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


25Jul/21

Everything Is Better With Tentacles – Planning

Several months ago, this happened...

Image

At the time I considered it kind of a joke response, but then I thought about it... I mean, let's face it: if I saw a title on DTRPG or the DM's Guild with the title Everything Is Better With Tentacles, I and many others would probably buy it on the spot, sight unseen. So I got to thinking... why not make this an actual product?

So I began the project...

Image

Thing is, well, it's a little more complicated than that...

Executive Dysfunction

For almost two years now I've been complaining about my battle with a massive amount of Writer's Block. I'm late on my last Kickstarter and haven't written a whole lot in the last two years, presumably because of that. But then I realized... I don't have Writer's Block, I have something else.

The way I see it, Writer's Block is when you are willing to write, are able to write, but cant put words to paper. You don't know what to say or how to say it.

I, however, *know* precisely what I want to write... what I lack is means and opportunity.

My life is chaos right now, spending the majority of it working my ass of, tending to personal and family needs, and just trying to survive day to day life. So when I do have time away from that, time I could theoretically use to write, I lack the willpower to do so. When I get a break from the chaos, all I can think to do is nothing at all. The chaos is so draining - physically, mentally, emotionally - that I become a useless shell of myself, incapable of taking action to do the non-chaotic things I'd like to do that bring me joy. The easy solution is to mitigate the chaos perhaps, but that's unlikely to happen soon. So I wallow in inaction, and get depressed because of it.

Apparently there's a term for this, or at least something similar to what I'm describing... Executive Dysfunction.

What I feel I need is a breakthrough, accomplishing something that will inspire me to do more, but that accomplishment needs to be within the bounds of what I'm capable of right now. Maybe that will spark change?

Chicken or the Egg

At the same time I was having these thoughts, I had another problem: I have several projects that are nearly done, but they are devoid of art. And, to me, one of the hardest things to do in anything I publish is to not only decide what the cover should be, but tell the artist "this is what I want" in such a way that they can actually do that.

Many say "just use stock art!" ... That's easier said than done, I think. DTRPG and the DM's Guild are full of stock art you can use for your adventures - for example, I've been dying to use some of Dean Spencer's Art, which is amazingly cool and very well priced - but I could never find matching art. You see, I'd written an adventure already; I know what it is. It is very unlikely to find stock art that comfortably matches something I've conceived out of thin air.

But then I thought... why does the adventure have to come first?

I decided to plan for an experiment: get the art FIRST, then build the adventure around that art. This way, there is no doubt the art would match. Let's face it... look through Dean Spencer's Art and tell you can't think of a half dozen adventure concepts for each major piece of art he has on his site.

There would be some dialog back and forth between author and writer so everyone's on the same page, but the goal is that no words are written before the art is settled. So when the writer gets chosen, he already has an image that defines one aspect of the adventure he's meant to write. I can imagine that to be a little challenging, but it sounds like the sort of thing I would like to do personally.

Bring Forth the Tentacles

So, all that being said, I have begun to formulate plans for my next major project: Everything Is Better With Tentacles.

  • The compendium would have 8-or-so one shot adventures somehow involving tentacles. PG-rated, of course... I know how some people's minds go to a certain place when the topic of tentacles comes up. And I don't want 8 adventures involving illithids; we can all be more creative than that, I hope.
  • Rather than me trying to create the project from nothing, I'll make it a collaborative project with multiple authors and writers.
  • ART WOULD COME FIRST. I would commission eight pieces of art, full page images that could be considered the cover art for each one shot adventure. This gives the artists the most artistic license, and lets them decide what they would like to see in the adventure.
  • Then, once the art is complete, the writers would write their adventure based on the art they are given. They still have some degree of artistic license in the adventure, but they have a point of reference, and they are guaranteed that whatever they write will match the full page art that goes with it because that's how it's designed.
  • I'm not sure if this will be Kickstarted or not... Because of the up front art demand, there may not be any other way to do it. So it will likely have to be released through the OGL on DTRPG, but I'd like to keep the DM's Guild option open because that is the bigger market. Of course the method chosen would impact the payment to authors and writers (profit share vs per word/piece pricing); still need to figure that out.

So does this sound like a feasible thing to do?

I'm still mulling over the idea, but it's something I might try. If so, in the near future I'll likely put up forms to see who out there might actually be interested in this endeavor.

In the mean time, let's see if I can do something about this dysfunction...

1Jan/19Off

A New Year

Holy hell, has it really been ten months since I've posted on this site? I gotta start remembering this thing exists.

BIG EXPLOSIONS!!!

Well it has finally come and gone... 2018 has been the longest decade in my life, and I think I can say the same for many of you out there.

Looking Back

There have been a few people posting about what their highlights for the past year were. Well, here are mine:

  • Published Festival of Magic on the DM's Guild, which - in comparison to everything I've published - is one of my personal favorites.
  • Funded the Kickstarter for the 5th Edition conversion of A Night in Seyvoth Manor, and delivered the product before Halloween. It has since become my one and only "Copper seller" on DriveThruRPG.
  • Had my craptastic Bahamut, The Platinum Dragon - which is literally nothing but a stat block, a shoddy one at that, and contains no lore or art - become a "Copper seller" on the DM's Guild. I mention this only because, so far, it is the only Copper product I've done on my own in the DMG.
  • Collaborated on Storm King's Barrows: Tombs and Crypts of the North, which has since become a "Silver seller" on the DM's Guild. Not my best work, but arguably my most revenue-producing thing all year.
  • Released The Absent-Minded Alchemist, which was a bit of a "meh" product to start but was easy to convert from 4E.
  • Funded another Kickstarter for my social adventure Uninvited Guests, which has since been renamed to Party Crashers. This Kickstarter was a "proof of concept" - to see if I can do quick and dirty one-offs with a low funding goal - and it worked, so expect me to do more of this in the coming year.
  • Launched a Patreon! And the TWO backers I have so far are getting lonely, so...

That's pretty much it. It's not a lot... At a personal level, 2018 has been somewhat difficult in terms of my home life and my financial situation, and those situations are, by nature, not conducive to creativity, so I've been in a bit of a rut. But, all in all, it went better than 2017 in some regards, so there's that.

Looking Forward

So what does 2019 have in store? Honestly, I don't know yet... But here are some goals.

  • Finish Uninvited Guests Party Crashers in the near future.
  • Do several more Kickstarters like
    Uninvited Guests Party Crashers over the course of the year.
  • See what the hell I'm finally going to do with the complete The Coming Dark campaign as well as Atomic Age. There's a lot to be done on those, and I question whether the effort is worth it right now.
  • Cater to my Patreon backers more, in that I'll be creating more "behind the scenes" posts and videos (maybe). In the meantime, hope to get more than... well... two... Patreon backers.
  • Hopefully set up a regular game with... somebody...
  • Maybe go to GenCon. I don't know yet... I need to see if the expense really is worth it.
  • Sort out my personal and financial situations so that I can do this kind of stuff more readily and with less guilt.

If you're reading this, you're one of the reasons I press on. Thank you for your support, and I hope to show you a lot more cool things in 2019.

Ever forward.

27Jan/18Off

Zoinks!

"A Night in Seyvoth Manor" for 5E

In case you are not aware, we're running a Kickstarter for the 5th Edition conversion of our ENnie-nominated adventure A Night in Seyvoth Manor that is already 300% funded!

We continue to be overwhelmed... Over 300% funded?!? Never imagined we would get that far, and we're eternally grateful for that!

The only stretch goal we've had so far is the creation of pre-generated characters, and we had a bit of a crazy idea with that that we're wondering if we can make it work: create two groups of characters...

  1. The original Scooby Gang - Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby
  2. The "new" Scooby Gang from Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles and Cordelia

This of course brought up some questions... like what would the races and classes be? So far this is what we've come up with:

ORIGINAL Scooby Gang:

Fred: Human Paladin

Daphne: Elven rogue

Velma: Lore-heavy mage, either a halfling or a gnome

Shaggy and Scooby: ... Oh boy... Let me come back to this one later.

NEW Scooby Gang:

Buffy: Human monk

Willow: Half-elf warlock

Xander: Halfling bard

Giles: Elf or maybe human... and I'm debating either a cleric or a lore-heavy mage

Cordelia: Human or elf, sorceress (wild magic), heavy on Charisma

Now, let's get back to Shaggy and Scooby... Neither of these are "characters" in the D&D sense of the world, so we'll have to take some liberties. I've asked this question on Twitter and I've come up with two possibilities:

Shaggy and Scooby are the SAME CHARACTER: As above, Shaggy is a Druid with wild-shape that can only convert to one type of animal... a Great Dane (we can go with the Mastiff stat block).

Scooby is the main character, and Shaggy is the animal companion: Let's face it... Shaggy is not worthy of being a PC, and if anything he's Scooby's sidekick. So make Scooby a class capable of either an animal companion (ranger?) or a familiar (mage?), and make Shaggy that semi-useless familiar.

Personally I'm leaning towards the first option, but that introduces another problem: there are only four characters, when we kinda need five. So who should the fifth character be? None other than Scrappy as, you guessed it, a gnome barbarian!

So, since we've gotten this far without mentioning stretch goals, I'm going to see about stylizing these character sheets as best I can and including a portrait for each character by the lovely and talented Val "Kick Girl" Hochberg! We're also going to see about working them in to a cover in such a way that doesn't get us sued by Hanna-Barbara.

We've considered creating other types of characters, some that are more down to Earth and fitting the theme like Van Helsing, Blade, etc... but the above somehow feels most appropriate.

Anwyay... We keep trudging foward! Five days left! Tell your friends!

17Jan/16Off

Size Matters

The recent announcements of the 5th Edition SRD/OGL and the DM's Guild has got me really excited, and I've begun to look back on a large "incomplete"/"shelved" folder I have on m external hard drive.

There's a lot of things there that I don't even remember doing, but one thing stands out: the Revenge of the Crystal Scion campaign that I was creating (below text was adjusted to make it more Realms-centric and cater to the DM's Guild):

For the past several days, large mysterious crystals have been appearing at seemingly random stops across Faerun. And, about two days after they appear, they disappear... along with several square miles of land, leaving nothing behind but an enormous crater. Up to now these crystals have been appearing in seemingly random locations - in the middle of the desert, on the open sea, and deep within the mountains to the north, but when one of these crystals appears in the center of Waterdeep* the locals are understandably concerned. Something must be done to save the city from becoming another smoldering crater of nothingness.

Revenge of the Crystal Scion is a D&D 5th Edition adventure for a party of 10th-12th level characters, transporting them from the heart of Waterdeep* to deep within the astral plane, where a new threat emerges that threatens all of Faerun.

*: I say "Waterdeep", but I'm honestly not sure which city yet. Obliterating Waterdeep might not go over well with some people...

It's a bit hokey, sure, and that's likely due to the fact that it's the first high level adventure I attempt. But the one thing I like about this is that it has some of the best maps I've ever made.

RavensRock

Raven's Rock, the pirate stronghold floating amidst the ether.

The campaign is admittedly a trainwreck; there are lots of ideas I find rather cool, but it's a bit of a mess to tie them all together in such a way that makes sense. But the big problem is that the campaign is pretty massive: I'm predicting it to be three times the size of The Coming Dark, Chapter One... Right now it's 101 pages and practically half done. And, unlike TCD, by design it can't be easily split up into three parts, so it has to be done all at once (TCD Chapters Two and Three are designed but not written... yet).

This is a nasty habit of mine; I'm somewhat of a storyteller at heart, so I envision these long campaigns that tell a robust story. As a result, they pay the price in page count. I really need to start making smaller "one shot" adventures; those are actually easier to sell and a lot less work.

I've considered breaking up RotCS into component parts, and I'm sure I can probably make a few adventures out of it, but that somehow doesn't feel right. Is it worth the effort to piece this mess together and release another mega-campaign, or cannibalize it for parts and release three or four smaller adventures... discarding the rest?

So what do people want? Huge 100-200 page campaigns/adventure paths, or quick adventures that might take only a few sessions?

In the meantime, it seems like it's still a go to do The Coming Dark, Chapter One as a Kickstarter. Video... damn it, need a video!

 

12Jan/16Off

Hell Freezes Over

hell-froze-over-400x221

Well it finally happened... WotC has released the 5th Edition SRD, officially putting 5E within the bounds of the OGL and, at the same time, announced the DM's Guild.

I admit I wasn't sure if this day would come. Lord knows I've been harping over it since 5E was released (and, arguably, before that), and I've heard may a rumor as to when it would happen only to have the months fly by. But WotC pulled their version of Half-Life 2, keeping the world in the dark over the fact that this was going on until the day they dropped it on the world like an anvil.

Now, admittedly, what they did isn't exactly cut and dry and there are still a few questions that need to be answered. Hopefully a lot of those questions will be answered in the upcoming AMA on the 15th.

In the meantime, and I may not be 100% sure on all this, but here is my interpretation of what this means.

 

So it seems you can publish 5E content in two different ways:

1) Using the OGL

You create your own product and sell it however you want to, in any way you want that does not include the DM's Guild (see below). As is standard with the original OGL/SRD, you cannot use any of WotC's intellectual property: no deities, no named things (places, people, etc), no campaign settings, and the usual "god help you if you use this" rogue's gallery of monsters restricted due to being "product identity" (sorry, no beholders!).

You also cannot use any official D&D or WotC branding (other than any OGL logo they may eventually release... and I'm remaining hopeful they will) as is the case with most other OGL publications. What and how you reference the core materials is covered within the SRD; if it's in there you can reference it, but how to do that exactly I'm not sure about.

2) Using DM's Guild

According to the guidelines that seem to be part of the DM's Guild (which is, effectively, Drive Thru RPG), it seems you can use any of D&D's IP that would have otherwise been restricted using by the OGL... including those elements that fall under IP (beholders! Woo!). Admittedly I'm not 100% sure if this is the case, but it does make sense because of the nature of the Guild; you are under WotC's coverage, and you are effectively selling a product they sanction and make a profit on themselves.

Although it wasn't clear at first, it seems you are NOT required to make your product an integral part of the Forgotten Realms (this was confirmed by Chris Perkins on Twitter).

There is one caveat: If you sell on the DM's Guild, you can sell ONLY on the DM's Guild. In other words, you can't sell it anywhere else: can't sell it on your website, or Amazon, or even in stores. WotC effectively owns the rights to it and you get a cut of the profits... and it is a smaller cut than if you tried to sell it yourself... but you have to consider that you are now exposed to a much larger audience and promoted by WotC.

If WotC likes your work, there appears to be the possibility WotC acquiring your content and making more of it: publishing it under official WotC cover (which will allow you alternate sale venues), adding the material it to video games or other digital products, etc... It also displays your product to a much broader audience in an environment directly promoted by WotC; WotC will not openly acknowledge that 5E products exist anywhere else, so to get similar exposure you would have to advertise yourself... and effectively become a WotC competitor.

 

So what does this mean?

Let's take my current product - The Coming Dark, Chapter One - which is, as it stands now, is technically OGL compliant (well... 99% compliant, actually).

Option #1 above:

I publish it on my own as Darklight Interactive through my Drive Thru RPG storefront. I will make full profit on anything sold there.

I retain ownership of the product and can sell it anywhere except the DM's Guild itself. I will, however, not have anywhere near the exposure I would otherwise get on the DM's Guild and would have to do my own advertising... arguably against product WotC would be pushing themselves.

I cannot use any official WotC branding, and reference only things from the 5th Edition core that appear in the SRD. No beholders!

I can Kickstart it like I could any current OGL product.

Option #2 above:

If I publish it through the DM's Guild, I can ONLY sell it through the DM's Guild. I, technically, lose exclusive ownership to the product in that I can't sell it anywhere else.

I gain less of a percentage, but it is likely the product will sell more just by sheer numbers. A lot more people will be looking at it, and it will be exposed to a very targeted audience.

If WotC likes your product, they will promote your product. If they really like your product, they may help you publish it in alternate venues... or publish it themselves... or cram the content into a video game. Whatever. As I said above, think of it as them owning the product; you're along for the ride.

I can include content I would otherwise not have been able to, like beholders parading through Waterdeep.

Whether products listed in the DM's Guild could be Kickstarted is unclear. After all, Kickstarter itself can be considered a storefront... and that goes against the exclusivity the guild provides.

 

As it stands now, I will likely put The Coming Dark, Chapter One through the DM's Guild. I admit I'm not exactly thrilled in doing that, but the difference in exposure is monumental. I am not sure how the Guild's guidelines of being the exclusive storefront falls into the Kickstarter scheme, but I hope that will be addressed in the upcoming AMA... that will decide whether it is Kickstarted or not. If I can't Kickstart it to be a part of the DM's Guild, it will be published with minimal art... and I will likely have to pay for editing out of pocket.

Anyway, I think this is a very good step in the right direction for WotC. I really wish them all the best in this new venture, and I look forward to seeing what the publishers and fans out there bring to the world of D&D 5th Edition.