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

1Jan/13Off

Through the Years

Starting off the new year on the right foot, this blog has been surprisingly selected as Stuffer Shack's "Favorite Site of the Month" for January! I'm not kidding about being surprised... I mean, as of late I've only been posting once or twice a month, and the posts that I have written aren't up for a Pulitzer (or whatever the RPG blog equvalent is... an ENnie, I guess?) any time soon.

But I was selected, so I thought it was time to post something.

This past year has been interesting to say the least. I didn't accomplish everything I intended to do, but it worked out overall. "The Heart of Fire" was released to what has become a dry market, so much so that I'm sure the six people that bought it really enjoy it. Other products went out here and there, but while D&D is in design limbo there has been somewhat of a market shift.

As a result, I'm looking at 2013 a little differently. Here's what's in store for you all:

  • "Revenge of the Kobolds" (D&D 4E) is being edited and reviewed by third parties. It will be released for free, without art (except for the map, anyway) on this site as soon as I feel comfortable. It might not be perfect, and it might not work very well mechanically, but it'll be released nonetheless. I predict that will be released by month's end, but don't hold me to that.
  • "A Night in Seyvoth Manor" (D&D 4E) is undergoing similar editing and review, and will probably be releadsed on or about the same time as RotK. Because of the nature of this adventure it's much easier to port to other game systems, so I'm looking to port it at least to Pathfinder and, if all goes well, other systems (AGE, 13th Age, Hackmaster, DCC, etc.). I may even use Kickstarter to fund the development for the other systems; don't know yet. The initial D&D 4th Edition version will be released for free asd well.
  • I'm imagining that my epic adventure "The Crystal Scion" will not have much public interest, so I have decided to convert what I have and finish development of it for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It's a fairly high level adventure - I'm predicting between 12th and 15tyh level - so I'm somewht worried since I've never done anything like that before. It'll be an interesting experience to say the least. I don't know if there's a market or demand for such a thing, but I imagine the market to be better than what 4th Edition is now...
  • My mega-campsign "The Coming Dark" has been going through some serious rework in my head; looking back on what is my first creation for 4th Edition I see a lot of things I did terribly, terribly wrong. So I'm reworking 99% of it and intend to release this for D&D Next as soon as it is possible (assuming it is possible... Licensing for Next is unknown at this time).
  • I have a lot of other small projects in the works. Not sure what I'm going to do with them right now, but until D&D Next is released it might be a toss up between 4th Edition and Pathfinder.
  • I have a couple of programs in the works, such as character and monster builders for D&D Next I've started on We'll see if they ever get to see the light of day.

Beyond that, stay tuned everybody... Lot more to come from us!

18Jun/12Off

Kickstarter… Or Not

I have a lot of thoughts and ideas that are constantly rolling around in my head, and if the average day contained more than 24 hours I would most probably put them down on paper and publish them for the world to enjoy. But there's always one thing about my publications that makes me somewhat self-conscious and question the quality of my own work: they aren't "artsy".

Like I've mentioned on this blog before, I am not an artist. Sure I can make tactical maps, but that's not what I'm talking about when it comes to being an artist; I'm talking about actual hand-drawn images to give my product a little more of an artistic flair. Every time I finish a product and am about to publish it, I spend weeks trying to figure out what I'm going to do about cover art because I don't consider it a true product without one. My last product, Death's Edge, was published without cover art (the image you see on the listing is a very low resolution stock image; I do not have license to an image of sufficient resolution to publish), and that actually bothers me a great deal. It just feels... wrong... ya know?

I got lucky with The Heart of Fire: I was able to find the perfect image on DeviantArt and I contacted the artist to see about licensing it. The artist allowed me to license it, gave me a very reasonable price for it, and most importantly I was able to afford it at the time. Nowadays the return on investment for 4th Edition products is nowhere near what it once was - I haven't made a profit on any product in ages - so it's hard to justify spending money to commission art or to pay for existing art when you know you're not going to make the money back in sales.

So I've considered Kickstarter as a means to fund the creative aspects of the project and pay for commissioned artists to create the covers and interstitial art in my publications. I have actually written up at least three separate projects in order to fund some ideas of mine... but I've never had the courage to hit the "post" button for a variety of reasons.

My biggest problem is that I don't really consider this a self-sustaining business. That's always been my problem: I do this for fun, so I'm not actively looking at this as a means to put food on the table. As a result, any aggressive efforts to try to make a strong revenue stream from these products feels kind of inappropriate, and it feels kind of awkward to ask complete strangers to spend their hard earned money to have me do what I consider a hobby, a pastime. Sure, you can pay me all you want to buy an existing product, but are people seriously going to pay me to create something that doesn't exist yet and I was going to do anyway simply because I want to?

Secondly, because of the mathematician that I am I've done the numbers a lot, and in the back of my mind I question whether it'll be worth it. If everyone provides just enough funding to get a digital version it's all great because that's considered 100% profit, but once you start getting in to the higher reward levels the profit dwindles. Let's assume that everyone (or at least a majority of backers) decides to get the hard-copy version of the product; if I have to spend $20 to get a $25 backer his reward, I could risk not getting enough margin to pay for the commissioned art in the first place. The two solutions to this - either put the project goal higher or make the cost of the hard-copy rewards higher - put the project at risk of not getting funded.

Finally, and this might sound silly... there's the issue of the video. You see, I am not a salesman, and I am very self-conscious about things like that, so much so that my online persona has no trace of what I look like or even what I sound like. Heck, if it weren't for me putting my Twitter handle on my GenCon badge nobody would have known who the hell I was. So sitting in front of a camera and trying to sell my product to you feels rather awkward, especially when I'm doing what I'm doing for fun and not for profit. I would much rather stay behind the scenes, maintain the notion that I am the "digital rabbit", and have people buy my product because they want it and not because I told them to buy it.

So now I've got this planned product, the next two parts to the campaign path following Death's Edge, that I question whether to do it on Kickstarter or not. I have the project typed up and pretty much ready to hit "post", but it feels both risky and inappropriate for all the above reasons. There are other reasons for my hesitation, such as my plans for The Fields of Bone being almost identical to the Reavers of the Harkenworld module (which is part of the 4E DM's Kit), but that's a small issue compared to all the other issues with Kickstarter mentioned above.

Maybe one of these days I'll come up with something that I feel worthy to be funded in such a way, and maybe that'll be enough for me to come out from behind my rabbit face and try to sell people on it. Time will tell, I guess.

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.

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..."

3Mar/12Off

The Heart of Fire

It's been two weeks since a post, so I figured I'd post something.

Yesterday I finished my editing pass on my upcoming Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition mega-adventure The Heart of Fire. I use the term "mega-adventure" loosely; it's 130 pages, which makes it larger than most adventures... but it's not as big as Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk (222 pages) or Return to the Tomb of Horrors (which is well over 200 pages if you count illustrations, maps and monsters). And I don't know how big Madness at Gardmore Abbey is, but by all accounts it's a big one too.

I mention those for a reason... Unlike my past endeavors, this is not a linear dungeon. There are two different entrances, each with a whole set of rooms, and players can take multiple paths through these areas to reach the final boss. They can hack and slash approach or try a more subtle tactic; it's up to them. In a full session, I don't expect a party to go through every room in the adventure, but it does give them the option to go exploring and investigate several different quests and subplots.

I've posted some teasers on Twitter, such as the map of the Isle of Pyrias (by J.D. Harvill from Cartographer's Guild) and the ground floor of the Temple of Blackfire. There are also some other pics on my DeviantArt page.

This week I am going to find editors for it; as you can imagine, it's kind of hard to find editors willing to plod through a 130 page document for free (NOTE: If you're willing to volunteer, please let me kn0w), but once that is done I will be releasing it digitally through Drive Thru RPG as well as submitting it to the ENnies (hey, might as well, right?).

Once that is done, I am going to attempt something: a Kickstarter for the print release. You see, there isn't a better feeling of accomplishment than to hold a physical copy of your own creation in your hands. So I'd like to try and run a very low budget Kickstarter - probably a couple of grand at most - to cover printing copies and other expenses (commissioning an artist to do the cover, getting my own ISBN number, listing on major sales venues, possible advertising, etc.) and see if t works. And if it goes really well, perhaps it could help fund future products like The Coming Dark.

So if all goes well, The Heart of Fire will be published by the end of this month, and the Kickstarter will follow shortly thereafter. We'll see how things go.

In the meantime, I have started to work on my next project: a significantly smaller adventure for a party of 0th level characters, using the guidelines published in "A Hero's First Steps" by Philippe-Antoine Menard (a.k.a. @ChattyDM on Twitter). If it goes well, I may also port the encounter over to Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics system if those rules become available soon.

Finally, I have one big article/blog post I'm working on, but it's complicated and it... well... needs to be approved by higher authorities. 😉