The next entry was going to be about my father, who died April 1st, and the influence he had on my life. But that will have to wait for next time, because there is something far more urgent.
If you have any Games Workshop orc or goblin miniatures from the late 80s, or almost anyone else’s orcs or goblins from any time since, then whether you know it or not, you’ll be familiar with the work of Kevin “Goblinmaster” Adams. He wasn’t quite the first guy to paint them green, but his goblin and orc faces have influenced just about everything since, and not only in the Warhammer family. Since leaving GW he has worked for almost all the UK’s most important miniatures companies. He is also one of the sweetest guys you could ever wish to meet, despite his slightly intimidating appearance. Check out this site to see some of his work.
A few weeks ago, three masked youths broke into Kev’s home in Nottingham. Before robbing him they beat him to a pulp with brass knuckles and stabbed him just for good measure. Kev survived, but if and when the police ever catch up with the culprits they’ll be facing attempted murder charges. There is talk of putting metal plates in his face and reconstructing a crushed eye socket. No one deserves to have something like this happen to them, least of all Kev.
Kev’s friends in the industry – which means just about everyone who ever met or worked with him – have banded together to found Goblinaid. A PayPal account has been set up for donations (goblinaidATfenrisgamesDOTcom), and there will be raffles and other events. A lot of Britain’s best designers are creating custom goblin figures for the cause. I don’t have the talent to do that myself, but I’m contributing some of my own Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay books (The Hogshead editions of the 1st edition rulebook and all the Enemy Within adventures), which I’ve signed with a message of thanks for supporting Goblinaid.
Keep an eye on the Goblinaid Facebook page for the latest news, and details of how you can help. Below are links to some other pages with more information.
This morning I received my author’s copy of Fantasy Flight’s The Enemy Within campaign for 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I have to say they’ve done their usual great production job.
I knew the book would be thick, but it surprised me just how thick it was. If you’d like a look at what’s in the box, I found this unboxing video.
It’s been 26 years since the first Enemy Within campaign was launched for 1st edition WFRP. It’s a bold move by Fantasy Flight to use the same name for these all-new adventures, but their reasoning is sound. The new campaign explores the same themes through new adventures, and I was very happy they asked me to contribute to it.
I know that for some people nothing will ever live up to the original: for them, Fantasy Flight’s re-use of the name is akin to blasphemy. All I can say in response is that I wrote the best adventures I possibly could in both campaigns, and I hope you like the result.
It’s also true that the WFRP community is going through its own edition wars right now, and some diehard 1st or 2nd edition fans might regard a 3rd edition campaign called The Enemy Within as adding insult to injury. Having read 3rd edition – indeed, all three editions – in depth, I must respectfully disagree. While the mass of components that accompany 3rd edition products may be unfamiliar and even intimidating to 1st or 2nd edition grognards, the rules themselves work pretty well. The components, for the most part, are there to help make things run more smoothly: in a lot of cases, they hold text that would otherwise have been in the rulebook, so players and GMs can have it close to hand during a game.
I made a conscious effort, when writing my two chapters, to write a good WFRP adventure rather than a WFRP 3rd edition adventure. Very little of my design depends heavily on mechanics, and I hope that GMs will be able to adapt the campaign for use with earlier rules editions if they wish. It is even possible to add adventures from the original campaign and produce a grand “Total Enemy Within” mash-up that would work fairly well.
Anyway, it’s here, and I hope people like it.
December has been a busy month, but I can’t talk about any of that. Not yet.
Here’s what I can talk about, though: a lot of things are finally seeing the light of day this month, and that’s very exciting.
I’ve already posted about the Aesop-inspired anthology The Lion and the Aardvark, which includes stories from 70 – count ‘em, 70 – of the best writers out there. I have a short-short tale in there called “The Lemmings and the Sea,” and I can’t wait to see what my 69 co-writers have come up with.
The Hobbit Social Games
I should have posted before about The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth and The Hobbit: Armies of the Third Age. I’m very proud to have worked on these two social strategy games tied into Peter Jackson’s new movie. By the bye, Apple has just named Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North as the top-grossing free iOS app of 2012. That was my first project for Kabam, and it’s great to see it doing so well.
I’ve also been involved with two tabletop RPG products that are out just in time for Christmas. Although I don’t work much in that medium these days, I’m proud of both of these new releases, for different reasons.
The Colonial Gothic 2nd Edition Rulebook was released on 12/12/12 at 12:12:12, in reference to the 12 Degrees roleplaying system that powers it. It has been a long, hard labor of love for Colonial Gothic creator Richard Iorio. I’ve offered support and feedback, but the work is all his.
You may not have heard of Colonial Gothic, or of Rogue Games. I first met Richard at GenCon more than a decade ago when we were both working the Hogshead Publishing booth, and we kind of stayed in touch. When I first heard about Colonial Gothic in 2009, I was so impressed by the idea that I offered my services. Since then the Colonial Gothic line has swelled to eight books and a number of e-books, and the game has gathered a small but passionate following.
According to Richard, the Colonial Gothic concept started out as “Cthulhu 1776,” but it has come a long way since then. It now covers the whole history of Colonial America and the War of Independence. The work of H. P. Lovecraft still inspires the growing Colonial Gothic mythology (and I wish I could talk about a new development in that direction), but there’s more: scheming Dan-Brown-style Freemasons, Bigfoot and other cryptids, local legends like the Jersey Devil, Native spirits, and much, much more. If you liked Sleepy Hollow (the story or any of its movie versions), National Treasure, The Last of the Mohicans, The Patriot, or The Brotherhood of the Wolf, you’ll enjoy Colonial Gothic.
The second edition rulebook will be vital to the line’s future growth: previous editions were plagued by typos and minor inconsistencies, and Richard has taken the time to go through and fix everything. The rules have been reorganized so that information is easier to find; typos and inconsistencies have been fixed; and Richard has done wonders with the layout. It’s also 100% backward-compatible with the entire Colonial Gothic line. Richard has worked incredibly hard on this and the hard work shows.
The third instalment of the acclaimed Flames of Freedom campaign is planned for 2013, along with a couple of other things that, frustratingly, I can’t talk about yet. Keep an eye on Rogue Dispatches for announcements.
The Enemy Within, Again
Many months ago, Fantasy Flight Games caused an enormous stir when they announced a new campaign for 3rd Edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. It was the title that got people excited: The Enemy Within. The new Enemy Within is not an adaptation or an updating of the original, but a whole new campaign that explores the same themes through new adventures. The entry I wrote about it back in March remains the most-viewed entry on this whole blog.
After the frenzy that greeted the announcement, there was a long, long silence. Based at least in part on my feedback when I saw the galleys, The Enemy Within went through a lot of editing and development. Now, at last, it has been released.
When I started writing my part of the campaign, I worried about how I would top the completely unforeseen success of the original Enemy Within. I came to the conclusion that nothing could ever top the fond memories that many people have for the original adventures, memories that are tied up with where they were in their lives when they first played them. It’s impossible to recreate that; I just took my two chapter briefs and wrote the best adventure I could.
Since the new Enemy Within was announced, a few people have asked me about running it with 1st or 2nd edition WFRP, and also about running a mash-up of the old and new campaigns. I think both are possible. Although the three editions of WFRP have different rules, the setting and the cast of monsters are the same: with a little work on the GM’s part, stats can be massaged into the preferred edition. When I was writing, I made a conscious effort to write a good WFRP adventure, rather than focusing on the 3rd edition rules.
A mash-up “Total Enemy Within” campaign is equally possible. The new campaign has a strong structure, and if I were running an Enemy Within mashup I would use that as the main plot. The original adventures, up to and including Power Behind the Throne, can be added as side-plots and complications: Death on the Reik, in particular, could flesh out some of the travel sections, which are somewhat abstract in the new campaign. I can even see ways to add Something Rotten in Kislev and Empire in Flames, but going into any detail would involve spoilers so I’ll refrain for now.
Reaction to WFRP 3rd edition has been mixed. In its own way, the WFRP community is riven by an edition war as savage as anything D&D/d20 has seen. I expect at least a few people will eviscerate me online because the new Enemy Within doesn’t live up to their long-held memories of the original, because it’s 3rd edition, because of any number of things. I hope that a lot of people will like it, or at least find something they like in it. I will say that it looks good, and I will be excited to hold it in my hands.
As regular readers (and tabletop game geeks) will know, Robin D. Laws is an industry luminary. He consistently comes up with challenging and innovative ideas that are also fun to play. He’s also an accomplished author and a newly-minted fiction publisher, which means he knows one end of a story from the other better than most.
So when he announced the Kickstarter campaign for his latest project, the DramaSystem roleplaying game, I was intrigued. I was even more intrigued when I learned that the system would launch with an Iron Age setting called Hillfolk.
But then, intriguing is what Robin does. When he announces a new project, everyone sits up and takes notice. The campaign has now reached its nineteeth – count ‘em, nineteenth – stretch goal and shows no sign of slowing down in its sixteen remaining days. Of course, Robin, being a man who Knows What He’s At, has offered some pretty spectacular stretch goals. Some of the greatest names in tabletop roleplaying are helping out: names like Michelle Nephew, Kenneth Hite, Matt Forbeck, Chris Pramas, James Wallis, and John Tynes – and, as they say, many more.
And then he asked me if I wanted to do something. Well, how could I spurn company like that?
So as of today, my Pyrates setting is officially the 20th stretch goal. I pitched it as “Firefly of the Caribbean” and that sums up what I’m thinking pretty well. When Robin first contacted me I sat down and came up with almost 20 ideas, but Pyrates was the first and we both agreed that it’s the best. I’m hoping you’ll like it too.
If you love the sound of shivered timbers and aim to misbehave – or if you just like innovative and thought-provoking roleplaying games – check out the Hillfolk Kickstarter page and marvel at the wealth of creativity on offer from a galaxy of top-flight writers. And me.
There must be something in the air. After the last two posts on breaking into video games and getting your game published, today one of my LinkedIn groups had a question from someone who wants to get a job in the tabletop RPG industry. Here’s what I told him. I think it’s realistic, but others may think I’m being too negative. If he’s really committed to tabletop RPGs as a career, he won’t be put off by what I say anyway.
All my tabletop RPG pals out there, please weigh in with your own advice and experiences – either here or on the LinkedIn discussion.
There’s barely an industry to break into. With very few exceptions (WotC, Paizo, Fantasy Flight), the industry is made up of garage operations doing it for love rather than money. Almost no one makes a living at it: I don’t. A little while ago I wrote a blog entry on the reasons for this.
If this doesn’t discourage you, start by freelancing. Pick your favorite 2-3 game systems and become an expert. Write a few pieces for each one and send them to the appropriate line editor. Don’t expect these to get published: they are just samples. If and when you get paying gigs, use the published work build up a portfolio.
Look at Kickstarter and Indiegogo for RPG projects. If you see anything you like, contribute cash (this establishes good faith) and write to the project’s owner and offer to create something for a stretch goal. Don’t expect payment for this until your name carries some weight.
Review games for sites like DriveThruRPG, RPGGeek, and Roleplayers Chronicle. Start a blog and post your work there alongside intelligent discussion of issues and market developments. Be active on the forums for your favorite 2-3 games. Go to GenCon and other major shows, visit the booths of your favorite publishers, and find someone to talk to about their needs.
Give this process 5-10 years (seriously). With a little luck and a lot of hard work your name will become sufficiently established that you can get regular freelance work. No matter how much you get, though, you will still need a “day job” to pay the bills. You will always be competing with an unlimited number of fans who write or draw as a hobby, and this keeps payment rates too low to sustain anyone as a career.
Keep an eye on publishers’ web sites, looking for vacancy announcements. Develop skills in graphic design, layout, and web site development that will set you apart from the mass of writers and/or artists. Consider acquiring business skills as well. Take your cue from the vacancies you see advertised: in my experience business and production vacancies are the hardest to fill. Writing vacancies, when they exist, are almost never advertised, for two reasons:
a) Any ad for RPG writers produces an unmanageable flood of applications. Picking out usable candidates from the mass of semi-literates and enthusiastic schoolkids takes too long. True story: when I worked for Games Workshop, an ad for a game writer produced multiple applications from 12-13 year olds (and a touching one from a 9-year-old, written in black crayon and accompanied by a sketch of his character) asking us to keep the vacancy open until they finished school.
b) All RPG companies use freelancers extensively to keep costs down. Therefore when a vacancy arises, hiring managers usually approach their best freelancers, filling the vacancy without needing to advertise.
Or, you can do what most people do and found your own company.
Set up a blog and post regularly, including free samples (skeleton rules in the GURPS light mode, free adventures) to give people a taste and make them want to spend cash on your products.
Use Facebook and game forums to develop a fan base. Send electronic samples to every review site you can find.
Once you have a base and some good reviews for your initial products, use Kickstarter to fund more. Look at current Kickstarter campaigns to see what works and what doesn’t.
Using print-on-demand and electronic distribution, you can avoid tying up too much cash in stock, but you have to do everything yourself because it will be years (if ever) before you have enough money to hire any help.
You’ll have to keep a day job, and free time will become an unknown concept, but you’ll be working in the industry you love and for some people that is enough.
I’m sorry if this sounds negative, but the reality is that the tabletop RPG industry is (and looks to remain) idea-rich but cash-poor, with writers in particular being a heavily oversupplied commodity.
Following on from the theme of the last post, I sometimes get emails out of the blue asking for my advice on getting a roleplaying game published – and sometimes for my help as well. It looks like John Kovalic gets similar emails.
John who? He’s the creator of the hilarious Dork Tower comics, the artist for Steve Jackson Games’ hilarious card game Munchkin, and the co-founder of Out of the Box Publishing. Go out and buy Apples to Apples. Right now. I’m serious. I’ll wait till you get back.
All of which means that John is a man who knows what he’s talking about. His blog yesterday contains a great deal of wisdom for anyone who is looking to get a game published. For added style points, he does it in a series of 17 tweets. Although he specifically refers to boardgames, this is good and valuable advice for any kind of game, including tabletop roleplaying games. So if you have a game that you’re looking to get published, read this. Read it all the way to the end. Print out the expanded section, and tape or thumbtack it up somewhere where you can see it every day.
And if you’re looking to publish a tabletop roleplaying game, you should also take a look at this. You need to be realistic about your chances of making money, even if you tell yourself now that you’re only doing it for fun.
Most people in the games industry get requests for free advice and free help from time to time. Most of us would love to be able to help, but most of us can’t because we’re too busy trying to make a living. No matter what you might think, none of us is sipping champagne on a yacht – not unless they’ve made it big in some other industry. So when someone else gives out good advice and saves me the work of doing so myself, it’s my duty to steal… ahem, pass it along.
Well, not a blast, exactly. Probably more of a slightly damp phut.
I was casting about for a subject for a new blog entry this morning. I remembered that sometimes, online booksellers advertise books I have written or co-written at prices that just make me laugh. For example, someone on Abe Books wants over $500 for a copy of the third Doomstones adventure, Death Rock. Other people on the same site are offering it for $7.00 to $22.00, which is altogether more reasonable.
I was going to muse a little about perceived value, and maybe throw in a wry comment about how much I wish I could claim royalties on these kinds of prices, but then I saw this. This particular sighting took me back 26 years, to the point where I first thought I might be able to make a career as a writer.
It was 1985, and I was an archaeology postgrad at the University of Durham. I was compiling 150-odd years of excavation reports on Neolithic and Bronze Age burials, systematizing the data, and building a database on NUMAC, the mainframe that Durham shared with Newcastle University. In FORTRAN 77. I was starting to become dispirited: this was my first experience with computers, and it usually took me two weeks to get a 15-minute meeting with my Ph. D. supervisor, who only wanted to know what books I’d read since last time and took no interest in the project itself. But that’s a story for another time.
Gamebooks were everywhere in the mid 80s. Following the success of Fighting Fantasy, all kinds of imitators – of all levels of quality – had sprung up like dandelions. Imagine magazine had just published an article on the gamebook phenomenon that I had co-written with their book critic Colin Greenland, and I was doing an occasional gamebook spot on BBC Radio Newcastle’s children’s book programme. Then, out of the blue, I got a phone call.
Now, “getting a phone call” wasn’t easy for a college student back in the 80s. Collingwood College had maybe half a dozen payphones throughout its corridors, for the use of 300-odd students. Mobile phones – which did exist, just about – fell into two categories: large consoles that Captains of Industry had bolted into the back of their Bentleys, and portable units that came in a satchel and weighed only a little more than their cost in gold. What I got was a scrawled message that someone from a company called Scribos had rung, and wanted to talk to me about a freelance writing project.
There was no Internet to look up this Scribos, and I had no idea who they were. So I collected a fistful of 10p pieces, wandered the corridors until I found a free phone, and called them back.
It turned out that they were an educational publisher, and they wanted someone to write two 6-volume fantasy series in the Choose Your Own Adventure format. The twist was, the language had to be kept simple: the books were aimed at teens with reading ages of 6-7. The concept relied on the read-comprehend-decide activity loop of the gamebook format, along with the popularity of the gamebook phenomenon as a whole. I was equipped with a Fry Reading Age Chart, and told that each book should come in at 50 entries.
I’d been sending articles to White Dwarf and Imagine for a few years by this point, but I never seriously considered the possibility that I might be able to make a living as a writer. But two things sealed the deal for me. First, the books were to be published by Oxford University Press. And second, I was offered 600 pounds for the project.
It just shows how touchingly naive I was back then. Certainly, 600 pounds was a tidy sum to a college student, but this was a one-time project and I never did the math about how many such projects I’d need each year in order to make a living. Between this and my modest but semi-regular checks from White Dwarf and Imagine, I thought it was a sign. I was on my way. Over the next few months, my archaeological research tapered off until I withdrew from the project entirely.
I never received publisher’s comps of the Quest Books series (The Adventures of Kern the Strong and The Adventures of Oss the Quick) so I still don’t know how they turned out. One was turned into a CD-ROM a few years ago, but no more seem to have followed so I’m guessing that wasn’t a great success. I’m sure they weren’t masterpieces; I was just starting out as a writer, and finding my way.
The winter of 1985-6 was a tough one financially. I finished the Quest Books project and was paid (which isn’t always the case, as any freelancer can tell you), but the 600 pounds didn’t last all that long. TSR Inc. shut down Imagine magazine – my most lucrative market – and eventually the whole of TSR UK as well. Editor Paul Cockburn started the short-lived GameMaster Publications and I became a regular contributor, but I just wasn’t bringing in enough money.
Then, out of the blue, I got a letter. Paul and a bunch of others from TSR UK had fetched up at Games Workshop’s new headquarters in Nottingham. There was a plan to make a roleplaying game based on Warhammer, which had come into GW’s portfolio in the recent merger with Citadel Miniatures. And would I like to come down to Nottingham and talk? Everyone knows what happened next.
I come across isolated titles from the Quest Books series online now and again, but this is the first cover shot I’ve ever seen. I think about collecting them sometimes, but I’m not really a collector by nature. And what if I should look at these books for the first time in 26 years and discover they really weren’t all that good? Silly, I know, but there it is.
When I remember my confused, conflicted and wildly over-optimistic mid-twenties self in that winter of 1985-6, I can’t suppress a rueful smile. I really had no idea what I was doing, and in a reasonable universe I would never have got away with it. The Games Workshop job, coming when it did, was an unbelievable and completely undeserved stroke of luck. But that one decision, swung by the name of Oxford University Press and the promise of six hundred pounds, set the course of my life from that point on.
Coop over at the Fighting Fantasist blog just posted an interesting and thought-provoking piece about WFRP and the development of the “grim and perilous” Warhammer ethos. He makes some very astute observations based on the way WFRP developed from the rulebook through the early Enemy Within adventures, and ventures some guesses about how that happened.
Some of his thoughts are spot-on – disturbingly so at times – and others are well-reasoned but a little wide of the mark. I added my own two penn’orth, including some memories about how things happened and who did what (and why) in the early weeks and months of WFRP’s life.
Anyway, it’s a good read, thoughtful and well-informed – so stop reading this and go and check it out!
I’ve been hearing a lot about crowdfunding over the last couple of years, especially in the cash-poor but idea-rich tabletop roleplaying industry. What I haven’t heard is how successful crowdfunding has been at raising money. As of a couple of days ago, though, it looks like I’m going to be finding out.
Last week I got an email out of the blue from James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I hadn’t heard of him or his company before, because I really don’t do much in the world of tabletop roleplaying these days. I’d like to, but I can’t generally afford to work for the kind of rates that the industry pays: I wrote an entry On the Economics of Tabletop RPGs earlier.
I do make exceptions, but they are very rare. One is for Colonial Gothic, because I’ve known Richard Iorio of Rogue Games for years and I think the setting has a lot of potential. Another is for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, because it has been such a huge part of my gaming career going back to 1986. And I still write occasionally for GURPS, because it allows me to indulge my passion for historical and historical-fantasy roleplaying. Recently I had to turn down a project from a once-big publisher, because they were offering the same rate of pay as they did 20 years ago and I just couldn’t afford to do it.
Anyway, back to Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Casting about for reviews and then looking over the PDFs that I received, I found it was quite an interesting game. It’s an AD&D retro-clone, another phenomenon I had heard about but not investigated – but the main thing that interested me was the game’s focus on atmosphere and horror over old-school hackfests. So I’ve agreed to do something – maybe.
Here’s where the crowdfunding comes in. My adventure will be one of the bonus items if another project – a hardcover edition of the core rules – exceeds its funding target. Jim has also signed up Ken Hite, Frank Menzer, and some newer names to provide additional bonus items. You can find the details at Indiegogo - and make a pledge if you like what you see.
This is my first brush with crowdfunding, and I really don’t know what to expect. But I guess that in 44 days, I won’t be able to say that any more.
It’s going to be interesting.