Sunday, January 31, 2010


Third session of Death Ferox Doom during this week's game.

As I was filling in more details about the dungeon in the hours before the players showed up, my wife noticed I was singing, "I'm an asshole!"

I think I lived up to it.

... at the end of today's session, an Explosive Runes-protected book wiped out half the party (one NPC included).

Subjecting themselves earlier to the pool of giant zombie frogs just to have something to eat (via the cleric's Purify spell...) for just a little too long didn't help.

And there's more evil to come.

So now the party is depleted, cut off, low on supplies...

Sounds about right. Now to see if they can understand the clues and navigate the challenges before them... and get some of the goodies that are down there as well!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Jules Verne and the Anti-Action

Making my way through a few of his books lately, I am completely surprised, yet again, how absolutely nothing ever actually happens in a Jules Verne story. Except travel.

It's just people going around and looking at stuff. Yes, this is a slight exaggeration, but only slight. There is no tension in his stories, at least none that lasts past the next chapter. It's just observation. Ohh, look at that rock. Those fishies are neat! Doesn't matter if we miss the 5pm train, we can catch the 5:15 and make an extra connection over there and save 5 minutes! Taken prisoner? For life? No bother, look at all this cool stuff down here!

Like anyone gives a shit about which exact streets the guy took going across New York, but there it is.

And why does this stuff happen? Because the prime observer (calling these guys "protagonists" would imply they're doing stuff, I think) just wants to see new stuff and learn things for the sake of it.

And this is not a bad thing.

For me, it helps tame the idea of what an adventure can be. It doesn't have to be blood and thunder or dread and terror. Environment is a character. A fantastic environment doesn't always have to be just the backdrop against which other stuff happens.

I'm jealous.

Hundreds and hundreds of pages of characters just looking at stuff in different locations, scarcely interacting with what they're looking at, and it's charming and engaging all the same.

Traveling thousands of miles and not stopping, yet much rich description along the way, giving every place its own atmosphere. Helpful when basing it off of real life, but I couldn't even do this sort of overview of cities I've lived in.

Not that Jules Verne: The RPG would necessarily be the most fun thing to play (same as how Lord of the Rings isn't necessarily the best to base assumptions off of when running RPGs), but how much greater would my campaign be if I used the techniques of Jules Verne to bring all of my waypoints, incidental scenery, and other usually unimportant locations to life?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Box Sets are All the Rage

whew. Dragon Age and Warhammer 3e I knew about. That Dr. Who was released as a box surprised me. That S&W White Box had a box release was a surprise as well. Emprise is announcing a box set version, and now Wizards of the Coast is doing the box set treatment for 4e and Gamma World.


Meanwhile I've been hard at work on my own box set project. I did plan on having a full working (if not very pretty) draft done by the end of next week, but that's my wife's holiday week so she'll be around all the time. Week after then, and that will be the rules, magic, and the tutorial. While I'm playing with those rules and you're looking them over, I plan on having the Referee book written in February. This will be the full Raggian approach to gaming, including campaign construction, adventure design, and atmosphere. A lot of stuff included in fragmented, disorganized, or incomplete forms on the blog but will be (hopefully) comprehensively and understandably written for this project. March will be dedicated to writing the two adventures, April for playtesting them, and then looking at May for formatting and all that lovely stuff (I have a new layout program on the way... I have been using a 2001 version of InDesign which can't even frickin do tables), and hoping for a June release.

In the box will be the following books with color covers:

Rule Book
Spells & Magic
Referee Book
Dungeon Adventure
Wilderness Adventure

The box cover will also be used for the Rule and Referee book, with different artists (and different media) used for the rest. There is the risk that this approach will come across as garish, but the intent is to just maintain that "oh wow, look at THIS" reaction as you go through the contents of the box. Using the one piece of art for all the covers might be confusing as well - not only for quickly grabbing the right book at a glance during play, but with me hand-assembling the box contents. I don't want that email saying "Jim, why do I have four tutorials in my box but no magic, rules, or referee book?" :P

The total cost for art already commissioned is just over 1000€, or about $1400 (the majority of that for the box cover). I expect to add another 200€ to that as I find out exactly how much interior art I'm going to need.

There will also be dice and character sheets and various other goodies in there. Right now I estimate that the box is going to be just over two inches thick (A5 format books and box - same as all my releases).

I could do a smaller project, but I figure if I'm going to do it, I need to do it right and right now, instead of waiting for some mythical "later" to go all-out.

I have secured the rights to some music from a musician friend of mine as I intend to do a promo video once the box is out. Nothing flashy, a few pans of the box and contents and flashing art on screen to the beat of the song is all.

I'll be reprinting Death Frost Doom and going to press with Hammers of the God at the same time I print the box set in order to try to keep down costs on all three.

The print run will be 600, and I'm trying to keep the final sale price down to $60.

I don't know all my final costs yet and who knows what the dollar/euro relationship is going to be by then, but that's the working idea. Get over your sticker shock now, because when I'm over 5,000€ in debt I'm not going to want to hear it. If I could print (or expect to sell) five or ten thousand copies, this would be much cheaper, but I'm worried about having hundreds of these things forever in storage as it is. Big project, small press, this is the reality. But I'm going to do every damn thing I can to make this worth the price.

After the insides are all printed and assembled and I've placed the order for the boxes (has to be done that way so I know exactly how thick the box needs to be!), I'll run a pre-order where I'll knock hopefully $10 or so off that price which will run until the boxes are ready. All these prices will include shipping, which given the size of the box will be a significant portion (30%, maybe?) of the price.

Time to find out if I'm a real writer and publisher or if I'm just playing at them.

Death or glory.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Version 0.02


All that's been added this time are spell descriptions. All of them.

From my end, of particular note:

Protection from Evil/Dispel Evil and the definition of "Evil"
Phantasmal Force, various versions
Dispel Magic

Cure x Wounds and Magic Missile get a bit of a twist.

Two completely new spells in the MU 7th Level list.

And to protect setting integrity, see the changes made to Continual Light, Cure Disease, and Remove Curse, as well as the lack of Raise Dead/Resurrection/Reincarnation or Create Food spells.

Tons and tons of little changes here and there.

Specific suggestions and comments here, please. General praise is acceptable wherever you wish to leave it. :D

The next update on this, hopefully in a week or so, will have all the open game content rules pasted in, and then the equipment list has to be completed, and then we begin the process of playing the tweaks to see what really is a good idea and what breaks down in play, and in general nailing the game down while I'm off writing the Referee book and all the adventure material.

ChaosAmSpieltischs Rollenspielblog reviews The Grinding Gear!

Here! It's in German!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Art Direction: LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing

I sent Laura specs for twenty pages worth of interior artwork last night. It's a lot, but with 5 booklets to be illustrated, there will be more. My use of other artists will depend on how quickly she starts turning in the ideas.

When coming up with some of the ideas, my sounding board (and GPS system, as I'm often reminded), aka the wife, said something in response to one of my ideas:

"I've seen that before. All these other things sound weird, but I know I've seen that one several times."

I tried to argue for it, for it was a "wizard in a laboratory" piece. My argument was that not all the art can be wicked strange and original - the game needed to establish the standards as well. Right?


And then it hit me. Yes, this will have all the elements to be an introductory product. But even if, somehow, someone who has never played RPGs before picks it up, chances are very high they've seen the standards. They have seen and can picture a wizard messing around in a laboratory filled with bubbling beakers and all sorts of alchemical things going on. They've seen a proud knight on a horse looking sharp.

But have they seen "Woman in a dress kneeling, crying, clutching with both hands and looking into the eyes of a severed (and still bleeding) head - and the head is spitting at her"? Things that will perhaps cause a bit of a shudder and hopefully - hopefully - a bit of trepidation about turning that next page in the same way I felt as a child with a copy of that wicked, frightening Monster Manual?

So the decision was made not to illustrate the text of the books (although there will be a bit of that, like pictures of the dice for the tutorial), but just to provide a great variety of inspirational and weird illustrations to get the reader in the right mood.

It won't be all horror though. This is another of the specs I have her (I did this several times, just quoting rather famous books with the hope Laura hasn't read the books nor pick up on the reference so she creates something original from the text and not referring to artwork that's already been done, to death, on these subjects):

Odd machines that look like this:

"A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and mashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling ith the riot of the thunder. A flash, and it came out vividly, heeling over one way with two feet in the air, to vanish and reappear almost instantly as it seemed, with the next flash, a hundred yards nearer. Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave. But instead of a milking stool imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand.

"Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles swinging and rattling about its strange body. It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazen hood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a head looking about. Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman's basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by. "

"Boilers on stilts, I tell you, striding along like men"

"over 100 feet tall (>33 m)"

A few of these are walking over the countryside… and meeting a wizard who's got a staff and is going all "You shall not pass!" on them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

LotFP Part of RPGNow's Gamers Helping Haiti Bundle

I've donated No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides to the $20 super-bundle that OneBookShelf (RPGNow and DriveThruRPG) has put together for Haiti relief.

$20 gets you well over $700 worth of PDFs (that listed $1400+ number includes the print retail price that many publishers set as the base value before applying a "PDF Discount"). Dozens and dozens of publishers have contributed - so many that the product page has only the first 40 or so items listed and stops the alphabetical listing at "C."

Buy it here.

You can also just donate $5 or $10 if you don't have the need for all that gaming stuff, and OneBookShelf is matching these donations.

Edit: The full list of included PDFs, for your $20 (from here):

17 Archer Feats
17 Bard Spells
17 Magic Shields
17 Monk Feats
17 Plants
17 Rogue Feats
43 Space Opera Adventure Seeds – Space Opera Support #6
90 Phenomena in the City of Copenhagen
API Demon Codex: Lochs
API Demon Pack 01
API Worldwide: Canada
Advanced Fleet Designs: Titan Class Scout
Adventurer Essentials: Holy Water
Adventurer Essentials: Rope
Afterpeak Systemless Setting
Albenistan: Election Day (Modern Dispatch 113)
Apocalypse Prevention, Inc.
BASH! Basic Action Super Heroes (New and Improved)
Barbarians Versus
Basic poker playing cards 1
Beast Hunters RPG
Behind the Monsters: Skeleton
Behind the Spells: Sanctuary
Best of The Rifter
Bits of Darkness: Dungeons
Bits of Magicka: Pocket Items
Blood Games II
Blood of the Innocent: A Savage Worlds mission set in the jungles of Evil
Book of Races
Book of the Faithful: Power of Prayer
Brandy’s by the Bay
Breathe Life Into #1
C&C Arms and Armor
C&C Shadows of the Halfling Hall
COPPER DRAGON: Basic Dungeons 1 5 downloads remaining
Castlemourn Campaign Setting
Character, Hero
Chronica Feudalis
Class options volume II: Paladins Prevail!
Classic Spycraft: Shadowforce Archer Worldbook
Classic Spycraft: Spycraft Espionage Handbook
Colonial Gothic: Secrets
Cortex System Role Playing Game
Counter Collection 4th Edition Paragon 1
Creatures of the Wastelands: A Menagerie of Mutants and Mutations (Revised Edition)
Creatures of the Wastelands: Habitats
Creatures of the Wastelands: The Thrasher Gang
DRAGONSHIRE: City Interiors
Damnation Decade
Dark Raiders of Misty Ridge
Degenerate Seaside Town
Dept. 7 Adv. Class Update: Bar Room Berserker
Dept. 7 Adv. Class Update: Gravity Slinger
Dept. 7 Adv. Class Update: Lucky Bastard
Dept. 7 Adv. Class Update: NeoWitch Guardian
Dept. 7 Adv. Class Update: The Innocent
Dept. 7 Adv. Class Update: The Prince of Doggs
Dept. 7 Adv. Class Update: The S.L.A.M. Soldier
Dept. 7 Technology Update: AAP/CPR Med Kit
Destinations: Spaceport Trident Vespa
Diana: Warrior Princess
Divine Homelands
Divine Quests
Dork Covenant
Earth Space Marines
F-211 Copperhead
Fantastic Maps: The Dragon’s Lair
Fantasy Firearms
Fantasy Women Clipart JPEG 7
For the Love of Dungeons
Forlakh’s Tower – CR 4 D20 Module
Full Light, Full Steam
Future Firearms Pack One
Gravitic Thrust Vehicles
Grumlahk’s Troll Tales
Hollow Earth Expedition Earth Drill
Instant Antagonist: The Selfish Succubus
Interface Zero: Modern20 edition
Items Evolved Rituals
Karma Roleplaying System Core Rules Book
Kiddy counters
Kids, Castles & Caves
Kobold Quarterly 11
Labyrinths & Lycanthropes
Lady’s Rock
Liber Sodalitas: The Dream Healers (Pathfinder edition)
London Fires module A101 for Fellowship of the White Star
MADS Role Playing Game
MARS: Savage Worlds Edition
Magpie Codex 2
Martial Cultures: Arytis
MegaCity Sector Maps
Mini Nuclear Plant
Modern Dispatch (#104): Line Zero
Modern Dispatch 120: Cyber-state Avatar Toolkit
MonkeyGod Presents: From Stone to Steel
MonkeyGod Presents: Frost & Fur
More Mighty Than Steel
NEO MONKS: The Dragonlord
NEO RANGERS: The Spider King
No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides
OSRPG CCG Card Template 1
Objective Interim Modern Combat System
One Shot Adventures! Days of Knights
Open Game Table – The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Vol. 1
Piledrivers and Powerbombs: Chokeslam of Darkness Edition
Pimp My Paladin
Police Precinct
Portrait of a Villain – The Desire
Power Pics Heroes 1 -Female Speedster
Power Pics Villains 1 -Male Cyborg
Privateers and Pirates
QAGS Second Edition
Quirin Encounter #3: Healing Device
Quirin Maps #14: Bandit’s Territory
Reign of Discordia (Traveller Edition)
Rise Of a Legend:NEW Issue #1
Roma Imperious
Rugged Adventures
S.C.A.R.E. Vol. 2-Viesca Melin Aella
Scenes of Space Hex Battle Maps
Serenity Role Playing Game
Seven Leagues roleplaying game of Faerie
Shaolin Squirrels : Nuts of Fury
Shrouded Agendas for D&D 4E: The Purifiers
Slivers of Dawn
Special Vehicles
Spirit of the Season
Squirrel Attack! Operation: Get Mr. Jones’ Nuts
Stolen Blood
Summerland Revised and Expanded Edition
Tales of Wyn D’mere Role Playing Game!
Tendril’s Oak Inn
The Black Book
The Black Spot
The Book of Dumb Tables
The Book of The Dead
The Fate of Inglemia – Superlink Edition
The Kerberos Club
The Lazy GM: Lizardfolk
The Lunar Scrolls
The Otherworld
The Squared Circle:Wrestling RPG
The Veggie Patch
Thousand Suns: Foundation Transmissions
Thousand Suns: Transmissions from Piper
Threat Record Vol. I, Issue #2
Three Sixteen
Thrilling Tales 2nd Edition (Savage Worlds)
Torn Apart by Radiation Wraiths
Trail of Cthulhu Player’s Guide
Treasure Chests: Volume 2
Turris Lemurum : Tower of Ghosts
Unorthodox Sorcerers
Valherjar: The Chosen Slain Core Rulebook
Vampire Castle
WorldWorksGames / Deadly Encounters Combo
WorldWorksGames / DungeonLinX: Dragon God
WorldWorksGames / Uncharted Space: Sathrican Homeworld
WorldWorksGames / UrbanMayhem: Streets of Mayhem
WorldWorksGames / Wormhole
Wyrd of Questhaven (PFRPG)
Zombie Apocalypse
Zombie Bytes: The Anthology
[PFRPG] GM’s Aid VII: Condition Cards – Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition
[PFRPG] Loot 4 Less Vol. 1: Armor and Weapons
[PFRPG] The Book of Arcane Magic
[Savage Worlds] Strike Force 7 – Savaged!
d66 Ship Names 2
Ápocrypha – Myths of the World

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Box Shopping

Nothing of substance to report today, but I'm reporting it anyway.

I was down at the printer earlier to look at samples of the types of boxes they're able to do. There is the one-piece self-assembly box, and the two-piece box. The two-piece box is three times as expensive.

I imagined for some reason that the self-assembly box was a pastry box, the kind of flimsy thing you'd get your donuts in at Krispy Kreme, and that the two-piece box would be similar to what the old Mentzer box looked like.

no no no no

The two-piece box was one of those fine, THICK boxes that expensive jewelry companies emboss their logo into, but don't print on, when their wares come in them. I could have just a blank black box and you'd think you were getting a high-end, exclusive product. High end stuff and no wonder it's so expensive, especially if I was wanting to throw full color artwork on it. Luckily, not what I'm looking for.

The one piece box was solid. I could knock on it, it wasn't in the least bit wobbly. Sturdy, sturdy, sturdy. My panic about finding affordable boxes disappeared immediately upon handling it. Yeah, they're still pricey in full color, but not out of line pricey.

I'm back at full confidence in being able to blow you away in content and production values when the time comes.

Now back to getting that content done. I'm on the spell lists now. No Raise Dead, Reincarnation, or Resurrection. Dispel Magic and Protection from Evil will make those who like magic items unhappy, but further thoughts on how to not make MUs the final word need to be thunk if gear is de-emphasized. I'm also leaving the illusion spells til last, because really, I don't want the classic "How does that work?" ambiguity to be there.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Hammer Drops!

The Death Frost Doom review promised earlier is here.

I do have some comments:

I vehemently disagree with him about Jalo, Otus, and Pekul art being in any way substandard. If you want to argue it's not the tippy top in quality, well, depends on the piece and the function. Some of their work certainly could be done by others, and perhaps better. But some of their work is absolutely perfect. I'll put Laura's piece for the High Priest Temple against any illustration anywhere for delivering the atmosphere, for instance.

About the map, he's not so wrong. The second printing of Death Frost Doom saw the dead areas of the map filled in (but I goofed and got rid of the compass points and scale and had to put in a little notation paper...) which did greatly improve its appearance. Now, ask 50 people what format they want their PDFs in, and you'll get 50 different answers, from my experience. Do you want it on the screen or easily printed out? How best to serve all parties? Putting a map in with an incredible amount of black into a pdf seems to be a big no-no.

The reviewer did indeed provide me with a better map which would be suitable for PDF use (now that's constructive criticism!). The third printing, with other appearance changes (branding and a pitch on the covers, mostly), is coming sooner than later. When those are ready, I will make all of the changes to the PDF. Now maybe that doesn't do people much good now (although the maps are functional, if not at all pretty), but some of these PDF vendors only allow a limited amount of downloads after a purchase so updating them frequently would screw customers more, by my reckoning, if I made a change whenever an error was corrected or other improvement made.

In a related note, the one-column thing is unique to my PDF formats for modules. I've seen numerous complaints in many places about products that just use the print layout for PDFs, and how columns make it more difficult to read on a computer. So that's why I do that.

As for not putting the title on the cover... well... I would prefer not to. It was my thinking early on that since everything was just internet-only, all the identifying information would be on the website and so I could avoid besmirching the product itself with "commercial interests." Obviously that's naive and so I've begun incorporating more standard cover conventions, and this too will be updated when the 3rd printing is available.

Death Frost Doom was my first major release where I was greatly concerned about the overall look, and it shows. Even as it is map-wise (and now I think the first printing cover is much less impressive than the second printing, and I hate that the early adopters have a not-so-shiny version, but what do I do, keep things not-as-good when doing a new printing? That doesn't make sense...), it's a marked improvement over the presentation of the first Creature Generator printing, which would have been the only previous release where the graphic design was given any sort of thought at all.

I've been paying much more attention to the production values since that time, inching towards improvement along the way. Those who have both Death Frost Doom and The Grinding Gear will be the best judges of whether I have succeeded.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How to Lose Players, Part I

Protection scrolls can be read by any character, so they are obviously written in a common language. So here's what you do.

Make an adventure with some sort of nasty critters. Undead, lycanthropes, demons, whatever. As long as there is a protection scroll for it. Set up a room or situation that the players can voluntarily enter, but that they don't have to, and telegraph the involvement of the particular. Set it up so it looks like suicide.

Then place the appropriate protection scroll earlier in the dungeon/adventure.

"Aha!" your players might say. "We could never handle that, but through our good fortune and smart playing, we found just the thing to let us overcome this obstacle!"

... and so they march in, "protected." Except they're not.

For the scroll is just some wording that sure looks like it activates a protection scroll, but it's just an ordinary, mundane scroll with a (Nystul's) Magic Aura cast on it.


(don't spoil the one clue that could save the PCs... I know a couple of my players read my blog and I want to use this in the adventure tomorrow... I'm not so much a prick to spring this on them "pure" but now they get to wonder about scrolls they might find... hahahaha...mwahahahah... ho ho ho!)

(Now come up with your asshole referee idea. Post it on your blog. Let's make this thing viral. Like herpes!)

Open Game Table Nominations... and ominous review omens!

I had a couple articles go into the Open Game Table blog anthology last year.

The nominations for this years' book have been released, and I have seven posts nominated! See the full list here.

I've requested the one about Role Playing Mastery because so much of it is directly quoting Gygax, but otherwise I'm really hoping to get something in the final book again. It's fun to be nominated, and even more fun to be selected to be in print. :D

Also, it looks like another(!) Death Frost Doom review is brewing. Evidence here. Is it me, or with that preface is he preparing to hammer it?

Jalo, Mayle, Mullen, Mûnch, Sheppard: The Artists So Far

LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing artists so far:

Cynthia Sheppard: Box Cover/Rules and Referee books
Martina Münch: Tutorial/Starter book
Peter Mullen: The Wizards Tower adventure
Kevin Mayle: wilderness adventure

Laura Jalo: Interior Art

Definitely more interior artists to come. There might be another booklet needed (this spell section is Out of Hand!) in which case I'll need to find another artist there...

Death Frost Doom Photo Review in Spanish!


Babelfish translation here.

LotFP PDFs Now Available at!


Bundles are still being sorted out but should be up shortly.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cover Artist Announcement for LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing

The decision to choose an artist was near-impossible, especially after it came down to the final two. But a decision had to be made, so doing the cover art for the box set will be Cynthia Sheppard. The cover art will also be used for the covers of the rules book and referee book inside the box.

Signing on for the cover of the starter/tutorial book is Martina Münch, who doesn't have an online gallery but I knew her when I lived in Vaasa and I know this will be looking good.

This in addition to Kevin Mayle, previously announced for the cover of the wilderness adventure to be included.

I have reached a tentative agreement with an artist for the dungeon adventure, but haven't gotten the OK to announce yet. I will say he's one of the more famous artists in our OSR circle. Announcement hopefully very soon.

Sword and Board reviews Death Frost Doom!


I also added the blog to the Other Stuffies to Read. Any other relevant blogs pop up lately that I've neglected to add?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The 10 Most Commented-Upon Posts in LotFP: RPG Blog History

506 posts (not including this one) since May 13, 2008. Catch up on all the flamewars you missed!

10. Closed Circles of Old Truckers Hurdy-Gurdying - 29 Comments - 19.12.2008
09. What the OSR Needs - 30 Comments - 3.8.2009
08. Clean-Up on Aisle 5 - 31 Comments - 2.4.2009
The Mindset of Old School Play - 31 Comments - 21.9.2009
06. I Try Not to Be Negative - 32 Comments - 15.7.2009
05. Reasonable Dedication to a Hobby III - 36 Comments - 8.12.2009
04. The Great Shame of the OSR - 39 Comments - 12.9.2009
03. Role-Playing is not... - 41 Comments - 7.3.2009
02. D&D and Racism - 52 Comments - 15.1.2009
01. I Hate Fun - 59 Comments - 11.6.2008

You know what I'd like? For every person that reads this today to leave a comment telling what your favorite LotFP: RPG blog post is (doesn't have to be from this list). We can hit #1 in no time. :D

And Now, Headbanging

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Economics of the Box Set

Brave Halfling Publishing's John Adams talked about why his Swords and Wizardry White Box box isn't going through distribution. He originally had the explanation on BHP's site, but that seems to be taken down, and now just present in the comments of one of Grognardia's posts about the project, here. What's in that box?

  • 6" x 9" Game Box (This is an actual game box manufactured for just this purpose)
  • Four Rule Booklets (Characters, Spells, Monsters, & Treasures)
  • A digest-sized copy of Matt Finch's, "Quick Primer for Old-School Gaming"
  • Ten of Marv Breig's 3" x 5" Index Card Character Sheets
  • Set of Polyhedral Dice
  • Pad of digest-sized Graph Paper
  • Pencil

The Primer is a 13 pages, the new version of White Box 111 pages... in full-size format. I don't know how they're formatting the booklets, but let's assume you're getting the same format, so double the pages.

So 28 pages for the Primer, and 4 56-page bookets. Plus the other stuff. Plus artwork.

(edit: Got the actual figures from the comments:

Book I is 28 pages, Book 2 is 25 pages, Book 3 is 36 pages, and Book 4 is 26 pages. Throw in a few more pages for the OGL and a few more for the blank spell/monster/notes templates. And really, 4 of these digest pages equal one US Letter sheet. So you're looking at between 29-35 actual US Letter sheets per each WB booklet set.)

I'm going to make some wild guesses concerning the box in my commentary here. For example, I have no clue about how much of a profit margin BHP have allowed themselves with this thing, but since John says, "And even if the publisher takes the base cost of all the parts of a boxed set and then sets the retail price by doubling it," let's pretend that's what happened. The original price was to be $29.95, so let's say his costs per box are a cool $15. Going by his 40% figure for the percentage of retail price that a publisher gets (which is cut even further if using other services as well, not to mention the publisher eats the cost of shipping to the distributor)... this box, with the above contents, with the assumptions listed here, would have a retail price of $75 if you bought it in your local store. That's more than Arkham Horror, a game that comes with a board and a billion cards and pieces and a big glossy rulebook, all in color.

That's not anybody, not the printer, BHP, the distributor, or your local store price-gouging, that's just the reality of short-run printing.
Especially with boxes.

Every single thing you buy in a store has had these markups made.

$29.95, an amount that seems large to those of us that remember the days of $12 hardcover AD&D books, $12 Mentzer box sets, and $6 modules (all of these retail prices that have gone through the channels listed above, not direct-order only prices), and them printing tens of thousands of copies of each item at a time). I've been a price complainer as much as anyone in past years, but reality is reality. THAT WAS OVER A QUARTER OF A CENTURY AGO.

$29.95, an amount that is so obviously not overpriced if you've looked into these things. And that's with black and white artwork on the box (which, looking at the artwork, I'd guess to be about 1.25" thick), and just headings colored on the booklets. That's with a 6 piece unmatched dice set. That price would have been higher (maybe much higher) with a 7-piece matched dice set, and if the cover of the box looked like the cover of the PDF.

As it is, John took a huge risk. Maybe this last 50 that sold out wasn't such a big risk since the high demand was already established, but let's just say that the 75 that was announced as added to the print run was a doubling of the original print run. $15 x 75 = $1125 risk.

These are exciting and scary times.

One thing I hope that comes out of this is that the businesspeople that control access to the stores look at this and get the stick out of their asses about "digest size" and "black and white." John wasn't kidding about that. I had some discussions where I was told black and white art wouldn't cut it for retail. Death Frost Doom's cover is black and white, and will stay black and white. I've sold over 300 copies with just a handful of vendors, very limited availability and accessibility for it. You'd think that shows that if it were available from your local game store in print with no shipping fee, it might move a few copies.

Maybe they don't sell as well as colorfulwowiezowie full-sized books, but the option of low-price booklets should be there, in retail. Maybe nothing so slipshod as my original Creature Generator or Fantasy Fucking Vietnam, but certainly something like Rients' Miscellaneum of Cinder (those would be dirt cheap to print in bulk) or McKinney's Fungoid Gardens of the Bone Sorcerer should be impulse-buy RPG items in stores.

But you need to "product-ize" a book to get it that far, and it's really impossible to make a few-dollars item in RPGs these days. Not to mention when you realize that spending money can allow you to manufacture something really really cool, with hope that the market will bear it.

(of course, I have no idea how Goodman Games is making a single penny off of the Dungeon Alphabet, with it being hardcover and full of name artists... or how Maliszewski and Rogue Games are making any money off of The Cursed Chateau at their prices either, but hey, more for us. Both of those are available at Noble Knight right now, by the way)

My interest in all this should be obvious, and I'm watching the events with a keen eye. I'm going after expensive art talent, going to have a full-color box cover, full color booklets inside, a matched 7-piece set of dice, and a ton more handouts. And I want to push it into retail. I hope my risk pays off just as well as John's...

First Artist Announcement

Kevin Mayle will be doing the cover of the as-yet unnamed wilderness adventure to be included in the LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing box set.

He's done the coloring job for LotFP's Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill cover (as yet unreleased, planned to be the first thing after the box set now), multiple color pieces for Fight On!, and many homages to old TSR art pieces, including the once-controversial Holmes cover "cover."

This cover art will of course be full-color.

The adventure itself will be a maritime adventure with a pirate theme, introducing basic elements of wilderness adventuring and of course having the touch of surreality that's a LotFP trademark.

There will be more copies of the adventure printed for those that may want it without getting the full box.

Truth be told, the reason it'll be a maritime adventure is because I'm just going to cut and paste certain maritime OGL rules into my manuscript, and I don't know if anyone has ever used them, whether in their current form or their original incarnation in the 1981 box. If the adventure uses them, I have to playtest the rules in order to run the adventure before it sees print. Convenient, eh? :D

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


The box cover: I'm still waiting on quotes from a few artists I've contacted, but I'm already sifting through the bids and galleries submitted. They're still flowing in (even one while I'm in the middle of typing this). I wrote on Sunday about some artists being delusional, but I have to tell you, the final decision is going to be painful. No matter who I choose, I'm going to wonder "What if...?" concerning a ton of other artists.

There are three other covers that need to be done for booklets inside the box, and I'm selecting artists and making offers there as well. The budget on those is but a fraction of what I'm spending for the box cover, since they really won't be nearly as important a promotion point. It would be really cool to spend top dollar for every illustration in here, but then I'd have to charge $100 for the game.

I haven't begun selecting or doing anything much concerning the interior illustrations. Laura will be doing at least some, hopefully a bunch, but there will be plenty of opportunity for others in there as well.

... and there are (cross fingers) a great many projects in the future, so I will be keeping all this artist information on file.

I have to say, choosing artists is a lot more enjoyable than trying to arrange a photo shoot singlehandedly.

I got box price quotes from the printer this morning. Scary isn't the word. I need to see what I can do about that. My local printer is outsourcing box-making, so maybe I shouldn't be using them as an agent to make boxes, mmm? I'm happy with their booklet work, and they'll be getting quite a lot of business from me concerning the inside of the box. We'll see.

And of course, writing continues. Having all the pretty wrapping won't mean a hill of beans without the actual content to fill it out, hmmm? Not to fear, hard at work!

And congrats to BHP on the success of their box set. You continue to give me hope that I won't just be sitting on hundreds of these things til the end of time... :D

Monday, January 11, 2010

More Death Frost Doom (and other stuff!) Comments

Here and here.

And Death Frost Doom, just under 6 months after release, is still sitting in Noble Knight's top 5. wooo!

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!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Call for Artists


This box set thing just gets more involved. One thing is for sure - the cover must be spectacular. Not "good for old school," not "good for that sort of thing," but something that would look striking on a store shelf and would have the average person saying, "That's really frickin cool!"

I'm pursuing one option: A photograph. The Flame Princess battling a snake demon. I've got people I'm talking to, the costumes would be custom made... but I have my doubts on doing it this way. Mainly because the people I'm working with are offering no ideas or initiative, I feel I'm pulling the whole project myself, and that really sucks. With two models, a clothesmaker, a photographer, a digital manipulator (also one of the models), and a location to manage with this project, not to mention having to be the fashion designer, it would be a miracle to get anything done, let alone the amazing piece I need for the cover.

I'm not dropping the idea yet, but I do want to explore other options. Art instead of a photo. Anyone out there qualified and willing?

Full color, two figures in snowy woods, 1500s vibe. I don't want it to look stylized or particularly like a fantasy piece, although of course there will be fantastic elements to it. That Plan A is a photograph should tell you the feel I'm going for. I want this to look realistic, if not real-looking.

I have a budget, but not a huge one. Will need the art by the end of March.

Interested parties send their galleries/samples link (don't send large files to me directly) and their rates for a full color cover piece to

I'll also be needing a lot of other artwork over the coming months, but I don't have the details yet (and by the time I do, Laura won't have time to do the several dozen pieces I'd need). Lots of black and white and several color pieces that will not require such exacting standards. Send links and rates to the same address above, thanks!

Thank you.

The Dungeon Alphabet Arrives

Nice surprise in the mail just now!

As a publisher, I don't know how in the hell Goodman Games can afford to retail this for $9.99, but WOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Wait til you guys see Otus' Monster Shitter (with steam) and Mullen's inside covers...

This is the stuff.

Nothing to See Here

Been writing at a furious pace.

Been arranging business deals. There are already announcements I could be making because the contracts are signed, but I'm wanting to wait until I can make availability announcements instead of acting like you should care that signatures have been swapped.

Been tearing my hair out dealing with suppliers.

Been wondering why my "art department," who I think of as "collaborators" more than independent contractors, don't seem to think my ideas are all as cool as I think they are - and are not offering their cooler ideas, either. :P

Friday, January 1, 2010

LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Version 0.01


It's not a coherent piece of work, it's not nearly finished, blah blah, but I think you'll see the basic ideas so far. This isn't a new game, just a slight variation of the game, where the differences here can be ported over to other games, or ignored entirely.

One problem I'm having doing the basic writeup of the rules is that I'll be having a tutorial booklet in the box which will introduce a lot of game concepts, so I'm not sure how to introduce them in the rules book. Should it also be explanatory, or assume the reader has either a working knowledge of the tutorial or traditional gaming in general?

Also, I seem to be wavering on whether to use pronouns or not. ah well.

Anyway, here's a first look, the "rehearsal tape" version.

The New Year

2009 was my best year in recent memory; certainly since 1996. A solid relationship the entire year, didn't move the entire year, didn't worry about where I was going to live the entire time. Got busy again writing on a regular schedule, started a business, caught more than a couple cool shows and hitting music and movie festivals. I'm hoping 2010 is even better.

My only disappointments have been that I haven't gotten my weight under control (although my gamers might understand, seeing all those baked goodies she makes and that's just on game day!) and that I didn't have a good idea for Tools of the Trade III on New Year's Eve to follow up last year's. Actually, I did have one idea but it would have probably gotten me kicked off Blogger and ruined a lot of New Years parties: A recreation of the picture, with me bent over spreading my cheeks, and an illustration of a Carrion Crawler photoshopped in to make it look like it was crawling out my butt. Certainly would have "topped" last year, but sanity prevailed there. Except now in your mind's eye. :D

As for business:

My goal is 10 releases for 2010. We'll see about that.

2009's releases sold a total of just over 1000 copies, print and PDF combined. Over 400 of those were Green Devil Faces, which leaves 600 of the for-profit books... fully half of which were Death Frost Doom. As a whole, not pulling a profit yet, but I wasn't expecting to this early. That my first product has been the biggest success is a surprise, but I won't complain as I hope to sell hundreds of more DFD copies this year. Various schemes are in the works for the business.

My sales goal in 2010 is to average 300 copies of each new release, print and PDF combined. We'll see.

Later on today, maybe before midnight local time (5pm Eastern), I'll put up the working document of LotFP Weird Fantasy Role Playing and link it here. Character creation, spell lists, as well as some magic, adventuring, and combat rules will be in there. Regular updates will follow until it's done.

Lots of work to do. It will get done!

Good luck to all of you in 2010 as well. Life and gaming (as a hobby and as an industry) are what we make them. Steamroll obstacles, crush opposition, and rule your world... or die trying!