My Experiences in RPG Self-Publishing – Part 2

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This is Part 2 of an article series on self publishing in the RPG industry. Also see Part 1 and Part 3.

Setting the Price

Dollar Sign
Morguefile

Price is a tricky one. There is a temptation – which I fell into – of undercutting the competition, but in the long run, this really doesn’t help anyone. OneBookShelf (OBS) tend to say don’t sell for under $1 (although $0.99 can help sales and makes little realistic difference). If the supplement includes artwork, especially artwork which you are unlikely to be able to reuse but costs money to buy, this can mean that a higher selling price is necessary.

OneBookShelf also allows for Pay What You Want supplements, where the purchaser chooses what price they think the supplement is worth. I prefer doing this to out and out free. Naturally, the price most choose is nothing, but some may come back and then pay more than you would have priced the supplement for. Plus, these customers may also be added to your mailing list, a potential future source of income.

Some publishers offer most, or all, of their material for free. Often, this is because they have a Patreon campaign that generates the money in another way.

Where to Actually Sell

Question MarkThe OneBookShelf network is by far the biggest player in the niche. There is also the Paizo store, the Open Gaming Store and Warehouse 23 from Steve Jackson Games. Amazon, through Kindle and CreateSpace, is another. There are also other more specialised sites such as Fantasy Grounds and Roll20, which sell material for tabletop software systems, which tend to require knowledge of how to create or adapt material to these. Such content can also be sold through OBS as well. OBS do offer a 5% exclusivity bonus, if you only sell on their sites, but many of the bigger players cover multiple markets, so it’s likely that there’s a definite advantage to doing so, if you can. There are other print on demand publishers, such as Lulu too.

A final option is a store on your own site. Although this will likely give the highest percentage – after all, you won’t need to pay a percentage to another store’s owner – it can also be the trickiest to do.

Sales & Marketing

Graph
SXC.HU

OBS has tracking codes, which they call source codes. These can be used to track where a sale came from (if the person creating a link used them; the codes you see in a marketing source report are not solely the ones you create yourself, but all relevant ones), although these do get overwritten when another is clicked.

My highest sales numbers come from the various OBS internal codes combined, especially from the front page and also purchased (these, being listed as FrontPage and also_purchased, are very easy to spot); however, over the past year OBS changed the ranking algorithm so that it ranks by money made from a supplement, not number of supplements sold. This generally benefits the bigger publishers – who tend to create more expensive products; smaller publishers who make the occasional pricey supplement also benefit – and OBS, who make more money from larger sales, but it’s not so good for the smaller publisher who has lots of pocket-money priced items. This was notable in the past couple of OBS sales, when products were selling in numbers of about a tenth of what they did in similar sales last year, because they were no longer at the top of the sales listings.

My next major source of sales is through emails to my mailing list through the OBS email system. I send out emails when new products are released, and I give discounts on some new releases, to keep people interested in subscribing to the list, and link to other products and sales as well if they are appropriate. I used to always send an email out at the start of a sale as well, but just prior to the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale OBS essentially asked publishers not to do this, as they had already notified customers (although this was stated before the customers were actually notified). Not that surprising, because it wasn’t unknown to get a lot of emails from many different publishers, but telling my customers and potential customers about site sales always generated product sales, and a generic one by OBS does not have the same effect.

The footers on the OBS sites can be used to promote similar items, and this is probably the next largest source of combined sales. Not every product has a footer, as yet, but I add footers with other relevant products when I see some that are related.

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I also sell a few through my own site, although this doesn’t sell that many as yet; it probably pays for the domain name at best (the hosting is basically paid for elsewhere). The site needs more useful content in order to attract people who then might click through and purchase products.

The sales generated by social media are harder to quantify. I only know of one sale that came through social media, Facebook in its case, but that customer purchased about 50 products! Update: I have just started getting results from Pinterest after quite a few years of posting on the site. My pins have just started being reposted a lot (both my own supplements and reviews of other peoples) and this has resulted in an uptick in views and a number of definite sales.

Another area I have got a few sales from is ads in products themselves. I’ve added links to related products in the back of a few recent supplements, which can also fill up empty space! This has generated a few sales, but nothing significant as yet.

Probably the most important lesson to take from the source codes is to actually use them, every time you create a link.

Continued in Part 3

My Experiences in RPG Self-Publishing – Part 1

Polyhedral Dice

So, Brian asked me to write a post on some of my own experiences with self-publishing RPG supplements, which I’ve been doing for about three years, although my first and second supplements were five months apart! All but one week since the second supplement was published has had a new one released every week (although some were art packs, not written), and recently two have been published weekly. This post wound up being rather longer than I expected, so it’s been split into three parts.

Part 1: How I Started Self-Publishing, How to Know What Will Succeed and Art & Layout

Part 2: Setting the Price, Where to Actually Sell and Sales & Marketing

Part 3: Do Reviews Help or Hinder? and What Return to Expect?

Polyhedral Dice
eGDC

How I Started Self-Publishing

I discovered the OneBookShelf sites (the OBS network consists of many different sites; perhaps the most important for RPG supplement writers are DriveThruRPG and RPGNow, and perhaps Dungeon Masters Guild and Storytellers Vault) some years back whilst looking for material for a phpBB forum based game called Advanced Dungeons & Rabbits. Some years later, as I mentioned elsewhere, I looked at things being published and thought “I could do that.”

At the date of writing this, I have published 136 of my own (written) supplements, totalling 403,857 words. One of these has been published in a Pathfinder edition as well, adding another 4,294 words (I plan to convert some others to Pathfinder and probably other systems too). I have also published 3 outsourced supplements, totalling 13,574 words, and adapted two of those to system neutral versions from Pathfinder, another 10,520 words. With Brian and Peter here I have also published 4 supplements, totalling 2,639 words, as part of the 50 in 50 adventures that are being released at the rate of one per week. I also have a few bundles and art-related items on sale, the latter either images created for my own projects or experiments done whilst creating images to use.

How to Know What Will Succeed

Question MarkIt’s difficult knowing what will be successful in creative matters. Consider that big companies get this wrong all the time. Think of Hollywood box office flops with budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars or, on the other hand, books by unknown authors that the publisher only prints a couple of thousand copies of to start with, because that’s how big they think the market is (think J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter franchise).

A starting point would be to do what you like, or want, or need for your own game, as odds are there will be at least a few people with a similar opinion. Looking through my portfolio, you will notice quite a lot of supplements connected to books, books being my own particular area of interest. If something does seem to be working, try to produce more of the same, or similar.

Writing for popular systems such as Pathfinder and D&D 5E specifically also increases the potential market but it often also increases the potential competition, and there is some third party competition out there that produces material of a higher quality than the big companies. There are a lot of systems that can be written for under the Open Game License, and there’s nothing to stop you creating your own (as long as it is your own). Pathfinder and 5E might have the biggest potential markets but, if you don’t enjoy writing for those, don’t do it. Not many people get rich in this market which makes enjoyment very important.

Art & Layout

Great Race of Yith
Publisher’s Choice Quality Stockart © Rick Hershey/Fat Goblin Games (http://www.fatgoblingames.com)

Art and layout can be a big problem for the small publisher, due to the expense of software and material.

Regarding layout, there are options for those with a limited budget. Scribus is free desktop publishing software and Microsoft Word is another option; however, I recently purchased the entire Adobe CS6 package – including InDesign – for under £20 from a seller on eBay. According to them – and they’d sold a lot of this and other software – it’s legal in the EU to resell second hand software from scrapped computers. Given that you couldn’t link it to your Adobe account, I’d say technically legal but Adobe really doesn’t like the fact that it is (the seller doesn’t currently have it for sale). Another alternative is that you can also always partner up with someone else who has skills or software you lack.

Nicer looking supplements can sell better, and do tend to look more professional, but remember that the supplements being well written, with few errors in the text, is the most important starting point. Good looking rubbish is still rubbish. Such can still be damaged by poor layout or appearance of course – the most likely cause of this is from poor font choices; remember, people need to be able to read the finished product. Odd fonts can work for headings but don’t have an entire supplement in some weird font. I have seen supplements which were a pain to read because the publisher had used a difficult font throughout. If you have good material, you don’t want to hide it behind a poor font, but picking good fonts is a skill in itself and professionally made fonts are not cheap to buy either. Stick to the standard included fonts at first. Generally, I use 12 point Verdana for the text (font size is important as well) having read a suggestion to use that in the past. Boring fonts like Times New Roman are still good choices for readability.

Artwork for supplements, as Peter and I have discussed in the past, can be a problem. Some things, especially such as bestiaries, really need images for all the monsters and that, even using stock, can quickly become expensive. The lowest typical stock prices for such are a couple of dollars or so each. A bestiary of 50 monsters could be the best part of $100 just for the pictures and easily more.

My most expensive (in terms of its selling price) supplement has eight pieces of stock art in it, plus the page backgrounds, the latter being much easier to reuse (I have all of Lord Zsezse Works’ templates). These eight pieces cost over $20, and that’s only because they were bought at reduced prices – they would cost just shy of $80 to buy at full price at the moment, and these are stock images, not custom. Custom images can cost a lot more. $40-$50 each is not unreasonable for a single monster or similar.

Assorted Images
eGDC

There are ways of creating cheaper artwork, by doing it yourself. I’ve used photos, either my own or others that are legal to use, and tweaked them using filters so that they look more like illustrations. I’ve also created some images from scratch, using such as Photoshop, Blender (free) and GIMP (free). These ways may not always look as good as those done by professionals (unless you have skills that way yourself) but they do save money – although generally not time.

Continued in Part 2

The orcs are coming!

Before I get on with the main point of today’s post I want to digress somewhat…

I use Google Drive and in there is a folder of ideas. In the ideas folder there are a great many other folders. Every time I have an idea I create a folder for it and then stick a simple text document in the folder to describe what I was thinking. If it was inspired by an article or an image or whatever then I may stick all these things into the folder.

As a general rule I create more folders like this each week than I complete. Some of the ideas I will never touch again. Maybe I have a deeper look and realise that it was not a good idea. Sometimes I turn them into full on commercial products either RPGs or supplements. I have published one game (3Deep), one is about to go to public play test (Devil’s Staircase Wild West Role Playing) and one has been completed once but upon reflection needs revising. One game (Rolemaster Kids) is still in its infancy as I have not completely finalised the core mechanics let alone all the supporting material.

My supplements vary from simple 10 page adventure outlines to 60+ page more substantial supplements. I think I have published 30 or more or the smaller supplements like that.

There are the things that do not really fit in any neat category. These bounce around. Sometimes I work on them and they start to develop and then I look back and strike down a lot of what I had already written when looking at it again after a break.

This month is unusual as I have actually completed more of the mini projects in my ideas folder than I have created new ones. In addition I have learned some new skills that have solved a problem that was holding many of the other projects back.

One of these ‘bed blocker’ ( a terrible phrase used to dehumanise elderly patients being kept in hospitals because the UK has inadequate social care for the elderly ) projects was to convert the D&D 5e monsters from the SRD (Standard Reference Document) into Rolemaster compatible monsters.

The sorts of monsters I am talking about are orcs, goblins, giants and amusingly a Balor which is a D&D attempt to sidestep the Intellectual Property rights around the Balrog in role playing games. So D&D stole the Balrog to make the Balor possibly from RM 1st Edition and I am now converting the Balor from 5e back into RM. What goes around comes around. As all these monsters are part of the SRD we are free to use them as long as due credit is given.

So what is the point?

The point is that we spent the summer writing adventures that we really wanted to use to promote Rolemaster but we were hobbled at every turn because we cannot publish any of the monster stats as they are ICE IP. We cannot talk about what spells and lists the NPCs may have because they are covered by ICE IP and so on.

So I have had this project on the back burner since I first started this blog. I published a few monsters converting denizens of the underdark as new Rolemaster monsters. The intention was to encourage more D&D players to try Rolemaster. The more of the Forgotten Realms monsters that were available in RM means that players can reuse all their FR books but with RM PCs.

So last week I made an Orc. This is just the basic grunt of an orc and I used my own rules to create them. Bearing in mine that this is a D&D 5e Orc what do you think?

The stat bonuses include racial modifiers and there is still some work to do. I want to get rid of the (MS/AG) SL/MD crap and use real words that anyone can understand without having to use a look up table.

Orc

Orc Grunt

Level 3
Base Rate 55’
Max Pace/MM Bonus Fast Sprint/+10
Speed (MS/AG) SL/MD
Size/Critical M
Hits 58

ST AG/QL CO RE/EM IN/ME PR/SD
80 60 80 35 55 50
+15 +5 +15 -10 +0 +0

AT 3 (20) Leather Hide or by Armour type
Attacks OB 38 Weapon Spear or Javelin
Environment: Temperate hills

Organization: Gang (2-4), squad (11-20 plus 2 5th level sergeants and 1 leader of 9th level), or band (30-100 plus 150% non-combatants plus 1 5th level sergeant per 10 adults, 5 8th level lieutenants, and 3 11th level captains)

An orc’s hair usually is black. It has lupine ears and reddish eyes. Orcs prefer wearing vivid colours that many humans would consider unpleasant, such as blood red, mustard yellow, yellow-green, and deep purple. Their equipment is dirty and unkempt. An adult male orc is a little over 6 feet tall and weighs about 210 pounds.

Females are slightly smaller.

The language an orc speaks varies slightly from tribe to tribe, but any orc is understandable by someone else who speaks Orc. Some orcs know Goblin or Giant as well.

Most orcs encountered away from their homes are warriors; the information in the statistics block is for one of 1st level.

Combat

Orcs are proficient with all simple weapons, preferring those that cause the most damage in the least time. Many orcs who take up the warrior or fighter class also gain proficiency with the

falchion or the great axe as a martial weapon. They enjoy attacking from concealment and setting ambushes, and they obey the rules of war (such as honouring a truce) only as long as it is convenient for them.

Comparing Orcs

So this is just the basic orc. How do they compare?

  • A rolemaster orc is 2nd level and mine is 3rd level.
  • A Rolemaster orc has a base move of 50′ and mine 55′
  • The default #hits is 50 and mine has 58.
  • The AT and DB was 8(30s) and mine is 3(20) but without a shield or wearing armour.
  • OB-wise the default orc has an OB of 40 for both melee and missile. Mine has 38 for both.

The first impression is that of swings and roundabouts. A few extra hits here and a couple of points less OB there. C&T offers us two orcs a lesser and greater. The D&D 5e monster comes in 5 flavours from Grunt 3rd level to Captain at 11th level.

All my experience is with RM2 and RMC and I was trying to fit the 5e Orc into the RM2 Orc’s shoes.

All my playtesting of RMU has been human vs human as the normalised monsters in Beta 2 filled me with horror. How would this Orc stack up against an RMU PC?

Rolemaster Monster Manual

I am not offering a Rolmaster Monster Manual, or at least not soon. What I am offering is to build a reference of monsters that will be free to all and free from IP restrictions. This means that we can finally properly stat our adventures.

This is work in progress but I will make two commitments. Firstly, I will not sit on this until it is all complete. I will be releasing each creature as I do it. I have not thought about formats yet but I think many GMs would like a physical book they can flip though and stick book marks in. So if that proves to be true then I will publish this, but that is a discussion for another day. The other commitment is two fold really. I will commit to doing this as fast as I can, not a monster a week as that would take years. One the other had I cannot say I will spend tens of hours on this each week; there has to be a compromise. That compromise will be that Rather than starting from A in the monster manual I will do things on a request and demand basis. If you are looking at publishing an adventure but want a monster then let me know and I will create the monster for you. That is the request element, if there is a request for a monster then I will supply it.  I work on many adventures, these days mostly for the Fanzine. If I need a monster then I will create it and then add it the public list. If there is a demand for a monster then I will meet that demand and then share it.

I will have a think about the logistics of all this this week.

 

 

The writing and work process. Embrace the 80% rule.

If you are reading this, you probably play RPG’s and, at some point at least dabbled in writing adventure material. Peter and I have solicited for new contributors to this blog–both articles and adventures but without a lot of response. I know writers are out there…so where are they?

Writing ready to publish material is tough and takes a lot more work than jotting down some adventure notes that might be suitable for a GM running an adventure. But we aren’t asking for print ready material and at this point, a steady stream of adventure or support material can only help the game.

I encourage readers that have written material, adventure ideas, or want to try their hand at putting out there work to embrace a simple trick. What am I talking about: the “80% rule”, which is also known as the “Pareto Principle“.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. … 

Similarly, you can get 80% of the work done with 20% of the effort. Don’t worry about page setting, sentence structure, spelling or graphics. Get the bulk of the idea down, the rough narrative finished or the new spell list outlined out. Don’t sacrifice the perfect for the good! When you hit a writers block or run the idea or creative process out, either take a break or work on something different. This 80% rule isn’t hard and fast, it’s a guideline.

I’m a big believer in the 80% rule in many aspects of my life. This makes me a prolific writer but an imperfect self-publisher. Most of my material is pretty raw, but the trick to my writing is the 80% rule–get the bulk of the idea, concept, narrative or story down in writing and move on. The rest of it–finalizing, small details, proofing, editing, layout is the more arduous work that takes time, perhaps expertise and PATIENCE. I would rather be prolific than perfect. Now I’ve started to go back through my various projects: BASiL, SWARM, Legends of SW, Book of Pales, Empire of the Black Dragon, and Priest-King of Shade and finalizing it. I had hoped to have editorial support for some of these works, but now I’m just pushing ahead on my own. So now I’m dealing with the other side: the last 20% takes 80% of the time!

What does all this mean? Writing is EASY! However, writing good, finished ready-to-print material is HARD. Peter and I pumped out 50 adventure seeds of varying length in just a few weeks. Sure, much of our work could use competent editing and feedback, but it was down on paper. 80% was easily done. After that, the adventure hooks need layouts, formatting and finishing up.

 

the take away is this. Don’t be intimidated by the lack of professionalism or polish in your material. And if you have an adventure, world setting, or just an idea send it to RolemasterBlog. It doesn’t have to be “published ready”–follow the 80% rule and just get it out there. Maybe we can help polish it up. Maybe it really is ready for a free download. Or maybe an experienced GM can fit it to their game or campaign.

 

What’s on My Mind. Rolemaster, Shadow World & Cool News

A mixed bag of stuff this weekend; a combination of Random Musings, Weekend Roundup and Commentary on Rolemaster, Shadow World, news, and my projects in the queue.

  1. One is the loneliest number. Excluding Rolemasterblog.com and RMForums, are there any consistent blogs out there on Rolemaster or Shadow World? A quick search only shows 1 or 2 posts in 2017 (see THIS ONE, an interesting take even if I don’t agree with much of it). Part of this can probably be explained by the lack of RM players and partly by the effort needed to maintain new content and postings to stay relevant. Even Grognardia burned out after an impressive output of posts. User habits are changing and I wonder if the “Forum” template used by ICE is as relevant or appealing to younger consumers.
  2. Caltrops. Cool article HERE. I believe there are mechanics for caltrops in one of the Companions or 10′ Pole? I have my own mechanic that accounts for movement rate and damage (using the size scaling rules).

Anantha Padmanabha.

3. Real life tomb treasure.  Sealed vaults filled with gold, silver, gems and jewelry are just a fantasy or legacy of a time long past? I think not. This is the last unopened tomb–in 2011 another tomb in the same temple was opened to find treasure expected to be valued at over $500M!!!!

4. Cool Statues. I blogged about cool statues last year. Here is a new one I just read about: The Appenine Colossus.

The Apennine Colossus.

Even cooler:

Within the statue there are “countless caves, water cascades and ravaged by time mechanical, hydraulic and acoustic devices intended to amuse and impress any visitor of the park.”

Section of Appennino. Illustration by P. van der Ree.

It’s a Dungeon!

5. Priest-King of Shade. Depending on final feedback from Terry and Nicholas I may be posting up my SW module for free here on the RolemasterBlog. It will be mostly formatted, but many of the maps are hand-drawn. I’m looking to purchase clip-art to include to punch things up a bit. Any advice on the best place to look for art? Deviantart? RPGNow? I like old school line art over renderings but open to anything. Priest-King clocks in at over 150 pages with maps, charts and illustrations so it covers quite a bit of material. The module covers the peninsulas in SW Agyra:

Here is a quick blurb I wrote a few years ago:

Agyra. Far from the historic events of Emer and Jaiman, this region has been cruelly shaped for thousands of years by both natural cataclysms and the powerful flows of Essence.  Scattered and isolated tribes are a faint legacy of a powerful nation that sunk beneath the waves in millennium past.  Monolithic blocks scattered along deserted coasts and leagues of enigmatic ruins lying in shallow waters are remnants of a lost civilization.

However, these lands are not dormant. Powerful nations and secretive groups are at odds: a war of not just arms but of politics and commerce. Into this conflict a new power has risen. A mysterious Priest-King and his devout followers have occupied an ancient citadel and are slowly expanding their power across the lands.  For the tribes that inhabit the coasts and jungles, these newcomers are viewed with outright fear. Rumors of demonic armies, dark cults, missing children and empty villages have cast a pall throughout these lands.

But adventurers have come nonetheless. Ancient ruins have been discovered: a sprawling city lying submerged in the shallow waters off the coast of Agyra. Many believe the ruins date millennia back to the First Era and holds untold wealth and the secrets of the Ancients!

The Priest-King of Shade is a module detailing the lands of South West Agyra. This product contains a regional guide, maps and layouts of key places, detailed description of key NPCs and 10 adventures ready to play.  Designed for players levels 5-15th.  Will you confront the minions of the Priest-King?

My group has playtested the whole module–it’s quite extensive and is the prelude to “Empire of the Black Dragon” that runs up to 25th+ level. Plus, I have another 5-10 other side adventures that I will publish over time that fits into the region. I’m outlining the city of Nontataku which would be integral to both but would fit well as the 1st Chapter for players 1st to 5th or so. I’m expecting Nontataku to run about 100 pages and Empire is around 80-100 so all together it would be a great long term campaign. With add-ons they all could hit 500 page count w/o extensive artwork.

6. The Book of the Pales. I was at 32 pages w/o charts but added in some supplementary stuff on the Void Knights. I think it’s going to push well past 50 pages. It’s a Shadow World supplement for adventuring in the various Pales.

7. Legends of Shadow World. Since this is meant as a stand-alone Shadow World tourney series I’m keeping each chapter to 10 pages or less. But…I think I’m going to flesh out the “Temple Complex” which will add quite a few layouts and GM notes. I hope to have Chapter 1 ready for download by the end of the month. Again, I’m prowling for good artwork with a budget of $50/chapter. Any suggestions are appreciated.

 

Legends of Shadow World. Using “Slug Throwers” in Rolemaster.

I’m fine tuning my “Legends of Shadow World” adventures and debating the mechanics of firearms used by some particular nasty Demon Warriors: basically a large caliber gatling gun! Here is what I used:

Gϋthϋraxx Auto Gun

Weighing 22lbs and 42” long, this ornate hand held rotary gun is the preferred weapon of Gϋthϋraxx Shock Troops. The guns are ornate constructions with a bulbous receiver, curved metal stock and a cylindrical clip of grey/black metal.

Each gun holds a 12 round clip of .80 caliber slugs that are fired from 6 rotating spring powered barrels. The gun can fire up to 6 slugs/round. Each clip takes 1 round to change and the spring rewound every 12 shots.

Stats:

  1. Use Heavy Crossbow Table. 4x Damage. 4x range.
  2. Each shot after the first will receive a cumulative -10 penalty due to recoil.
  3. Requires 95 strength to fire w/o penalty. For every point under 95 there is a cumulative -1 penalty. For every 5 points under 95 winding the barrel takes an additional round.

 

Since I’m using RM2 stats (like other SW products), I wanted to keep things simple. Using the Heavy Crossbow chart with a damage and range multipliers made sense.

Anyone have a better idea or thoughts on this?

#RPGaDAY2017 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th.

Not sure I said this last time but I think I am missing the point somewhat by doing #RPGaDAY in bi-weekly chunks. Having said that I will freely confess that the point for me was to get rolemasterblog mentioned on the twitter feed for #RPGaDAY. Anything that raises Rolemaster’s awareness has to be a good thing.

So to the questions…

22nd Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

This seems like it is going to be which ever RPG the GM is most familiar with. Given the writers and audience here any answer that is not RM would be a little weird. On the other hand Rolemaster is not a ‘thing’ it is many things or even a whole library of things. Anything that requires me to dive into book after book to try and find the right ruling for this or that situation is not really my thing. I think that drives my style of GM prep where I insert the rules for each situation/hazard into the game notes and my desire for an ever more minimalist ruleset. I want to reach the Lagrange point between a full RM experience and no rules. I was once told that the car brand JEEP was an old army acronym for Just Enough Essential Parts. That is what I am looking for in a game and the ones that I find the easiest to run, for me at least.

23rd What RPG has the most jaw dropping layout?

I have the advantage of seeing other people answers to this question and there are some brilliant page layouts around now. By contrast Rolemaster, every edition from the originals to the newest core rulebooks for RMC are boring! The most attractive book  in the RM stable I have seen is the Shadow World Players Guide. I don’t know if all of Terry’s Shadow World books look the same but I suspect they do not. Somehow I think RM’s design is stuck in the 80s.

I personally hate the FATE rules. They are just not my idea of fun but look at this page. There is no art, which is often sighted as one of the real barriers to having great looking books. Art is a real expense I admit. We have discussed that many times and at length.

First and foremost the most striking this is that they have rejected the ‘norm’ of the two column layout that just about every RPG rule book I have ever seen has used. The box outs are  striking and add both to the clarity of the rules and the visual impact of the page. The useful navigation in the margins is an excellent addition making it easy to find related sections.

I am certainly going to adopt many if not all of these features into my future publications. I have always been a bit of a revisionist. I create things that are probably a bit crap but then I go back and improve and improve. I am no designer but I can recognise good design when I see it and I am not above borrowing other peoples great ideas and using them to improve my own work.

So on the basis that FATE has made me change the way I am going to create everything else I think FATE has to get my nomination.

24th Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

My answer to this is Nemo Works. I think the effort they put into their products is superb. I simply cannot draw so anything that allows me to create layouts and floor plans is an absolute god send to me. Their core product is just $8 but they have a number of PWYW addons that you can use to expend the core product into many different genres.

Pay What You Want serves a couple of different purposes. For many of the bigger games such as FATE and Shadowrun it is a loss leader. They are prepared to give away some products to get you hooked. For smaller and independent publishers they are not really in it for the money and may not even know how much to charge. I put out my house rules using PWYW so I could say I was not charging for a RM product. I see any payments as donations and entirely voluntary. I typically get between $1 and $2 per download and that is fine. I wanted to share the rules not make my fortune. If I wanted to make money I would be selling to the D&D audience not Rolemaster.

25th What is the best way to think your GM?

I think leave your lawyers hat by the door on the way in. I am certainly not perfect and I do not remember every rule, word perfect every time. We all make mistakes and we are all human. Most of the time I am super prepared and as I said above I actually include the pertinent rules in my game notes. The most likely  cause of needing an on the spot decision or adjudication is going to be a player trying to bend the situation, spell or skill in a way which was not how it was intended. I don’t have a problem with this. This is the beauty of table top RPGs and what a computer RPG can never match. You can do anything you can imagine in that situation to survive or succeed. Sometimes that is going to stretch the rules. I like to think of myself when GMing as being on the players side. We are all their to have fun, the game was created to help them have fun. What I don’t like is when the game breaks down because a rules lawyer decides to argue with the GM. I don’t care if I am a player having to stop playing while the argument takes place or if I am the GM having someone disrupt my game and the other players. So the best way to thank the GM is enjoy the game and don’t go out of your way to break it!

Random Musings. Thoughts on RM Spell Law high level spells.

My last post mused on the impossible goal of designing balance into a high level adventure. Among one of the issues I touched upon was the lack of effective buffs in RM Spell Law. But the problem is much broader than that–there is a breakdown of spell design at higher levels. Perhaps the original designers didn’t see much game play use for high level spells?

When I deconstructed and rewrote Spell Law I reviewed every single spell, spell list and compared similar spells between the realms. There are tons of inconsistencies, useless spells, redundant spells or spells “out of order” in power level. I started a detailed commentary on the RMU Spell Law forums, but there was so much pushback I just went ahead and started uploading my own version of spell law!

Rather than go analyze all of Spell Law, I wanted to comment specifically on high level spells. And to keep things shorter, let’s just tackle Essence open and closed in the post and only in the context of combat and not general purpose spells. (I’m using 6503 RMC Spell Master for reference btw.)

Elemental Shields. The 50th lvl spell combines the 15th, 17th and 19th spells Lightning, Fire and Ice Armors. These are good spells, but not great spells. Each is +20 to, 1/2 hits and decrease of crits by 1 severity. Fine for 15-19th lvl spells, but for a 50th just combining them, limiting them to 1 target seems inadequate.

The 20, 25 & 30 level spells are Mass–but in game use to buff 25-30 targets is limited. There are a few blank slots, but in my mind the real issue is trying to differentiate the same spells into different categories. Having Resist Light, Lightarmor, and then Lightning Armor is confusing and doesn’t allow much progression.

Overall, the list can be consolidated, improved protection at high levels and needs a good increase on the 50th lvl spell; either make it 1 target/lvl or increase the protection a bit.

Essence Hand. Calling Seal Team 6 Sniper group. The 50th lvl spell, Aim True is perhaps one of the most deadly spells available to Essence users! The spell automatically does max damage, “E” crit with a missile attack. (for large or superlarge it does a slaying crit) Sure the caster has to touch the shooter, but a group against 1 opponent or just a few opponents could make swift work of any adversary. Too powerful?

Spell Wall. The definitive list for protection v. magic. How good is it? The 20, 25 and 30 lvl spells provide +50 v a specific realm magic. Not too shabby…but…it’s 1 target and concentration only. Sad. Or the caster can just utilize Protection V which provides +25 RRs v. ALL REALMS and is 1 min/lvl. Which one would you choose?

Dispelling Ways. A far better list than Spell Law? Dispel XX Sphere creates a moving barrier around the caster that causes any inbound spell to make an initial RR before proceeding against a target in the Sphere (and then requires another RR). Those are good odds…but the caster has to concentrate the whole time. The 16th lvl spell creates a sphere with a RADIUS of 100′!!!! These need some work I think. The 17-19 “Un” spells strip spell casting ability from casters and items for 1 day. That’s pretty good.

Rapid Ways. The 50th lvl Mass Haste provides 50 rnds of Haste (no after penalties) of DOUBLE action. This one is a no brainer! Use this with Aim True and you have a killing machine.

Shield Mastery. Putting aside the issue that Essence Hand and Shield Mastery are doing the same thing (telekinesis), and that the instantaneous but contingent use of these spells creates huge game mechanic issues, is this even a good spell list? I think a lot more can be done. The 50th lvl spell is cool, but how practical for actual game play? Will the caster encounter that much missile fire? Will they be willing to cast this spell every round to the exclusion of all else? A better 50th lvl spell would be 1 rnd/lvl duration vs missiles within 5′ of caster (or target). That would be a great player buff and worthy of 50th lvl.

Spell Enchancement. Rubbish and breaks spell mechanics. Easier and more logical to scale range, radius or duration by PP expenditure than some “spell for a spell” list.

Spell Reins. Not many spells on this list, and really should be combined and improved with Spell Wall. Some good spells, but the 50th lvl, like Shield Mastery only works 1 round. How many possible spells would be directed at a caster during actual game play? Sure in a battlefield with tons of mages it might be useful…this spell needs a duration.

Spirit Mastery. The 50th lvl spell allows you to cast 1 spell/rnd..but only 10th lvl or lower. So this is really only a “economics” spell–it just reduces PP cost but locks the caster into only casting these spells.

So out of those lists, the 50th lvl spells for Essence Hand and Rapid Ways are awesome, but the others are either good spells but too limiting or just not very useful. Feel free to check out BASiL lists for my solutions to these spells and lists.

Random Musings. Very High Level Adventures. Is “Balance” even possible?

This coming Tuesday (last night when this post is published) I’ll be running the final chapter to my 5 part series: Legends of Shadow World. The last chapter could be a stand alone adventure but is the denouement to the adventure path, typing up a lot of loose threads and presenting the group with an incredibly powerful adversary.

I’ve been parsing some data from the previous 4 sessions and feedback from the other 2 test groups (chapter 1) and will probably run my group through the series again. It won’t have the surprise/reveal elements from their first iteration, but we’ll be able to have a more open analysis during game play.

I’m using RM2 RAW, something I haven’t done for a VERY long time but want to maintain continuity with Terry’s ongoing SW material. The lack of our own house rules (combat maneuvers, multiple opponent rules, missile parry and initiative) makes RM melee feel very restraining. Most players are stuck with simple OB/DB split decision, although this becomes paramount when fighting high level foes.

RM has always been tricky in balancing encounters. DnDs Hit Point attrition system made matching groups and opponents more linear. Rolemaster criticals are the joker in the deck–a wild card that can immediately upend any possible balance a GM designs. This is not to say that the RM rules are broken at higher levels, but there are some immediate issues that are even apparent at lower levels.

  1. Outnumbering. Many, much lower level combatants can overwhelm powerful creatures. A dozen Warrior Monks (15 lvl) annihilated a 50th level character. Easily. The chance of at least 1 in 12 of scoring a potent crit result each round is quite high. Once a PC is compromised by a critical it’s “game over”.
  2. Lack of Buffs. RM2 Spell Law is really lacking in effective buff spells. People have commonly criticized my BASiL and Orhan lists as being too powerful (of course I disagree), but original Spell Law lists are pretty ineffective at high levels.
  3. Spell Attack/Counter Attack. While RM2 melee feels too simplistic, Spell Casters have SO MANY spells to choose from that strategic casting feels arbitrary. (a 50th lvl caster can have 300-500 spells!!)  Casters rarely have the luxury of countering a specific incoming spell, and to do so, would require them to forgo an offensive attack.
  4. Mixed Abilities/Protections. A hostile mixed group of NPC’s can be very deadly to a party. Even a small group comprised of a: creature immune to normal weapons; creature with high magical immunity; creature that is blinding fast, and one that is super strong could decimate a group. Each creature will require a different strategy or spell suite to counter effectively–basically dividing the groups economies of scale.
  5. The well balanced party….just does not work at high levels in RM. One effective critical against the M-U or Cleric will pull the rug from the whole group. Optimally the group needs to be almost all semi-spell users or have magic items that can allow each player to attack/defend/heal independently.

Let me end by saying that my players have had a blast with these high level adventures. They get to play known personalities, utilize spells they only have ever read about in Spell Law, encountered some CRAZY opponents and adventured in very unusual environments.  But no matter how I adjust the encounter levels in these adventures, I’m not sure there can be anything like “Balance”.

d20 SRD Monsters in RMU

Following on from a thought I had in response to BriH’s post earlier last week I have been thinking about creating a completely open and free to use monster book. Rather than Creature Law this would be Creature Libre.

The two parts of the puzzle would be an open source of monsters something like the the d20SRD monster index and the rules for monster creation. These we already have at least in part from Creature Law (PDF page 342).

Furthermore, by using a standard source (the d20SRD) and a public platform (this blog) anyone can contribute monsters to the project. Over this weekend I will re-read the creature creation rules and come up with a template.

The only issue will be art. Once all the content is written then I guess it worth looking at some kind of crowd funding to get the art done?

This is definitely on my To Do list and moving up the priority. If anyone is interested in publishing any unofficial RMU  material, if you want or need a monster then let me know and I will prioritise those monsters!