Friday, October 22, 2021

The Strength of LotFP (New Releases Out this MONDAY October 25!)

So I've been trying to put together the "Strengths of LotFP" post to accompany the Weaknesses post that went up six weeks ago. I've been having trouble because I was trying to format it like a clickbait listicle that would be all rah rah cheerleading hooks that would make existing fans feel good about their support while also enticing new or lapsed people to come on in... especially with all the new books going on sale soon. You know... marketing.

But it just wasn't working. Over a month of agonizing over it, and nothing was coming. Of course it wasn't working.

The strength of LotFP is that such horseshit simply does not apply.

In 2009-2010 we were doing dark-tinged fantasy, but it still fell within the parameters of the mainstream RPG fantasy flavor. After the first boxed set sold out very very quickly and I realized this could be a going concern and that my plan to scam the Finnish government out of startup money had failed because I'd actually created a viable startup with their money (oops), the "ok we're doing this for real now" was accompanied by a the switch to the imagery and branding of the Grindhouse boxed set... because if I was going to do it for real, I wasn't going to hold back.

So what is Lamentations of the Flame Princess? 

  • It is the feeling I got when my father gave me a crate of Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan comics the previous tenant had left behind in the new apartment he'd moved into, and at six years old I was reading things like A Witch Shall Be Born and Horror from the Red Tower and Hawks Over Shem thinking I'd stumbled onto something mythical and magical, what with all the gore and even nudity found within, and now I want to give you that feeling of poring over the forbidden.
  • LotFP is when my father took me to see the rated-R Conan the Barbarian in 1982 when I was only seven years old, and I want to give that feeling of being allowed to see something you maybe shouldn't to you.
  • LotFP is getting into Dungeons & Dragons with the Mentzer red box in 1984 at the age of nine going on ten and having entire new worlds opened up by this new hobby, and I want to uphold role-playing's promise of being able to do anything you can imagine, for you.
  • LotFP is the feeling as a ten year old of getting the three AD&D hardcovers and delighting in being treated as an adult in the language and art in a product labeled for ages ten and up, and I want to give that same feeling to adults now.
  • LotFP is my ten year old self not being able to read the Monster Manual at night because so many of the pictures were too scary for me to handle, and I want to give that feeling to you as an adult today.
  • LotFP is my discovery of Weird Al Yankovic with his In 3D album and being immediately drawn to Nature Trail to Hell all about extolling everything great about slasher movies while also poking fun at their cliches, and I figure that's a great attitude to have to all this stuff.
  • LotFP is me going over to a friend's house every day after school at one point in the mid 80s because he had cable and MTV was showing the Young Ones and Monty Python and my prepubescent self couldn't believe the absolute chaos I was watching... and I want to give that feeling to you as an adult today.
  • LotFP is my father taking my ten year old self and my six year old brother to see Return of the Living Dead... and he facepalmed right there in the theater contemplating what he had done when Linnea Quigley started dancing naked in the graveyard, my brother had nightmares for a long time after seeing the movie, and I of course loved it, and I now want to make things that cause all of these reactions in other people.
  • LotFP is my family getting a VCR when I was 11 or 12, and we immediately rented Friday the 13th from the local video store, watched it... then I ran back to the video store to rent Friday the 13th Part II, watched it... then I ran back to the video store to rent Friday the 13th Part III, watched it... and continued on however long it was open until we ran out of Friday the 13ths to watch, and now I hope like hell we're making stuff that when someone tries one, they run right out for more afterwards.
  • LotFP is me renting A Nightmare on Elm Street from the local video place and it scaring the living shit out of me, so I would frequently bother the local video store DEMANDING to know when part 2 would be released for rental, because one definition of "good" is something that draws that reaction out of me and I want to draw that reaction out of you.
  • LotFP is me renting Toxic Avenger from the local video store in 86 or 87, starting a lifelong adoration of Troma and low budget "trash" horror... while also being terrified because the lo-fi nature of the movie made its effects seem more genuine and real to me, like I wasn't sure if I was watching a snuff film or not and what kind of sicko makes something like this... and I'm sure LotFP delivers that feeling to you.
  • ... and LotFP is also seeing Toxic Avenger at Night Visions in 2014 and being disappointed that it was a cut version, and being pretty rude to guest of honor (and personal hero) Lloyd Kaufman during the Q&A about why there would even be a censored version in the first place.
  • LotFP is my mother showing me Flesh for Frankenstein (aka Andy Warhol's Frankenstein) when I was 11 or 12 when our family got our VCR and she was wanting to show me the weird horror movies she was into before she had kids... and my discomfort realizing that this really was a bit much... and now wanting to give that feeling to you as an adult today.
  • LotFP is me at 17 first discovering Napalm Death, then Carcass, Cathedral, Morbid Angel, Entombed, Deicide, Death, etc. etc. etc. and learning about and becoming a part of this worldwide underground, parallel world that had fuck-all to do with the mainstream, that never had to compromise, and the deeper I dug the less the artists cared whether anyone liked them or not... and I'm still digging 29 years later.
  • LotFP is my reaction when my first girlfriend, a Wiccan, wanted to teach me about paganism, and so she showed me The Wicker Man... and now I want to give you that same sense of "what in the actual fuck are you trying to tell me?" today. 
  • LotFP is my going to see Event Horizon in 1997 thinking it was just a sci fi spaceship movie and wondering why my girlfriend at the time showed up with a teddy bear to hold, and being absolutely delighted that there was an unexpected horror genre switch... and I hope more of you would surreptitiously slip in LotFP adventures in your regular RPG campaigns and watch players freak right the fuck out.
  • LotFP is my experience of seeing Gone Fishin' with my girlfriend in 1997, because hey Joe Pesci and Danny Glover were fun in the Lethal Weapon movies, and as it turns out it was one of the worst and most unfunny comedies of all time. My girlfriend wanted to leave, and so I pretended in the theater that it was the funniest movies I've ever seen because A- I don't walk out of movies, and B- her severely agitated discomfort was definitely something to see... and I definitely want to bring that feeling to you.
  • I went to see The Beyond when Tarentino's Rolling Thunder toured it around the US in 1998. It was a midnight showing in a swanky shopping mall's movie theater, and the movie showing in the room immediately before was Hope Floats... LotFP is the look on all the yuppie couples' faces as they filed out, they had to run the gauntlet of us freaks lined up for some Fulci. LotFP is the movie being preceded by classic horror movie trailers and the whole place cheering as the words "It has been a number of years since I began excavating the ruins of Kandar..." rang out and we all knew what it was. LotFP is the crowd enthusiastically cheering during the main feature when a little girl's head was blown off.
  • LotFP is also laughing along with the rest of the crowd at a Night Visions showing of Atroz in 2013 because the movie tried way too hard (BARBED WIRE DILDO!) to the point of comedy.
  • LotFP is my seeing The Blair Witch Project at a small theater before its wide release, and being so affected that afterwards I wandered around the streets of Atlanta in a fugue state, the summer afternoon sun seeming very dark... and I want to give you that feeling.
  • LotFP is also my seeing The Blair Witch Project on its opening night of wide release with a packed house and seeing in real time a crowd going from confusion to rejection and knowing there was a great divide between me and most people... and I want to give you that feeling even more.
  • LotFP is my starting to collect uncut cult classic films in the late 90s, and deciding to have a date over to watch some classic horror and then maybe a bit of rompy pompy... and never having seen it before, I thought I Spit On Your Grave would be a fine film for this. I was so affected that I actually lost all sexual function for some days, and I hope to recreate that feeling for you.
  • LotFP is my finally buying all of Lovecraft's work in 2002 after years of seeing it referenced in movies and music, and I definitely, definitely, want to bring that feeling to you now.
  • LotFP is my seeing Babadook in the theater and having a complete panic attack when they did the monster reveal, I actually thought I was going to die on the spot, that was so well done... and I want to give you that feeling.
  • LotFP is watching Squid Game with my girlfriend and being so jealous that she's trembling and crying at the violence and drama and wishing that I could feel everything I watch as deeply as that... and I hope I can do that for you all.

But LotFP is also burning hatred for those who wish to restrict what people are allowed to imagine, or what media other people are allowed to have ready access to.

  • LotFP is complete contempt for Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers' and Listeners' Association and the pressure it put on British media.
  • LotFP is complete contempt for the PMRC and everything it did to make life miserable for musicians.
  • LotFP is complete contempt Pat Pulling, Thomas Radecki, and every parent, teacher, reporter, police officer, anyone that had anything to do with creating the atmosphere that resulted in my mother sitting me down to watch Mazes and Monsters like it was a fucking documentary, anything that contributed to a police officer coming to my elementary school to talk to us about the dangers of heavy metal and role-playing games (YEAH THAT WORKED REAL WELL YOU FUCKERS), anything that contributed to putting Gary Gygax on 60 minutes, anything that contributed to the Angry Mothers from Heck attitude at TSR and their capitulation and infantilizing the game.
  • LotFP is complete contempt for the people that put the Dead Kennedys on trial for their artwork in the Frankenchrist album, the people who put Mike Diana in jail for comics they didn't like, for putting 2 Live Crew's music on trial, for the public pressure and government action after Janet Jackson's Superbowl performance.
  • LotFP is complete contempt for content standards (Hays Code, Comics Code) which restrict creativity, and rating systems as they become guides and limitations for creative works rather than simply describing content.

If you support the banning of creators or creations, blacklists or blackballing, or making it more difficult for people to acess creative works that you don't like, you are a wicked person. There is nothing on this Earth worse than a censor.

So there it is, describing the ethos of LotFP through example. Maybe not the slickest marketing, but if it can reach the people who connect with the vibe, then who gives a shit about the rest.

Although if you're wanting more traditional hype and testimonials, check out what LotFP's fans say about the game here.

Concerning the upcoming releases... we'll be doing a livestream on Sunday on our Youtube channel to introduce the new books, and before that we'll have some more specific information in this space about all the new releases... 

It's our biggest release cycle yet. We're releasing ten new items. Eight for sale, and two bonus items. 

Four should be fine for general audiences. (but what do I know, I thought Blood in the Chocolate was going to be fine for general audiences before people started telling me how awful some bits of it were)

Two would have been fine for general audiences if we didn't decide to do up the art all LotFP-like.

Two will cause frowny faces to those who think frowny faces are the thing to do.

Two will be absolutely indefensible to those who think creativity needs to be defendable.

My life, and the lives of everyone involved with LotFP and who plays LotFP will change on Monday.


Monday, October 4, 2021

If Facebook stays down forever I might have to use this thing again.

 Anyway, two of the things to be released soon have been delivered, and four more are expected in this week... with the last four coming next week.

I really need to get that "Five Great Things About LotFP" post that was supposed to be a quick follow-up to the last Debbie Downer post finished.

In (cross-fingers) two weeks time, we are going to blow your minds, melt your faces, and you know all the rest.

I kind of hope Facebook never comes back. Wouldn't that be nice. But it'll come back up, before I hit 'publish' on the post even, and I'll be right back there looking at nonsense, posting nonsense, and using it as a work communications tool instead of email like a responsible person.

Friday, September 10, 2021

10 New Releases Have Gone to Press. But First, The State of the LotFP Union

First, the real news: The long-awaited "next release cycle" is finally happening. Ten new releases have gone to press.

Eight will be for sale, one will be a freebie that you get if you order eight items at once (any eight, not necessarily the eight new things), and one will be a freebie you get with any order. Here is the lineup for each of the releases, in alphabetical order by book title:

  • Ezra Claverie and Yannick Bouchard
  • Kristopher Carosella and the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Jobe Bittman and Benjamin Marra with JF Martel
  • Kelvin Green
  • Courtney Campbell and Rich Longmore
  • Glynn Seal
  • Kelvin Green (again!)
  • Alex Mayo and A Nonny Mouse

and the no-extra-charge bonus material to encourage you to buy buy buy immediately upon release:

  • m.c. franklin and Yannick Bouchard
  • James Edward Raggi IV and Laura Jalo and Aino Purhonen

Yes, I know I didn't include the titles yet. There is only one reprint in the bunch, and it's one of the bonus items. We'll do actual promo for the new releases as we get closer to the on-sale date. 

The good news is that our new shipping deals for parcel packages in the EU webstore, in place since early last month, makes shipping so much cheaper and in many cases incredibly faster wherever you are worldwide than it was before. 

And be aware that we lose our Blood in the Chocolate rights in early December (184 copies left as of this writing), and we're down to less than 50 Veins of the Earths, which won't be reprinted either, so when you buy the new releases, grab these before they're gone.

Now then, the fun part...

*** *** ***

State of the Union

We'll do the happy stuff about what the new books are, why they're awesome, and why it benefits you to buy them later on, but right now it's time for the boring business and cringy drama llama stuffs.

If the printer doesn't burn down and all the new books are released next month, it'll be fifteen months since the last LotFP releases. That's just absolutely ridiculous. And preparing ten things to go to press at once is an absolute nightmare. I actually cried as I at long last sent the last files to the printer a few weeks ago. (and as it turns out, there were technical issues and the last corrected file just got approved today. Why ever stop crying? :P )

This is a good time to take a breath, look around, and figure out where we are and where we need to go. So in that spirit, and realizing some of this might be a repeat of last year, I give you The Five Problems with LotFP:

Problem One: Shipping

The main problem with LotFP is I'm way up here in Finland, and 98% (actual number) of the customer base isn't. International shipping prices increase once, sometimes twice a year. At the beginning of 2019, the post office here got rid of the mid-price parcel shipping option. Sales dropped like a rock immediately. And when the pandemic hit, the economy letter option suddenly started taking 5-6 months to reach its destination. I had to refund a lot of orders before figuring out what was going on... (and those refunded orders were not returned to me, so people ended up keeping the books when they were eventually delivered, at my expense.)

This past summer I signed deals with three different companies (DHL, UPS, and a special contract with Posti) so parcel shipping worldwide is now much cheaper than it's been since those 2019 postal changes, so buying multiple books isn't nearly so painful postage-wise as it was. But there are no good options for shipping a single book outside of Europe at anything resembling a reasonable price, and that fact is driving most of the decision-making around here right now. It'd be nice to release each book as it is ready without worrying about when the next will be ready, it really would.

(After last year's releases, I thought the next couple books would be ready to go to press in October 2020. One was ready, the other... wasn't. So we decided to prepare a boxed set edition of the one that was ready, while waiting for the other one... which took over six more months, and in the meantime a bunch of other stuff got to that finish line and here we are with all the new releases.)

The printer is also here in Finland, and the distribution warehouse is in the USA, so there needs to be ocean freight shipping. The more units being shipped, the cheaper it is per unit.

So this is why I don't just release single books as they're finished, and I group them together for printing.

With how printing works, doing the full run here and shipping most of it overseas is cheaper than printing some here and some in North America. 

And I have more than a decade's long relationship with the printer here. It seems every project has special requests that we have to work through, they work with me on delivery scheduling and billing terms (I have not been late with a single payment to them throughout our decade-plus working relationship), just tons of reasons to continue working with them rather than try printing with someone closer to the US warehouse.

So when so many projects are ready to go at the same time... what do I do? Eight books is a *lot* to ask people to buy at a time. But if I release two now, two more in two months, then a couple more two months after that... or even four now, four next month... any sort of splitting it up... aren't I just encouraging people to wait for everything on deck to be released anyway and pay a less-per-unit shipping cost anyway?

Whether I'm making the right decisions about all these things, or even good-enough decisions, I guess we'll see.

And this becomes an important issue, because...

Problem Two: Money

Through the end of 2018, LotFP was doing absolutely amazing. I had literally more money than I knew what to do with, to the point that I was giving away four-figure advances like candy and frequently spending four-figures on giveaway convention flyer art (which was always intended, admittedly, to also be used as Ref book art... even I'm not stupid enough to blow that much money on a one-use, limited-audience giveaway).

And it was all mainly propped up by two books: A Red & Pleasant Land and Veins of the Earth. RPL is now out of print, and the Veins creators are not extending my license so I won't be reprinting that, so when the current copies are gone, that's it.

(Veins is going away, and RPL is a problem in this way: I still hear consistently from people who think I was cowardly in dropping Zak and they let me know it in varying ways, from the sympathetic to what I consider kicking me in the teeth over it. I still also hear consistently from people who think I am the biggest shithead in the world for not doing the unpersoning thing with Zak and I'm frequently made aware of... unkind... things that people don't say directly to me. *shrug* Even two and a half years on I'm still not dealing well with it all; last December I applied to the health service here for specialized psychiatric care on the advice of a primary care physician after I reacted badly to sleep/depression medication he'd prescribed, but was turned down. Things haven't gotten any better since. However, after being told by multiple people independently that I should really get myself checked for ADHD, I got back on it and did manage to get an appointment with a specialist in late September and just maybe I will have a chance to find out what's going on upstairs finally.

Ah, there is a third group I hear from... the "oh get over it" crowd. I'll make y'all a deal. You make a book with no Zak involvement sell as quickly and as much as Vornheim, RPL, or Frostbitten & Mutilated... or for that matter Veins, which he was involved in... hell, even half as quickly and as much, and I'll stop thinking of this business and frankly my life in terms of Before and After the Zak situation.)

The stuff released last year? The initial sales were pretty damn amazing. Unbelievably so. But most of those profits came from the Deck gimmick pricing and slipcase add-ons, and the profits went to clearing up 2019's past-due debts (and I still have payments to do on some of that). And for the things that went into distribution, they've done OK. But they haven't been hits, nothing to replace RPL or Veins as far as providing money to invest in future products.

A bit of a tangent: A kind whistleblower told me at the beginning of the year they'd gotten into some privy areas where RPG industry people gather. (Spaces that not only have I of course never been invited into, but that I didn't even know existed.) Where there was chatter about LotFP, this person said their problem with me wasn't the Zak situation, wasn't politics of any usual sort... but because I'd fucked the payment structure of RPGs with many LotFP titles remaining creator-owned (notice how many titles say "issued under license") and paying in profit-share percentages rather than flat fees to creators. And some other smaller publishers have followed suit. This hasn't affected the top-label RPG companies I don't think, but has caused a real stink at the levels under that. And most everyone is at the levels under that. (funny that the person crowing the loudest about LotFP pay arrangements for years and years ago was also a widely unpopular person in many corners of the industry...)

I think maybe I should label everything in the webstore that does have creator profit-sharing. Publicize that more.

So anyway, this has good and bad effects. Good, because after years of running my metal zine and talking to musicians who didn't have the rights to their own work and were making pretty much no money while their record label was, when I got into RPGs I wasn't going to do the same thing. Even if that means certain titles going bye-bye because their creators weren't sticking around.

Bad, because... well, if a book is a hit, everyone swims in cash and no problems. But if a book just does OK, then... well, we're splitting OK money two or three ways. This is all I do for income. And I have full-timers I'm paying. So to keep that going on this pay structure, I need to have a decent number of releases come out, so I need people spending their time doing that. It's a balancing act.

But when there hasn't been a release for over a year... hooboy. As I laid out in my video this past February, regular releases grease the entire machine. And the machine hasn't had any grease for over a year now.

And... you're going to love this... all these new releases? Being paid for with short-term credit. They need to sell, like, right away on release.

Is that a risk? oh yeah. Unbelievably so. Stupidly so. But what choice is there? I can't count on anything being a hit, and the shipping problems mean I have to release things in batches of some size or another... and it's why I risked more with the bonus items, spending a few more thousand euros in hopes of drawing (far) more than that in sales at release, if I can.

And within all these means, I really tried to spare no expense. Going cheap isn't going to help anything, if you're buying a physical object in this day and (digital) age it has to be fucking worthy and not cookie cutter formatted cheaply produced books. This is going to result in some beautiful books. This has also resulted in doing a limited edition boxed set where the limited run means that printing the box itself costs more than everything going into the box, combined (plus I'm going to have to hand-assemble all 550 of them when everything is delivered, 21 components including the box and wrap). Yeah, I worry about whether I'm overproducing some of this stuff, whether if trying to make everything special means nothing stands out as special... but why not ask "How can I present this book as something special?" on a book-by-book basis, regardless of what's happening with any other book? Doing less than I can do doesn't make sense as a formula for success, or to put it another way, "I have a cool idea for this book but I won't do it just because I had cool ideas for some other books," makes no sense to me. But it's a gamble.

I don't want to be doing an annual "AAHHHH PLEASE BUY BUY BUY BUY SKY IS FFALLLLIINNGGGG" post but this is a small business and the past couple years it's a constant fight to pay bills and invest in the next things. There is no buffer. Enough people need to buy things or that's that. It's just how shit works. Now I know I'm not entitled to your purchases, and that's why I try to make to the best of my ability everything we release worth buying. Whether I succeed is entirely up to you. But reality is you need to decide fairly quickly when these things are released.

Do the last few paragraphs sound absolutely mental to you? Do I come off as a really bad businessman when I say all that?

Well no shit. This leads directly into our next problem:

Problem Three: Organization

I am the chief executive, product producer, project manager, art director, talent, receiving warehouse and shipping department, marketing manager, *and* customer service for this company I own. It runs out of my living room. (Well, I claim a 60% home office credit on my taxes so it's actually more accurate to say my living room is in my office... having five new titles stacked up in the apartment last year made the place unliveable. TEN? fuuckkk...)

I am good at one of those duties, really, and competent at maybe another two or three of them. The rest, I'm shit. I fell into this job and running this company because back in 2009 the government was offering 9 months of support for starting a business and I thought "hey why not avoid getting a real job for a little while longer." But to my utter shock (everyone in RPGs at the time were very down on the idea of making a living in RPGs), this LotFP thing caught on. I've been stumbling forward ever since, with this whole thing working because of good material, and not because of any sensible business strategies or infrastructure.

(I released hardcover Free RPG Day books for crying out loud. This is not responsible businessmanning.)

Project management is especially poor over this way. That February video I released looking for new contributors? That was done with the assumption that all this new stuff was going to press late May/early June. oops. Three months late. This is also the reason why crowdfunding isn't the answer to the money problem for new releases... if you think the ongoing Referee book debacle is bad (update on that coming as soon as the shipping phase on these new releases is complete, by the by), one of the books freshly sent to press was commissioned and had text completed back in 2015. It was to be part of the same batch of releases as Blood in the Chocolate (which has been out for almost five years). It went through multiple layouts and artists because people kept dropping out of the project. And that's just a frickin 48 page book. All sorts of shit happens as a normal condition of being around here. Through my years doing this I've learned that giving people deadlines doesn't result in any faster work than not giving them deadlines, so it's impossible to schedule anything. People either get their shit done in a certain timeframe or they don't, and I haven't noticed any relationship between ability to get shit done on time and the quality of the work. Crowdfunding just isn't going to work for me unless the book is 100% ready for press, and at that point, after spending on all the content and being ready to print, what happens if it doesn't fund? Do I just scrap it? And if it would fund, why give the crowdfunding platform their percentage?

I have as of this writing 497 emails in my inbox. Things that are real mail, not spam, and haven't been answered and really should be. You know the drill: Some emails that come in involve the thing being worked on right now, and others don't. You're processing orders (orders and bills get processed and printed out right away), project work, or accounting, or whatever it is other than sitting down and answering emails. And more come in than get answered over time. Things end up in a day or three falling down to page two, and it's either "out of sight out of mind," while you're dealing with the new things going ding in the inbox, or you do remember and it's "oh shit I haven't answered in a month, it'll be awkward to answer now, this had better be good..." but in the meantime more messages are piling in every day. Some of these 497 emails have been sitting in the inbox for years. Lots of missed opportunities, and/or people feeling not good because I'm not getting back to them. This isn't a good thing at all but that's how it is.

What comes into my head to fix this is "hire more people!" I could really use a personal assistant to organize and handle all the non-order emails and keep me on task day to day (and to actually write the response emails based on what I think the response should be but without the anxiety of how to word them because I'm always worried I'm going to say something that pisses people off if I'm just rushing through emails, so instead I piss them off by requiring them to re-send emails because I'm putting off responding...aghhhhh. Yeah. But hiring an assistant for this requires shitloads more money than I have available, even for part-time help. 

But as it is, I sort of flail around, working on one thing only until something else dings and then I go after that until something else dings. And the thing that comes last in my priorities is my own creative work, frankly.

This was all so manageable when there were just a few releases, mostly mine, and I had a living situation where I wasn't actually required (expected?) to make any real money at it. Just as long as it self-sustained. Now it's dealing with dozens of people on dozens of projects in various states of doneness and multiple peoples' livelihoods are at stake and it all just sort of happened where I thought "OK I'm doing this now but if I do THIS then things will be better" and in this case "better" just means bigger risks for potentially bigger rewards. I was never in my life very conscientious or disciplined before starting this company and I haven't figured it out after 12 years in business. So I oscillate between thinking "it's going to be 14/15 months between releases? Fuck!" and "It's a bloody fucking miracle anything's ever been released."

But in the end I do this because I have to. Not as in "I have an obligation" (although I do, to many people at this point), but because when it actually works, when other people do their things right and I do my things right and something is created, there is no better feeling in the world and certainly nothing better I can be doing for the world. Despite however I have to fight myself and other people to get any damn thing done, I don't have much of a choice. What else am I going to do? What else would I want to do? This is a dream job in a great many ways.

I think I'm good on the creative end, working with people to do something a little better, a little more effective, than it would have been without me... but a good businessman I ain't. Which exacerbates every other problem.

Anyway, the goal I have is to organize myself so that after this mega mass homicide of a release cycle, I can release batches of three books every quarter. Not just 32 or 48 page books either. Probably mostly though. With the idea that the wheel will keep turning and we're always in the "what's new?" conversation for fans and on the retail end, and if the wheel is being greased just maybe it's not a disaster if the new books don't sell immediately. And if there are more than three things ready to go that quarter, I don't have to go insane releasing them all because who knows when the next release is. bloody hell this has been a pain in the ass.

I thought whether it was wise to say any of this publicly, but if I'm going to have a cathartic "put all the cards on the table" exhalation here with any honesty, it has to be on the table. And what I'm saying won't be news to anyone paying the least bit of attention for any amount of time anyway. We're not smiley-faced "creative professionals" with our timetables and handshakes and a desire to bring focus-grouped fun to your entire family. We're... different. From you, and each other. And now I realize my intended generalizations aren't really going to work. Some of the people I work with do come off to me as the smiley-faced creative professional type that can be normal and deal with normal people, and I'm fucking lucky that any of that type want to work with me and they probably pull their hair out in their dealings with me.

Wait? People paying attention? That seems important...

Problem Four: Promotion

This past week I was invited by one convention organizer to be part of a panel with another publisher for a convention that will hopefully be happening, and that I will hopefully be able to attend, in 2022. The first thing I asked them: "Won't that other publisher's fans cause a problem for them if they're on a panel with me?"

That's how I perceive my image with the RPG public to be. Makes it a bit difficult to stick my head out and say "Hey, look at all this cool shit we're doing!"

So... promotion.

People buy RPGs when they like the material AND they believe they can actually play the damn thing with other people.

And RPGs, even after they reach a level of popularity and success, require promotion to constantly attract new people. People don't remain with a game line forever. They get other hobbies, move on to the next shiny thing, have money issues, just lose interest, get offended and say fuck it, aren't gaming during a global pandemic... or maybe very few people buy everything, so you need more people so there are enough buying each thing. A million reasons why people cycle out that are all normal and happen in the best of times. To not continue to promote means steady fanbase attrition even if everything else is aces.

And the promotion... um. LotFP has an enormous problem here. Forget the issue of getting the attention of the RPG masses. It's worse than that. If someone hears about LotFP and wants to find out more about it, how exactly does one go about learning about it?

Any ideas?

Anyone?

yeah. There really isn't anywhere to go to find that shit out. I like talking up LotFP, in LotFP spaces, in terms of the vibe and outside media influences. I don't talk about LotFP in terms of where it stands in the contemporary RPG scene... because I have no idea. I haven't played D&D since 2nd edition. I didn't play 3e, or 4e, I haven't played 5e. Or Vampire, ever. Or FATE, or even Call of Cthulhu (although I have played other BRP games). I own the books for many of these games, I've read through a lot of them... but not interested in playing them. Hell, the past few years I've gotten things like the reprint of the Star Wars RPG from the 80s, that big Fantasy Trip box Kickstarted a few years ago, and the Rogue Trader reprint. Haven't even opened their boxes/taken off the shrink wrap. I played lots of different games through about 2000... and then just stopped. I found the nascent OSR in the early 2000s and that was it for me. The system is incredibly versatile, I know what to tweak and twist to change how it plays out, and the OSR showed that the basic rules frame is entirely modular... you just swap out various rules for different ones, you can end up with a Theseus' Ship game, where every rule has been swapped out but it's still "the same game." And if you need a new subsystem, you just make it up and bolt it on and it works. I find that worrying about mechanics and systems and such are not ther terms of how I think about my game, and was very surprised when I worked with a veteran game designer that he was writing material for LotFP *using the rules*. Blew my fucking mind. Didn't occur to me that someone would do that.

So how do I communicate to the mainstream gamer, who might be interested in LotFP if I could only communicate to them its strengths not as a vibe or an atmosphere or an idea or comparison to other media examples, but *as a game* in contrast to what's out there already?

Fuck if I know.

So how does one promote a role-playing game...

LotFP's original trick was being part of a greater OSR, where tons of different people used more or less a common system to express their individual ideas. We plugged into an existing ecosystem, and together acted as a promotional force multiplier without even trying. And we all were able to coexist... for awhile. It was a scene that engaged in mutual cooperation and promotion. Awesome.

But that was passive, and it splintered due to things having nothing to do with games. What did I do proactively?

Free RPG Day. This was a tremendous help, getting the word out to and through the shops. We made sure to not compromise the presentation in the promo items or tone down any of the content, and that gained us many fans and many enemies. I'll never understand why people develop such personal enmity based on creative work. It went well until setting up for 2018, when another participating publisher (whose name was not provided to me) didn't want me involved. Strings were able to be pulled so the book I'd produced for that year did get out there, but on the condition that I not participate in 2019. Then the Free RPG Day thing was sold to new management and I didn't even bother because who needs the stress of fighting just to give something away.

Conventions. Conventions were where we could both make a boatload of cash and advertise our existence to the general gaming audience. Alas, this is the second straight year of not attending conventions for rather obvious reasons. Yes, some of the conventions are back, but the uncertainty involved in allocating resources six or more months out when who knows whether things will actually happen that far in advance, in addition to the issues with international travel right now... yeah, maybe next year if the Omega+++ variant cooperates.

Blogging and social media. Once upon a time, I was a part of a healthy blogging community through lotfp.blogspot.com. (you might even be reading this on that very blog!) Then Google + happened, and between the blogger interface going wonky and the more conversational nature of G+, I pretty much just migrated over there at some point. I had thousands of people looking at whatever I was posting, whether it was about games or movies or what have you. An entire ecosystem... but... things started to get nasty. I don't know what the trigger was. Trump's election? But people started taking sides and I was done dealing with the public as a matter of course in fall 2018... probably not coincidentally just before the real controversies started. I hired a succession of people to be the social media manager of LotFP, but the last person to have the job quit in part because of all of the shit they were taking for the effort. So for over a year now, there's been nobody looking around for new reviews, etc. to broadcast back out.

And I'm not at all interested in doing that myself at this point. So... what, then?

Actual play videos? Well... no. I hate the format. Just hate it. But even if it was my favorite thing, there would be problems. Last weekend, the Finnish state broadcasting company livestreamed a tabletop RPG gaming session. It's in a nice spacious studio, with all the production Finnish state TV can provide. I've seen similar with the more popular channels on Youtube, in those cases sometimes even Hollywood people take part with the popular channels. One of the appeals of LotFP I think is the fact that when we don't fuck it up (and we occasionally do), our books sit very comfortably next to the products of the planet's biggest RPG companies as far as presentation and production. Livestreaming a bunch of chucklefucks gaming over potato webcams is just not going to get that across as an official promotional strategy. This is the kind of thing that shows my age. This is the best way to promote the game, but I couldn't be in it because "I really don't want to be here" energy isn't great for a promotional video... and endorsing or sponsoring or hiring anyone to do it on our behalf... well... I'd have no idea how to do quality control. And with all the icky things LotFP touches, I'd be responsible if someone was deemed a little too into it, which has caused controversy for other people in the recent past.

There are the same issues for convention games. At conventions, I'm at the vendor table, all the time, so it wouldn't be me running the games... but if I give a convention game my imprimatur then I'm responsible for what happens there. And a significant minority of LotFP material deals with material that causes RPG-media scandal when people do it at cons. 

And then someone will tell me "Did you know one of the bigger OSR discussion groups has your name on the same moderator alert list as Hitler?" So it makes me very hesitant to ever reach out to new people, or even people I used to know from the before-times. 

Now here's the thing. The pressures I feel are real, but I also know they're not universal. People do reach out to me. People do want to collaborate. When I showed up to Gen Con in 2019 ready to be physically assaulted, all I found was friendliness and support. This whiplash I've been dealing with, that conflicts with my deepest sensibilities (exclude no one, disagreements about things like politics or religion or anything, really, shouldn't have any bearing on creative cooperation), basically caused me to turtle up. I almost never reach out anymore. I don't even keep track of what anyone else is doing in RPG land anymore. 

Most tellingly, when I need help or a collaborator and I do an open call hoping to find a person or two, and my inbox gets FLOODED with people wanting to work with me. That's my disconnect between how I think the world is, and how the world is. And the response is to the point I'm overwhelmed, and due to disorganization and time restraints mainly (and anxiety, frankly), and I bet all but a few end up feeling... unappreciated for their efforts? I did realize yesterday that I haven't communicated AT ALL with some of the artists who responded to the February recruitment video, EVEN THOUGH I HAVE FLAGGED THEM AS PEOPLE I'M INTERESTED IN WORKING WITH WHEN THE CURRENT PRIORITIES ARE SETTLED.

But there is still an energy and excitement out there in people, excitement they have for the material. "LotFP got me back into RPGs!" is not a rare sentiment. While I look at numbers and pore over layouts and deal with all the minutiae, I haven't been able to see in people for awhile and so it's just The Internet, where the bad things sting more than the good things salve.

One thing I've been trying to get together for awhile is the Youtube channel. I've got a decent rig for shooting videos, I just need on-camera talent (I want to be behind the camera and learn the technical side to be able to not rely on other people to make the things look like I hope to make them. Plus I am old and look horrible and there's already so much aging hairy metalhead energy in this company, I want a contrast for the video promotions.) to get started. The ultimate goal is to do "infotainment" promotions, something between the Red Letter Media skits and Honest Government Ads, stuff that could be entertaining on its own but is also promoting the game. Cross fingers that I can get this off the ground before the camera equipment is hopelessly outdated.

Anyway, someone kindly provided a list of likely-sympathetic bloggers and youtubers to send the new releases for review, and I will be taking advantage of that. I also have plans for is an audacious social media campaign to promote the new releases.

Audacious. uh oh...

Problem Five: We Just Can't Help Ourselves

So my social media promotional plan for the new releases is an absurdist, cynical parody that I am 100% positive will be misconstrued and generally disliked. Actually, people that recognize what I'm doing might not like it either. I think (worry? imagine?) some people are going to freak the fuck out.

So why do it that way? Because as a creative endeavor in and of itself it seems worthwhile and fulfilling, and should successfully get attention. I can't even imagine how to put together an ad campaign that would communicate what it is we're doing in a way that would be effective or memorable without it being considered twisted or somehow wrong for what it's trying to do.

Think this through. When you see advertising, especially online, what do you think? I know what I think. GET THIS OFF MY SCREEN. THIS IS SHIT. I mean, I get why advertising exists. "I made a thing, now I want to let people know about it!" is not an awful motivation as things go. The problem is the craft of advertising has "advanced" to the point where it's is generally designed to put your mind to sleep. I want my ads to sting. To slap across the face. To wake you the fuck up.

And what we're needing to promote is itself insane.

Ten new releases. I believe that four of them will end up causing online blah blah problems for me and my business. I am fairly sure that two of them are existential threats to the business capable of generating significant backlash. Seeing as how I've reacted to such pressures in the past, releasing these books has a non-zero chance of being my final act on this planet as a functional human being (and I am not really sure whether I am being DRAMATIC FOR EFFECT or giving a real prediction when I say that). Or maybe I'm just working myself into problems for absolutely no reason, the same way I did at my last Gen Con, and people will just roll their eyes.

I'm not going to dive into that thinking here... five months ago I started a Substack in part to specifically explore those issues, and I didn't promote it because I wanted to see if people would organically find it. Guess not, you lazy fucks. Start at the beginning when you find it and then have fun.

Not so long ago, my girlfriend suggested that I shouldn't live in chaos the way I do. Being on a financial edge yet again, releasing material that I think just might ruin me. Couldn't I be safer?

Well... no. Stability would be nice, and if we can get our shit together for quarterly releases that should help. But sacrificing the creativity to do it? Scrutinizing and gatekeeping who gets to create? What would even be the point of LotFP then? Hell, what would be the point of me then? It's been years now of being told I must stop speaking to this group of people, disavow these other people, I must take that political stance, I need to hire sensitivity readers, I have to frown at the proper times and applaud on command, do that and the other thing with my books and must not publish anything relating to some other list of things over here.

No.

No.

No.

NO.

What I need to do, and what all you fucks out there need for me and mine to do, is to express fearless creativity. Or close as we can get. Whatever strength we can manage at any particular time, we absolutely must use it for this above any and all other considerations. With all its warts, imperfections, and hypocrisies. Even if everyone sane runs away from me more than they already have. Even if it compromises my physical safety and mental well-being. I am constantly terrified, I am constantly angry, every day, and I am so, so tired of it all. I both deeply care and am sensitive to how people react (embarrassingly so, really) and at the same time am out of fucks to give.

These four potentially problematic releases all have one thing in common: When I first read them, they tickled my brain. They lit it up. They impressed me in all sorts of ways. They were funny, or imaginative, and/or interesting... just good in some real way. And especially for those special two (Jobe and Alex are treating LotFP like they did this building in the pics below), I knew that nobody else would touch them. They aren't going to exist, not in the way they need to, unless I take them on. Even though one of them in particular expresses a view of reality in direct opposition to my own entire philosophical worldview. (Can't wait to be forever accused of agreeing with it.) People are going to think we are having a meltdown when it all goes on sale, but these things have been worked on for many months, in one case for three years. It is intentional. We are coming, and hell is coming with us, to paraphrase a great band.



I'll stand by everything I'm presenting as creative works. Some of it is fine for general audiences. Some of it would have been fine for general audiences if the decision hadn't been made to "LotFP" the presentation. Not everything has to be, not everything should be, challenging to the sensibilities of the audience. It can just be good fun. We've got that.

And then we've got the other stuff. We'll always have the other stuff. The Things That Should Not Be. 

yup, at this precarious time, LotFP is going to do our biggest slate of releases ever, taking what I think are more creative chances than ever.

That's what we do, and that's the state of things.

I'm sure you have many questions after reading this. We will be doing a Q&A video before we start the proper promotions for the upcoming release. Email your questions to hannalotfp@gmail.com by Monday September 13. We're intending this one for issues surrounding the business and its place in the industry in general and not gameplay or specific releases. If it goes well we'll do more Q&A about other topics later on. The Q&A video will be done as a proper sit-down interview, and I will not know the questions until the camera is recording.

So I'm off to catch up on some emails and start seriously organizing the promotion for release.

Until next time... stay crazy. nah, not crazy. Stay stark raving mad.

-
James Edward Raggi IV
September 10 2021
Helsinki







Friday, June 4, 2021

EU Webstore Shipping Update

The post office raised their rates for parcels going outside of the EU as of May 1, and we had to raise our rates to match. The increase was 66% in some cases.

We have this week completed negotiating new shipping deals with three different carriers. This will greatly reduce shipping costs from the EU webstore for everyone, and maybe even shipping times.

Until that is all set up in the webstore, and we estimate it could take up to two weeks to learn three new shipping systems and then get them set up as choices in the webstore, we've deactivated shipping to all territories except Finland.

Sorry for the inconvenience but you'll love what comes after.

***

One reason we "estimate" that it could take a couple weeks to get up and running is that in the middle of this, we have a number of new titles that are supposed to go to press by the end of the month. All of this is happening at once. yay!

So hopefully in early August we have seven new titles for sale, much better shipping rates for it all no matter where you're ordering from, and we all give an unironic yay!

And the plan is still for the release cycle after that to finally deliver the Ref book.


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Call for New Collaborators! Video + Notes

 'allo all!

Here's the new video call for collaborators:


Now that was done on the spur of the moment with no prep, so maybe a few coherent words about this with less drama queen presentation.

LotFP is kind of in a space where it's all "mad genius" creations (or wannabe mad genius, you decide) where everybody takes forever to do things and we come up with things which I understand are... weird.

As advertised.

But we've also fallen into a thing where the books are all FANCY-ASS BIG PRODUCTION VALUES, or attempts at such. That'll be true for the next release cycle. We've got insane things in the works.

Therefore, LotFP has a big proportion of sales going to collectors and readers. And LotFP also has this reputation for (among other things) having kill-happy unwinnable adventures (which is, by the way, pure bullshit).

This is all rather uninviting for new and unfamiliar players and Referees curious about the game, so I am told. And we want new Referees and players to be checking things out.

So this call for writers and artists is not only to "pump out product". It's to regularly release a certain type of product:

Less fancy production values that are shorter, sit-down-and-play-sized adventures. Think Idea from Space or Tower of the Stargazer. Maybe keeping to more familiar and traditional adventure formats, and less pretentious concepts, but still keeping the LotFP atmosphere. Maybe "weird" and not "utterly bizarre."

You know, stuff that people who aren't hip deep in this shit might actually take a chance on.

If we can get those sorts of things coming out regularly, and keep up on the fancy-ass high(er)-concept material for the real maniacs a time or two a year, then maybe we'll have a happy healthy thing happening again. Because I don't think we can have a business built around just the smaller accessible material, and doing just the once-a-year-cycle fancy stuff involves enormous risk and an unstable feast-or-famine life.

So if you're a writer or artist who has some neat ideas, a an-do work ethic, and the willingness to work on a royalty basis (I repeat: we have never lost money on a book!), get in touch: lotfp@lotfp.com