Paying for League of Extraordinary Misfits

With a League of Extraordinary Misfits completed, I have to decide what I want to do with it. Do I want to release as something parred down – bare and functional? Do I want to include art? Maps? What are the costs?

Let’s look at the size. The rules themselves right now are 2,335 words. That’s a very basic “only what you need” rather than having examples and multiple explanations. Let’s say around 3,000 words once it is put into good order. That’s likely about 10 pages.

There’s no book there. Maybe a cheap PDF.

However, I don’t think League of Extraordinary Misfits works well without the campaign. This is the search for the Pithos – Pandora’s Box. The campaign reveals the fictional facts behind the myth, and hits six geographic regions in 1937 and a couple of mythical/fictional places. That might be another 40 pages there.

I still don’t have a book.

A GMing section? Sure, I could certainly do that, but I don’t think I would do much more than just repeat the GMing section from Nefertiti Overdrive. There’s not that much more to say, and unlike Nefertiti Overdrive, there isn’t the conceit of highly descriptive, cinematic action. Having said that (wrote that), there is something to be said for a discourse on taking myth and making it your own. It may have been done to death, but someone interested in action archaeology would likely be interested in some advice on making mythology their own. Can I pump out 20 pages on that (6,000 words)? I think it’s possible.

That puts me at 60 pages. Now, before considering budget, let’s make this my dream product. I want at least one 1/4-page illustration every 5 pages. That’s 12 1/4-page illustrations, which also makes the book 63 pages. I would love 1/2-page illustrations every 10 pages. That’s 6 1/2-page illustrations and another 3 pages, for 66 pages. And let’s say two full page illustrations for 68 pages.

Thin, but it’s a book.

Still not done. There would need to be eight maps, one for each of the adventure locations. Those would likely need to be full page maps (in my dream product). I would likely need at least six or seven other maps, probably half-page, for the adventure. So let’s say 11 more pages there.

So 79 or 80 pages. The printed Sword Noir is 82 pages, so this is doable as a print book.

Okay, here’s the splash of cold water: reality.

I’ve seen quotes from $15 to $50 USD for 1/4-page illustrations. That’s for line illustrations without background or with limited backgrounds.

For a 1/2-page, I’d expect between $45 and $80. These are going to be line art still (that’s really the only thing in my price range), but more complex, likely action scenes.

For a full page, I would expect a cost between $75 and $175. Like the 1/2 page, these are going to be scenes, complex illustrations even if they are only line art.

For maps, it really depends on what I want, but for a basic map, I’d expect to pay about the same as an illustration, although if I were looking for greater levels of detail, it could increase that price by up to double. Let’s say my maps are going to be the same cost as my illustrations. These are either going to be adventure locations (so basically illustrations rather than cartography) or very basic maps used for reference rather than accuracy something like this map of Manchuria during the Japanese occupation, but with less details and accuracy.

So let’s look at my art budget. I’m going with the highest of my expectations, because this is about that cold dose of reality.

12 x 1/4 page at $50 per illo = 600
6 x 1/2 page at $80 per illo = 480
2 x full page at $175 = $350
7 x 1/4 page maps at $50 = $350
8 x full page maps at $175 = $1400

This gives me an art budget of $3,180.

The entire budget for Nefertiti Overdrive was $3,000 CAD and that included printing and shipping. Centurion was $3,500.

And while that art is being done, I’d need to have the book edited. That is easily going to run me between 1 to 3 cents per word, or more if I want a more comprehensive job. Let’s go with 3 cents per word, so at an estimate of 33,000 words all told, that’s $990. Let’s got with $1,000.

Let’s talk layout and graphic design. Rob Wakefield does all my layout and design work, and he does an awesome job. He throws in a cover gratis because he’s an awesome dude. In my estimation, I don’t pay him nearly enough for his work. For this job, I would want to pay him no less than $1,500 (which is still relying a little too much on his friendship and enthusiasm).

Then there is printing and shipping. Let’s say a print run of 250 and shipping for that. I’d estimate about $2,000, depending on how postage rates hold out. It will probably be lower, but this is a cost that will definitely rise.

So, if I wanted to do League of Extraordinary Misfits as a book, the budget would be $7,680.

That’s not going to happen.

That does not include my pay as a writer. Since everyone else is getting market rate, I should be paying myself 5 cents per word (that’d be $1,650) though I’d settle for 3 cents ($990). I won’t be paying myself, though. I’ll get whatever profit comes from selling the book.

Let’s say I cut down on the illustrations and go with the lowest bidder (which means the art is going to suffer – Nefertiti Overdrive was pretty much sold on Kieron O’Gorman’s illustrations), I can cut my art budget in half to $1,500. Go with a less experienced editor, and I’m looking at $330 for a straight line edit – looking for spelling and grammatical errors, possibly some comments on comprehension. Could I get layout done for $750? Yeah, I probably could, but again, SEP is viewed as professional because I’ve had professional level work throughout. So, yes, I could cut my production costs to maybe $2,580. I might be able to compensate for the lower illustration count by buying some stock art and art collections, so maybe $2,650.

Printing and shipping won’t change, so the production cost would be for a PDF only product.

I don’t have $2,650 USD in my pocket (which would be about $3,060 CAD), so this isn’t going to happen.

At least for now. I’ll explore some options in my next post.

You can see the Centurion: Legionaries of Rome Kickstarter here, and you can but the book at Amazon or Drive Thru RPG.

You can see the Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter here.

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Dream Riggers

The new game I’m working on has the working title of Riggers, more specifically – for the playtest – Dream Riggers. The system came first and exists to test out a mechanic that interests me. If it works out, the game will likely evolve to better fit the setting.

The setting was created using the scenario creation rules from Nefertiti Overdrive (which is now in layout). There is a bidding mechanism, and players provide the “Features” which describe the setting and campaign.

From the movie Mirrormask

The first is Inspiration, which has the greatest amount of influence on the feel of the game. This is stuff like genre, time period, or even an existing intellectual property. For Dream Riggers, the Inspiration is superhumans (the other term is copyrighted, doncha know) and the movie Mirrormask (which I haven’t seen).

Setting describes the physical space in which the campaign happens. For Dream Riggers, that’s waterworld, slums of South Africa, and orbital refuges.

Plot describes things that are happening in the world in which the PCs might get involved. For Dream Riggers, they were “super powers are against the law,” “war between supers and normal,” and “global ecological collapse.”

Goals relate to what the PCs are doing, what their purpose is in the game world. In Dream Riggers, that’s “find a device to resurrect the eco-system,” “defeat evil super villains,” and “become normal.”

Then there are Themes. Themes are specific scenes, events, activities, or characters that will appear at some point in the game. We have “trickster guide,” “psionic mental powers like in Scanners,” and “Planet X.”

Finally, the players decided on the Attributes that would provide dice for conflict resolution in the game. I actually shouldn’t have done this, because the system already had everything set, but luckily what the players provided works pretty much perfectly for the system. We have Handicap (which I’m changing to Flaws), Powers, Skills, and Hope (which I am changing to Drivers).

There you have it. The basis for the Dream Riggers playtest. It should be interesting.

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League of Extraordinary Misfits

If you’ve been around here long enough, You’ve probably read about the game with the working title A Team of Pulp Losers. Well, that game is no more, and rising from the ashes is . . .

League of Extraordinary Misfits.

I asked around for suggestions, and I got a ton of them. This one was from one of the playtesters, Kat. The playtesters all agreed it was the best fit for the game.

Gerry Saracco thought up a great tagline: “Preserving the past….by any means necessary!”

What is League of Extraordinary Misfits about? It’s about action archaeology, in which a group of misfit adventurers seek out the past’s mysteries, learning that some myths have a foundation in fact and sometimes monsters do hide under the bed. They fight Nazis as well as horrors of the past resurrected in the present (1937), shooting/beating/sciencing the shit out of anything that gets in their way as they hop the globe saving artifacts that belong in a museum.

I’m very happy with the system.

Next in the queue? Dream Riggers, in which the characters find that reality is fluid, and that they just hit the rapids. This game is developing and the first playtest session is soon. The characters have super powers, and the conflict mechanic is based on skills providing a die that is rolled against a target number. Like Centurion, this is being developed from the ground up, but I’m building Riggers around a mechanic rather than a concept.

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Give the Players What They Want

As I mentioned, my A Team of Pulp Losers (needs better title) campaign finished last week. It reinforced a lot of my practices and thoughts about GMing – the importance of flexibility; that robust preparation is unnecessary; that players are your allies, not your opponents – but the major one was “give the players what they want.”

Gratuitous Raiders of the Lost Ark pic – this was the direction my players pushed the campaign, and I was happy to follow their lead.

This is especially easy if one is running an improvisational style campaign. I’ve mentioned before about my one-pagers, and most of the sessions were run from a page of notes, so improvising and changing the game or story on the fly posed no real problem for me.

This doesn’t mean that one must be an improvisational GM to be able to respond to your players’ interests and desires. If you are a high-prep GM, you probably are not comfortable shifting gears during a session. If you are, all the better, but if not, make notes of player reactions and comments for use in shaping the further campaign to better reflect their interests.

For GMs that are very sensitive to their players’ reactions, they can use their perceptions of what worked for the players and what players desire to help shape future games. There is also nothing wrong with asking for player feedback. It’s easy for players to tell you what they enjoyed, but most probably won’t tell you what they didn’t like in order to spare your feelings. Just ask if there were any moments that dragged, or what part of the session was their least favourite – not necessarily bad, just least good. You can also ask the players to recap the previous adventure at the beginning of each session. Note what areas they skip over – they aren’t going to recall the parts of the session that felt slow or disinteresting.

It’s honestly not that hard to adjust even pre-made adventures to add in some encounters or items tailored for your crew. You’re probably doing that already to make sure every character has a spotlight moment, so this is just a little addition to that.

It’s more work, certainly, but it will pay huge dividends and make you feel like a pretty epic GM.

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Disappearing Characters

The playtest campaign for A Team of Pulp Losers (needs better name) is complete, and I’m very happy with how the game held up. I ran my home group through a globe (and dimension) trotting adventure finding the lost pieces of Pandora’s Box, that took them to 1937 Manchuria, the Congo, Romania, Northern Ontario, Mexico, the Lost World, Atlantis, and finally an archaeological dig in Tanis, Egypt. It was a success both in that the rules held up remarkably well and the players had a lot of fun.

One situation that I encountered on a regular basis was missing players. Usually it was one, but there were occasions when two or more people were missing. This was a serial campaign, so this created some narrative issues, especially when a character that had been important during the previous session was suddenly missing, or when a character that had skills needed to overcome a particular obstacle was missing.

I don’t really have any advice on dealing with that situation, because my preferred solution was just to ignore it. The character wasn’t there, so the character didn’t act. We didn’t remark on it in the narrative, although there were plenty of out of character jokes about disappearing and re-appearing characters.

If a scene had been built for a specific character, I adjusted it as best I could so that the characters in attendance could get the spotlight instead. It’s easy enough to change Challenges on the fly, so not having the “right” character to address a Challenge was never a problem. Recaps of the previous game always happened, so players who had been absent got a bit of a download during that. In the end, it never really caused a problem.

I tend to be a very improvisational GM, so having a character missing was a minor curveball if a problem at all. Those who undertake more robust preparations might have more or bigger problems than I did, but no GM should be so rigid that such changes create serious problems.

As long as no one splits up the party. 😉

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Fallout Noir

Those of you who have been around here a while are aware I’m a big fan of the computer games Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Fallout 4 has been announced, and already it is providing inspiration. How is that possible, you might ask, given that we know next to nothing about the story? It’s the imagery that has piqued my interest.

One of the initial pics from Fallout 4 had me thinking of F:NV. F:NV is a mix of the post-apocalyptic and western genres. This image made me think that Fallout 4 would also mix genres, specifically post-apocalyptic and noir. Given that I’ve published a sword & sorcery noir, you can imagine how this might have grabbed my interest. So what about post-apocalyptic noir?

The one aspect of noir that I think is important is an urban setting. Post-apocalyptic adventures don’t really need urban centres. In fact, most work without them. Fallout, though, has regular urban areas of different sizes, from towns to cities. These are represented in the computer game by groups of buildings and characters of varying sizes, but all much smaller than the populace they are to denote. New Vegas is actually a pretty small geographic area, but one can imagine that it indicates one of the larger urban areas in shattered North America. Rivet City in Fallout 3 is the same.

With examples like those, and the urban density the image seems to suggest, it is easy to imagine cities with governments and rudimentary law enforcement in this setting. Most of the plots and macguffins of hardboiled detective fiction could be ported into such a world as easy as they could a sword & sorcery one.

You could easily take your standard travelling group of troubleshooters that are regularly getting into messes as they move between points of light in the wasteland and bolt that onto hardboiled plots. Imagine something like Raymond Chandler’s the High Window, in which the characters are hired to find a treasure their employer believes was stolen by an estranged daughter-in-law. This could totally work, and work well, in New Vegas or Rivet City. Instead of a rare coin, it could be a piece of technology – though this would make a couple of the twists in the story a little bit difficult.

There’s also something like the Dashiell Hammett novel the Thin Man, in which Nick and Nora Charles investigate a dead body and get involved in a pretty messed up family. The key points of the mystery and the family would work just as well in a post-apocalyptic setting.

Just take a look at that picture and try to figure out the story behind it. I’m pretty sure it includes corrupt officials, femme fatales/homme horribles, criminals, and snappy dialogue.

You can find out more about the Fallout series here.

You can find Sword Noir: A Role-Playing Game of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery at Amazon and DriveThru RPG.

You can find out more about the High Window here.

You can find out more about the Thin Man here.

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SEP State of Play

Every week I’m trying to get two articles up on the website, but some weeks it’s tougher than others. Tuesdays I generally like to have an advice column while on Thursdays I write about inspiration. This time, instead of providing advice, I’m going to let you know what is happening over at SEP.

The main concern for SEP (which is me) right now is Nefertiti Overdrive. It is in layout and the graphic designer – Rob Wakefield, who has laid out all our books since at least the Khorforjan Gambit – is optimistic about getting it back to me early July. Fingers are crossed. Once we get those files in a format with which we are both happy, the PDFs will be sent off to backers and to the printers to get some books done. I wish printing were faster, but due to schedules and the early start to Gen Con this year, I can’t see us having any Nefertiti Overdrive books to sell at the con.

However, I will be at the convention. The Nefertiti Overdrive games that I am running are all full, but I’ll be on the panel for a couple of seminars, and there are seats available to those. On Friday at 9 AM, I have “Indie RPG Matchmaker” with Jason Pitre of Genesis of Legend Publishing, while on Saturday at 1 PM, Ben Woerner who wrote World of Dew and I sit down to talk about “Historical Gaming.” I will be selling copies of both Sword Noir and Centurion there at the Independent Game Designers Network booth. Come by, say hi, shake hands and chat!

The play test for the game with the working title A Team of Pulp Losers is winding down, and the rules have proved successful through a one-year campaign. I am wondering about beta-testing these rules, but have had difficulty finding playtesters beyond my alpha-test circle. In the end, there is no business plan for these rules. I have not costed-out a release because I am a bit burned out on Kickstarter. What will happen to these rules? First, I need to find a better name. After that? We shall see.

Another system is ready to go for Gen Con. I’m calling it Fancy Pants because – as noted above – I suck at creating good titles. Fancy Pants is a game very much in the vein of Nefertiti Overdrive. It provides players with the opportunity to control the narrative and pushes them to get fancy – describing “success or failure in a way that is dramatic, cinematic, amusing or otherwise dazzling.” Unlike Nefertiti Overdrive, rather than providing an incentive by providing better dice or bonuses, getting fancy is tied to advancement. One Fancy Pants session at Gen Con will be based on Borderlands 2 while another is going to be a high octane action take on Sword Noir.

I honestly have no idea what will happen with Fancy Pants . . . even if it finds itself a good name.

There are two other completed systems that are steps between Nefertiti Overdrive and A Team of Pulp Losers: Direct Action and Starship Commandos. I’ve written about both games before, and they have both had shakedowns. They lack art or professional layouts, but they are ready to move forward.

And even with a backlog of four games, I have a new one for which I am about to pull the trigger on playtesting. This one is termed Riggers, although that name no longer applies. Riggers was tied more to the setting than the system, and I am working on playtesting the rules in a campaign attractive to my players. I intend to use the scenario generation system from Nefertiti Overdrive to create the campaign for the Riggers playtest. Maybe the setting will work with the name.

Riggers won’t be ready for prime time for at least a year. Like Centurion, it is a system built from scratch. Nefertiti Overdrive, like Sword Noir, was inspired by mechanics encountered elsewhere. Riggers was built from the ground up. I’m not going to say it’s totally new and unique, because I honestly expect someone at some point to say “this works just like X.” Still, because it’s new and unique to me, it’ll take a while to work out the kinks. Centurion changed dramatically during the playtest, and I expect something similar from Riggers.

So, there you go. Three completed games, two getting ready to have their tires kicked. Once Nefertiti Overdrive is in the hands of the backers, I’ll be doing some serious thinking about what I want to do and how I want to do it.

Until then, stick around. Let’s chat over at the SEP G+ group.

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