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


In the Shadow of the Great Dragon

Gosh, has it been that long since a post?

As of late, my life has been somewhat complicated due to work and "real life", but that's not to say that I'm sitting on my hands doing nothing.

Recently I've given a lot of thought to my campaign The Coming Dark, and I'm starting to realize the problems with it. Maybe it's overexposure, maybe it's disillusionment, maybe it's the infamous "DM burnout"... I don't know. The one issue I have with it that I can point to and say "that's a problem" is that it's somewhat of a linear adventure; everything must happen in a certain order, and the players really have no option to diverge from the set path. At first I didn't have much a problem with it, but participating in a few games and seeing the community's commentary on the subject makes me realize that not many people really want an adventure that is "on rails". Players want diversity, an option to diverge from the path before them and get creative with the world around them. They seem to want an open system, an environment where the DM ends up improvising a lot that goes on.

For that reason, I've once again began to work on another campaign, and it's another big one (100+ pages as we speak) but it has a lot of room to play around in.

The premise (this is a very rough draft): 

     A long time ago, a great dragon known as Vulkanon lived inside a volcano on the small island of Pyrias, from which he tormented and destroyed everything around him. A group of adventurers led by a mage named Raylen Darathar entered the volcano to stop this menace... Nobody knows what happened inside, but Raylen was the only person to escape the volcano alive. Even so, he was successful and the volcano fell silent. The great dragon was no more.

     But something inside Raylen changed as a result of the experience, and he became more hostile towards the people of the surrounding islands. The residents of Serpent's Cove - a small fishing village on the far end of the island of Pyrias - had a great deal of conflict with the mage, and eventually they had no choice but to banish him from the island. Raylen died shortly thereafter.

     Now, several decades later, Mazon Darathar - Raylen's son - has returned to the island of Pyrias with one objective: revive the great dragon Vulkanon and use his immense power to destroy the village that banished his father. Filled with vengeance and the need revenge, he entered the volcano... and the tremors have started once again. No one knows whether it's even possible for him to revive the great dragon, but the village of Serpent's Cove and the surrounding islands can't take that chance.

Here are some of the features in it:

  • The primary setting is an island with a volcano on it, giving the players the opportunity to explore the island itself before delving in to the dungeons towards their primary goal.
  • Besides the two major quests, there are several side quests that the players can pursue. Plus there are a few areas that are surprises, such as a hidden vault of treasure somewhere in the mountain.
  • There are actually two separate dungeons that the players can traverse to reach their goal: one of them is the Temple of Blackfire, populated by the religious zealots of the Blackfire Order that worship their "great dragon god" Vulkanon, and the site of the original temple that was abandoned due to a landslide but is now the point of entry of a large group of orcs that seek to claim the temple's treasures. Players are not require to go through both areas to reach their primary objective, but if they are in the mood to explore or to get more glory and treasure (such as the hidden vault, or a powerful artifact, or just a boatload of experience and things to kill) they can enter these areas easily.
  • It is theoretically possible to reach the "endgame" encounters without any combat at all, using a series of complex skill challenges and a lot of roleplaying.

So I'm somewhat pleased with this new module, and if people out there don't run it as-is there sure are various concepts in it that can be reused. As I said, it's a big one but the players are not expected to visit every room in it. There are two areas that link up to the BBEG's inner sanctum, and even in those areas there are multiple paths and side rooms they can explore. Lots of encounters, lots of traps and the occasional solo thrown in for good measure.

As a sample of the product, I'm including two excerpts. The reason I'm including these is not only to give you a taste but they are some of the areas I'm somewhat concerned about in terms of mechanics.

  1. The Blackfire crypt in the abandoned temple, now homw to a group of undead horrors that seek to suck the life out of the living. Although this is loosely based on the Deathgrasp Sarcophagus in Dragon Magazine - instead of one, there are eight sarcophagi - I debated whether to make this a trap or an actual set of creatures. It's kind of both, so I hope I've documented it adequately enough to make it an interesting situation.
  2. The Heart of Fire, an artifact that can be assembled and has extraordinary power over elemental fire. I've never created a sentient artifact before and flavor text isn't really my strong point, so I'm concerned whether this is overpowered, underpowered or just plain wrong.

 Feedback on the above is appreciated!

The module doesn't have an official name yet, but it is intended for a full party of level 10 characters and should be available within the month. I still have the usual issues - no artwork, and I despertately need to find someone to draw me a map of the island - but it's getting there.

One of these days I'll re-visit The Coming Dark, perhaps rework it so that it's not so linear.

Anyway, stay tuned; I'm still around! 🙂


On an unrelated note, The Endless Winter is now available in softcover color on Drive Thru RPG! It's on Lulu as well, but almost 80% more expensive as I've mentioned before. And as soon as I get around to making cover art for it, The Dragon's Master will be up there as well.

Please visit the Darklight Interactive page on Drive Thru RPG and enjoy my stuff!

When I get around to it (that's a common theme with me, if you haven't noticed), I will finish creating my own store front where all these products will be available as well. Stay tuned for that, too!


Print Publishing In a Digital Age

See my name on the cover?!? BOOM!!!

For the past few weeks, in and around moving from one house to another, I've been working on getting a hardcopy version of "The Endless Winter" up for sale somewhere.

Actually, let me clarify that... This all started with my own desire to have a tangible, hardcopy version of something I created that I can hold in my hands, raise over my head and shout "I MADE THIS!!!" I've been doing game design for nearly twenty years and everything that I've published has been virtual; when asked "can I see the game you wrote?", the only response I had was "go to this website and download it." Now I actually have a physical product I can shove in people's faces screaming "HERE!!! LOOK!!! THAT'S ME!!!" while I'm giggling like a schoolgirl.

This all may sound somewhat silly to you... But I have to admit I'm somewhat old school in this regard. In this day and age, where the print medias are dying a slow and painful death at the hands of e-readers, a physical copy is meaningless and might never be bought by a single person. In fact, I myself might be criticized as a "tree killer" for even considering printing a product.

But, you know, it feels good to hold it in your hands. It really does. It's like cradling a newborn child, thinking how you made that possible with your own two hands (or other parts, as the case may be). It's extremely satisfying.

So in order to figure all this out I used two separate venues: Drive Thru RPG's printing service and Lulu. As I analyzed these two services, I noticed that Lulu was significantly more expensive then Drive Thru RPG, and I wasn't sure why at the time. I mean... it's an identical product, isn't it? Well here's a little more information on that.

Drive Thru RPG

"The Endless Winter" was already listed on Drive Thru RPG, so it seemed a logical choice to try their printing services. It also helped me understand exactly what is involved in getting something ready for publication - I have to start thinking about things like bleed, saturation and color space, proper contrasting colors when printing to black and white, etc... - so there was a lot of trial and error as I went back and forth. It doesn't help that it takes Drive Thru RPG three days to tell you the file you uploaded was wrong, so it took me almost two weeks to get a version finally viable for publication.

Drive Thru RPG forces you to order a "proof" of the publication before you can put it up for sale, and you have to buy it at the price it costs to print (more on that later) and with royalty credit, so I ordered both softcover color and softcover B/W. When I got them, I was excited beyond belief - "look mom! I wrote this!!!" - but there were still some issues that had to be addressed. And those issues were mostly due to color selection and contrast, such as the "Dark" in the word "Darklight" being illegible on the cover (due to a lack of a lighter edge) or the wooden bridge being indistinguishable from the chasm in the black and white version due to no contrast. Nothing major, and all easily corrected.

Drive Thru RPG was pretty reasonably priced, significantly cheaper than Lulu, but you do not get a free proof. As far as royalties, if you sell a copy your revenue is calculated after they take their printing cost; for example, if you sell your book for $20 and it costs $15 to print, your revenue is based on the $5 difference.


The first thing I noticed about Lulu is that it is a LOT more expensive. I mean like two to three times more expensive than Drive Thru RPG... So much so that the cost of printing no longer puts me at a competitive price point with other similar products. At first that didn't make much sense to me, but in time I noticed some significant differences and important features Lulu provides:

  • For every publication you get a free ISBN (owned by Lulu, but still). This is a somewhat important number, and identifies your product as unique to the world. If you were publishing on your own, it would cost you $125 to get one ISBN (the price goes down if you buy several at a time).
  • Lulu has several other avenues of sale than just their website; you can sell it on Amazon, for example. Your profit may get eaten up by the $10 "Retailer Fee", so you might want to start hoping for some serious volume.
  • The first proof of a product is FREE. You have to pay for shipping, but that's significantly cheaper for something that could effectively be a shot in the dark.

And, above all that, I have to say one thing: the hardcopy proof I received from Lulu is stunning compared to the Drive Thru RPG one. Print quality and materials are superior by far, it's not as over-the-top glossy as the Drive Thru RPG prints (which are pictured above) and it just feels like a quality product. By comparison, it makes the Drive Thru RPG softcover feel like newspaper stock.

Lulu's very blunt about their prices, but they do not appear to take a percentage beyond the cost of printing the product. So if your product costs $15 to print and you sell it for $20, you keep the $5 difference in full. Despite that, since Lulu's prices are higher you're not making as much money, but with the possibility of selling it across multiple major venues that may balance out due to volume (one can only hope).


So while I wait for my final proofs from Drive Thru RPG, I have listed "The Endless Winter" on Lulu. I'll be honest: that's not the price I want to sell it at, but as it is I'm not making a whole lot of profit and if I price it any lower I'm losing money. Once the Drive Thru RPG proofs clear, I'll list it there significantly cheaper but arguably inferior in quality.

Is the quality worth the significant price difference? Some would argue yes, others not. Personally, if I saw both products side by side I'd be somewhat hard pressed to pay almost double for the Lulu one, but I guess it matters on what you're buying. If this was meant to be a coffee table book or something that would serve in part as decoration then yes, the Lulu book is much prettier. If it's just to run the campaign, heck, I can do with printing the PDF personally.

So buy it at Drive Thru RPG if you:

  • Want to save a few bucks.
  • Just want a print copy, knowing full well that it's not as high quality of a print copy as it can be.
  • Are feeling charitable and want to help me out by buying at a place that gives me  better revenue margin.
  • Have store credit that you want to burn.

Buy it at Lulu, Amazon or wherever else if you:

  • Want a high quality, really nice looking product.
  • Want to help put me at the top of Amazon's bestseller list.

On a semi-related note, I am in the process of creating my own online store where I can sell all my products and not have to worry about someone taking part of my margin. This will allow me to do things like buy hardcopies in bulk (Drive Thru RPG gives a 5+% discount if you buy 50 or more of your own product) and make more. Stay tuned for that!

Future Projects

I have a few other things in the works, including another module that is somewhat inspired by Fourthcore. Once I have something to show for that, I'll post it. One teaser: an exploding island is involved... Should be fun.

I also have some more Gamma World Remnants to post, such as the reactor room from Where Worlds Collide. That will be posted in the next week or two.

In the meantime, you can watch the orc horde trounce anyone that opposes us in the Fourthcore Team Deathmatch, Round One!!!

Filed under: Design, GSL, Publication, RPG 2 Comments

Brief Hiatus

Gosh, has it been that long since a post?

I've been in the process of moving in to a new(er) home, and it's been somewhat exhausting work so I have not had the chance to focus on some things I intended to post here.

To give you an idea of how busy I am, I was one of the first players GIBBED in the Fourthcore Team Deathmatch game... And that was just on the initiative roll!

Anyway... On the bright side I have everything moved, and arguably have an office now. Problem is that it has boxes stacked to the ceiling, and there's still a lot of work to do in the new home.

Sorry for the silence; things will be back on track soon!

Filed under: Personal No Comments