with it. That's separate. Not part of everyday life.

So the implied setting and advice given for developing your own campaign world (nothing will be spelled out, and of course nothing stops you from ignoring any of these suggestions as the game engine itself, as we all know, is almost infinitely adaptable anyway) will be geared towards making something that works without magic. Indeed, many of the setting-changing spells have been eliminated or severely downgraded to facilitate a more normal-seeming world.

Dungeons will be encouraged to be "ecologically correct," the advice for building monsters encourages assigning hit dice and damage capabilities based solely on the creature's size. This sort of thing creates a norm.

And then there is the Weird which breaks the rules, both in terms of the mundane aspects of the setting and in terms of game mechanics. There's precious little you can do to make the PCs really surprised by the whole thing since encountering the Weird is the focus of the game. Everyone at the table knows that's what they're there to do and it is foolish to expect players to feign ignorance or surprise in this matter. But with the suggestions to build Weird situations by intentionally breaking and rewriting rules, it'll drive home that things just aren't right.

Without such contrasts, I don't think the Weird works nearly as well. In "Sword and Planet" and wild settings where the base assumptions are infused with magic or strangeness, it's difficult to establish things that are different and transgressive. How do you establish "unusual" if there is no real "usual" state in the setting to begin with? That's fine for high adventure, but in building dread or horror, I don't see it working so well.

So don't expect complete mindbending strangeness oozing out of every pore of LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing. The Weird is the spice, set by example by the atmosphere of the included adventures. The framework, the base, will all be quite familiar. Vanilla, even. Ready-made to receive your ideas, rather than presenting you with unusual concepts that you have to deal with before you even get to use your own creativity.

Quick Art Notes

Amos Sterns will now be handling the cover for the Tutorial book in the box set.

There were problems with the colors for the Hammers of the God cover so Dean Clayton will be redoing that cover art.

Both of those, as well as Cynthia Sheppard's main box cover art for LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, should be completed by the end of the month (crossing fingers and toes) and I'll show each of them to you as I receive the finished pieces.

My small illness and strained back muscle or whatever it was seem to have passed so now I have four mostly wasted days to make up for. It's always something. Remember back when I thought this would be out in June? :D

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Working Together

Responding to this post, John Adams of Brave Halfling Publishing said this:

"This is one of the reasons I wish we could get some of the OSR publishers to work together. We could do so much more together, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. "

OK. "Working together" sounds like a grand idea.

I have no idea how it would work.

Seriously. I have no idea.

There is creativity and passion and small pots of money involved. If there was no money involved, nobody would have much to lose by working together. If there was a good deal of money involved, then it might be risking too much to be independent of the money-maker. But small pots of cash? In a creative enterprise? Trouble.

Let's use me as an example so I'm not projecting hypothetical motivations on other people.

I want to make LotFP work as a business. Not a hobby thing, but an attempt to be a full-time business. Dreamy and perhaps foolish, but if I'm going to do all this work I might as well grab for the gold, right?

So late last year it becomes obvious that selling "third party" adventures for other games from a few webstores wasn't going to achieve that goal. I couldn't even break into the small, but not inconsequential, Finnish market because this group of games really isn't on many gamers' radar here.

I needed greater distribution. Selling into retail in the US on the third party "compatible with OSRIC, S&W, and LL" wagon isn't something that sets retail on fire. In Finland none of these games are generally available at all (and Lulu is hardly Finland-friendly). And I honestly believe that these games being available for free on PDF is largely irrelevant to the viability of third party publisher support for them.

Now I could have decided to import Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry into Finland and then piggyback my releases into stores with them. But that would have been me aggrandizing and promoting someone else's brand for very, very little gain (basically I'd just be a middleman between the publisher and the stores here, and any money I took for taking the risk and effort of actually importing the stuff would just markup the price of the book in the store...) in the hopes that any customers take that next step to my stuff.

Even if that worked as a business strategy right now, that would be stupid to do. Neither Labyrinth Lord nor Swords & Wizardry are being run as full-time enterprises. So many things can happen, as we've seen with Stuart Marshall stepping away from OSRIC and both Proctor and Finch have already taken absences away from the scene for one reason or another. That they all have 100% legitimate reasons for their actions just underscores my point. LotFP is the #1 priority in my life right now. Is LL or S&W the #1 priority in their creators' and promoters' lives?

So if I was going to be serious, I had to do my own game, build my own brand instead of being a label that depended on people recognizing other peoples' work. It's certainly no guarantee of success, let alone the success I hope for, but at least the failures, the shortcomings, the mistakes, will be all my own.

However, I did not intend to do the game as any sort of a separatist movement. Here's what I'm doing to work together while at the same time pursuing my own game and brand:

Offered to carry several publishers' work at Ropecon, paying wholesale rates for their products. Brave Halfling, Expeditious Retreat Press, Goodman Games, and Rogue Games took me up on it.

My Referee book will be plugging publishers involved with the OSR, by name and by product. All of the major clones are plugged and linked. This is all pending their OK (I sent each of them the section of writing to make sure it is acceptable to them). Eight Eleven of the eleven publishers have given their OK, some after requesting minor adjustments that I was more than happy to make. Haven't heard at all from three two of them yet.

I offered a free ad flyer in my box set, printed at my expense, to six old-school entities, including five "competing" publishers. All I needed was the graphic to use from each publisher (so they had complete control over the presentation). I set a deadline months in advance, even sent reminders a couple weeks ago. Only two delivered. How closely am I supposed to want to work with all these people?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

RPGs: The Old School and Post-Modernism

An email I just received from an old metal colleague:

Oldschool rpgs and oldschool metal:

The discourse/apologea is the same. It's fascinating. I've been reading Grognardia a lot lately and on several posts about the difficult-to-quantify 'it' of oldschool RPG gaming that he tries to hone in I am reminded of the similar 'x factor' of great HM [Heavy Metal]. I read his 'The greatest problem with D&D' concept piece where it's how rpgs became about themselves and not about fantasy and all I can think of is the parallel to 'self aware metal bands being basically about themselves being metal' versus the more naive/child-like initial NWOBHM that explored a lot of adventurous territory that we have now somehow crossed out as 'not metal anymore'.

What I gather from the parallels is that nothing survives post-modernity. All niche art forms and hobbies will eventually learn that 'they' are something, and they will have to tackle how they talk about what they are. And then, hopefully, they must move past talking about what they are and go forward to using their aesthetics to communicate externalities in a self-informed manner. The conundrum with a lot of oldschool RPG design and obviously a lot of 'true'/classic/retro metal is that it emphatically doesn't do that, it doesn't work through this post-modern phase into adulthood, it merely searches for artificial (and mostly transparent) ways to return to being a child. Effectively, playing dumb. Some oldschool rpgs do it though, as does some modern HM with a good sense of history. That's the needed element, not being 'rooted in the past' but having a complete sense of history of the art-form.

Nobody Likes St. McIver

Grinding Gear actual play post here.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

I Know I'm A Gamer

... because I went to Tallinn today and as a souvenir bought a stack of 25 pads of A3 graph paper.

... also picked up a cheap pair of binoculars because I'm always complaining that I don't have any binoculars.

Yesterday I saw Iron Man 2, and found it to be just as good as the original (a minority opinion, I know).

Unfortunately, I seem to have completely worn myself out and made myself sick. I think I'm finally hitting the wall hard as far as the self-abuse in focusing on the game. The wife is changing up the diet starting Monday and we're looking at exercise schedules and we'll see if we can work towards getting rid of this extra me that I've accumulated in 2010 and then get rid of more besides.

The only principle writing on my end that isn't done (not counting rewrites and revising of course, I'm talking finished drafts) is the Weird New World adventure, which now has many pages of notes; fitting it into 16 pages probably won't be possible. Work is happening fast and furious on those maps, which was my main concern. Weird New World's map is going to be A3-sized and full color, covering the size of a continent, and before a few days ago, I didn't even know how we were going to tackle it.

I want to change some details of "information rooms" in Hammers of the God but there is a finished version in the can.

I still have seven people working on various graphics bits for the game and three people going through completed drafts looking for holes and suggesting revisions.

May 31 is my deadline for all this, and July 1 my drop-dead to-print date, so it's both exciting that things are happening and very nerve-wracking that it's all coming down to the wire, a good deal of it is beyond my ability to do and so is in others' hands, especially since I obviously need to take it easy for a bit.

I just realized today that the release date for the game, July 23, is very nearly to the day the one year anniversary (July 22) of Lamentations of the Flame Princess becoming an official business.

I can't wait to show you the finished product. Hell, I can't wait to show you the cover.

You guys are going to shit yourselves in awe. That's my goal. (well, not losing a metric shit-ton of money is my goal, 10000€ investment here, but making money by releasing a boring product isn't what I'm intending to do...)

New, and hopefully just about final, rules update late in the week. Get all your suggestions in ASAP!

And with that, I need to go to bed.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Me...

Exactly two years ago (to the minute!) I posted the first entry to this blog.

It is really unbelievable how everything has changed since then. Things are so much better now.

Here's to two more years, and having it be that much better then, too.

(I'm writing this post about a week before it posts, just so I don't forget. Now I'm hoping nothing happens between now and then. It would be just my luck if a meteor struck Helsinki and this whole area is a big old crater and then this post goes live.)

My Campaign Calendar

After writing the Referee book for the box set, I realized I had written a ton of great advice for running a quality game and I wasn't doing much of it myself. I've been running things really loose, which isn't such a good thing to me.

In an effort to get a handle on things, I've started taking small steps to get more organized. The first thing I had to tackle was the passage of time. Days often pass during adventures, and travel might be summed up with "The trip takes a couple weeks." The campaign has been running almost two years now, and nobody really knows how much time has passed for the characters. That's not so good.

So I whipped up this calendar. It's very simple, as you can see. Month and year go in the blank spot on top, and then there are the days with the phases of the moon (because people are always asking how much they can see at night). By shaving the month to 28 days, I could just use the same form year-round and keep the phases of the moon simple (Full moon is the 1st of every month). I use real-life month and day names, because I don't see the benefit in coming up with custom names. I can't even remember the names of my star NPCs (which, my players should know, is the reason I come up with outrageous names... it's a desperate attempt to be able to remember them without looking at my notes every single time their names are supposed to be mentioned), I often don't know what day it is in real life, and I'm going to memorize an entirely new calendar? No...

But just having it the calendar, and having the players cross of the days that pass, has had a profound effect in making the whole thing seem like it's happening in an actual world (for me at least). And at least we'll know, and not guess, when it's winter and how long the party has to stop that cult ceremony at the next new moon without being all handwavey about it. And it's dead-simple to make happen.


ENnie Awards: Kicking It Old School

The submission deadline has passed, and this OSR stuff has been submitted:

Black Blade Publishing
* Mythmere’s Adventure Design Deskbook Vol. 1: Principles and Starting Points
* Knockspell #3
* Knockspell #4

Expeditious Retreat Press
* Advanced Adventures #10 – The Lost Keys of Solitude

Goblinoid Games
* Labyrinth Lord: Advanced Edition Companion
* Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition

Greyhawk Grognard
* Castle of the Mad Archmage

Lamentations of the Flame Princess
* Death Frost Doom
* No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides
* People of Pembrooktonshire
* The Grinding Gear

Rogue Games
* The Cursed Chateau

Usherwood Publishing
* The Door of Infinite Portals
* The Rebel Faction
* The Shattered Skull

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

... and on a down note...

Can us old school type publishers and companies agree on something?

DON'T DO PREORDERS.

Not until there's something in hand.

I've fucked this pre-order thing up before. Adventure Games Publishing had an ill-fated subscription service. Pied Piper had a release a couple years back take waaaaayyy too long to come out with silence until it had. Brave Halfling is just now getting over its "box drama." Now I'm reading over on the S&W boards that the minis box set pre-orderers (who had their pre-order transformed into a minis subscription service because plans changed after people had already paid their money) that people haven't gotten their first mini yet?

A bit of working capital is nice, but have any of us done advance orders without fucking it up? It doesn't matter how good the final product actually ends up being. It doesn't matter if you include "make-do" bonus material for those customers affected. It doesn't matter if the delay is caused by an outside supplier, personal situations, or just plain, "Whoops!" When this stuff happens, we look like incompetent assholes.

And let's include Lulu-sold books being put on sale before the publisher receives a proof copy in the parade of amateur activity. The "Got my proof copy, found a problem and fixed it. So all you folks that have ordered in the past week now have a collector's item!" attitude is pretty ass, but luckily that seems to not really happen much anymore.

So can we all agree to not accepting money for anything until we at least one real and final copy of said thing in our hands first?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Weird New World: What Is It?

So I've taken the various notes I've put together for Weird New World and started to put together real work on them.

I realize I should just call it "The Empty Sandbox," but this is also coming around to being what I'd originally envisioned for the set's wilderness adventure but thought I'd abandoned. I thought at first to do a "beginner" wilderness adventure, and then thought to hell with it and just do a regular wilderness adventure.

But let's do some math:

I've put together a mapped area 60 x 84 hexes, each hex being 24 miles. It'll be a foldout a3 map (4x the size of the current releases).

Yes, 1440 x 2016 miles.

But I'm still hoping to keep the "adventure" down to 16 pages. May go up to 20 by the time I'm done.

So what I'm doing is putting together basically an open, empty wilderness area and showing how it is to be stocked. There will be a few detailed bits of course (including that one twist that people are either going to think is really clever, or really not notice as anything different in the first place I think), but for the most part... "Here's a map, here's how to deal with exploration and putting things in it."

... made simpler by the fact that this is all northern, even arctic, territory. So there's not very much there to begin with but hell and hardship. This is why I've been reading many books about those poor schmucks that were looking for the Northwest Passage for all those years (and they all failed and many of them died).

So while it may not be a "beginner's" wilderness adventure, it will be in many ways a tutorial and primer, old hat of course (but hopefully still good) for the veterans but just maybe a useful tool for those few new players who will pick this up.

At the same time I'm looking to see how I need to handle the maritime and ship exploring rules. I'm finally scouring all those links you guys posted a couple months back.

We'll see how this experiment goes. Hopefully well. :)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

One Goal Attained! A Tower of the Stargazer question for you!

The Tower of the Stargazer draft is completed and sent to the editors. 12000 words, in the three days I had allotted. I feel like I've just done some actual work.

A general question for you... I've put some "designer notes/tutorial/extra explanation" text in the adventure to basically be an aid to new Referees in putting adventures together and help in deciphering published adventures in general.

Basically, I want this to be the go-to module that people suggest when someone asks "What is a good adventure for a first time Referee to run?"

And I also want the adventure to be robust enough that experienced Referees find it interesting enough to want to run.

Ambitious to be sure, but it's small potatoes compared to the greater goals of the box set.

I was thinking that including copies of the original hand-drawn map and copies of the index cards I originally used to run the adventure might be a cool idea, to demonstrate how adventures made for one's own use differ from those written to be run by other people.

It'll increase the size of the module by 25% (16 to 20 pages) so it'll increase the cost a bit (not 25% though).

Do you think this is a worthwhile and useful idea for a tutorial adventure?

Friday, May 7, 2010

It's the End of the World As We Know It

... and I'll feel fine as long as my printers don't go out of business or raise prices at least through July.

Seriously though, that stock madness yesterday? In a week's time the Euro has dropped from $1.33 to $1.25 (currently back up to $1.27). Greece is rioting (don't even get me started there; I think it is a preview of the real global financial crisis to come... we ain't seen nuthin' yet), Ejfgdsufssdf in Iceland is spewing smoke again, the Gulf of Mexico is one big oil slick right now, Iran's going nuclear, everything's breaking down...

So the Steel Dawn future is coming... or if we're lucky, just Mad Max... and I have a big new game coming out in July.

Hoard your pennies now, because even if you're reduced to eating dog food and living under a tarp between gutted out buildings by then, you'll still want a copy. ;)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Awesome Typo

Weird game yesterday, with a death attributable to a lack of party cohesion (one guy charges into combat, all others run from it) which created a bit of a bleak atmosphere for a bit, and the session started slowly as 3/4ths of the players had new characters and when I asked, "So how do you guys know each other?" took forever to get answered. hmm. No game on Sunday as 4/5ths of the players had other commitments (Mother's Day...).

Anyway, this awesome typo. I'm doing the full writeup for Tower of the Stargazer today (and will be finished by Saturday night, dammit, and will get the maritime rules and most of the notes for Weird New World ready by next Sunday) and just made the most amusing typo.

It's supposed to say, "(monster) attacks the nearest living creature."

But what I actually wrote was, "(monster) attacks the neatest living creature."

Hilarious, isn't it? Can you imagine? Neat creatures? "Oh man, you're an adventurer, I'm not attacking you! Tuck in your pants! Pull up those socks!"

Guys?

Hello?

Anyone there?

hmmm.

See, this is what happens when I get amused by something fairly pathetic and the wifely creature is out running errands so she isn't around to be told. You all face my comedic wrath instead.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Spell: Gaseous Form - Need Your Advice!

Since in Weird Fantasy Role-Playing all potions are based on spells, some changes have to be made in the spell lists to accommodate this. I've already added Heroism into the spell list (replacing Know Alignment on the Cleric lists).

I don't care if the "Potion of x Control" don't carry over. Treasure Finding? I guess someone could make a Locate Object potion to cover that. Longevity seems to be the kind of setting-breaking effect I've tried to eliminate from the spell lists, so no loss there.

But Gaseous Form is a classic. I don't want to lose it, so I need to make it a spell. But I also want to keep all the spell lists at a certain size so spells can be randomly selected with a simple die roll.

So:

What level Magic-User spell would you say Gaseous Form should be, and what spell currently in the spell list should be cut to make room for it?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Weird Coincidences and Strange Omens

It's the Final Month for principle writing for the box set, so I'm going to be pretty scarce around here as I still have a lot to do, but the worst is definitely behind me.

I do need to mention a strange series of coincidences that have happened while I've been working on the box set. Five artists have (or are very soon will have) moved in the middle of everything. You have no idea how nuts that makes me when I'm waiting for material...

Weird New World is going to come down to the wire. My Sunday players have taken the bait to do the adventure, but 4 out of the 5 regulars have other commitments so we won't start playing it until the 16th. ay ay ay. And I still have to get the map specs to Ramsey. Wild, wild days.

And I can't help but mention... After a several year hiatus, I've once again become an online subscriber to Coast to Coast AM. Oftentimes hilarious, most of the time interesting, it's the best deal for your entertainment dollar, bar none. Alien abductions, worldwide conspiracies, ghosts, time travel, psychics, Bigfoot, and more, mixed with legitimate news and non-sensationalistic guests, all of which is treated with the same credulity by the hosts to give it all a sheen of legitimacy. Until it's time for the callers, and then you hope to hell that this is all just theater as you fear for a world where these callers are real people who believe what they are saying. But since subscribing to the show's online feed once again, I've found that I stay more focused on my work and not tempted to surf around the net every 15 minutes instead of writing. Good stuff.

edit: The pencils arrived today! 720 of the wonderful little buggers... 610 to go in boxes, so... look at me... I now have 110 personal pencils! I rock!