An Interesting Start

Is it the butterfly effect where some small event begins a chain of events with significantly bigger but unforeseen consequences?

I cannot even remember the conversation that started it but I ended up emailing back and forth with Ken Wickham, from the ICE forums and trying out his super light ABS12 game system. Ken got me talking about 3Deep, my vanity project d6 system and I sent him a very rough first draft of the rules. Prior to that, it ran entirely from my memory as it was written by me for me.

One thing lead to another and I published 3Deep as PDF and Print on Demand, I then, at Ken’s suggestion, bundled up some blog posts and started selling them. The idea of selling collected blog posts turned into the fanzine and today I have released the 33rd monthly issue.

Enter Brian Hanson and Egcdld on to the scene and we started doing the 50 in 50 adventures. From there I started adventure and supplement writing as a serious hobby. All the while I kept up this blog. Sometimes it settles back to an easy once a week, sometimes it ramps up to a more exciting a blog a day for a special event.

Finding things to write about, week in week out for years is sometimes a challenge. I saw a really nice series of blog posts by Jeremy Friesen called Let’s read “Stars Without Number”. Rather than a book review Jeremy dedicated a blog post per chapter and did a really detailed look at the rulebook. This appealed to me. I don’t like reviewing things I haven’t played as a single blog post. It hardly seems fair to take years of someone’s work and reduce it down to 500 words, spout an opinion on it, having never actually used it in the way it was written to be used, i.e. playing the game. The Let’s Read idea solved that problem. Yes, I may not have played a game but I am not glossing over most of it in just 500 words, here are 6,000 words over two months showing I have really read your work. It also serves the purpose of I know what I am going to write about for the next two months when I take on one of these extended Let’s Read projects.

Let’s Read lead to a read-through of Zweihander. That, in turn, lead to me starting to write supplements and adventures for that system. This was at the beginning of 2019. In the same way that I can be rather prolific on this blog, I can also be rather prolific on Discord and I am an active member on the Zwei (or Grim & Perilous) discord server.

I have always loved collaborating with people, think back to the 50 in 50 adventures, and in the Zwei dicord I put together collaborative projects know as the Grim & Perilous Book of … Where the last word was one of Chases, Murder or Monster. The basic idea was to get people teetering on the brink of becoming publishers to take the first step. Rather than take on an entire project or adventure module on their own, they could submit a single scene, monster or encounter to the collaborative project. It was an easy point of entry to publishing and I paid everyone on a royalty basis managed by DriveThruRPG.

I believe the three books I pushed forward are all silver best sellers or on the cusp of gaining their silver badge. My best selling supplement for Zwei is an Electrum best seller today but not far off of a Gold best-seller medal.

Zwei became my testbed for Rolemaster projects. They have so much in common, gritty d100, skill based and simulationist with an emphasis on actual wounds over hit points of damage. They use an AP based combat round and there are dozens of other points of similarity. This is not unusual. If you want to write a gritty simulationist d100 fantasy RPG you are starting at the same point and using the same tools. At the end of the process, you are never going to be that far from the same destination.

My interest in publishing continues to grow. I have published 3Deep as PDF and Print on Demand (POD), Devil’s Staircase was successfully crowdfunded and published both as PDF and POD. Navigator RPG is in playtest (and looking good) with a new version of the playtest document nearly ready to upload and finally a new game The Things That Grown Ups Cannot See [Things!] is being proofed and edited prior to its playtest release.

Things! is another collaborative project with the writers drawn from the Zweihander creator community.

On Friday the creator of Zweihander and I had a Skype call and he offered me the chance of becoming Art Director of Grim & Perilous Studios, responsible for the POD products for the Grim & Perilous Studios Community Content Program, known as the Grim & Perilous Library.

This puts me in a funny old position. I have always ‘goaded’ ICE with the point that as a private individual I could do X, Y and Z. I wanted to see more access for 3rd party ‘indie’ publishers, ideally a community content program. I have repeatedly tried to purchase an official license to write for RM but with no success. The attempts on the forums to create an adventure path have faltered and appear to have died, but in the fanzine I have written one to the best of my ability. The Guild Companion has faltered and gone the way of the Norwegian Blue, but this blog is still going strong and puts out more free content than the Companion has managed for several years now. The Guild Adventurer managed 4 issues in about 7 years. The fanzine has run to 33 issues so far.

I have produced two adventures, The Jungle Collection is a standalone adventure module, and Plague, Famine & War is a four-part mini-campaign. If ICE had a Community Content Program they would have earned money of every single sale.

I cannot help but think, if this is one person, what could two, three or ten people do?

Now, I will be helping people to achieve everything I have always wanted to achieve but for a game system that could be the death knell for Rolemaster as a viable game system.

None of us are ever going to stop playing it. I am not suggesting that. I mean we are all getting older, players will inevitably drift away, groups break up, old GMs and players die off. There must be countless players who would want to play RM but the only game in town is 5e. Without new blood where do new customers come from? Without customers, where is the community? Who is going to drive RM forward into the 2020s and 2030s?

Zweihander has that community, it has that following. As more games go to PDF and POD only, Zwei has gone the other way and you can buy it in bookstores all over the place. Every month that goes by does not put RMu in a stronger position. It is odd to be enjoying the success and dynamism of Zwei but deep down knowing that this is what RM should be doing.

18 thoughts on “An Interesting Start”

  1. I have been thinking about offset printing and what it would cost to get a system physically into game shops (for Things as it happens). It would be interesting to find out the details, and price it up. That can make a big difference to a game’s popularity.

    1. I believe Sean Van Damm did an offset run of Pistolero to use at game cons. I simply have no idea about distribution and the point of sale side of things. It would be really cool to walk into a shop and see our game on the shelves. That beats the buzz from getting the POD proof copy in your hands and having a physical book with your name on it.

      1. I think for distribution you need to deal with one of a specific few companies. Not that I know who those are. I know it’s rather more complex, and expensive, to do than POD, but it would be interesting to do.

        1. I think what happens is that in the beginning PDF and self-publishing is cool. Then you get into POD and having a physical book is cool Once you have achieved that the next little challenge becomes offset printing and store distribution.

  2. I tend to think you should go where you can help the hobby at large. I don’t know if my project will do that or not, but I gave up on RMU doing anything some time back. As you pointed out, the dynamism seems to be lacking. From a designer perspective it was disappointing to come in with what was in essence a modular modern plug-in for RM that could have taken the system into at least three new genres right off the bat with more to follow and being met with silence. That’s why I decided to go independent with my system, and that’s also allowed me to discard many of the RM mechanics that simply don’t allow for the kind of flexibility I feel a modern system needs.

    You can’t make RM do the things you pointed out. They can’t even seem to explain what happened to the Guild Companion. I’ve looked at Zwei, and it’s a good product. I don’t know if I’d play it, but my taste in games has usually run in a non-fantasy direction in any case. But they should be concerned that they’re losing potential (or actual) contributors, designers, and customers.

    1. I feel for you. Everything I have done has been small, easily completed and fast to go from inception to realization. If I had been working on a more substantial product the frustration would have been tenfold. I have a stack of adventures just waiting for the finalized RMu to hit DTRPG. I could probably top and tail each one with the few system specific details I would need, such as page numbers in Creature Law, in a day and just roll them out once the system is live.

      You, in contrast, have been working on something that could have been a substantial contribution to the system. The hold-ups and delays must be terribly frustrating. Have you had a chance to look at Colonial Gothic? That is a Zwei powered game that is a bit closer to your genre in timeline. It certainly steps away from the generic fantasy genre.

      1. I haven’t looked at that as yet, but may in the future. I’ve been more checking out modern systems, and feel mine will fill a very distinct hole in what’s out there. So many of the systems are just TOO simple, and very few are tailored to be flexible in terms of genre.

        There are a number of reasons I decided to step away from RMU and ICE and go solo with this, and the delays and lack of communication were certainly part of that. I also feel the shift to HARP-Heavy in terms of rule design took quite a bit of flexibility out of RM writ large. Sometimes you just have to let go. I’ve been playing RM in some form or another since 1987 or so, but I’ve had to conclude there’s nothing compelling in RMU that will keep me with it. I have RM2 customized to fit my setting, I’ll likely check out Zwei or another system if I get back into fantasy (Harn is actually rather tempting).

  3. Congratulations. Zwei is a great company, but I could be biased them being a KC company (being a local KC’er myself). I hope the position leads you to a happier, less stressful and more fulfilling place and good luck with it (love the picture on their website by the way).

    ICE is doing who-knows-what, and frankly I’m close to not caring anymore (other than Terry A’s work). A company can only keep it’s head in the sand so long, and it seems ICE has almost suffocated. December’s Director’s Brief, which was basically all HARP said a lot, and cleared a lot up for me. It’s obvious they won’t (or can’t) change, and it’s terribly unfortunate. Not only for us old RM players, but for the vast number of new players they will miss out on due to a lack of a moder, well placed, well supported product.

    Besides, there’s lots of movement in the d100 world, with ZWEIHÄNDER being the most obvious. Others, like Against the Darkmaster, and Cubicle 7’s efforts with WFRP are frankly a lot more promising and more fleshed out than RMu. I recently saw a Youtube video of the Foundry VTT running WFRP that was beautiful, and made me wish it was RM.

    I’ll always support Terry A’s efforts in Shadow World, and buy almost anything he puts out, but that’s a back ended way into RMu if I’ve ever heard of one.

    1. You can add in a reinvigorated RuneQuest with a Community Content Program into the list of d100 activities.

      I cannot even think of Kansas without thinking Wizard of Oz. I have seen the inside of Daniel D Fox’s office and it looked like a cross between a store cupboard and an armourer. There were various utilitarian shelves behind him and a full face steel helm on the top shelf.

  4. Congrats on the new gig Peter!

    I seem to be a bit more optimistic than most about RMu. I know ICE is behind the times in regards to publishing, but I am just very stoked to finally be playing a version of RM that is supported with new material. Also, I have no concept of publishing myself, so it may not seem that bad to me 🙂

    1. The optimistic point of view would be that with so much competition in the d100 space there must be a demand for it.

      Zwei does not do high adventure very well and RuneQuest builds one trick pony characters. RM offers something that these don’t.

      The others are a challenge, systems like Chivalry and Sorcery and vsD. These are in the same space, same genre, they have come to market earlier and don’t have the bad rep that RM carries.

      Financial success or failure is simply going to come down to marketing.

      1. Besides Marketing, I’d suspect player support and community content will have their roll to play as well. If I were a betting man, I’d suspect that lack of any kind of community content rules is going to hurt them. Can someone make a roll20 Sheet for RM without infringing? What about Player Resource sheets? Pathetic.

        Heck, one of the real reasons the whole d20 rulesets have exploded is the clear rules of use. Case in point, I saw a mashup of RM and D&D last night… LightMaster (on DriveThru as PWYW). Pretty neat, and a heck of a lot of work, but the absurd lengths the author had to go to to get around licensing and copyright is frankly absurd.

        P.S. Peter…. You show your non-midwest background. Kansas City is predominantly a Missouri city. KCK (KC Kansas) has a Nascar track, and a few other attractions, but it’s probably a 1/10th the size of KCMO. Just a helpful tip so you don’t show your slip when talking to your co-workers. =P

        1. It can be a chicken and an egg. Marketing should bring in players, some of those players will want to create and that is where you can get your community content or even manuscript submissions if that is the route that ICE want to go down.
          Anyone can do a ‘serial numbers filled off’ version of anything if you really want to.
          My knowledge of the USA is something like New York on one side, LA on the other and Texas is somewhere between the two, near the bottom. Between those three points it is all a bit vague.

    2. I just don’t see anything new or compelling in RMU that would draw me to it. I don’t use Shadow World, so that’s a non-starter for me. They didn’t fix enough of the basic combat issues, and from my perspective they took away some of the flexibility that existed in RM2. It’s too RMSS/HARP for me. I did have high hopes for it, though.

      1. I fully understand your perspective.

        I do think they did fix some important issues though. For example, they managed to fix Armor Type 1 (i.e. it is no longer over-performing), and make piecemeal armor possible (e.g. you can combine a plate breastplate with leather greaves and a chain coif), all the while reducing the Armor Types from 20 to 10. That is in increase in both functionality and simplicity. Similarly, they’ve also simplified spellcasting (with an easy houserule you can have one-roll spellcasting if you like), as well as maneuvers, such that neither require a chart anymore. Those are to me some big advances.

        The rules for class and race creation also have me eager to make a Witcher and PF2-style Alchemist (more of a bomb-throwing, combat Alchemist).

  5. Just dug out, out of curiosity, my original response to your question in 2015 about how may supplements I was selling. August that year I sold 124 and netted $67.35, which was the best to date back then. Things have changed a bit since then.

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