Sunday, May 22, 2011

Inspiration vs Commerce

The RPG industry is small, no doubt. Not as small as you'd think from listening to internet talk though.

(The more I learn, the more I realize that when people on the internet talk about the financial state of anything but their own bank balance, it's about as relevant to real world facts as arguing "Who's faster, Flash or Superman?")

But following the decision to be a publisher are the decisions about what to publish. (and after that, how to publish those things)

I put myself in the difficult position of wanting to do things that are complicated. I want to stand out. I want my next release to be better than the last one in quality of content and presentation. I want LotFP to be seen as better than the next publisher. I agonize over this shit. Be great or be gone, you know? (I still have a ways to go to be where I want to be, but those of you who have been with me since the first version of the Creature Generator can tell me whether I'm moving in the right direction or not)

So when deciding what to work on, I have to consider whether anyone else will give a shit about it. Even if I have a fabulous "Penis Monsters from the Planet Vagina!" idea, obviously that's not ever going to get a Sheppard cover or see a store shelf. And it's probably a bad idea to even do a PDF-only release of a 4 page "Silent But Deadly" fart joke adventure. (Most ideas like this start just as a way to horrify my wife, and then I think "... but wait, that could work!" Luckily, that feeling passes.)

The point is I have to second-guess whether I'm making my decisions based on what I think is cool or based on what I think will sell. I'm hardly a cool person (and I have a lot of bad ideas - I was exposed to Truly Tasteless Joke Books way too young) and I don't have my finger on the pulse of public demand, so it's all really just blind guessing anyway.

Take this Referee screen I'm thinking about. When I run a game, I use an old AD&D1e screen (with the Easley art, so not even the cool version with the old Trampier art).

I don't use a damn thing on the screen itself. Even in 2006-7 when I ran 1e, I needed different info than what was provided, so the screen has a bunch of printouts pasted onto it. I might as well have started with a piece of blank cardboard.

But I use a screen. I used that screen playing AD&D in 06-07, BFRPG in 07-09, Labyrinth Lord in 09, and then when playing with all the cool bits that become the LotFP RPG starting in early 2010.

And I do wish that screen could be useful. And I wish it could look non-ratty with the stuff I want actually on the screen without pages pasted on with Elmer's.

Cool games have cool screens.

I have a cool game! I want a cool screen for it!

But the vast majority of my game's go-to info is right there on the character sheets and on the back of the individual books. What goes on the screen then?

The fact that I have to think about that, after deciding I want a screen, makes me question my motivation for the screen. RPG products should be made to be cool. But cool is not a good justification on its own for publishing something. It needs meat.

So basically, my publishing decision-making is basically an exercise in mental masturbation, waiting for something to shoot.

With that in mind, enjoy your purchase. :D

(and yes, she winced at that one :D)

How do other publishers decide what to publish, I wonder?

Ah well. Work continues on Exquisite Corpses, Carcosa, Isle of the Unknown, and Death Ferox Doom regardless. :)


  1. You could always have a screen full of improvisation stuff, like Zak's Urbancrawl rules (or my own, very influenced by Zak, Dungeon Crawl), relationship charts, things that help a referee run the game. No need for all the rules, since they are easily accessed by character sheets and the books (which are easy to find rules in). Something like that would make a screen worthwhile.

  2. Yeah, I'm thinking of rules-independent screen so it wouldn't be tied specifically to MY GAME, but at the same time still be something that makes my personal game easier to run.

  3. I use a plastic screen with clear pockets on each panel. That lets me put rules stuff for the players on the outside and my own notes for the game on the inside. I think the screen actually came from Pinnacle originally, but I use it for all sorts of things.

    I only ever published one thing (so far) and that was a case of "nobody's ever done a game which was actually ABOUT metal, so maybe I should" rather than any deep research, which is how Umläut came about. So I'm probably not a great person to ask...

  4. I think my ideal screen is a hardcover landscape design with cool art on the outside and with easy to grok random charts for coming up with NPCs, color for towns and dungeonss, etc. on the inside. I'd pay for that.

  5. Here is a idea. Myself and the GMs I grew up with used the screen merely as a Wall to hide behind and not as a useful set of refined rules. I do not think anyone bothered with the rules printed on them - rules were memorized, books were handy.

    Why not make a set of screens - Art on either side. The art would evoke a mood in the game - combat, spooky, gruesome, chill, relxing, urban etc. When the GM wants to capture that mood he/she flips that side of the screen toward the players.

    I could see a LotFP screen cut and shaped like the Naga thing on the Blog Banner/Cover of the Box set. It would sort of wrap around the GM.

    Would such a item be a gaming tool? In as much as it acts as the 4th wall as times - yes. As a handy dandy helper with charts and shit. Nope.

    Why not prints up hand out and GM cheat sheets - or maybe a well indxed cheat sheet mini book for the GM to use and include that.

    Kick ass super mega awesome as fuck looking screen to act as a wall and a handy dandy set of handouts/cheat sheets or mini books well indxed with rules for GMs and players.

  6. I love screens! But it's always been more about the evocative art than rules (or hiding stuff, for that matter). That said something like Vornheim that helps you come up with stuff on the fly would be very handy on a screen!

  7. I never use a DM's screen. I tried to a couple times back in the early 80s, but I hated the damn thing and ended up throwing it across the room. The only value I ever got out of my screen was sitting and staring at its wondrous Trampier art.

    I also never use character sheets. Just give me a piece of notebook paper, which is the best character sheet ever. You never have the problem of "Hey, I can't fit this in the little space!"

  8. I bought a used 4E D&D hardcover landscape screen for cheap and made my own LOTFP screen by printing and pasting parts of the pdf on the inside. On the inner 4 panels I've pasted the back pages of the Rules & Magic book and the Referee's book; Common Activities, Saving Throws, Combat Options, and Encumberance table from the character sheet; the Equipment and Watercraft tables; and the Retainers table. My ideal offical screen would have the naga/Flame Princess art on one side and the above tables on the other.

  9. still use my Esoteric Creature Generator
    (now playing mutant future ; - )

    my vote . . . system neutral GMs screen

    Im curious,
    what is Zak's 'day job?'

  10. "what is Zak's 'day job?'"--Clovis Cithog

    Here's a link to the Wikipedia page about him:

  11. For what it's worth, I just started running a LotFP game and I need a DM screen. I probably won't run LotFP exclusively or forever, but if you come up with a screen that's anything like what you're currently producing, I'll buy it and use it.

  12. I'd use a screen that had cool art on one side and on the other side random tables for cool stuff (like the Vornheim guide), and then just sleeves for you to print off your own charts and insert them. That way it doesn't look like crap, but you change the printouts for whatever system you're using and keep the screen looking good.

  13. I'd would by a screen that had the following:

    On the Player's Side:

    Weather Display (Temp/Wind/Conditions)
    Time Keeper Display (24 Hour Clock Broken down into turns)

    DM's Side:

    NPC & Monster Reactions tables
    Changeable Encounter Tables
    Weather Table
    Ranger and Travel Charts

  14. FWIW, the only screen I use is a Master Screen. It is a hard durable 4-part screen with plastic covers that allows you to slide in your own pages. I make my own with the charts (from the rules and homemade) that I deem necessary. Also, the art I select follows the tone of my game. For example, although LotFP's implied setting is Renaissance, I'm still keeping my campaign gritty S&S. Renaissance images would invoke the wrong feeling for my game. I may still pick it up for the charts, but then I'm not purchasing it for a screen. In this case, I wonder if the format is best for it's purpose.

  15. I use the same 1E screen (although I use the one with the old art). I find that I only use the combat tables (even though I'm running Adventures Dark and Deep with it, the tables still work the same). The psionics tables are completely lost on me.

  16. Since I got this thing: Savage Worlds Customizable GM Screen

    I'll probably never buy another screen again. But that's just me.