A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

29Apr/162

The Reality of the DM’s Guild

In case you're not aware, our first Kickstarter for The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light has finally launched on Kickstarter.

Initially, based on the information we had from the past, we intended to release it through the DM's Guild. That reasoning is based on WotC's (Mike Mearls, specifically) response to my question in the Reddit AMA with Mike Mearls and Chris Lindsay from January 15th:

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You would think that would be cut and dry. Well, that's not the case.

Yesterday I was contacted by the Director of Publishing and Marketing at OneBookShelf. His email contained the following:

Someone linked us to your Kickstarter and I wanted to touch base about a few things. DMsGuild creators cannot release titles on both DMsGuild and DriveThruRPG and they cannot use Kickstarter to "sell" their DMsGuild publications.

The wording on your Kickstarter makes me think this is more of an OGL type product, which is great because we have a ton of awesome 5e OGL content on DriveThruRPG and you are already set up to sell there.

You would only need to remove the DMsGuild elements (logos and text) from your Kickstarter page and continue on with your plans to sell on and fulfill your project via DriveThruRPG.com.

(Emphasis mine)

At first I thought it was simply semantics... My original listing made references to Drive Thru RPG even though I mean the DM's Guild; the reasoning is that, let's face it, both websites are one in the same and differ only in branding. So, in response to that email, I removed all references to Drive Thru RPG and stuck to my plan of releasing for the DM's Guild.

I just received the following email, from the same person at OBS:

The issue is you are in violation of the license on DMsGuild with your Kickstarter. All DMsGuild creations must remain exclusive to that storefront. They cannot be sold on DriveThruRPG, other storefronts, nor via Kickstarter tiers.

While it is true someone could run a Kickstarter to fund artwork or development of a DMsGuild title, they cannot offer tiers that provide backers copies of the title product. So, I imagine tiers would have to be "special thanks" or "game with the designer at Gen Con" or "your likeness used as one of the NPCs" all backers would still have to buy the book on DMsGuild once it launched as the publisher wouldn't be able to sell them a copy via crowdfunding.

(Emphasis mine)

Now think about that for a second... I can use Kickstarter to fund art for a project, but I can't actually provide that product as a reward to my backers once it's done. Backers are REQUIRED to purchase it through the DM's Guild, even though they already provided funds via backer rewards.

What I don't get is that I, at my discretion, do a few things to circumvent this:

  • Provide my product on DM's Guild FOR FREE or "pay what you want" (which could also be zero). Backers pay what they paid for it; anyone else gets it at whatever price or free. Not exactly the best solution from a business sense, but that's an option.
  • Provide my product on DM's Guild at whatever price I choose, but give a discount coupon to all my backers for them to acquire it at no cost to them. Based on the above, not exactly sure I can do this either.
  • Provide my product on DM's Guild, but require all backers to pay more than they've already paid to get it there. This feels unethical.
  • Provide my product on DM's Guild, but buy copies myself and send them to my backers. This feels... well... stupid.

But, in light of my  past legal issues with D&D publishing, I really don't have much a choice here... Until I get further clarification from Wizards of the Coast (with which I'm trying to communicate, but they don't exactly have an easy way of doing that), I will likely switch my product to go OGL. I'm not happy about doing that, but this goofball licensing agreement doesn't give me a lot of choice.

I will continue to try and get additional information, and will update this accordingly when I do.

Update 4/29/16: Yet another response from OBS...

The DMsGuild license specifically agreed to by content creators states that all DMG titles are exclusive to the DMsGuild.com storefront. Putting the PDF on Kickstarter violates that exclusivity. You are specifically listing your title (understanding that it isn't officially released yet) on another site and not on DMsGuild. It wouldn't be available on DMsGuild until after you've collected funds and finished the project.

DMsGuild creators do not currently have the tool set to upload PoD files themselves.

It does sound like making adjustments and releasing this title on DriveThruRPG as a 5e OGL product would work better for your overall setup.

(Emphasis mine)

First off, since the point of the Kickstarter is to fund editing and art, that it won't be available until after - well after, actually - the project ends is kind of a given.

Secondly, that poses an interesting problem... if I go the DM's Guild route, I can't offer hardcover discounts to my backers because there's no way for them to actually get a hardcover through the DM's Guild anyway. It *must* be done through DTRPG's default site, so the OGL is the only way to get a hardcover for any 5E product.

Update #2, 4/39/16: Mike Mearls has responded to my inquiries...

Well that settles that I suppose.

21Apr/162

The Sum of All Fears

TCD_Title

As several of you may know, I've had a little project of mine - the campaign The Coming Dark - in development for quite some time. Almost five years, to be precise... it's technically the reason this blog exists.

Over a year ago I decided that I was going to launch The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light as a Kickstarter. That's easy to say, but the fact that I'm writing this a year later without having launched anything yet says otherwise. I think that deserves explanation, or at least discussion; doing so may or may not my product or my image, but I feel some things need to be said.

Fear of Failure

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that sometimes I'm probably more open about my personal problems than I probably should be. After all, here I am trying to come across as an industry professional and a publisher but at the same time I'm talking about my own personal problems and issues. I know it's probably inappropriate, and I've had many people tell me "you know, maybe you shouldn't say that publicly"... but I don't exactly have anywhere else to say it.

I've mentioned this before as well: although I don't have a clinical diagnosis, I'm reasonably sure I regularly suffer from depression. Granted, I'm not a doctor, but I can sort of feel that I suffer from it more often than most. With that comes a sense of despair and a fairly large lack of motivation to do anything, even those things that you love. As a result of this feeling, I've lost count at how many times I've looked at this campaign and thought "what am I waiting for to publish this? I'll get on that tomorrow!" ... and never do. Be it depression, be it fear of rejection, be it aversion to briefly becoming a shameless salesman while the listing is active... it's always something that makes me think "I'm not ready."

In the back of my mind, there is also that fear that I may fail. This project is very personal to me - it's actually dedicated to both of my recently deceased parents - and I can't help but think that a failed Kickstarter would be mentally disastrous. I have the fear that if that does happen - however unlikely it may be - I would have failed them and failed myself, and I likely wouldn't be able to ever recover from it.

Fear of Success

I'll be totally honest here: for a while, I've been horribly terrified at the possibility of overwhelming success. I have what I consider a very small goal ($2K), but I have this fear that if the Kickstarter does overwhelmingly well and I suddenly have tens of thousands of dollars handed to me on a silver platter... given the personal problems I deal with on a daily basis, would I actually use that money for what it's intended for?

I am openly critical of projects that raise an ungodly amount of money and three months later say "we spent it all on shoes and don't have anything to give you." Having that happen to me terrifies me to the point of paralysis; fear of making the wrong decisions, or fear of making inappropriate decisions, makes me feel that I would rather not be in that situation at all. I don't want overwhelming success, so what would I do in light of such success? Spend it on actually fulfilling purchases or buy a container full of mammoth tusk d20s?

Fear of Exposure

AvatarYou may not have noticed because the internet is what it is, but you'd be hard pressed to find a photo of me online; those photos of me that are out there weren't actually posted by me. That's actually on purpose, and I honestly prefer to hide behind my "digital rabbit" avatar than use my actual photo. I've hidden my appearance so well that at GenCon 2013 nobody would have known who the hell I was if it wasn't for the Twitter ID on my show badge.

Why? You see, I've actually been "doxxed" before... As a result of an alternate reality game I was once involved with, I was throw to the wolves that are 4chan. I've had photos of me posted on public forums I frequent in an effort to mock and humiliate me. I've been crank-called as a result of this exposure. I've been threatened online, and I've had my family threatened (even though they knew nothing about them) as well. Suffice to say, it wasn't pretty or pleasant, and it's not something I'd like to go through ever again.

Since then I've retreated to being the "digital rabbit" avatar (which was part of the first alternate reality game I ran), and I've effectively built a brand around that image. I have thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter, but outside of close friends and family I'm pretty much known only by that image (for the next GenCon, I probably should get it made into a T-shirt...). It's who I've become, and what I'm known best as.

Because of past experiences, the idea of making a video for the sake of Kickstarter concerns me. I've weighed whether it's necessary, and depending on who you ask it may or may not be, but these days once your image is out there it stays out there... Five years ago it was possible to purge, but not now. I've been stung before, and those scars haven't quite healed yet.

Whether a video is absolutely necessary or not is up to discussion, but I can't get myself over the stage fright and the thought that I would have to step out from behind ths curtain I've built just to shill my product. Is it necessary? Is it worth it?

Conclusion

I've been thinking long and hard about this, and have come to the conclusion that TCD: Chapter One needs to be launched one way or another. And now, with the recent release of the 5E licensing, it's the best time to do that.

So I'm going to take a very big risk: I'm going to launch it without a video... focusing all my efforts on the copy on the page. The way I see it, my goal isn't very high so it should be OK... and, worst case, if I see it's not going to make it I have two options: (1) create a video while the project is active, or (2) re-launch it with a video after the first one fails. If all goes well, I won't need the video at all and life goes on.

I know the numbers... I know the likelihood of success is higher with a video... but I think I can still make it.

I'm in the process of tweaking the listing, but barring any convincing arguments or discussions it's going to get launched and launched soon.

So, if you've read this far, what do you think?

17Jan/16Off

Size Matters

The recent announcements of the 5th Edition SRD/OGL and the DM's Guild has got me really excited, and I've begun to look back on a large "incomplete"/"shelved" folder I have on m external hard drive.

There's a lot of things there that I don't even remember doing, but one thing stands out: the Revenge of the Crystal Scion campaign that I was creating (below text was adjusted to make it more Realms-centric and cater to the DM's Guild):

For the past several days, large mysterious crystals have been appearing at seemingly random stops across Faerun. And, about two days after they appear, they disappear... along with several square miles of land, leaving nothing behind but an enormous crater. Up to now these crystals have been appearing in seemingly random locations - in the middle of the desert, on the open sea, and deep within the mountains to the north, but when one of these crystals appears in the center of Waterdeep* the locals are understandably concerned. Something must be done to save the city from becoming another smoldering crater of nothingness.

Revenge of the Crystal Scion is a D&D 5th Edition adventure for a party of 10th-12th level characters, transporting them from the heart of Waterdeep* to deep within the astral plane, where a new threat emerges that threatens all of Faerun.

*: I say "Waterdeep", but I'm honestly not sure which city yet. Obliterating Waterdeep might not go over well with some people...

It's a bit hokey, sure, and that's likely due to the fact that it's the first high level adventure I attempt. But the one thing I like about this is that it has some of the best maps I've ever made.

RavensRock

Raven's Rock, the pirate stronghold floating amidst the ether.

The campaign is admittedly a trainwreck; there are lots of ideas I find rather cool, but it's a bit of a mess to tie them all together in such a way that makes sense. But the big problem is that the campaign is pretty massive: I'm predicting it to be three times the size of The Coming Dark, Chapter One... Right now it's 101 pages and practically half done. And, unlike TCD, by design it can't be easily split up into three parts, so it has to be done all at once (TCD Chapters Two and Three are designed but not written... yet).

This is a nasty habit of mine; I'm somewhat of a storyteller at heart, so I envision these long campaigns that tell a robust story. As a result, they pay the price in page count. I really need to start making smaller "one shot" adventures; those are actually easier to sell and a lot less work.

I've considered breaking up RotCS into component parts, and I'm sure I can probably make a few adventures out of it, but that somehow doesn't feel right. Is it worth the effort to piece this mess together and release another mega-campaign, or cannibalize it for parts and release three or four smaller adventures... discarding the rest?

So what do people want? Huge 100-200 page campaigns/adventure paths, or quick adventures that might take only a few sessions?

In the meantime, it seems like it's still a go to do The Coming Dark, Chapter One as a Kickstarter. Video... damn it, need a video!

 

12Jan/16Off

Hell Freezes Over

hell-froze-over-400x221

Well it finally happened... WotC has released the 5th Edition SRD, officially putting 5E within the bounds of the OGL and, at the same time, announced the DM's Guild.

I admit I wasn't sure if this day would come. Lord knows I've been harping over it since 5E was released (and, arguably, before that), and I've heard may a rumor as to when it would happen only to have the months fly by. But WotC pulled their version of Half-Life 2, keeping the world in the dark over the fact that this was going on until the day they dropped it on the world like an anvil.

Now, admittedly, what they did isn't exactly cut and dry and there are still a few questions that need to be answered. Hopefully a lot of those questions will be answered in the upcoming AMA on the 15th.

In the meantime, and I may not be 100% sure on all this, but here is my interpretation of what this means.

 

So it seems you can publish 5E content in two different ways:

1) Using the OGL

You create your own product and sell it however you want to, in any way you want that does not include the DM's Guild (see below). As is standard with the original OGL/SRD, you cannot use any of WotC's intellectual property: no deities, no named things (places, people, etc), no campaign settings, and the usual "god help you if you use this" rogue's gallery of monsters restricted due to being "product identity" (sorry, no beholders!).

You also cannot use any official D&D or WotC branding (other than any OGL logo they may eventually release... and I'm remaining hopeful they will) as is the case with most other OGL publications. What and how you reference the core materials is covered within the SRD; if it's in there you can reference it, but how to do that exactly I'm not sure about.

2) Using DM's Guild

According to the guidelines that seem to be part of the DM's Guild (which is, effectively, Drive Thru RPG), it seems you can use any of D&D's IP that would have otherwise been restricted using by the OGL... including those elements that fall under IP (beholders! Woo!). Admittedly I'm not 100% sure if this is the case, but it does make sense because of the nature of the Guild; you are under WotC's coverage, and you are effectively selling a product they sanction and make a profit on themselves.

Although it wasn't clear at first, it seems you are NOT required to make your product an integral part of the Forgotten Realms (this was confirmed by Chris Perkins on Twitter).

There is one caveat: If you sell on the DM's Guild, you can sell ONLY on the DM's Guild. In other words, you can't sell it anywhere else: can't sell it on your website, or Amazon, or even in stores. WotC effectively owns the rights to it and you get a cut of the profits... and it is a smaller cut than if you tried to sell it yourself... but you have to consider that you are now exposed to a much larger audience and promoted by WotC.

If WotC likes your work, there appears to be the possibility WotC acquiring your content and making more of it: publishing it under official WotC cover (which will allow you alternate sale venues), adding the material it to video games or other digital products, etc... It also displays your product to a much broader audience in an environment directly promoted by WotC; WotC will not openly acknowledge that 5E products exist anywhere else, so to get similar exposure you would have to advertise yourself... and effectively become a WotC competitor.

 

So what does this mean?

Let's take my current product - The Coming Dark, Chapter One - which is, as it stands now, is technically OGL compliant (well... 99% compliant, actually).

Option #1 above:

I publish it on my own as Darklight Interactive through my Drive Thru RPG storefront. I will make full profit on anything sold there.

I retain ownership of the product and can sell it anywhere except the DM's Guild itself. I will, however, not have anywhere near the exposure I would otherwise get on the DM's Guild and would have to do my own advertising... arguably against product WotC would be pushing themselves.

I cannot use any official WotC branding, and reference only things from the 5th Edition core that appear in the SRD. No beholders!

I can Kickstart it like I could any current OGL product.

Option #2 above:

If I publish it through the DM's Guild, I can ONLY sell it through the DM's Guild. I, technically, lose exclusive ownership to the product in that I can't sell it anywhere else.

I gain less of a percentage, but it is likely the product will sell more just by sheer numbers. A lot more people will be looking at it, and it will be exposed to a very targeted audience.

If WotC likes your product, they will promote your product. If they really like your product, they may help you publish it in alternate venues... or publish it themselves... or cram the content into a video game. Whatever. As I said above, think of it as them owning the product; you're along for the ride.

I can include content I would otherwise not have been able to, like beholders parading through Waterdeep.

Whether products listed in the DM's Guild could be Kickstarted is unclear. After all, Kickstarter itself can be considered a storefront... and that goes against the exclusivity the guild provides.

 

As it stands now, I will likely put The Coming Dark, Chapter One through the DM's Guild. I admit I'm not exactly thrilled in doing that, but the difference in exposure is monumental. I am not sure how the Guild's guidelines of being the exclusive storefront falls into the Kickstarter scheme, but I hope that will be addressed in the upcoming AMA... that will decide whether it is Kickstarted or not. If I can't Kickstart it to be a part of the DM's Guild, it will be published with minimal art... and I will likely have to pay for editing out of pocket.

Anyway, I think this is a very good step in the right direction for WotC. I really wish them all the best in this new venture, and I look forward to seeing what the publishers and fans out there bring to the world of D&D 5th Edition.

20Sep/15Off

Into the Light

I've been talking about this for a long time... Hell, the actual product has been in development for five years... But now I'm finally going to do it for real.

TCD_Site

My #1 pet project, my three part campaign called The Coming Dark, is *finally* going to go to Kickstarter. Like I said, I've been writing this thing for close to five years and the campaign has seen at least three different systems (4E, 13th Age and Pathfinder) before finally settling on being published through the OGL and being compatible with the 5th Edition of the Don't-Make-Us-Have-To-Say-It roleplaying system.

I've been crunching the numbers for a while now, putting together Kickstarter spreadsheets that inevitably contained a lot of red numbers. At first I wanted a physical product, a softcover or hardcover book of the adventure that I and many others can hold in my hands, but with the costs of editing and artwork I just couldn't make the numbers work without an absurdly high stretch goal for an adventure. So, like several other adventures and campaigns as of late, I'm going to go fully digital. That way I can drop as much money as I can on editing and creative for the project.

Now the only things I have left to do before launching it are:

  • I have an editor already signed up, but I do not officially have a creative artist signed up to do the cover or interstitial art. I know who I want, and am just waiting for their response (and, if you're reading this, *hint!* *hint!*).
  • I need to make a video. This could be considered a personal phobia of mine... as you can tell pictures of me are kind of hard to find, and those that you do find weren't actually taken by me. So I have to set my fears aside, record the video and pray I don't look like a total fool.

That being said, assuming I get the responses I need, the campaign for The Coming Dark, Chapter One might be submitted for Kickstarter review as early as the end of the week.

In an effort to be ready for the social media push, I created a signup site where you can register for notifications: http://tcd.dlimedia.com/

Really looking forward to this, and with all your support I trust I can make it a reality.