Limitless Adventures and Boundless Encounters

limitless-adventuresSo, Limitless Adventures has reached out to me and asked that I review their products. I want to refer you to my reviews page so that you can see the reviews that I’ve posted, but let me say in brief that the Limitless Adventure series of encounters is excellent! I’ve had the pleasure of looking over both the Storm King’s Thunder and the Sword Coast iterations of encounters, and they have some excellent and brief encounters that can replace those tedious random table encounters.

Please check them out, as they are excellent and brief encounters that can fill out a session or be themselves expanded to a thorough story. There are even “Further Adventure” notes that excellently suggest ways to expand each encounter into something more interesting.

In addition, I wanted to help announce that Limitless Adventure has a Kickstarter  that will be a collection of the first 15 encounter products from their line. Here are some highlights.

  • 150 fully detailed encounters set in 12 different environments
  • OGL stat blocks for all mosnters
  • Creative, CR appropriate treasure
  • 451 “further adventure ™” writing prompts

You will have your choice of PDF or softcoverprint copy (color and black and white options available).

Judging from the excellent nature of the encounters that I have already seen, I look forward to the compilation, as should you. If you want to see for yourself, have a look at the Limitless Adventure website and see the products that they have available, including a few free products.

Oh, and here is the link to the kickstarter!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/limitless-adventures/limitless-encounters-vol-1

 

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On the Assumptions of and About Role Playing at Large

There is a prevailing sense of ownership over many hobbies, and each of those hobbies has its barriers to entry, seen by most as “paying dues” to be considered “in”. I can’t really agree with this, especially as I am inducting my own children into the hobby, and I don’t wish to see them alienated for their lack of experience or exposure to role playing.

While I can definitely understand this mentality for the creative aspects of role playing (that is to say, writing for and publishing material), it is not sustainable to have this attitude about the participation of role playing at large. We are buried under a mountain of old stories, minutia, experience, and in jokes. It’s a hard culture to engage, especially when you consider that many role players feel similarly ostracized from other groups or activities.

I’ve had my head in the sand in respect to those who aren’t already into roleplaying, and that is unfortunate. I came to this hobby eagerly, and was willing to jump through whatever existing hoops there were to be initiated. But just like other expensive pastimes precluding a wider participation base (I refer you to hardcore model train enthusiasts), roleplaying does a lot to exclude newcomers.

A lot of talk is made about how video games are causing the demise of roleplaying. I don’t believe this one bit. And yet, the vastly disproportionate popularity between the two leads to certain conclusions. The prevailing theory is that role playing games are dying because they can’t possibly compete with multibillion dollar entertainment mediums. This is apples and oranges, but why don’t we avoid the logical pitfalls and instead use this as a teachable moment?

zork2

Imagine that video games came with a big manual that you had to read (old computer gamers know that this was once the case). Any barrier to gameplay will immediately turn away a large swath of potential players, no matter how interesting or unique your entertainment experience is, and this goes beyond in game documentation. Things like install times, tedious tutorials, lengthy and unskippable opening cinematics all detract from the desire for a player to play your game. Will there be people who jump through hoops to participate in the experience? Of course, but this is the filter through which media finds “cult hits”.

But we don’t need to be a cult hit hobby anymore. Some may cry over the inclusivity and updates that 4th edition D&D brought with it, and some still decry the “crowd” that grew the ranks of role players when Vampire the Masquerade first arrived, but the truth is that we can’t afford to be exclusive anymore. Not you the player, not me the fledgeling blogger/freelancer, and not the industry at large. We aren’t hurting for new blood, but we are at risk of stagnating due to a misplaced sense of hubris. The hobby must grow, or it will remain stunted.

Even now, role playing has been coming around to a new vision and a new approach; one whereby new players aren’t treated like pledges to a secret club, but rather as welcome as able and ready members. Games are playable after reading the first few pages, sometimes without dice. Other rpgs are now played at parties, casually. I welcome this change, but it isn’t enough.

We need to improve inclusiveness, break down the cultural and gender based barriers, and remember what it felt to be new at role playing. What ill placed word or thickly (and poorly organized) written rule set might have turned us away? Maybe none, but for some of us there was no keeping us from this hobby. But think of any other time you’ve been turned down from something, or discouraged from an activity. We don’t want to be that group anymore.

There needs to be a ground floor, a level 0, a place where casual gamers can come in and see what it’s like, so that there aren’t only ardent (and let’s face it, critical) fans of the game that color the way the industry turns its wheels. If board games can bring in more fans that role playing, then it is clear that there is a need for a change. Though I am not an apt herald for this change, I will still trumpet its cause.

Level-Zero
There is now a level 0.

Lame “next week I promise” post

Hi everyone,

The few of you that read this blog might have been disappointed that I did not post this week.

I was doing pretty good for a while as far as keeping my schedule, but this week just fell through. Rather than just chalk it up to a bad week, I thought that I would write a brief something to at least inform you that I have not been entirely dormant.

I have been writing! Just not for this blog, and not even for Diem Mundi, but I shall soon return to the mini-setting as well as some insights into game design. Within the week, I should also be adding more reviews, and updating the mini-setting tab with additional information (including a much needed society section added to the fox folk).

For now, I want to extend my thanks to Raging Swan for helping me to run a most excellent 5th edition campaign. Although I will try not to sound like an infomercial, their array of products have helped tremendously with my prep time. If you do any sort of fantasy role playing, please see their patreon page, and give some support. You won’t be sorry that you did.

Raging Swan Patreon page

Also, I must share with you that part of my writing has been for some projects at Fat Goblin Games. There are some exciting new things coming in the next few months, including more Call to Arms guides, more Astonishing Race guides, more Vathak support  in the form of three new core rule books, and much more! With luck, I will soon be posting about the projects to which I’ve contributed.

Fat Goblin Games

If you’ve had enough of me selling you on these companies, I will leave you with something more thoughtful.

homer D&D

As I continue to learn about new games, I find myself continually impressed with new approaches to old games. For instance, the so-called Old School Renaissance is actually a rather apt name, as it is not simply a return to old sensibilities, but a reinterpretation of the foundations of the game through newly learned methodologies. It is an improvement without losing the soul of the game, or so I would argue.

13th Age has caught, my interest. It grabs you by the lapels and tells you to role play, or at least define your character in such a way that he stands out from others by description alone. I think I might see what I can learn from it and perhaps integrate this into 5th edition, though 5e already does a great job of evoking characters as people and not character classes. I only regret that these games were not around 15 years ago.

I would also like to eventually discuss my love for the Storyteller system. As I am left without a game (other than the one I am running), I consider either digging back into the Storyteller System, given the recent revisions to some of my favorite games. Even if I were to run a game, I would be happy to once again pick up a handful of d10’s with a mix of hope and fear. It’s an exciting prospect.

5e Free Mini Campaign Part 1- A Diem Mundi Primer; The Jhorrund Nation; the Kal Dor Empire

To build upon the short story that I posted recently HERE, I want to share with you some related work that I once did as a freelancer some years ago. More details on that soon.

I feel that it has both been long enough and that I don’t want to simply throw away my work, and will continue to append and compile the setting information onto the blog, as well as another tab at the top of the page. First I will give an overview of the premise of the setting, as well as a mini-description of two of the five nations that hold sway on the world at large.

So I share it here with you the setting information for Diem Mundi: A world that might have never been.

Origins of Strife- The Advent

The Dark Continent of Selna is a land that once gave birth to a nation of evil and decadence. It is known to some scholars as Diem Mundi, or The World of the Gods. Its dark history is spoken of only through ancient whispered fables. Once, in ancient times, Diem Mundi held the secrets of the world within its powerful belly, ready for any who might use it to control existence.

And so they did. A once proud and wise people, named the Selnus, found the power and intended to use it for the better good. As with all things, this absolute power twisted the Selnus, turning their wisdom into avarice, and their good intentions into outright cruelty. In short order, the world went from a modest collection of civilizations to an advanced empire with brutal leaders exploiting the masses, forming what was known as the Advent Empire.

Darkest Before Dawn- The Fall

With no enemy strong enough to oppose them, the Selnus Overlords grew fat and decadent as they continued to command the very firmament with their grand power. Soon, their dark desires brought them to conjure the deepest evils from the far reaches of existence to imagine new and more vile degradation to inflict on the world.

Proving to be their own worst enemies, the Selnus supplied their own undoing. With demons as their consorts and advisers, the rulers of the Advent Empire decided that the world would have to be remade. To do this, everything would have to be undone, and this was the ultimate goal of the foul demons that continued to whisper lies into the ears of the Selnus rulers.

Were it not for the brave actions of a select few from the various tormented nations, the world would have been tossed into oblivion by the blind rulers of the Advent Empire. These valiant souls bravely entered the Advent Empire in secret during the Ritual of Unmaking, and prevented the worst of its effects.

Though these heroes were lost to the events of that fateful day and the world was warped beyond recognition, the world was saved from total annihilation. Away from the damned continent, the meager Selnan colonies rejoiced, for even the worst calamity was preferred to the horrible things the Advent Empire put them through. Not to be forgotten, the heroes of this climactic event have been honored by the surviving colonies, whom have since taken these heroes as their patron guardian spirits. Some went so far as to revere them as gods that allowed the world to continue existing, nameless though they are.

From the Ashes- The Return

And so, the world marched on, slowly healing the scars left behind from the horrible power that once ruled the world. People slowly forgot the calamity that warned of the power within Selna. Centuries passed, as did the fear and aversion associated with the foreboding continent. Against strong religious condemnations, new generations of explorers discarded ancient admonitions as antiquated superstitions, and explorers soon tempted fate to rediscover Selna for themselves.

Following this exploration, several groups took great pains over many decades to establish new colonies, braving the terrible weather and chaotic magic that had sprung up since the calamity centuries ago. More daunting was the shocking fact that it was already occupied by  a handful of other hardy peoples. Despite these setbacks, various settlers began to tame the wild continent, and in time the five nations took form to claim various stretches of territory.

So immediate and desperate these colonies were that petty land disputes began to tear the political landscape apart almost as soon as it had been formed. From the approximate time of forming of the first continental colony, Selna saw 100 years of warfare that now threatens to rage for 100 years more.

And even now, in the midst of constant battle and discord, hidden dangers lurk. Preying upon the great greed that has now returned to Selna, these silent workers once again threaten to unmake the world.

Enter the Hero- Present Day

Selna, as it is now, is a world of opportunity. Five nations have built their glorious cities atop the bones of the ancient empires of evil. Hundreds of ruins remain dormant, hiding the secrets of the Advent Empire. Political powers go to war over the slightest dispute, and mercenary armies clash regularly on the battlefield in the name of their sponsors. National politics force nobles to match wit and steel, creating endless intrigue in the royal courts.

The Dark Continent sits on the cusp of ruin or greatness, and it might just take another band of brave adventurers to decide the outcome.

Introduction
Picture a world recovering from a cataclysmic event. Once ruled by a tyrannical and powerful empire, the survivors slowly recover from a horrible past. On the blasted continent of the historic and terrible rulers, 5 nations rise up to reclaim the home of the empire of evil. The world at large watches as these nations slowly come into conflict with each other, and threaten to once again tear the world asunder with arcane magic and destructive technology.

Like any other entry into fantasy role playing, Diem Mundi is steeped in the kinds of fantasy elements you would expect from your typical Fantasy Role Playing setting. Unlike those fantasy settings, Diem Mundi aspires to both capture the feel of modern adventure, while also trying to be unique enough to stand out among the plethora of available settings.

Instead of a world mired forever in the 11th century, this is a world of progress coming out of its own dark ages. Present in this world are magic and technology, both still in relative infancy. Both remain an important part of nearly all society in the world of Selna.

There are the expected fantasy races, like elves and dwarves, and of course dragons and trolls exist among a plethora of standard issue fantasy creatures. Yet even these creatures are curiously different to accommodate the strange and shifting land of Selna, reflecting the ways in which the world was made anew through strange and forbidden sorceries.

Ultimately, this particular setting presents an exciting world with a dubious history and uncertain future, and should provide enough material for epic journeys and fantastic adventures. With sweeping empires, political intrigue, and national conflict, the setting should be able to cater to a wide range of tastes and preferences. Moreover, this setting should offer even veteran fantasy role players something new and interesting.

Jhorrund
Little is known about how the Jhorrund peoples came to inhabit Selna, but they are either the first colonists of the dark continent, or the only survivors of the arcane disaster that rocked the world centuries ago. Some would call them savage, and those that fight under their banner are indeed ruthless warriors, but to call them savage is a gross underestimation of their deep culture.

Though the Jhorrund are mainly composed of dragon folk*, there are also various distinct tribes composed of other races that have banded together under the Jhorrund banner. When or how this happened is a story that each tribe tells differently, but the consensus is that it was a peaceful joining of tribes that all apparently existed before any other colony rediscovered Selna.

As one, they form an impressive power block that rivals that of any colonial powers, both boasting a lack of support from outside of the continent, as well as an intimate knowledge of the lands that most colonists are still tenderly exploring. This does not mean that the whole of Selna is known to the Jhorrund, as there are many lands that remain taboo to the tribes, and many other that they simply have not traversed for various reasons, pragmatic and otherwise.

The Jhorrund once claimed sacred lands in the cold regions to the Northwest, but they were displaced by the Kar Dol colony. As a result, they harbor a seething hatred for the ruthless magitechnicians. The Jhorrund are not normally given to all out war, but they struggle ceaselessly to undermine their sworn enemies by any means they can afford, including subterfuge, raids and open warfare.

Despite their nomadic culture, the Jhorrund are incredible opportunists and adaptable. They regularly capture, scavenge and recruit people and resources into their society to assist in their survival. Rather than steeping themselves in a rigid tradition, they see advancement and subsistence as their tradition, seeking always to be ready to repel their enemies and overcome hardships.

To that end, the Jhorrund are given to using magic and technology that is transportable and benefits their nomadic lifestyle, as well as to bolster their war against those that would challenge the mighty nation. They count foreign magicians and engineers as esteemed members of their society, usually brought in by marriage or friendships. It is said that some of the more lucrative and successful explorers start out with  sponsorship by the Jhorrund, only to eventually join the tribe out of willing loyalty to their patrons.

Being naturally mobile, the Jhorrund also maintain a healthy trade, exchanging goods with every nation other than Kal Dor. This has assured their place within the continent’s economy, especially due to their ability to keep trade routes that the other nations cannot.

Despite their cultural flexibility, the Jhorrund enjoy their varied traditions, finding days in which to celebrate and revere their respective beliefs, mixing old and new cultures into their unified whole.

Kar Dol
Founded by industrious venture captains that readily threw caution to the wind, Kar Dol established its colony decisively through a cunning blend of magic and technology. Though shunned in their homelands, the mystic engineers saw an opportunity. Their rejection and lack of compunctions led them to do the unthinkable: to claim the untold knowledge from the Dark Continent for themselves.

The movement was founded by West and Charles Hart, two brothers that pioneered the techniques for using magic to bolster the new fields of science. Magicians scoffed at them for muddying their field with an untested methodology, and scientists rebuked them for not keeping science distinct from the established field of magic.

Though this did not stop them, it was difficult to find resources and facilities in which to conduct their research. Seeking donors and students, they eventually came to discover a breakthrough; science was not new, but only being rediscovered. Untold mountains of knowledge lay over the ocean, in the Dark Continent of Selna.

Though most people of the Free Continents were far too fearful of the forbidden land, the brothers were inveterate pathfinders, willing to eschew any superstition in search of success and advancement. As inveterate sweet talkers, they amassed thousands of volunteers to flee the drudge of the Free Continents with promises of riches and wonder, while begging, lying, and stealing to amass a fortune from various investors, confident that they would make greater fortunes on the dark continent.

With these riches, and an army of volunteers, the brothers bided their time, building an armory of weapons meant to defend and establish their new colony, as well as other inventions meant to maximize their chances of survival, no matter the climate or dangers present in the new world.

The brothers eventually launched a mighty fleet, shaking the confidence of the Free Continents; such a fleet was fit for invasion. And so they did invade and form the first of the Free Continental Colonies, but were beholden to no foreign power. Future colonies would bring various claims to the loans taken and crimes committed by the Hart brothers, but there are yet to be any compensations.

The brothers found a beautiful land that seemed abandoned by its people, only to find that it was merely a seasonal site of worship for a native tribe. Unbothered by these flimsy claims, they tested their new army, and drove out the ceremonial procession, making haste to build defenses for whatever came next. History disagrees about what happened next, and both sides speak of attempts at peace. The truth lies buried alongside the thousands that died supporting the edicts of their leaders.

After 100 years of colonization, the empire of Kal Dor is amongst the mightiest in all of Selna. They have few friends, owing no allegiance to either the Free Continents, or any of the other colonies on the Dark Continent. This does nothing to shake their confidence, as the industry of magitech has given them the power to do as they please.

But even Kal Dor has paid for its hubris. The lands inhabited by the mighty empire are dark and tainted with the byproduct of their untested technologies, and the founders found bittersweet success in their venture. Charles Hart was irrevocably murdered on the eve of an experiment that promised to extend the life of the Hart brothers. West successfully carried out the experiment, and found that eternity without his brother was more painful than any condition of mortal life.

Kal Dor continues to succeed under the careful guidance of a bitter and ruthless emperor. The youthful optimism that once pervaded the national identity of Kal Dor has been replaced by a cynicism that seems almost supernatural. Even so, many Kaldorians continue to see a world full of adventure and discovery, hoping to make a discovery that will reverse the strange and wicked transformation of their adopted homelands, and of their society.

5e rules-

Though this setting was originally intended to use the FUDGE rules, time and experience have shown me that 5th edition suits the setting far better. I will begin posting various rules that will expand upon various new player options and unique rules for playing in Diem Mundi, including at least 2 new races, and one sub-race!

I will continue to catalog these posts for people interested in enjoying my setting. Look for more posts soon.

*For the purposes of this setting, dragon folk are effectively similar to another race born of dragons, but are culturally distinct.

I say goodbye to a LGS, and it shall be missed

This post is probably very late, but I come to mourn the loss of a local gaming store. I didn’t visit it often, and I didn’t appreciate it until it was gone, but I lament all of that and more.

BB Hobby 2

The store in question had been around for 54 years, through two different owners, and it was a shame that it is gone. They weren’t doing terribly; the rent was increased. You may or may not believe in gentrification, but I’m sure that it will be replaced by some boutique or sickeningly expensive restaurant that will pay the consistently rising rent costs.

I made sure to go and tell them that I was sad to see them and the store go, once I had found out. I asked if they were opening anywhere else.

They are not.

But rather than to go on some rant about rent gouging or cultural non-appreciation, I’ll only say this; you may have an internet full of people to meet and games to buy, but you can’t replace a gaming store as a communal hub.

There are other places that sell hobby games, and another one just opened up, but that is not the point. I feel a keen loss at the demise of an establishment; what we have lost is not fungible*. Rather, it is a cumulatively important piece of the local gaming culture and history. These are not things that you can trade for a clean new store with attached coffee bar, or at least not until the place gets grungy and has been established for a few decades**.

But I suppose that the main thrust of what I’m trying to say is that you have to appreciate what you have. Some of my favorite games are out of print. I’ll never see a new episode of Korgoth of Barbaria***.  I’ll never drink a Josta**** again. Maybe this is just the airing of my nerdy lamentations, but there is something to be said about loss. Sometimes you create things that only a handful of people like, and that is as important as being critically received. Sometimes you are the person who loves a thing that is gone, and it feels equally important to preserve the memory of something that is worthy of reverence.

BB hobby

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” -Banksy

* Fungible here is a word that means “not attainable by yuppies, millennials, or hipsters”
** You might say the same about a good hole in the wall restaurant.
*** Diedrich Bader is a great voice actor. More on that later.
**** There is some strange sub-culture of nerd that mourns discontinued soda. Weird, huh?

One Review and a Few Blog Shoutouts

So I’ve moved on to a funky format, but I think that it’s working for me. I hope that you know that you can count on my Tuesday updates, but that I will likely be doing updates throughout the week. At times it may be a single review, or a stray thought that I feel needs to be examined in text, but I am striving to bring you more than just a weekly update. You deserve it.

For today, I have a review of Path of Shadows, a most excellent shadow-centric sourcebook that delivers on multiple fronts!

[begin review]

Review of Path of Shadows-

Continuing in a series of reviews, I have been offered a review copy of Path of Shadows, and found it to be most excellent! Right off the bat, we have good writing and exposition in the opening pages.

Immediately diving into the Nightblade class, I noticed that on paper (as I have not playtested the material) everything appears balanced and well rounded, but distinct enough to set the class apart from traditional classes. Initially, the class appears to be a “Rogue-esque Magus”, but both versatile and defined in a way that you could have a Nightblade and a Rogue (or even a Magus for that matter) in the same party without much overlap or conflict.

What especially intrigues me about the class is the implementation of their “surge” ability, which creates an interesting action economy that seeks to balance powers used per encounter without making Nightblades susceptible to diminishing resources over numerous encounters.

So many options exist for this class, especially with the built in paths and extra archetypes in a later chapter that I could even see a party of two or more Nigthblades being a viable and interesting campaign option. Furthermore, the intentions to allow other classes to receive a taste of the Nightblade’s abilities is a fascinating developmental experiment, and one that I would deem a success.

Reading through feats and archetypes was especially fun, being the showcase of the book. Many of the ideas within Path of Shadows are rendered within the context of familiar classes, making it far more digestible than a dense (but fun) 20 level base class. Moreover, it stokes the curiosity of the reader so as to implore them to read the book in its entirety; such a thing is a rare accomplishment for such an ambitious supplement.

Feats in particular were yet another ingenious way to customize characters towards a focus on shadow. They appear to do a great job of helping players to realize shadow heavy concepts without the commitment of an archetype or class levels. Many of these feats are interesting and balanced enough to be put into an official Pathfinder product, and I was very pleased with them, perhaps so much that I may very soon find use for them in a current game.

I could also tell that a lot of special care was given into the Spell section. Here I began to notice a heavy focus on actual lighting effects as a game mechanic, which is interesting given the recent blog post by Mark Seifter (FOUND HERE). The entire conceptual framework of these spells as they apply to lighting rules falls under a tricky area with me (rules that make it necessary to consider an often ignored aspect of the game, such as encumbrance). However, here it seems organic and plausible, opening up an arena for sneaking and shadow-crafting that is relatively simple and interesting, while being no more rules heavy than current rules for illusions or summoning.

Spells that play with summoning shadow as a semi-tangible thing (such as Shadow Terrain and Shadow Structure) are fantastic, and well within the wheelhouse for shadow-mages of all sorts. Some of these spells seem especially potent (such as Shadow Field) and could potentially be re-examined for balance, but such cases were rare. If I had one other quibble, it would be with the Shadow Necromancy line of spells, which while thematically interesting, is realistically just another way for Sorcerers and Wizards to bypass intentional limitations to their classes.

On the other hand, the Summon Horror line of spells was amazing, and something that the game very much needed. Shadow themes aside, I am more than happy to implement villains that choose to summon aberrations, as it goes a long way towards  creating a memorable encounter that stands out from the typical summoning faire.

As a side note, the artwork for Umbral Defender is amazing.

Finally, the magic item chapter was solid, though perhaps a bit less impressive than the rest of the book, and by necessity. The armor abilities are creative and good, especially as they would apply to a shadow-themed character. The weapons  and weapon abilities are equally intriguing and elicited a second glance. The miscellaneous items were quite nice as well, thematically sound and filling in the niche left by the new spells. While relatively small, this section did a fantastic job of supplementing the rest of the material, and offering a good toolbox for characters that desire shadow themed magic items.

Some final thoughts on the book overall: A printer friendly file would be nice, but I have been spoiled by other companies that provide this. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, and the quality of this pdf is excellent. I’d also like to extend kudos for crediting artists so thoroughly. I love that kind of gratitude and moreover, it helps me recognize favored artists in the future.

I summation, I give this book a 5/5, as it has exceeded all of my expectations, even after reading many other similarly positive reviews!

[end review]

Also, I’d like to give a big shout out to a number of blogs that have either inspired me, or have worked more directly with me to help promote what I do.

5 Minute Workday is a great site for continual 5th edition content and a webcomic that is both relevant and accessible. One of the few blogs that I’ve seen to do such a great job covering 5th edition.

Speaking out on Life is a blog after my own heart, though much more diverse on the topics of life and fatherhood (something with which I can surely relate).

WriterNextDoor has been a tremendous inspiration, both in terms of content and core message. I wouldn’t be writing with as much passion about anything if it were not for the advice and ideas presented therein.

A Sword for Hire has been another clear and present inspiration since the start of the 2015 RPG Superstar contest. There are few role playing blogs that offer freelance and general RPG writing advice with such mastery.

I will be posting something more thought-dense tomorrow, so please come back to read my thoughts.

And because I don’t have any relevantly pithy pictures, here is something to make up for it. Here is a d20 that is almost 2000 years old. Mull it over for a moment.*

d20

*Yes this story is almost 3 years old, so sue me.

On Production Costs, Digital Media, and Unqualified Soothsaying

Note: Now that I’ve done all that reviewing, I’m back to doing something far more meaty. I plan on releasing thoughty posts interspersed with reviews and miscellaneous posts of reduced density.

This is a subject that I don’t take lightly. Books cost a lot to print and distribute, and once you start getting more people involved in the writing of them, those costs invariably go up as well. What we don’t know is what the future holds for the printed word as it relates to the role playing industry, though there are many that balk and project various opinions of what will eventually kill the industry.

The_Simpsons-Jeff_Albertson
My theory? Fans with too much time on their hands.

I may be opinionated, but I don’t expect to know what will happen to the industry any more than I did 15 years ago. On the other hand, I have had a keen eye on it in the meanwhile, and I’ve made a few observations.

First, let me see if I can do a little more justice to illuminating the causes of high priced role playing texts. There is much to be said about startling similarities between role playing text and collegiate text. I could go on*, but I’ll spare you the chloroform soaked details and just tell you the brunt of it; role playing books in print are bloody expensive, and that isn’t likely to change.

Businessman Behind Stack of File Folders
Research data can be fun, but not this time.

You see, it takes a lot to make either product, especially when you talk about a company like Paizo or WotC that is tied to a standard that we don’t even realize that we enforce with each purchase. That’s a loaded statement, but let me elaborate on it. To make a hardcover, color print, glossy book like what we have now (and have had for a while), there are printing costs. To make a heavy book, there are shipping, warehousing, and stocking costs (to say nothing of returns). To make a pretty book,  there are (justifiably expensive) art costs. To make a good book, there are personnel costs (subjective, sure, but there is a correlation, I assure you).

The_New_York_Times_newsroom_1942
Someday we’ll perfect the art of game design that isn’t by committee. Until then, thank a freelancer.

This is an oversimplification of the issue at hand, but a necessary one. It should be clear that even in abject terms, these expenditures are both necessary and ever expanding. I could write 2000 more words on the nature of the industry, cheaper printing from China justifying incredibly slow shipping times, or how cost of living in one city can affect the entire industry, but you don’t want to hear that. If you do, perhaps you should say so and I can expand on that, but for now I shall remain mercifully brief in my exposition.

Now, rest assured that there isn’t some industry junta, cartel, or entity leading the conspiracy on overpriced role playing books; yes, they are expensive, but the reasons above should be enough to convince you otherwise. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, consider that the industry grows along with inflation, and you’ll see that a $50 book now is the same (roughly) as a $32 book in 1995**. That fact alone should make you consider the nature of pricing for role playing text. Price increases are inevitable, and role playing books are simply too robust an industry. Change will not come easy without change to one of three fundamental factors.

First, you have your shipping costs, which are tied to things like fuel prices and innovations in transportation. This isn’t likely to change, and sadly are likely to increase.***

The second is printing costs. If we could find ways to print more efficiently, it would be such a change that it would rock our society. I’m optimistic that this will change, but I’m not holding my breath.

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I can wish all I want, but optimism isn’t a force of change.

The third is personnel costs, and this is far more complex and tricky to predict. In case you weren’t aware****,  most role playing books have a writer (usually upwards of 2, or 6 for hardbacks), an editor, proofreaders, a developer, artists, playtesters (they are not paid, but managing these groups isn’t free), layout artists, and probably a few others that I missed. This process leads to what is hopefully a polished product, despite what grammar police may tell you.

Sure, the early D&D products were released by two dudes (and six artists), and it looks terrible. Personally, I don’t care about production values, but then neither am I tens of thousands of people sorting through myriad RPG products to decide where my money will go. Singularly, I’ve made my role playing bed and have my spending habits, but a growing industry requires loyalty and interest. Neither can be generated nor maintained without high standards. We as consumers punish low standards repeatedly.

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I get the feeling that I’ll be getting a lot of mileage out of this picture

Now, I am unfortunately unable to offer solutions, but rather observation and speculation. What I can say is that there is a fourth fundamental factor which has been having a very sharp impact on the industry. Digital media, of course, is a tricky subject and has been implemented with a wide ranges of success. It obviates a great number of costs, but also obviates physical books, which is yet another subject unto itself.

But I bring this up because it is set to change the way we view the hobby, for better or worse, regardless of your preference. And yet what I see is a series of mistakes taken by nearly every member of the industry (save for indie publishers, perhaps) in pricing, distribution, implementation*****, and even lack of participation.

A week ago, I reblogged an article about pdf preference, and I reviewed a digital magazine. This is something for which I have a strong opinion, but I don’t necessarily trust the direction in which the industry at large is heading. The innovations that we may see are perhaps locked within digital media; printing from home can and should be cheaper, negating at least two of the three earlier factors by an impressive margin.

But yet the industry is clinging to old models****** while newer companies are finding ways to get it right. With an eye to the future, we can make this crazy hobby efficient enough to thrive, even in a world of video games and mobile devices. The industry need not cleave to mass market appeal and multimedia cross-promotions. Who wants to cater to those masses anyways… wasn’t that basic deviation from popular pastimes what got us into this hobby in the first place?

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Well, that and a desire to find out who would win in a fight between a knight and a samurai. Am I right?

Postscript: Oh, and I’m even less informed on the ins and outs of Kickstarter and Patreon, so don’t think that it is omitted out of negligence. I shall revisit it when I feel suitably ready to report on it from my armchair.

*Making College Textbooks More AffordableMaking College Textbooks More Affordable Part 2,
Student Expenditures as They Relates to Textbook Sales

**20 years ago. I can feel you getting older from where I sit.
***I’m not qualified to be an economist, but to be fair, neither are most real economists.
**** And if you weren’t, don’t feel bad.
***** No company to date is using pdfs to the extent of their potential. More on that at another time. I sure am making a lot of work for myself.
****** Palladium Books, I’m looking right at you. To be fair though, they have historically kept prices pretty low.