Monday, March 9, 2009

Don't Care

So I start reading around this morning and suddenly there's Megadungeon Fever that's sprouted up this past week? And that projects are afoot? Time for my quarterly rant...

A couple days ago I spent my Noble Knight gift certificate, and it struck me how difficult (but not impossible and there's more on my wish list) it was to fill that $100 with stuff if I didn't want to just buy 30 year old stuff at collector's prices.

I've glanced at a lot of people's projects that are happening on the web so far. And it seems that the scratches they're throwing online are
it. Not a first step in development, not a statement of intent, just glops thrown out half-assed (it doesn't matter how big it is if it's just a sketch and some notes) and accolades taken in.

I don't care. They're
not finished.

If the Old School Renaissance is going to amount to little more than rules clones, limited-scope "single quest" or "dungeon bash" adventure modules, and pdf-only huge maps with scarcely any detail... what's the point?

I want books. Actual, in my hands books, that people have put their heart into and maybe believed and invested in a little bit so they aren't just thrown up on Lulu at no risk while some third party makes any profit there is to be made. There are things out there that are good, are ready, but they just sit on a website.

Call me old fashioned (I love hearing that from people deep in the "old school") but I believe things that are only online don't count for shit and might as well not exist in the end. (does anybody else here back up their blog content in case Blogspot or whoever is hosting your individual blog has an "oops" or a complaint and wipes your shit out?) I consider this blogging exercise one of communication and idea-exchanging, perhaps a way to test some concepts out before moving forward, not in anyway useful for actual

I'm not talking about "commercializing" the scene, either. Things worth having do take a bit of investment, and anyone who bitches about paying enough to compensate for that is just a shithead. Putting out your own projects doesn't suddenly make you An Official Business That Must Behave Like A Business, and you're not a thief for charging a few shekels for a project you've put a bit of time and money into. There is a difference between
your project and a product.

I want stuff that will sit on the shelf nicely next to all of the 70s and 80s stuff there now and belong, and know the money I spent for them went to the people that produced them. I want books that can inform my overall game, not just adventures that take up a session or three. I want things that will survive the current fad of "retro gaming," no matter if it goes on to its previous oblivion or becomes corrupted by eventual commercial success. I certainly don't want a notebook full of net printouts. I certainly don't want POD jobs (whose companies double-dip, as you know the starting print price includes a cut for them,
plus they take a cut of every sale...) from people who take so much pride in community participation that they treat shit submissions with the same respect as magnificent ones (I'm seeing that sort of attitude in some quarters).

Actually, you know what?

We can do
better than any adventure supplement TSR or Judges Guild (or Mayfair, or...) ever produced. We do not have to stand in their shadow. They are our starting point, our training manuals, not our end goal and not objects of worship. They are not untouchable. We can rewrite our own alternate history of where our hobby should have gone, with 35 years of hindsight. And we can reach real, non-obsessed people (non-bloggers, non forum dwellers) and change the course of the hobby today. But to do that, we need to give people (at least the option for) things that they can use at their table, things they can read sitting on the can, or on the bus, and not things that require them to be in front of their frickin computer all the damn time.


  1. Every time you go on about how much Lulu sucks and you should print your own stuff I want to dare you to put out your next product as a hand-letter illuminated manuscript, because print presses aren't hardcore DIY enough.

  2. "There are things out there that are good, are ready, but they just sit on a website."

    I presume you've already taken the first step and privately emailed those responsible for the delicious goodness? What do you recommend as the 2nd step?

  3. ah crap, it's Monday evening. I forgot this was going live today. :P

    >>hand-letter illuminated manuscript

    "Can you write this again? I can't read it."

    I got that response when I did a hand-written note in the game yesterday. The girlfriend works in the medical field; her handwriting's crap. Otherwise, I might take you up on that. :P

    There are people in the metal scene who use typewriters to write their stuff and use old fashioned cut-n-paste for layout for their zines. Retro activity can go very far.

    >>What do you recommend as the 2nd step?

    To say what I mean in response to this probably wouldn't be taken well. Let's just say my blogging will be sparse for awhile.

  4. Well the problem is that the gap between Lulu and not Lulu is a big gap. Low Thousands gap.

    The only way I seen around that is the steps Labyrinth Lord has taken. Buy a few hundred copies and find somebody friendly to get them into distribution.

    The true problem is that Lulu killing itself with shipping costs. Especially foreign sales. And that we have no viable alternative to Lulu.

    Perhaps what the next step is form something like Mongoose's Flaming Cobra except for old school games.

    However the problem is that it will have to make back the money invested just to keep going. So this "entity" will immediately be a gatekeeper making editorial decision.

  5. I very much prefer an actual physical book to any electronicly stored media. I always know in the back of my mind, that I don't really have anything on a pdf. They require a computer and electricity to access, and hardrives crash, power gets interupted. A well made book is nearly permanent. Now, of course, the cost of such a book makes profiting from it very difficult, and I like profit. Especially since I can't actually kill dragons and take their gold. The greater thing in my mind is the fact that a high quality book has value in the long term above it's immediate sale price. Things that survive over the years are things that people see as having intrinsic worth. I think that to preserve The Game, we should be setting it down in books that are worth keeping in and of themselves.
    I think that as the Old School movement progresses, we will naturally see the recognition of the best of the works floating about the net. These will be the pieces that should be collected and bound for posterity.
    The Domesday Book is a thousand years old and still readable and a source of information. There is no chance that any pdf will be accessable even a third of that time from now.
    Technology shifts much too quickly.

  6. >>Well the problem is that the gap between Lulu and not Lulu is a big gap. Low Thousands gap.

    I guess that depends if you want hardcover or not.

    My local print shop that I've used is a Kinkos equivalent. They can do saddle-stitched and perfect binding (among other things published books don't usually use). I'm betting the per-book cost in doing this (might have to make 25 or 50 or 100) will be equal or less than Lulu's cost, and whatever markup you choose won't have to be shared, and shipping costs don't have to be overinflated.

    Look how Carcosa was handled. I do believe (and I'm sure I'll be quickly corrected if I'm wrong) he did all the printing at home, and then went to the print shop for binding and trimming.

    The difference is not thousands.

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  8. If you want to do mail order that could work.

    I admit I didn't think of that at first because because generally people today don't like to send money that way. That why we have ebay and the like. But you are right that if you want to invest in a kinko run then it can be done cheaply through mail order.

    On further thought the best approach would be to go all out. You would offer it on Lulu, Cafepress (maps), RPGNow, AND mail order. Let the customer pick which one to order from.

    What would be nice if we can get together and spell all this out in a handy FAQ.

    Also if you been following my blog my wife has been selling hair sticks on a site called It's purpose is to sell handicrafts and rate sellers and buyers. Kinda of like ebay but it appears to all stores.

    If there a site like that that can be used for RPG products then we can throw that in as an option. The value would be a more secure selling location, plus we can have storefronts grouping our products in various ways in addition to the individual storefront.

  9. To a certain extent I agree with the sentiment of publish or die. For example I am hopeful Grognardia's Mega-Dungeon project will become a printed and purchasable finished product. Given that it is a public effort, I don't see how this would be possible except by offering it as a POD book on lulu at print cost. It's a book, it's in my hands and it will be great. I understand though this is precisely what you were ranting against.

    The issue to my mind is in doing it yourself can you as an independent make any money at it? I am developing my own RPG system in the olde style but it is not a D&D retro-clone and I plan on publishing it myself. I've spent about $700 so far on software and art, and hundreds of hours into writing, development and testing. In the end I may sell (if I am lucky) maybe 100 copies? If it's good more?

    Since it is not OD&D, BD&D, or D20 based at all, I may be lucky to sell 25. Since I won't be willing to make it a free or low cost PDF download in order to recoup my costs, maybe I'll end up just passing them out to family for Christmas over the next 5 years?

    My point is, putting time, effort and financial resources into creating a published product is no guarantee that you can make money at it. I'm not Mother Teresa, so doing it for the greater good at my own expense isn't really my bag baby.

    If you cannot make money at it and be profitable, then why bother? I understand the idealistic "yes we can" rhetoric, but is it reality? I doubt distributors, retailers or webstores will pick it up so that severely limits any sales potential. I understand if it is a good product, it will sell by word of mouth, and if not good-well that's a lot time and money wasted on my part. No tears though, that's my accepted risk, and that's the beauty of capitalism. So I will be putting my money quite literally where my mouth is and actually putting a printed book out purchasable from me only. No guarantee of success at all, but I assume I have one guaranteed sale as you will be buying a copy to support your own thesis.

    My point is those idealistic risks and reasons are not for everyone and that's what make POD or PDF's the safe, sensible, and cost effective way for most people to create and put their work out. All I ask is one should not fault others for not living up to your standards, if you are not living up to them yourself.

    Idealistic notions must at some point bend to the reality of the marketplace. I have not seen what you are working on publishing, but I look forward to buying one of your own published books in the near future.

  10. >>Idealistic notions must at some point bend to the reality of the marketplace.

    Things released as a free pdf or at-cost on Lulu aren't gaining any profits for anyone either.

    I'm not saying do a traditional print run of 1000 copies or whatever. Do 100 copies locally, mark 'em up so it's worth your while, and see what you can do with them. If it utterly flops, well, you're not out so much money and it's not taking up half the garage.

    That'll give you some room to try to get stuff stocked somewhere besides your own bedroom, too.

    Look how the underground punk scene does it. They trade their releases all over the place so then they have more than their own stuff to sell. Metal's a bit more commercialized but it works similar to this as well.

    >>I have not seen what you are working on publishing, but I look forward to buying one of your own published books in the near future.

    Check out the links on the upper right. Although only one there is currently a self-published effort, although one that did start out that way is now in retail distribution.

    More to come in the months to come.

  11. James is right about how I do Carcosa. My required materials:

    1. Computer
    2. Word (or a similar, but free, program)
    3. A printer
    4. paper
    5. cardstock (for the covers)

    That's it. I compiled the book from my campaign notes, and REALLY polished it up. My hand-written campaign notes are pretty shitty. I typed it all into Word and screwed around with it until it looked right. I print some copies, then I take the copies to a professional printer where they staple them and trim them. That's all they do. I do everything else at home.

    I advertise CARCOSA on message boards, on my blog, and in the Old School Renaissance Storefront.

    While CARCOSA is not perfect, I'm proud of it and proud that I do 99% of it by myself in my own house.

  12. I like the analogy of the punk scene (I'm more familiar with the punk and post-punk DIY scenes than metal due to musical interest). Where do those zines get distributed? Often at shows and festivals.

    Or as gamers call them: cons and clubs. I know that might not help James (although I seem to remember his going to a con) but you can arrange book swaps at a local or regional con. If you've run off 100 and so have three of your buddies pool the money to buy a vendor table at a regional con. You'll probably be out $10-$25 each tops...the con I'm associated with you could have gotten a table for $10 TOTAL. Cut a deal with everyone you know who has an old school product and have 10-15...offer a package deal. For something like GenCon or Origins as we develop our IPR we could do something like "The Forge" table.

    Take a drive to a club a couple of hours away. It'll be worth more than just selling a few books but meeting new people and getting a new perspective.

    Besides with the passing of the gaming store we need something to keep the hobby knit together. While the hobby doesn't need the industry (and may have been harmed by it) what it does need is strong F2F communications networks and meeting points, which for much of the time have been the stores.

    By working to distribute our stuff through cons and clubs, the future of the hobby (and its past interestingly enough) we have a chance to really change it.

  13. I'd love to put out a book. The problem is that I'm absolutely committed to never charging anyone a dime for any of my gaming material -- for a variety of reasons, some selfish, some not.

    So until I'm independently wealthy (working on it) and can afford to print up books and give them away, my only option is the ephemeral, unloved "free .pdf."

    I do absolutely agree that there are finer aspirations than imitating TSR.

  14. I agree, it would be great if we all had the excess cash to print up a few hundred copies of our games. I don't. Nor, to be honest, do I have any interest in running a mail order shop out of my house in my limited spare time. Handling a few eBay orders quickly convinced me I have neither the time nor the personality to do mail order more than a few times a month.

    However, I can write up my stuff and make it available on the web for free download in a form that others can print out if they wish. I could sell it and make a buck or two, but I'd rather give it away and have it reach more people. If someone wants to start a company to print this stuff and pay me royalties, I'd consider letting them -- provided they understand their deal is not exclusive nor do they control any of the rights to the product (movies, fiction, toys, minis, whatever). Chances are no one would be interested on those terms any more than I would be interested without those terms.

  15. wow, I'm speechless... almost...

    You're getting your panties in a bunch about there not being enough products to spend money on but wait a minute, what's this? Others have put forth their works for free but it's just not enough! You want a scene? You want a progressive DIY alternative to the mainstream? Well, do something about it other than bitching. It's not enough to rant and light fires under peoples asses to get something done. Maybe instead of a rant, put together a guide to DIY publishing. Maybe instead of dissing another persons hard work contact them, offer some ideas and hell maybe offer some help.

    I respect those who can put up their works even if it's still a work in progress because even watching the process of their designs inspires me and gives me new ideas to work on.

  16. So in this time of economic difficulty and market uncertainty you're not only suggesting people take a chance on still developing personal projects but that you'd rather pay for these ideas they're willing to put on the internet for free?

    Cool. Fund the publishing of some of these books and then buy them for me.

    The edition wars and my interest in things other then D&D have caused me to leave the ol'girl behind in search of more interesting and less argued over fair. Then, every once in a while, a D&D blog will come up with an idea that gets me thinking about giving her one more try. Thanks for snapping me out of it. Now I can go back to games that are universally supported by their fans.


  17. >>Maybe instead of dissing another persons hard work contact them, offer some ideas and hell maybe offer some help.

    The help I can offer is limited. If I was in the States, and didn't have to deal with international shipping between the vast majority of the fans for this sort of thing and myself, I could be more hands-on in more ways than trying to light fires under people's asses.

    I've been going on about this since last summer.

    >>Now I can go back to games that are universally supported by their fans.

    mmhmm. Because having people with different opinions on how to move forward is bad for a game.

    >>So in this time of economic difficulty and market uncertainty you're not only suggesting people take a chance on still developing personal projects but that you'd rather pay for these ideas they're willing to put on the internet for free?

    Oh bloody hell. It's a recession, not a cataclysm. People will still go to movies, people will still have their premium cable packages, people will still go out to eat. Museums will still have visitors, people will still drive their cars instead of taking a bus to where they're going...

    Game books of the scale we're talking here (not full color 256 page hardcovers) aren't big ticket items and are perfectly affordable.

    And the 1973-1974 economy was in the toilet as well. Imagine if that was enough to deter a few people from putting out something new...

  18. >>The help I can offer is limited.

    >>Maybe instead of a rant, put together a guide to DIY publishing.

    That would be some limited form of help. Minus the ranting it could be a resource.

    The blogosphere is an excellent way to exchange info, and if there was a guide for publishing locally on a small and cheap level then I'm sure people would find it to be of much help.

    Just to clarify, I'm pretty sure I 'get' what you're saying but seriously man, you usually have good points to make but it often seems to come out of your ass covered in shit.

  19. You should see me when I'm discussing or recapping my blog post subjects with my girlfriend during dog walks (if she's lucky... over dinner if she's not). I'm told I have all sorts of affected facial expressions, exaggerated hand gestures, funny voices, the works. Somewhere between a televangelist and a stand-up comedian.

    But if I'm not worked up over it, it won't get written, or at least it's pure torture to write when I'm not excited enough to shoot it shit-covered out of my ass.

    Come to think of it, my willingness to go on those dog walks is directly related to whether or not I have something to rant about.

  20. That sucks. I post a suggestion and it get's sidestepped with a personality quirk anecdote and ignored. I think your 'scene' is slowly killing itself with unproductive ranting and weak arguments.

    Also by scene I'm not saying Old school gaming, just the imaginary scene in your head that you rant on so much about.

    >> But if I'm not worked up over it, it won't get written, or at least it's pure torture to write when I'm not excited enough to shoot it shit-covered out of my ass.

    Don't Care

  21. My "sidestep" was directly addressing your last line.

    I'm not the guy to write the guide to publishing. My own efforts have either not been designed to generate any money (I used to pour thousands of dollars into the metal zine when I had the that much to spend), or never got properly got off the ground (Creature Generator picked up by someone else soon after release, Insect Shrine not ready yet, other projects not close to completed yet).

    I could cover the "mechanical" bits as to how to publish (getting your own book into your own hands), but I think there would be unanimous agreement that I'm not the guy to suggest how to make such a venture could be profitable (others have done that, not me), and certainly I'm not the one to tell how to best publicize such a thing.

  22. You always make me laugh James. I don't agree with much of it, but it is entertaining.

    Here's an anecdote for you: YOGC's Wayfarers began with Lulu. At that point, were deep in the red due to art costs. We work hard to get a distributor and we get one. But, H*LYS*$T if we charge a reasonable $40, we make something like $3 profit per book. -In 10 years perhaps we'll be able to pay for the costs of a second book. (For those of you that don't understand distribution costs, making the book cost $41 does not mean we make $4 instead of $3) Anyway, we go for it and print 150 hardcovers because, what the hell, let's get it to the people. Books print, and... the distributor goes out of business. Huh. I have a 1/4 ton of books coming my way. And guess what? Just reshipping these books to another distributor makes the entire enterprise unprofitable. So, we now sell our hardcovers out-of-house. Good news: we decide we can ship for $6 world-wide and we actually have a profit margin as there is no middleman. If we sell enough, we might even break even, -but more importantly we will be able to make more material. Bad news: we are lacking a distribution network and there's only so much you can pimp your book in blog comments.

    The point is, I'm actually glad we are selling out of house, and I agree with Geoffrey, -it feels good. (Even though out printing is more demanding than Carcosa). Still if there was an online storefront that supported people selling out-of-house, without middleman costs, the model would work much better and more people would probably take advantage of it.

    BTW, our paperback is still on Lulu as it is a good avenue for an Amazon listing. Lulu isn't ideal, but it has some advantages. Unless you have a print run of 1000 books to lower your per print costs, distribution of books for this little industry doesn't make much sense. As soon as we are selling 300 books per year, we'll do it. However the real issue is getting from here to there. This industry needs a gathering place were we can sell our out-of-house wares with little or no middleman costs. And it can't be ridiculously exclusive, either.

  23. >>mmhmm. Because having people with different opinions on how to move forward is bad for a game.<<

    I said supported by its fans. That is, everyone who likes say, Mutants & Masterminds, is all for more M&M in any form they can get it. Opinions are going to differ on what material is good or bad or useful for their campaigns but no one is saying put up or shut up. They're saying put up all across the board, any way you like.

    And far less offical material is created for this game than for D&D. I still believe D&D fans to be somewhat spoiled. All this material, professional hardcovers to free internet stuff and still people find ways to rant over such an unnecessary subject. It just seems time wasted when you could be...I don't know...putting out material in some form mayhap?