Posts Tagged ‘LotFP

31
Jul
12

Learning from the LotFP Campaigns

Looking back at my recent posts I see that a lot of ’em have been about Kickstarter campaigns and suchlike crowdfunding projects. Many of these have been ones I haven’t even been involved with, so crass hucksterism alone can’t explain the phenomenon. It’s not just me; crowdfunding has so caught the attention of everyone professionally or semi-professionally involved in RPGs that the Fund Your Game Project With Kickstarter panel I’m part of is just one of three such seminars at Gen Con. I know for sure lots of “industry insiders” are intensely interested in Kickstarter right now, and since I have been and will be talking about ’em a lot I hope there’s an audience who shares this interest.

My pet theory is that as RPG types we’re specifically excited by the potential of crowdfunding because we have a lot of experience launching campaigns. When I moderated the panel on roleplaying games and theater during the run of SHE KILLS MONSTERS, it seemed to me that RPGs are a performing art where you can bring in as many or as few elements of a theatrical production as you like, and do ’em all yourselves. In college I knew a number of people who were actors or directors or costume designers, who always seemed to be having a better time than I was as an audience member. RPGs offer a unique degree of involvement – everyone at the table is simultaneously creating the production and enjoying it as a spectator – and you can bring to it whatever creative talents you want to exercise. If you’ve got someone who’s a ham actor, and someone who likes building scenery, and someone who likes drawing character portraits, there’s room for all those things to enrich the gaming experience. But unlike a theatrical production you can get involved in all of those things; they’re not designated, inflexible roles. Or no one can do any of ’em, and the show will still go on.

Working for an established game company is like having a job in a stage production. As a freelancer, I’d be given a script and a date by which I’d have to have my lines ready. There’d always be some degree of room for improvisation, but not for stepping into a different role; marketing and art direction and everything else is someone else’s job. Starting your own company gives you a lot more latitude to wear different hats. Something I really enjoy about Autarch is getting to do so many different things and add my two cents to the way our game looks, reads, and communicates with its fans. But a business is still like a theatrical production in that some parts are non-optional. You can’t just decide not to worry about taxes or fire codes.

Launching a crowdfunding campaign is much more like starting its RPG equivalent. You just put up flyers for whatever you think will be cool, and if enough players or backers show up you’re good to go. I think this anarchic, DIY spirit appeals to us personally – kicking down any restrictions on player agency is a big part of the appeal of the schools of roleplaying I belong to – and is a natural continuation of the indie movement, for which “creator-owned” has always meant “no one gets to tell me what to do because I’ve got new technologies for reaching customers directly.” For the Forge, that meant desktop publishing, print-on-demand, and direct sales via your own Internet webstore; nowadays it’s Kickstarter,  IndieGoGo, and the like.

With all that said, let’s check up on the LotFP Grand Adventures Campaign, which is ending today around midnight, and see what things can be learned from it as per my earlier musings on why the campaign matters.

Here is how the funding stands as of the time of writing:

Pledges   Adventure Title Author
$6,865   Seclusium of Orphone Baker
$6,590   Broodmother Sky Fortress Rients
$4,693   Horror Among Thieves Green
$2,355   Towers Two Brockie
$2,176   We Who Are Lost Kreider
$1,630   Of Unknown Provenance Curtis
$1,390   Unbegotten Citadel Cook
$1,220   House of Bone and Amber Crawford
$870   Machinations of the Space Princess Desborough
$710   Depths of Paranoia Steen
$690   Strange & Sinister Shores Bingham
$650   Normal for Norfolk Seppälä
$645   Escaping Leviathan Alfrey
$540   Dreaming Plague Vuorela
$500   Land that Exuded Evil Miller
$470   Red in Beak & Claw Särkijärvi
$440   Pyre Pett
$340   Poor Blighters Sparks
$320   I Hate Myself for What I Must Do Pohjola

Stuff to note:

  • Two authors have already met the funding limit – Jeff Rients and Vincent Baker. If you’re looking to pick up an adventure by either of these guys, you can pledge for it now and be sure of getting it. My guess is that their success is a mix of subject matter and communication skill. Both dudes have earned a loyal audience of readers, and picked compelling topics for their adventures that are either just what you’d want from them (the gonzo Broodmother Sky Fortress) or a revealing glimpse of a previously unseen side (the Vancian Seclusium of Orphone).
  • Backers want to know that they will get the thing they’re pledging for. Kelvin Green’s Horror among Thieves is doing well enough to have a shot at making the $6K target, and without seeing the curve I’d bet that it saw a big uptick when Green promised to deliver the adventure whether or not it gets funded – which in the latter case would mean giving it away for free to backers who had their pledges returned at the end of the unsuccessful campaign.
  • Backers are not strongly motivated by getting free things that are different from what they’re pledging. Monte Cook is offering free PDF copies of his magnum opus Ptolus to $100+ backers of his adventure The Unbegotten Citadel, but it’s still not doing as well as Kelvin Green’s – a disparity that’s all the more striking given that every D&D player knows Monte’s name and I only know Kelvin’s because I’m a Fight On! fan. Likewise, the global offer of a free sandbox by Rob Conley and an adventure by James Raggi to all backers at certain levels doesn’t seem to have had a big impact; these things are undeniably cool, but adding more guaranteed-but-different flavors to the smorgasbord doesn’t seem to have brought many extra people to the buffet.
  • An unspoken part of wanting to be sure you get the thing you pledge for is trusting the author to deliver it. Professional experience in RPGs would seem to me to be the best guide here, but it doesn’t seem to factor into backer decisions. GWAR guitarist Dave Brockie has zero previous gaming publications, but Towers Two still has more pledges than Monte Cook who’s designed more successful projects than you can shake a stick at.
  • The synergistic effects of running multiple campaigns simultaneously are balanced against the negatives of making the audience choose between backing so many horses each with uncertain chances to win. By my count, the Grand Adventures Campaign has raised $33,094 in pledges, more than twice the LotFP Hardcover and Adventures Project‘s $16,240. Although it seems likely that many of these pledges won’t be collected because they were for adventures that won’t meet their funding goal, this still reflects an overall increase in LotFP’s audience and crowdfunding power. I don’t think that the Grand Adventure Campaign represents an ideal way to deal with the various problems of shipping and ordering multiple crowdfunded projects, but it does look to me that with this one Raggi has lost many battles but still won the war.
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07
Jul
12

Why the LotFP Grand Adventure Campaign Matters

Yesterday I talked about how Charlatan, Ryan Browning, and I were going be part of the insane, ambitious Lamentations of the Flame Princess effort to crowd-fund nineteen different adventures at once, and why that didn’t happen. Here’s why I think the effort is admirable and well worthy of your close attention.

  1. Diversity. I mentioned how some of the creators James Raggi has gathered together into a nineteen-headed hydra are considered by some to be ideological enemies of the OSR, including one of the leading inheritors of the Forge’s legacy and some of the key figures in WotC-era D&D and the Paizo adventure path. Mule readers are no doubt much too cool to be down with this particular divisiveness; certainly I feel no shame in proclaiming myself a fan of Vincent, Monte, and Richard. What’s really remarkable is that Raggi has brought together worlds that I hardly even knew were into RPGs; you’ll find here adventures from GWAR’s lead singer and the drummer for the doom/death metal band Eminent Remains, plus some eminent representatives from a Nordic scene that I’m really excited to have been learning about recently. You could say that the fact that all these different folks are interested in writing an adventure for LotFP means the OSR has won. You could also say it’s a sign the OSR is no more; I think a key indicator of a dead subculture is that it no longer has efficient cell walls with which to exclude “outsiders”. Let’s say instead that it’s a remarkable tribute to the inclusiveness and far-reaching appeal of LotFP’s version of the old-school aesthetic, and the boldness and energy with which Raggi has communicated that vision to so many corners of the world.
  2. Innovation. Crowd-funding is so new that there is still no consensus on the best way to handle lots of fundamental things. One of the more important is how to combine orders into a package for the mutual benefit of the backers and publisher. The Grand Adventures campaign is an ambitious new approach to that problem, which has the extra benefits of breath-taking scope and attention-getting audacity.
  3. Visibility. The professional field of role-playing games is hindered by the fact that business data is so hard to get (outside of exemplary cases like Evil Hat). One great thing about crowd-funding is that it creates transparency for some of the key things you’d want to know. This is wonderfully leveraged by the insane ambition of Raggi’s grand scheme. Is there an audience for an old-school adventure by a designer from (just about any background you can think of)? Does it help or hurt to run 19 crowd-funding efforts simultaneously? Instead of just wondering, we can look at the IndieGoGo pages and find out.

In the above, I’ve been talking from the perspective of a scene-watcher and OSR theorist. I assume that is of at least some interest to you, gentle Mule reader (or else that you tl;dr past many of our posts). More importantly, though, you and I are also gamers and lovers of fine gaming products. I’m confident that some great ones will result from the Grand Adventures campaign. Which you’ll be attracted to is a matter of taste.

For my part, I’m particularly interested in ones where the artist is also the illustrator, which I suspect is part of the genius of Jaquays’ work. I’m going to back Strange and Sinister Shores because I was intrigued by Jonathan Bingham’s illustrations for ACKS and want to see the stories he has behind them. I’ll pledge to that one because I especially want to see it succeed, but I’ll choose the Faithful reward level so I get a copy of every one that does make it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go figure out how to register at IndieGoGo.

06
Jul
12

The Insane and Ambitious LotFP Campaign and I

Folks who have been following the LotFP Grand Adventure crowdfunding campaign closely will have noticed that, at one point, the Mule’s own Charlatan and I were slated to do one of the 19 adventures it will be funding, with illustrations by Ryan Browning. This post is to explain why I withdrew our project with the greatest regrets. In tomorrow’s post I’ll suggest some reasons why everyone who cares about the stuff we care about should indeed be following the Grand Adventure campaign closely.

The way that this all got started is that, back in March, James Raggi posted on G+:

My brain is exploding. ToC’s Bookhounds of London + ACKS mercantile system + XRP’s Silk Road detail + Warhammer’s Death on the Reik = Something, yes?

Like a mad scientist, Raggi seems to be perpetually fizzing over with the ferment of mash-ups like this. Note that he is unafraid to throw volatile elements in the mix. Expeditious Retreat Press (XRP)’s A Magical Medieval Society: Silk Road, although eminently useful for all fantasy and historical gaming, is a d20 supplement from the era when 3E was “The Edition That Shall Not Be Named” among the dfootians. And Trail of Cthulu (ToC) is a big favorite of the story-gamers I know in the nerdNYC community. But of course James scoffs at the idea that the OSR should be a firewall that protects us from contamination by TESTSNBN or Forge swine; he takes things that are awesome as he finds ’em. His getting Bookhounds of London author Ken Hite to do a LotFP adventure is a supremely awesome achievement that, for me, is one of the fruits of the OSR having won and a demonstration of what you can make happen with an insanely ambitious crowdfunding campaign.

So when I emailed Raggi with a vague affirmation of his G+ post – “yeah let’s make that mash-up happen!” – he came back with both a crazy way to achieve that, involving nineteen simulaneous IndieGoGo campaigns, and a tasty proposal for what it should look like:

You do a supplement updating the economics stuff from ACKS into the Early Modern Age – taking into account regular sea lane shipping, trading companies and the monopolies they secure (and the piracy they attract), the great risk/reward of exploration, colonies, realms that are ruled by parliaments or noble lineage but the age of small-time conquest/rulership is over, etc.

He gave me the go-ahead to add Charlatan as a collaborator, since I would never venture into the sea-lanes without his Saltbox expertise, and Ryan as artist because he can draw the inside of my mind better than I can see it. We started talking it over, and all manner of ideas started to flow. Some of the concrete results were the title “Register of the Deeps” and a concept for the cover:

Original sketch for the Register of the Deeps cover, by Ryan Browning.

Unfortunately, in the middle of this creative ferment, a development in my personal life arose that forced me to re-evaluate my ability to deliver “Register of the Deeps” by the deadline I’d agreed to. It’s nothing worthy of a Lifetime special, or even an after-school one. It won’t mean my departure from gaming, or even prevent me from working with Charlatan and Ryan to finish Register and release it via a different route at some future date, but it did make me feel I couldn’t promise to have it in time for the LotFP campaign backers with the right degree of certainty.

Lots of people are saying that crowd-funding is changing the face of the gaming industry for the better. If you’ll be at Gen Con on Friday at 3pm, you’ll see me among ’em. The key ingredient here is trust. When people back a project, they’re expressing their faith that it will come to pass. For the Kickstarter miracle to work, this faith has to be well-placed. I thought it better to withdraw from the LotFP adventures campaign than to run the risk of breaking faith with people who’d put up money expecting to have “Register of the Deeps” when I said they would.

Kickstarter may be a new thing under the sun, but gaming history offers plenty of tragic examples of what can go wrong with taking money now for a product later, whether via pre-orders (the Wormy compilation, Sinister Adventures) or a subscription model (Adventure Games Publications). To his great credit, James Raggi was totally understanding about my situation & the reasoning behind my (difficult) decision. He made good on his promise to find replacements who were bigger stars than the originally booked talent, and seeing the quality of the people who are filling the void makes me feel a little better. Nevertheless I’ll always regret having gotten folks, especially Charlatan and Ryan, excited and then yanking the football; also having come this close to saying I shared a stage with the lead singer from GWAR, metaphorically at least.

Next to come: why the LotFP Grand Adventure crowd-funding campaign matters.

 




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