Friday, August 30, 2013

indie vs OSR, and the winner is...

I was just thinking about wandering monsters and how most of the time they are pointless and don't make sense. I was thinking about my last Dungeon Crawl Classics game which came to a screeching halt when the party got surrounded by jackals from a wandering monster table and there was literally nothing they could do to survive such an overwhelming encounter except by rolling their ice really well. I was thinking back to previous experiences where wandering monsters were simply used to soften up the party. I was trying to think of times when the wandering monster was used to help layer the atmosphere of the locale and I was coming up empty.

Then I remembered a wandering monster that was fun to fight. For me, at least.

It was one of my early gaming experiences, when I was too young to really know the rules and too naive to know how "the best" way to role-play was. I was gaming with older people, who perhaps tolerated my presence but otherwise didn't support it. My character was a wizard and a bear had broken into our camp. He was smashing tents and gouging his claws into horses and people. Everyone was running around, gathering weapons, and keeping their distance. The main fighter in our group got pinned and was being mauled, he needed to make a Strength check to break free at the start of his next turn, and my turn in the initiative came up.
"Can I jump on the bear's back and drive my dagger into it's shoulder blades?"
The surprised looks I got, and the advice afterwards, I look back on it now and think those people were fucking idiots and if I had known better I would have found a different group. "Wizards don't really rush into combat like that." "You don't really have the stats to pull it off." "A spell would probably be a better course of action." and similar such things.
I didn't care. "But can I? How hard would it be?"
I remember the DM saying "If you roll really high I'll let you do it, but that bear will probably turn on you next." Everybody was discouraging me from acting. I rolled high, an 18 or 19, impossible to deny success on such a roll. I was on the bear's back and I could roll damage, a whopping 1d4.
Most of the players clucked their tongues or shook their heads, because now the bear was going to attack me, but the fighter got free and in two more hits the bear was down and out. I had saved the fighter, taken a few licks myself, and turned the tables of the fight, all because I didn't follow some pre-programmed narrative for how I should play my character or what my skills were best suited for.

That group really sucked.

I think that the experience of playing indie games has helped rekindle my OSR gaming nostalgia far more than some of the other OSR games I've played. Dungeon Crawl Classics does a really great job of bringing back that old school flavor to a set of rules, but the "story first" dictates of Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Itras By, Lady Blackbird, and Monsterhearts is far more evocative of the time in my life when I could play a wizard and think it was totally appropriate for me to distract a bear from mauling the fighter by jumping onto the bear's back and trying to jam my dagger into it's ear.
What I'm really saying is that there is very little difference between the OSR and indie games. One is perhaps a little more brutal where the players are accepting of that inherent brutality as part of the story, and the other is more focused on survivability so that the same characters can thrive throughout the story. One is no better than the other, and each can be slightly tweaked to change the survival-brutal axis on which it sits.
As a GM or a player I want to be in a game that has the depth and details of an OSR game but with the flexible mechanics of an indie RPG. I believe a happy medium can be reached between the two.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

playtest pdf

I inadvertently challenged myself last week when I said I could probably put this together in a week, and it actually required less time. I only spent about two nights moving data around, proofreading, then writing up a quick and dirty character sheet. It's really rough around the edges but it's a playtest document, and my house was flooded last weekend, so whatever. Deal with it!

This represents all of my notes for Tales of Imperial Space

That's just the tentative title, something I thought of quickly when I started writing ideas down two months ago. It started as an Apocalypse World hack, and I originally wanted it to be compatible with that system so that characters could, in theory, travel back and forth between settings. It has, however, diverted quite a bit and become it's own thing. More changes are on the way. Maybe after I move back into my house.

Friday, August 2, 2013

An open letter to Mike Nystul

Let me address something really quick and get it out of the way: You're right, Monte Cook is a gold standard, and it is unfair to expect you to run a fledgling business the same way that an industry veteran will run his. That being said, I don't think it's unfair to compare the kickstarters that you both created given that yours ended a month before his, you both started from the same position of having a solid premise but nothing written, and your stated goals at the beginning of each were both for one book. Despite the fact that Cook's project ballooned into enormous proportions and added supplement after supplement (and then a video game) the initial goal of the project is being delivered only one month later than originally projected. It's not a one-hundred percent fair comparison, and I think I account for that in my brief commentary explaining the differences. There's a term being thrown around called "feature creep" and it mostly applies to video games that get kickstarted and balloon into bigger projects, every single one of them has been late because they add features they weren't expecting to be able to afford and it quite rightfully extends the workload of the project. Numenera had extreme feature creep and yet is still being delivered very close to the original projected release date, and your project begged for feature creep yet still hasn't produced anything other than a tattoo.

You wrote: The point by point "take him to the mat" comparison seems a bit mean and I'm not sure what the point is. Does anyone not know the deal by now? I'm public about all of this. He's not breaking any ground here.

What's the point? To understand. I want to know what is going on in your brain. And if you are public about all of this and I'm not breaking any ground with my analysis then why do you feel the need to comment on it at all? No, I think I did point out something that nobody else had, and I did it without being angry or insulting, because if you've been reading other blogs like you say and haven't been commenting it's only because other blogs haven't tried to give you the benefit of the doubt and look at the project from your perspective. I did, and in doing so I struck a nerve.

Having access to your facebook is the only reason I have any sympathy for you at all. When you lamented that people should just follow your facebook page instead of relying on kickstarter updates, that is what I did. You like to dance around your reasons for not completing the project but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that you're unemployed and that it probably happened either during or just after the kickstarter ended. There's no shame in being unemployed and most people would understand if you just came out and explained that it was a factor in the delay of the project. I know what it's like to finish another string of job interviews and have nothing to show for it. I was unemployed for a total of almost two years before I found my current line of employment and I know all too well the apathy that can set in after you feel like you've hopelessly exhausted all of your options. A friend of mine once told me that looking for a job is your full-time job when you're unemployed, and in your case you've got a part-time job alongside it of trying to deliver a role-playing game book. That's an unenviable position to be in.

However, it's very frustrating from my perspective to see you posting pictures of cats, Cthulhu cakes, reviewing movies, and talking about attending conventions incessantly on facebook. Every time I see you spending money on something I think "Was that spent with backer pledges?" and every time I see you planning for a convention I think "What the fuck? Conventions are EXPENSIVE! Why aren't you writing the damn book already?!" I think the last straw was your pictures of running a D&D game on Gary Gygax'es birthday. My immediate reaction was "GMing takes a lot of work, so why isn't he running Axes & Anvils?" That's when I really started to look through your posts because I wanted to know if I was just being annoyed because I wasn't seeing results or if I had a legitimate reason to feel like I did. To look through these frivolous posts on facebook made every day coupled with repeated posts on kickstarter saying "I promise the preview is coming" really paints a picture of incompetence. It made my feelings legitimate.

I only have 18 regular readers, and one-half of those are people I game with every week, and I only update maybe once every week or two. In terms of blogging in general, and gaming blogs in particular, I'm not popular. So why respond? Why try to defend yourself? Why not just ignore it like you've ignored some other more popular blogs? Because they were lashing out in anger, but I'm saying things that are reasonable assessments. I'm sorry if any of this sounds harsh, but if my criticism stings then I think you know it's true. I'm only trying to be honest with what I see and my reaction to it. The only thing I can say to console you is that I'm not really angry with you like some people are, I've never insulted you or debased you (and I never will), and I have tried to give you the benefit of the doubt every step of the way. You make it really hard to do that though. The tattoo, for instance. At the time you were posting about it I didn't think much of it, and it did cement your commitment to the project in a very tangible way. In retrospect it looks like a waste of money. The tattoo should have been the prize for finishing the project, not your prize for collecting the money. You're right, it was fun in the moment, but it was your dessert and now you ruined your supper.

As for the issue of thanking the backers, it was just something I noticed. It's why I made a point of saying that Monte Cook was overwhelmed by the popularity of his project, because when you read the Numenera updates one after the other it's clear he had no idea how his project would grow and warp into the monster it is now, and he constantly tells the backers how awesome they are for supporting his vision. When I read the Axes & Anvils updates one after the other I see a man who is hopeful of success and eager to hit each goal but mentioning the backers is noticeably absent in comparison. If I hadn't been comparing the two kickstarters I might not have noticed it at all.

Why did I compare your campaign to the Numenera project at all? Because it was reasonably close in the time period of when you had run your project, I felt like both projects started with similar goals and ended completely differently. And they were both late. At first my comparison was only for my own edification and understanding, but if Numenera hadn't also been late I never would have published it.

Another reason I wanted to understand what was going on was because I'm writing a game myself. I haven't looked into creating a kickstarter for it, I haven't contacted artists, and in terms of publishing the only thing I've done is look at the publisher contract on drivethrurpg. I might not ever finish it. This is the way of all design. Ideas are great, but most of them don't work in practice. For the last two months I've worked on it, off and on, and I feel like it's playable right now, though not finished. If you asked me to put up a preview for playtesting I think I could hammer out a pdf file in less than a week. Now take this into consideration as well: last week my house flooded, I had to move the entire contents of my house into my and my neighbor's garage, my wife and I have been couch surfing and staying at hotels, spending way too much money on food, and we can't move back into our house and settle back into our routine until next week some time, and while still having to go to work and deal with the stress of not getting enough sleep and being generally crabby at everything. I'm not in the best place right now. Yet I could still hammer out a playtest pdf for the game I started writing two months ago in the next week. Meanwhile in Austin, how is your work coming along?

Does that explain my reasons for criticism well enough? I hope so, because the gloves are coming off. Yes, all of that before was me being nice. When you take money and fail to deliver you should expect some healthy doses of criticism from the people who invested in your idea. If you can't take the heat then don't go in the kitchen. At least I don't call you names.

Last I checked nobody forced you to add anybody as a friend on facebook. Even Monte Cook added all of his backers as friends and only recently converted his profile into Monte Cook Games so he could have more than 5000 people added. He always conducts himself very professionally and rarely talks about anything not directly related to his job, and when he does post something unrelated it's usually about something that happened to him personally. Have you considered that this might be a big factor as to why he's so successful? He doesn't waste anybody's time sharing silly youtube videos.

And since you called me a stalker creep I would like to point out that it's fucking impossible to stalk somebody on facebook who is posting more than a teenage girl. Yes, there are teenage girls in my family and they don't share stupid shit as much as you do, what they do share is sometimes actually more constructive and personal like graduation photos and feminist essays about rape culture. Sharing fan art for Adventure Time seems banal in comparison.

But you were posting a few constructively personal things for awhile, so let's talk about selling your gaming books. Yes, I'm going there. And I wasn't planning on bringing this up, but it's been preying on my mind for some time and your behavior yesterday to my legitimate criticisms prompted me to bring it up. When you posted a lot of pictures showcasing gamebooks and boardgames you wanted to sell, you happened to have one I was looking for: Block Mania. You were also selling a copy of the 1982 Judge Dredd boardgame and I thought I would help you out with your financial woes and decided that if the price matched the price I saw on ebay that I would just take it off your hands. You said $60 and even sweetened the pot by telling me Block Mania had the expansion. I said "How should I pay?" and I was quick to pay, eager even, and you took my money but then, nothing. I had to email you three times, and then after a month of waiting it was only when I said "I would like to know when I can expect to see them arrive or if I can get my money back." that you made some effort to mail them to me. It still took another three weeks to get those games mailed out. When I finally opened the box and looked at the boardgames I looked at the date and saw that a full two months had passed since I sent the money via paypal and I immediately thought "If this is how long it takes him to deliver on something he HAS, then how long is it going to take for him finish Axes & Anvils?"

You did throw in an extra game: Red Empire. Which was a nice "I'm sorry" surprise. So it did tell me that even though you're going to be horribly late and incredibly disorganized, that if you can do so you'll try to make up for the tardiness. But I have to say, honestly, it doesn't really make up for the aggravation of handing you money for something you have and being forced to harrass you in order to see some results. Maybe you should rethink this whole ignoring criticism attitude you have, because a good swift kick in the pants might be just what you need to keep you on track. Maybe you should get somebody in Austin to be your boss for finishing this project?

Hey! That was constructive criticism! How about a little more instead of just criticism? Why don't you set up a preview and playtesting blog? Blogs are really easy to create and if you have a gmail account you get a blogspot connected to it for free, you can set up all of your comments to go straight to your inbox. If you want to put up a few more barriers you could get a wordpress account, they have an option that locks out anybody from commenting who doesn't also have a wordpress account. You can set up your living campaign backers to be able to post to the blog, then they could post play session reports and you could use the really epic events of those sessions as background material for your campaign world. Rule changes could also be debated or discussed. Then you also have a living document on the internet that people can put their 2 cents into. But maybe you don't want people seeing your rules, afraid they're going to steal them or something. That's cool. You can do the same thing on facebook, just set up Axes & Anvils as a group that members can post into, just like the Tabletop Role-Playing Games group that you frequently share posts from. Verify accounts and connect them to their kickstarter accounts to find the living campaign backers and set them as moderators for the group.

But you know, this is a lot of work. You might not have time for it. You're really busy performing improv comedy every week and trying to get a ride to GenCon and making a big show of purging your facebook account but only deleting 6 people from the 772 "friends" you had so, shit, maybe you should either just make time for finishing this project or cancel it already. Because it's really fucking obvious that your priorities seem to be elsewhere.

UPDATE: Mike Nystul's fanboys tried to create a false image of myself as some sort of stalker, creeping through Mike's facebook feed. I got pissed off at those comments and deleted them. I tend to think if somebody is publicly posting crap that shows they are not working hard then that's not stalking, that's just being aware of what your FB friends are posting. Mike has since blocked me and anybody else he suspects of being connected to me. As a customer, I have every right to know what happened to my money and as an investor I feel like I should have a voice about the progress of the project that I helped fund. I don't understand why it's okay for someone to pretend they didn't just take thousands of dollars and have nothing to show for it.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Axes & Anvils

UPDATED: open letter to Mike Nystul

Axes & Anvils versus Numenera

generates x35 initial goal
generates x25 initial goal
funded within 1 hour
funded within 1 day
funding ended Aug. 11, 2012
funding ended Sept. 17, 2012
estimated delivery Nov. 2012
estimated delivery July 2013
58 updates
64 updates
promises made: 6
promises made: 3
promises kept: 2
promises kept: 3
praises backers 9 times
praises backers 26 times
# of tattoos creator received of project: 1
# of tattoos creator received of project: 0
average # of posts made on facebook every day that have nothing to do with this project: 18
average # of posts made on facebook every day that have nothing to do with this project: 0.08

That last point is petty of me. But fuck, this guy seems to be spending more time dicking around on facebook than working on the kickstarter that is eight months late!

I decided to go a little overboard and summarize these two kickstarters via their updates. Primarily because I keep getting updates from Axes & Anvils that are the same broken record of "nothing yet, I promise I'm working on it." The last update from Axes & Anvils was a preview of the rules and even that was delivered with the disclaimer of "This is also not final. There are things in here I know will change."

In writing this comparison of updates I tried to be sympathetic to Mike Nystul and tried to be unforgiving with Monte Cook. It didn't always work because Cook works hard to make his backers happy and Nystul clearly has no idea what he is doing.

I feel bad for Mike Nystul. I really do. As much as I'm disappointed in his failure to deliver, angry at his apparent lack of discipline, and annoyed at his lack of focus, I just feel bad for the guy. His eyes are bigger than his stomach, and his lofty goals were just never going to work with the ramshackle way he approached this project. After going through all of these it's clear for me to see that Cook always had people lending a helping hand and turning to him to make his project better, while Nystul was by himself and always searching for help. Monte Cook is overwhelmed by the popularity of his project, while Nystul always seems overwhelmed by his project.

The real difference between these two projects is that Cook expected to make A BOOK, singular, and ended up making a whole product line. Nystul's goals were bigger than a simple game book and he was always looking towards expanding what he had and looking toward the future instead of focusing on what he was getting and what he needed to do in the present.

#1: funding met, adds pdf pledge level
#1: clarifies costs
#2: adds "new" stretch goals, promises summary of rules
#2: funding met
#3: underestimated costs, adds pledge levels
#3: overwhelmed by popularity, talks about adding stretch goals
#4: first stretch goal met, talks about printing and gameworld
#4: first stretch goal met
#5: second stretch goal met, talks about add-ons for game and adding pledge levels, offers miniatures to backers who pledge more money
#5: second stretch goal met, talks about add-ons for game and adding pledge levels, promises free pdfs to backers at higher pledge levels, promises free books to libraries if next stretch goal reached
#6: another stretch goal met, talks about attending GenCon and adding another pledge level
#6: shows off finished concept artwork
#7: another stretch goal met, talks about expanding product line
#7: another stretch goal met, talks about add-ons for game and adding pledge levels
#8: two stretch goals met
#8: another stretch goal met, promises free pdf to most backers
#9: two stretch goals met, underestimated costs, plans for GenCon, talks about other Kickstarter project
#9: stretch goal met, talks about adding stretch goals
#10: stretch goal met, talks about adding stretch goals
#10: stretch goal met, plans for GenCon
#11: underestimated costs, adds new pledge level
#11: talks about adding stretch goals
#12: ego-stoking, promotes somebody else's kickstarter
#12: gives free pdf to higher pledge level backers
#13: promotes Dwarf Con, an Axes & Anvils convention
#13: video update
#14: video update
#14: expanded pledge levels, begs backers to promote project
#15: merges two stretch goals together
#15: stretch goal met, adds stretch goal
#16: project ends, all stretch goals met
#16: links showing blog posts of the evolution and growth of project, links to playtest reports
#17: promises free pdf to backers
#17: adds new pledge levels
#18: presents plan for publishing
#18: hints at future project, adds stretch goal
#19: promotes presence at GenCon
#19: new kickstarter announced
#20: returns from GenCon, promotes Dwarf Con
#20: stretch goal met, adds stretch goal, promises free short story
#21: defeated by technology
#21: stretch goal met, new stretch goals added
#22: links to add-on spreadsheet
#22: adds more stretch goals, promises more wallpapers for backers
#23: survey delayed, promotes Dwarf Con, plans for FenCon
#23: stretch goal met
#24: survey posted
#24: gives backers wallpapers
#25: shows off his Axes & Anvils tattoo
#25: stretch goal met
#26: promises playtest rules, promotes Dwarf Con
#26: stretch goal met, shares promised short story
#27: shows off logo art, promises playtest rules
#27: stretch goal met
#28: promises playtest rules again
#28: stretch goal met, adds new reward level
#29: promotes Dwarf Con
#29: ego-stroking
#30: delays printing schedule, promotes Dwarf Con, promotes next Kickstarter project
#30: stretch goal met, details more add-ons
#31: talks about rewriting rules, promotes other kickstarter, promises playtest rules
#31: stretch goal met, talks about dice and GM screen production
#32: promotes facebook page for game
#32: stretch goal met, production expanded
#33: talks about writing rules, promotes website
#33: stretch goal met, more details for add-ons
#34: playtest rules posted
#34: stretch goals added
#35: defeated by technology again, talks about rules
#35: stretch goal met, shares finished artwork
#36: shows off finished artwork
#36: stretch goal met, adds stretch goals
#37: ego-stroking
#37: stretch goal met, reward levels clarified due to excessive amounts of extras
#38: production delayed, shows off artwork
#38: details production plans
#39: confession and apologies, cancels Dwarf Con
#39: names and thanks all co-contributors, video update
#40: promises preview rules
#40: promotes others' kickstarters
#41: asks for volunteers to help
#41: clarifies payment process, shows off artwork
#42: complains about posting to kickstarter, wishes for people to read his facebook page
#42: clarifies production schedule and payments, promises new wallpapers
#43: shows off (very poorly done) map artwork
#43: shares new wallpapers
#44: rules have been rewritten, promises preview pdf
#44: clarifies payment process (again)
#45: promotes his attendance at another convention, promises preview pdf
#45: promises playtest rules, promises survey, promotes book
#46: promises preview pdf, promotes facebook page
#46: asks for playtesters of finished rules, promotes book
#47: promises preview pdf
#47: apologizes for add-on delays
#48: promises preview pdf, shows off finished artwork
#48: links to add-on order form
#49: promises preview pdf, shows off finished artwork
#49: clarifies use of order form and playtest submissions
#50: promises preview pdf, promises his work partner will just publish what they have if he slacks off again
#50: clarifies communication, rewards, playtesting and production; ego-stroking
#51: lots of hand-wringing, apologies and clarifications
#51: ego-stroking, more clarification, shares artwork
#52: promises preview rules again, shows off finished artwork
#52: more playtesting and production clarification, promotes website, shares artwork
#53: promises preview pdf, shows off artwork and table of contnts
#53: promotes new kickstarter for tie-in video games
#54: talks about writing rules, releases print-and-play minis
#54: ego-stroking, promotes website and podcast, encourages backers to join forums
#55: ego-stroking
#55: promotes new kickstarter project, talks about production
#56: talks about being "unwell all weekend"
#56: promoted kickstarter reaches goal, fulfills low-level backer reward, promotes preorder link, shares map artwork
#57: promises preview pdf
#57: promotes add-on, shares artwork
#58: preview rules posted
#58: shares pictures of add-on dice
#59: promises project is done and clarifies production schedule
#60: fulfills first stretch goal, clarifies production, ego-stroking
#61: clarifies stretch goal fulfillment
#62: fulfills second stretch goal
#63: clarifies production (again), fulfills third stretch goal, shares picture of dice
#64: clarifies release of ebooks, ego-stroking, promotes (another) tie-in kickstarter, shares picture of miniatures