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!

12Dec/12Off

Moving Forward

For the past two months, at least from a workload standpoint, I've been living through hell. So much so that I haven't had much a chance to get my two completed products - Revenge of the Kobolds and A Night in Seyvoth Manor - the needed attention to get them ready for publication. I haven't even been able to get my playtest going for Seyvoth.

But during that time I have released one tiny product, The Absent-Minded Alchemist... and even at its low price of $0.99 I've sold no more than six copies. The 4th Edition market is effectively dry, in no small part due to Wizards of the Coast's choice to seemingly pretend it doesn't exist. Heck, there isn't a single 4th Edition product in WotC's own gift guide.

So I have a bit of a dilemma... My intention was to use Kickstarter to fund the art for at least one of these products, but I can't help but think that creating a Kickstarter for a market that no longer exists seems like a waste. I can't in good conscience create a Kickstarter listing that I personally feel will inevitably fail. It makes no business sense.

Furthermore, I can't bring myself to publish and charge for a product that I personally feel is inferior or not the best that it can be. Sure, I might like the mechanics of the two modules, but to charge players any amount of money for a module with zero art in it just doesn't sit right. Yes, I've done that before... but it's always felt somewhat awkward.

So I've made some executive decisions:

  • The D&D 4th Edition versions of Revenge of the Kobolds and A Night in Seyvoth Manor will be released FOR FREE on this site and on Drive Thru RPG once I feel comfortable about the mechanics and have given it at least one editing run through by someone other than myself.
  • I am looking to convert Seyvoth Manor in to other game systems, most notably Pathfinder and a few others (13th Age, Hackmaster, earlier editions of D&D, etc...), and if I do these will probably have a small price to them (I'm not in it for the money, as you might be able to tell). Many have told me to create a "system neutral" product... the issue with that is that my thing is mechanics and "crunch", if you will, which goes contrary to making a neutral product.
  • I will not be creating any more large scale 4th Edition products. I will probably create small side-treks like The Absent-Minded Alchemist or an occasional snippet of content here and there, but don't expect any 100+ page 4th Edition modules any time soon.
  • Until "D&D Next" is closer to release and we have a better idea of what the licensing is going to be for it, I am going to keep myself busy somehow. Odds are that I may find myself doing some more Pathfinder work than I'm use to.

Revenge of the Kobolds will probably be released first because it's the smallest. It may not be perfect and I haven't playtested it as much as I would like, but I think releasing it is better than just having it sit on the virtual shelf without any exposure. I will also see if I can get the Seyvoth playtest off the ground one of these days.

I'm hoping that, with the release of "D&D Next", we'll have another D&D Renaissance and things will be much better. One can only hope...

27Nov/12Off

Continuing Education

Yesterday I posted about an apparent issue I had with Wizards of the Coast regarding their organized play program.

As it turns out the reason I can no longer access my events is because the FLGS changed owners; I haven't been there for a month (been busy moving in to a new home), but although I was aware it was going to happen I didn't think it happened so soon. Apparently I need to get authorization from the new owners to run any events there. Since I am currently without a car, that will have to wait.

That explanation is acceptable, but I have to admit the manner in which they handled it really needs a lot of work. The reason wasn't vocalized to me until I was locked out, submitted a customer service ticket and had it "escalated". Furthermore, sending an email to me saying in effect "we think you're a fraud" and that I need to be "educated", and then simply locking out my account without any warning, is definitely inappropriate and just not cool.

WPN, conceptually anyway, is a great concept. It works really well for WotC's bread and butter product - Magic: The Gathering - but I don't think it works as intended for D&D. The purpose of the program is to get people in the store to spend money on the product; sure it's conceivable for someone to be buying a new M:TG booster pack every week, but it's really hard to imagine someone buying a new D&D product just as often. Maybe I'm mistaken on this, but how often do the players participating in a D&D Encounters game change from week to week? Do you really get that amount of new blood in the middle of the campaign? Do they buy product from the store or do nothing more than take up space (at least from the store's point of view in terms of business revenue)? How often do the participants buy something in or out of the store?

In my opinion, I agree that WotC should promote in store play as much as possible in order to help the local business but they should not lock out anyone who is trying to run a game outside of the store. Right now, unless you're a WPN event coordinator bound to a store, you have no access to the Encounters and Lair Assault packages and are simply not allowed to run it at an alternate venue (anything from the library to your own home). I'm not saying it should be that way right out of the gate - having a new product only available in stores encourages would-be players to go there - but eventually that product should be available for anyone to run it. In a few months I should be able to buy War of Everlasting Darkness for the regular ticket price of an adventure, not for $200 or more on eBay.

Anyway, until I can sort out my transportation issue, go to the store and visit the new owners, I will remain blocked from doing anything WPN related. Life goes on, I guess...

Filed under: 4e, DnD, Live Play, RPG No Comments
14Nov/12Off

The Absent-Minded Alchemist

A couple of months ago some of us had an idea for a special project, but due to our lives getting a little more complicated than we had planned that project has yet to develop. Maybe some day it will, but not now.

I had created a short, two encounter side trek/delve for this project, which I am now releasing under the name The Absent-Minded Alchemist. The delve developed from an hook presented by The Angry DM through Twitter, and I simply couldn't get the idea out of my head for a few days so I went ahead and wrote it up.

Here is the intro text:

     The great alchemist Zaelin has made quite a reputation for himself in these parts. Although he makes quality alchemical mixtures, potions and other items he is noticeably absent-minded and, in some cases, careless about how he goes about creating these mixtures. He’s had his share of accidents, ranging from injuring half a dozen apprentices to destroying a large portion of his home.

     Most recently Zaelin has gotten in to the nasty habit of disposing of his failed mixtures simply by pouring them down the drain. Over time these highly volatile mixtures have eaten through the city’s sewer system and accumulated in the ground beneath his feet. There, the other smaller residents of the city – the countless rats that live underground – have been exposed to these alchemical mixtures and have been the victims of some rather nasty side effects.

     Now Zaelin has a problem: his basement is full of rats, but these aren’t the normal rats he’s use to. They have been infused with alchemical energies by his own hand, and they are too many of them for the hapless wizard to deal with himself.

     If only a group of adventurers could come by and deal with the problem...

Hope you enjoy!

The Absent-Minded Alchemist on Drive Thru RPG

1Nov/12Off

Feelings of Dread

So A Night at Seyvoth Manor is technically complete!

My original plan was to make it a release specifically for Halloween, but after a few minor setbacks (personal distractions, as well as one day losing the entire InDesign file to a corrupted drive) it seemed like it was highly unlikely t make it by then. But, amazingly enough, it did; I finished the last room at about 7PM on Halloween day. So it's ready to be released, right?

Not exactly, no.

You see, it hasn't gone through a lick of editing. And I've read through some parts of it, and it's quite a hurried mess as far as the writing is concerned. The mechanics might be all in place, but things like misspellings, contradictions between rooms, bad choice of words that make things hard to understand, simply wrong lore, etc... Things like describing the room have always been the hard part for me.

Plus, it hasn't been adequately playtested, which is something that's been a problem in anything I write. A module like this, one that defies the standard conventions of making balanced encounters, kind of requires a great deal of testing. I don't have an immediate means of testing this, so I'm up in the air as far as how many elements of it will play at the table. For example, putting a time limit on the adventure is virtually impossible without actually playing it.

Finally, I'm now faced with my own personal fears of releasing a product that is not perfect. I'm a perfectionist in that sense, and that's both a blessing and a curse most of the time. I become self-conscious of everything that I write, fearing that when I release it people are going to think it sucks and I'll be forced to crawl back in to my cave in humiliating defeat.

So now I'm torn on what to do. I can edit it some and release it, but for all I know it may be "broken". I can find playtesters, but that will delay release and no longer make the produce seasonal (which may or may not matter). I am also considering running it myself in a play-by-post format, but that's also a time consideration. And part of me wants to release for free just because I can, but the other part of me wants to put it up for sale for a small amount... like a buck (everyone tells me I suck at putting a price on my own stuff, so I might as well keep the tradition going).

So what would you do in my shoes? And anyone out there interested in participating in a play-by-post game of this?