Quo Vadis, SEP?

In my last post I was looking at costing League of Extraordinary Misfits, and came out with production cost for doing the book right at $5,680 USD, without printing and shipping. I could probably get away with $2,650, and shipping and printing would probably run at least $1,500 though it could easily hit $2,000.

Let’s just look at production costs. I’m going to look at the lower cost, $2,650. The upper cost is right out of my ballpark right now.

Okay, so $2,650. The last book I financed out of pocket was Kiss My Axe. That was published in Dec 2011. It’s still in the red. Sword Noir, which was published in Apr 2011, took two years to recover its funding. Sword Noir‘s budget was half of the budget I’m looking at for League of Extraordinary Misfits.

One of my principles in running SEP was that my personal money would never go to financing the company. That has happened twice. Once turned out okay, the other did not. That’s not a lot of data to go on, but I’m averse to pumping money into this enterprise. If you have been following me for any length of time, you will know that I am mercenary. Yes, I love doing this stuff, but I could get the same sense of fulfillment writing this stuff for my local group and maybe sharing it with the small group of people who support SEP. Cost to me? Nothing.

Let’s say that personally financing League of Extraordinary Misfits is off the table.

So crowd-funding? I said I would never do another Kickstarter. Nefertiti Overdrive finally did fund, yes, but it took a lot of work and investment to finally make it happen. Do I want to go through that again? I would spend a lot of time marketing and I would probably need to do something like the Quickstart again to build some interest and awareness. I’d be looking at an investment of about $450 to $500 for a Quickstart or preview. Since I’d be giving it away for free, the recovery of those costs would be based on the Kickstarter funding. And while the art and map for the Quickstart could be recycled in the main product, the editing and layout costs would simply be added to the cost of funding the product.

Let’s look at the numbers for Kickstarting it. My production costs would be $2,650. I’m going to round that up to $2,800 for unrecoverable Quickstart costs. Can I do a PDF only campaign? I could probably try, but that’s a real risk. If we do add book rewards, we need to add at least $750 for production and shipping. We’ll say $3,500 – the target for the Centurion campaign. However, that doesn’t cover the Kickstarter costs. I generally ballpark this to 10% based on my experience with the system. $3,850 USD would be the target, but because I’m in Canada, my Kickstarters are in CAD. That means I need to set the target 25% higher. Right now, the difference is 20%, but it fluctuates, and if I don’t want to screw myself, I need to account for that. That leaves the target at $4,820.

Almost $5,000. When I tried that with the first Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter, I got all of $2,3600.

So even the low-rent version of League of Extraordinary Misfits looks out of reach.

What about piece meal? I could get the rules out for about $575 (or $470 if I go the less expensive route). That means a Kickstarter for a 20 page PDF of $800 or $650 respectively.

Going the basic route, I think I would need to ask for $3 for a PDF copy (I’d later sell it at $3.99 or maybe $4.99, haven’t done a lot of price research yet). That would mean I would need about 220 backers at that level.

Trying to create rewards would be an issue. Let’s say I do a character-based reward. If there’s a $50 reward for being the model for a pre-gen you design, that increases the cost by $35, only netting $15 in actual funding – limit it to 5 and that increases the cost to about $900. If all 5 are supported, that means I still need to fund $650. This doesn’t help. Maybe make it $75? Then if all are supported, the funding target reduces to $525 or 175 backers, but if none are supported, I might still get $650 and not be funded.

Confusing, eh?

$470 USD (which would be about $580 CAD) is something that I might be able to pay for on my own. And, really I could do this for just the art budget if I ignore editing and layout. That would be suboptimal, but it makes it more affordable, and I would worry less about investing my personal money.

One way of subsidizing the cost would be through Patreon. I’m considering using Patreon to release games and adventures. It would basically be $1 for backers per product with a minimum of 10 pages and a maximum of 20 pages. How many people could I get in Patreon? It’s hard to say. I’ve seen Patreons that I support only get $3 in total funding, while some other campaigns make more than $1,000.

To be honest, it makes a lot more sense to me to go the Patreon route to subsidize investments. To do a Kickstarter right, there’s a ton of time and investment. Patreon still requires work, but it is ongoing. I might be a $3 campaign at first, but there’s the chance to get to $100 per product in a year or two, and that could help support art and maps for systems and campaigns.

Here’s the numbers for that:

Games ready to release now: Direct Action (special forces modern action); Starship Commandos (Aliens meets Heinlein’s Starship Troopers); and a League of Extraordinary Misfits.

Direct Action has a campaign that could easily span three or four 15-page products, Starship Commandos has an intro adventure, and LoEM has a campaign of about six products.

That’s a one release per month for about a year. By that time Fancy Pants (needs new name) and Riggers will likely both be ready to go. Fancy Pants will have two adventures for it: one inspired by Borderlands 2 and one set in the default Sword Noir setting. Riggers will have Dream Riggers, which will likely be a campaign that spans about six products.

Patreon seems to make a lot of sense.

But maybe I’m deluding myself.

In any case, nothing will happen until after Gen Con, and after Nefertiti Overdrive is released. That gives me some planning time.

What do you think? Feel free to comment, but there is an SEP G+ community to facilitate discussion.

You can find Kickstarter here.

You can find Patreon here.

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.

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.

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. 😉

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.

Mandarins of Manchukuo – the Supernatural Opponents

A supernatural adventure is no good without supernatural opponents. The PCs encountered a few of these in “Mandarins of Manchukuo,” but rather than being based on actual mythic lore, these were based on mass media adaptations.

The first of these, and the one that the PCs heard the most about before encountering, were the White Water Witches. These twins – Susu and Qingqing – were based on the Sorcerer and the White Snake, a movie starring Jet Li, itself based on the legend of the White Snake (not the hair metal band, though that joke did appear during the game). I mistakenly claimed the legend for Guangdong when it rightly belongs to Zhejiang. Mea culpa.

The group also encountered a group called the Priests of Thoth, my own little twist on the the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the Medjai from 1999’s the Mummy. Other than assassin-warriors with a lip tattoo of the hieroglyph for the Greek god Hermes, the PCs know little of these guys. I’m going to leave it that way. The PCs did figure out that while the Priests of Thoth attacked them three times during the adventure, the Priests weren’t bad guys, per se.

The big bad who showed up at the end was a rendition of the Mummy from both its 1932 incarnation and the 1999 version. The big bad appeared as Boris Karloff from 1932, but had many of the powers of the 1999 Mummy. He wasn’t as tough as either, but that’s not to say that he was the boss fight, or – if he was – that he has been destroyed completely.

The PCs might find the truth later, or they might never learn the truth.

You can read about the Sorcerer and the White Snake at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can read the Wikipedia page on the legend of the White Snake here.

You can read about the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword on the Wikipedia page for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

You can read about the 1932 Mummy on Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read about the Medjai on the Wikipedia page for 1999’s the Mummy.

Mandarins of Manchukuo – the Supernatural Allies

The pulp A Team of Losers campaign on which my Ottawa group has embarked is going to be a kind of The Losers/A-Team by way of Raiders of the Lost Ark/Supernatural. Maybe a weird melange, but it turned out well enough for the group to vote for it over Starship Commandos and a planned Borderlands/Guardians of the Galaxy homebrew.

In the first adventure, the group encountered a few creatures – some by way of myth, others by way of mass media. The adventure was in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation – 1936 Manchukuo – and I was using the working title of “Mandarins of Manchukuo.”

The group encountered a bake-danuki – a supernatural raccoon dog – in the guise of a Japanese officer who seemed to appear wherever the group found themselves. He didn’t follow them, because he was always there first. In the final battle, he made himself known, providing the PCs with an advantage against their adversaries.

Alongside the bake-danuki, the PCs encountered a kitsune – a supernatural fox – in the guise of a Japanese woman. She was not as interested in the PCs as the bake-danuki, but she was the one the PCs identified first, mostly through meta-game knowledge. That’s not a bad thing. In a lot of monster movies and spooky TV dramas, the viewers are way ahead of the characters in identifying the creature.

These were the “allies.” There were some “villains” as well. Stay tuned!

You can read the Wikipedia entry for the bake-danuki here.

You can read the Wikipedia entry for the kitsune here.

You can read more about A Team of Losers here.

You can read more about Starship Commandos here.

A Team of Losers uses a modified version of the Untitled Game System.

Getting Pulped

It’s official. My Ottawa group has voted for the pulp adventure version of A Team of Losers. They completed the first adventure, part of what is planned as a world-spanning search for mystical artifacts which will intersect with (poorly researched) local myth and lore.

“Pulp Mystery” by estivador on deviantart.

The team right now includes Dr. Nicholas Hollows, eminent archaeologist with a fixation on the myth of Pandora’s Box; Johnny Cargen, mystic martial artist; Gertrude Blaze, carnival trick-shot artist and all around showbiz person; Dr. Hans Zarkov (of the Brazillian Zarkovs), scientist of questionable sanity; Zantar, lord of the jungle; and Lenny Something, non-descript comic relief who somehow ends up regularly shooting people in the face.

Their last adventure was in Japanese dominated Manchuria (inspired by equal parts Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Good, the Bad, the Weird). We shall see where their next adventure takes them. After each adventure, I’ll share information I’ve used on interesting mythical lore and stuff I’ve totally made up.

Next post, demon snakes, raccoon dogs, and red foxes (rather than Redd Foxx).

You can find more information on A Team of Losers here.

A Team of Losers is based on the Untitled Game System.

You can read about Raiders of the Lost Ark at Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read about the Good, the Bad, the Weird at Wikipedia or IMDB.


A Team of Nefertiti Commandos

I wanted to pop in and give an update on what has been happening on the RPG front over here at SEP.

NO_G+cover-photoI’ve received back the edits for the Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart. I will be amending the text and then sending it to layout. I am expecting one more piece of art before it gets published, which should be happening around September.

The first playtest of Starship Commandos wrapped up. The system has changed in that I have adapted the original damage and stress system that I was planning for Nefertiti Overdrive. Nefertiti Overdrive evolved into something very different, and that system was never used, but with Starship Commandos, it fits really well.

A Team of Losers is going to be a pulp action-adventure game with the first adventure taking place in 1936 Manchuria, creating a mix of Supernatural, the Losers, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Good, the Bad, the Weird. It is going to use the system of Starship Commandos and adapt it changing the Harness to Equipment.

Here’s a version of Pulp Sara Cooper for A Team of Losers.

Sara Cooper, Marksman

Mental d10; Physical d8; Social d6
Marksmanship d12; Survival (temperate) d10; Scout d8; Lived Experience d6
Quiet Professional d10; Hunter d8; Patient d8; Exceptional d6
Scoped Winchester Model 1894 Lever-action Rifle d12; Mauser C96 Broomhandle Auto-loader Pistol d10; 30m braided rawhide lariat d8
My Word Is My Bond (Cooper keeps her promises and fulfills her contracts), Buy the Farm (She’s always talking about the farm in the country she’s going to buy when she retires), and Never the Innocent (Cooper will not target non-combatants. Ever).