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

25Apr/12Off

The Heart of Fire

We are pleased to announce the release of The Heart of Fire, our next major adventure/campaign for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition! Here is a brief synopsis:

     Over a century ago, the nation of Cerra was terrorized by Vulkanon, a fearsome dragon that rose out from an active volcano on a small neighboring island.

     To deal with the threat, the council of Cerra hired a group of adventures led by Raylen Darathar—a powerful elemental mage—to seek out of the dragon and destroy it. Raylen emerged mortally wounded, but alive. The volcano was silent, and the attacks stopped. Cerra believed itself to be safe once again.

     But decades have passed and now evil stirs again. As the volcano begins to tremble, fearful rumors spread that the great dragon has somehow returned. Sailors whisper of a dark mage that has managed to resurrect the dragon and intends to use its power cower the land into submission. Cerra seeks heroes once again to save itself from fiery destruction.

This adventure has been in development for some time now, well before the "DnD Next" announcement. After I created the thing it sat on my hard drive for about a month, collecting virtual dust, with me wondering exactly what I was going to do with it. The way I see it, it was written... Might as well get it out there even if there's the risk that nobody will buy it.

Admittedly, the adventure isn't at the 100% quality that my obsessive self likes to have, but I wanted to get it published while still being eligible for this year's ENnies. There's no chance in hell any 4E product will be eligible for nomination next year; it was now or never. We are still going to be doing some basic editing to it and will post an update one of these days. If you purchase it and find something glaring in it, please let me know and I'll correct it accordingly.

I'd like to thank a few people who assisted in this project:

Editing: Stephen Newton of Thick Skull Adventures and Ian "Reg09" Ramsey. They fixed my crappy writing and horrible plot holes, and Ian provided some mechanical insight that really helped out in some of the more major encounters of the adventure.

Cover Art: The cover art is by Sigbjørn Pedersen of Pedersen Airbrush, a very talented artist. I chanced across the cover image on DeviantArt and it was absolutely perfect; I had to have it. Thanks for letting me use it!

Island Map: The map of the Isle of Pyrias was done by J.D. Harvill from the Cartographer's Guild. As I've mentioned many times before, I am fairly decent in tactical maps but are abysmal when it comes to regional and world maps. I must have tried to do the island map a dozen times and spent two weeks only to come up with crap, but less than a day after posting the request on Cartographer's Guild J.D. responded splendidly. I am eternally grateful.

Other People: A few other people have seen bits and pieces of the adventure; for example, I know a few that helped me review one major trap in the encounter ("The False Vault" on page 91). At this point I don't remember your names, so email me and I'll acknowledge you accordingly.

You can purchase it now on Drive Thru RPG! I was planning to use this to launch my own store front, but just haven't had the time to get all that done.

-=O=-

So... what's next for us? Glad you asked...

  • I am currently waiting for a response from WotC regarding something I pitched. As usual, regardless of what they answer it's going to get created... It's just up to them to decide who owns it and when it sees the light of day. For obvious reasons, I can't provide more details on that.
  • I have a general concept and two rooms done for a Fourthcore adventure idea I had, so I just need to find the inspiration to finish up the rest of it. The tentative name is the Something of the Crystal Something... Yeah, I know that needs a little work...
  • I have another idea for a D&D 4E adventure that is based on an active war front, similar in concept to the "Reavers of the Harkenworld" mini-campaign included in the DM's Kit. Barring any major change in plans (see above) this will probably be my next major project.
  • The Coming Dark is currently locked in a safe, waiting for the day that we have enough information on "D&D Next" to get working on it.

Finally, as I believe I've mentioned before: we will continue to create D&D 4th Edition content until a higher authority tells us to do otherwise. I am not the type of person to sit on my hands and not do anything about all these ideas I have. And waiting a full year to publish an idea for a game system I know very little about is unthinkable right now, so I will continue to publish with the framework I have currently available. So long as 4E has players, I will continue to create stuff for people to use.

15Apr/12Off

The DnD Pantheon

The D&D 4E Pantheon... Well, most of it anyway.

Yesterday I was in a strange mood, so I decided to try and practice a little with my non-"drag clip art around" skills in Fireworks and Illustrator. I'm trying to expand my skills, get some more practice in drawing and in raw vector manipulation, so my maps and such can be a little more robust and unique.

Looking for something to do, I came across the "Deities" section of the semi-official Dungeons and Dragons Zazzle site. When I saw the first one - Asmodeus - I thought to myself "Yeah... I can do that."

Several hours later, I had all sixteen done.

The majority of them involved not much more than dropping a rectangle or circle and then screwing with the bezier anchors, plus a lot of polygon unification and "punching". Some of the more complex one involved drawing a base vector with the vector path tool and then modifying the points to match the image reference. Vecna was probably the hardest in this regard, adn Tharizdun took me the longest of all due to its complexity. Corellon, Pelor and Erathis were quite entertaining because I put a stupid amount of time to make them mathematically accurate and symmetrical.

Like I said, I did this for practice... But now that I have them I can't help but share them. So here are all 16 deities, provided in native Fireworks PNG and Illustrator 8 formats. The base image is about 700x700 pixels but it's vector so it should be very easy to scale to any size you want.

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Deities - Fireworks PNG

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Deities - Adobe Illustrator 8

I hope that someone out there can put these to good use.

Filed under: 4e, Art, DnD, Drawing, RPG 2 Comments
13Apr/12Off

Dreams of a Byline

We are currently about a fourth of the way through a submission window for Dungeon and Dragon magazines (DDI, for short). But early in the cycle a discussion cropped up on Twitter about why people want to be published in DDI in the first place, and why those same people just forget DDI and publish content on their own.

The Reasons to Submit

So why do people try and get published in DDI in the first place? There are a variety of reasons...

  1. For the Money: *snort!* Yeah, I know what you're thinking... Suggest this to almost any professional game designer and they'll probably laugh in your face. Sure, there are a few game designers that have made bazillions in the industry - John Carmack, Warren Spector, Sid Meier, Hideo Kojima and the like - but they are a rare breed, and they managed to create the right product at the right time. In fact, when you compare the amount of time you spend designing a game to the amount of money you stand to make from it you're looking at pennies on the dollar. So if you're looking to enter the lavish life of a freelance game designer, got news for you... Keep your day job.
  2. For Personal Pride: To many, being published in a major magazine is a rite of passage, a realization that your ideas were cool enough to get through the sea of slush that Wizards of the Coast must receive during every submission window. It's an acknowledgement that your ideas aren't crap and someone out there actually liked something you did. It might not mean anything to anyone you know, and your family might look at you as if you were nuts, but damn it... it's COOL! It's like seeing your name in lights on Broadway! You can't wait to frame your first article and hang it in my den!
  3. For the Greater Good: You have a brilliant idea, or at least one you think is really cool, and you think that there are many out there that could benefit from it. But how to let them know when your blog gets an earth-shattering eleven users a day? DDI has guaranteed readers - thousands of them - and if your article is as useful as you think it is, the exposure that DDI provides ensures that it reaches as many people as possible. And you feel better about using them to help support the community you're a part of and have grown to love.
  4. For Your Resume: Depending on your line of work, putting on your resume that you were a "freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast" could be a very big deal. Hell, I'm a computer programmer with 30 years experience... That won't mean squat on my resume but damn straight I'm going to put it in there when it happens.
  5. Because It's There: You got this idea and you're going to publish it no matter what. Why not send it to DDI? If they say "no", you can turn around and just publish it on your own. Either way, the world will see what you've written; it might not be with as much fanfare, but it's gonna get written no matter what WotC says.

As I've mentioned before, I've submitted many a time and actually have one article in the pipeline (I think anyway... Until I see it in print, I'll always be a skeptic). Of all the above, I think I fall in to #2 and #5, in that order. Damn straight the article's going up on my wall when it gets published, right next to my other ones (in case you're wondering, I've been in the Miami Herald, The Sun Sentinel, PC Magazine, a few other video game magazines and... er... the Tallahassee Democrat. Don't ask about that last one...)

The Wonders of Self-Publishing, or Lack Thereof

There's an interesting statistic I need to mention: according to Greg Bilsland himself, last cycle they received in excess of a thousand submissions for DDI. Now I don't know the exact numbers, but we can estimate how many of those might become articles: 12 months, 2 magazines, and let's say 6 accepted submissions each month (may be less if you consider regular authors that have articles every month)... that means 100-150 submissions a year or 50-75 submissions a cycle, which is probably a high number.

So 1,000 submissions go in, and 50-75 might get published. So what happened to the rest? If every one of the rejected authors would turn around and just publish what they suggested on their own, we'd be so up to our eyeballs in 4th Edition content we wouldn't know what to do with it all. Yet I can count the publishers I can think of in one hand (myself not included); why aren't there more?

There's a lot of reasons people don't self-publish.

It's Work: There's a big difference between creating an adventure and making it look good on paper. For every hour I spend designing encounters I spent 5 hours drawing maps and 10 hours doing layout in Adobe InDesign. And unless you're experienced in it and have adequate tools to do it - not many people can drop hundreds on dollars on Adobe CS5 Master Suite - it's a lot of damn work.

The amount of work depends on how you choose to express yourself and your product. Sersa from Save Versus Death reportedly does all his work in Microsoft Word, which quite frankly is staggering to me; I use MSWord for more than 5 minutes and I have to resist putting my fist through the screen, but he manages to create a fantastic looking product with the tool. You can perform miracles with nominal tools, you just got to know how to use them.

I admit I put a lot of work in to my products, but that's not because it's necessary; I do it because that's just the way I am. You don't need to create 38 detailed, high resolution encounter maps every time you have an adventure... Make it simple and get it out there. Draw it with a pencil if you have to, just do it.

Rejection: I can imagine a lot of people interpret "we are not interested in pursuing your submission at this time" to mean "What is this crap? Are you f&*#!%g serious?!? What the hell are you thinking?!? No, no, no... Sweet mother of God, no!" *DELETE!*

Look at the numbers above: 1,000 submissions turn in to about 50-75 publications. That's a mere 5-8%, give or take, so there's a lot that doesn't make the cut. And when you factor the amount of time and work it takes to get something published - remember that every article needs to get edited by several people and could call for more than one piece of really nice artwork - there simply isn't enough time to get everything published.

Some of the best ideas have to be left behind, and there's no reason to take it personally. There's a big difference between WotC not liking your idea and WotC having to pass on your idea simply because they don't have a choice.

But if they do answer "are you f&*#!%g serious?!?", you might want to reconsider.

Lack of a Venue: A lot of people who are submitting to DDI probably don't have any other public venue to release their product. They may not have anything more than an email address, so if they decide to publish anyway their product might simply disappear through the cracks amongst the other more visible blogs and sites. Sure you can publish through Drive Thru RPG, but your product might simply get lost amidst the sea of other content that flows through that site on a daily basis.

And let's say that you do publish it on Drive Thru RPG; you cannot expect thousands of people to download it within the hour. I admit I myself had some feelings of rejection when I published my first product and nobody downloaded it for a week. Heck, my most recent product - A Hero's Journey - has had only had about a dozen downloads. There are a variety of reasons why that's happening with AHJ, the biggest reason of which is that I simply have lousy timing (that's a topic for a later date).

Do not let the lack of an audience dissuade you. Get the product out there, then learn to do some self-marketing and go get your audience. If you continue to develop products that people might actually want, over time you won't have to hunt for customers; they'll come to you.

Fear of Lawsuit: I find it necessary to mention this simply because it is one of the reasons, however infrequent it may occur. Then again, it occurs to me... a lot. You see, the whole world that is 4th Edition material is governed by the 4E GSL. As a result, there are several things that you simply can't publish because Wizards of the Coast won't let you. Have an adventure idea with a beholder in it? Displacer beast? Umber hulk? Sorry, no. We can't let you do that... Unless you publish it through DDI. It's not like WotC is going to "cease and desist" themselves.

As you know, I like Gamma World a lot, so every chance I get I offer to create something... anything... Gamma World related simply because DDI is the only avenue through which I would be able to do such a thing.

This is a legitimate problem, and honestly one that you can't do much about. Simple answer: don't create anything that might get you sued. Trust me.

So, in a nutshell, there's nothing stopping you from publishing. If DDI tells you "no", buck up and do it anyway. The same people that complain about the lack of 4E material are those that don't publish their own ideas. I hope this trend doesn't continue with 5th edition, and I look forward to the onslaught of content as soon as it launches.

On a related note, I've been working on an article describing what is actually involved in getting something published through DDI. It's somewhat of a touchy subject, and I have to be sure to tread the line due to my NDA, but hopefully I'll be able to post that soon. There may be a delay since I'll probably require WotC to approve it, though; I submitted the article to DDI and they passed on it, but I'm going to do it on my own anyway just because I can.

Filed under: 4e, DnD, Publication, RPG 1 Comment
7Apr/12Off

The Blink Dog

Woof! ... *Ninja vanish!*

Earlier today, someone joked on Twitter that "the new edition of D&D better have blink dogs!"

Prior to that post, I had never realized that the blink dog didn't exist in D&D 4E. Of course I remember it, and I've actually used it on more than one occasion. In 4E I actually created a similar creature in my campaign The Coming Dark, only it was a panther and not a dog. The fact that it didn't exist in 4E is, to be honest, quite surprising.

So in five minutes I created one.

I couldn't do a convincing conversion because in 3.5E the dog's Blink and Dimension Door abilities are free actions, which just doesn't fit in to the 4E mechanic. So I decided to make Dimension Door a move action (similar to the wizard's power of the same name) and the Blink ability a rechargeable minor action.

I haven't bothered doing additional lore on it, but as per the D20 SRD these little beasts are capable of communicating with each other using their own language which... well... sounds like dogs barking.

You are free to do with this as you wish. Suggestions are welcome on this one, and if you do decide to use it or modify it in some way I'd like to hear about it.

Filed under: 4e, DnD, Monsters, RPG 5 Comments
6Apr/12Off

In the Works

First off, I now see why D&D wasn't to keen on my "Drizzt for President" items... Today they announced Rise of the Underdark at PAX East. Amongst the items they were giving out there was a "Lolth 2012" button. My timing is impeccable, isn't it?

Anyway, whereas a few days ago I had zero ideas on what to create next, in the past few days I have three I've decided to pursue:

  • A D&D 4E Fourthcore-style delve called... er... Something of the Crystal Something. OK, so I haven't decided on the complete name yet, but "crystal" is involved; that much I know. I was considering making it an epic adventure but I have almost zero experience in doing anything epic (only epic things I've done are bits and pieces in Items of Legend) so I'm kind of afraid, so the adventure will be targeted towards a party ofg 15th level characters. Instead of doing the style of maps I usually do, I think I'm going "old school" black and white (blue and white?) for this one. This product will probably be distributed for free.
  • A drow-themed adventure tenatively called Den of the Dark Mistress. I've actually been thinking about this one for a while, and a lot of it is based on one section of The Coming Dark that was somewhat out of place in that module, so I'm recycling it. This adventure may be for both Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition and Pathfinder, if I can find the time to get around to it.
  • A war-themed adventure for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. I honestly don't know what the adventure will be about, but I recently was flipping through the Heroes of Battle supplement for D&D 3.5E and I was inspired. I haven't decided who will be fighting who, but the execution of it will be more than tactical encounters; I intend to provide a variety of options - from skill challenge to roleplaying situations - so that players can work on getting the victory points needed to prevent their home city's destruction. This may be a ways out.

In addition to all of the above, I still have The Heart of Fire just sitting there, waiting to get some attention and for me to decide what exactly I'm going to do with it. For now I'm not going to do a Kickstarter for it like I had planned; I don't see it as worthwhile right now.

As you can see, I have no intention of completely abandoning the 4th Edition. The above projects are significantly smaller than the 130+ page behemoths that are The Heart of Fire and The Coming Dark, Chapter One, so I should be able to knock those out quickly.

I am also working on creating my own store front so I can offer products directly through my domain instead of always using Drive Thru RPG. I got PayPal integration and PDF digital signing done, and next on the list is Google Checkout and Amazon Payments. Hopefully that will be ready soon.

Finally, I have an idea orbiting my head about a full on RPG game I'm considering developing. One could say the RPG I have in mind has been done before, but I might do it anyway. It will be somewhat future-themed, and will hopefully fill the void in my mind and heart that was once Gamma World. I have yet to decide on what game mechanic to use, but there are several inviting options that I'm pursuing. If I decode to go on with this, then a Kickstarter will defintiely follow.

Stay tuned everybody.

"Ever forward..."