Itchy Adventuring Finger

When we [BriH, Edgcltd and I] wrote and released our 50in50 adventures we studiously avoided including any explicitly Rolemaster Stats (I was naughty and created a new monster or two along the way) to make them system neutral.

Since we released them we have sold over 2,200 copies.

Writing adventures is a bit of a fool’s errand as a great number of experienced GMs will always prefer to write their own adventures and almost ever adventure will need tweaking to make it work with your setting and campaign.

Since the end of the 50in50 we have had more ideas bubbling away in the background but we have not had the time to implement them. Isn’t that always the case? Ideas are easy, finishing them is more difficult.

I have been experimenting with a few different formats this year. The first is the regular adventures in the fanzine. I did two different styles. The first was a complete standalone adventure. Do you remember all those cliched starting adventures I was talking about at the beginning of the year? I wrote them up and published them in the fanzine. I didn’t include any monster stats or detailed NPCs. I just pointed the reader to the right Creatures & Treasures or Creatures & Monsters page. For the RMu I only used monsters that appeared in all editions of RM from RM2 to RMu. For NPCs I used the stock NPCs featured in Character Law for the existing versions of RM and JDales random NPC maker for RMu. In effect I did not have to publish any copyrighted material to create a fully RM compatible adventure.

The fanzine has sold a little over 750 copies so far so it is a ticking over nicely.

The second thing I have been doing with the fanzine is to create an adventure path. I start work on the 7th instalment this week and it has all been building up to The City of Forgotten Heroes. Last month included getting to the island where the city lies and past the gate house into the city. There were sea encounters, swamp encounters and the gatehouse. This month will be the library, if you can remember that far back.

Those were experiments 1 & 2.

Experiment 3 was to produce a RM compatible module. It was called The Corrupted Jungle Collection and it was a set of adventures on the coast of a jungle covered strange land. The adventure was basically a sandbox with locations the characters could visit and different factions that they may or may not encounter and at least one obvious bad girl who had nefarious plans. It has volcanoes, cataracts, jungle chases and lost ruins, what is not to enjoy?

No one is going to get rich from writing adventures but they are good fun.

It doesn’t matter what format we have used from stat-less system neutral plot hooks to standalone modules to the adventure path every single one has sold. There is an appetite for this stuff.

I see Rolemaster at its lowest point right now. There is almost nothing going on to draw in new players to the existing system, ICEs social media is woeful simply because they lack resources. The very existence of a pending new edition is a put off to some potential new players, why buy into something obsolete? And to put it bluntly we are getting older and the average RM player must be getting into peak heart attack territory.

I said at the top that many experienced GMs like to exclusively create their own adventures. All these factors, no new blood, a thinning of the ranks, the pending new edition and a lack of interest from GMs makes writing adventures for RM a labour of love and not a way to make money.

But I still enjoy doing it.

Following on from the Jungle Collection I can easily see a Mountain Collection, a Desert Collection and so on to offer mini sandbox campaign in a wide number of settings and a chance to showcase a wide range of monsters and threats from natural hazards alongside them.

24 Replies to “Itchy Adventuring Finger”

  1. Good grief, 2,200? I’d never added them up! (There are still a couple left from Brian, when he gets the chance – real life can be intrusive! – and we’ll probably get a boost in sales then.)

    Hmm, a mountain collection. I haven’t done mountain encounters. Snow & ice, deserts, jungles and forests. No mountains. Hadn’t thought of that actually.

    1. The jungle collection was not a list of encounters but rather a mini campaign with each location intertwined with each other.

          1. I’ve got a lot more efficient at writing them recently. I tend to have one major list on the go. For that one, I sit down with pen, paper and sometimes relevant material at night and think of ten things for the list, which I elaborate on the next day. I also have a number of secondary lists, often including CCPs, where I only create one new entry per day. I went from struggling to keep ahead of schedule to having enough stuff written for several months. Plus there are the non-list items I add a bit to every day. I need to work out a more efficient method of doing those as well.

  2. Yes, I think I have 2-3 left with 2 mostly done except for a last pass-through and a bit more copy on the floorplans. It’s frustrating that the times I feel creative and want to write I’m stuck doing something else. Things are settling down with work, but I’m debating on abandoning any more Shadow World material and just focusing on small cool drop in adventures like we’ve already done.

    Plus I need to refocus on the Blog, but not feeling much inspiration from ICE right now. It feels like a moment of opportunity passed for the company. Forum activity was up, the RMBlog was ranked around 30th (not bad considering the competition and the primacy of D&D) and RMu seemed close to publication. Now, not so much, and the RMBlog has dropped to 42nd place; probably due to decreased blog activity.

    I feel like we really carried water for ICE for the last couple of years: generated a lot of new interest, increased forum activity, raised awareness of RMU, promoted Shadow World, engaged the RPG community and gave some new life to the brand. AND we sold 2200 units of d100 products!!! Not bad and great job to everyone here!

    1. I’ve more or less given up on it and turned toward converting my work into a standalone system. The direction RMU’s going has become less and less friendly to non-fantasy stuff (at least in my view). Since I’d be modifying too many of the core systems, it just made sense to scrap it and move forward solo.

      I don’t know that I agree completely that writing adventures is a fool’s errand. There will always be a demand for some introductory stuff, if for no other reason than to train new GMs, but I do think the sort of thing we used to see with D&D and to an extent other systems isn’t really possible these days (adventures for a wide variety of levels, and some of the more setting-specific stuff UNLESS the game actually has a viable setting). Harn might show a more practical model: freeze the game world at a specific time and then backfill everything in the known universe. That way new stuff doesn’t break existing campaigns.

      1. I call it a fool’s errand from my experience. Here is an example Sean Van Damm is an adventure writer for Zweihander. His work is translated into multiple languages. Zwei has sold over 100,000 copies and yet in the past 8 months he has struggled to sell 50 copies of his introductory adventure for the system.

        If you are looking at selling one copy to 1 in 2,000 or possibly 1 in 4,000 of the user base that really a fool’s errand.

        To put it in context rules for solo role playing the same system is a pretty niche rule set and yet it out sells the same adventure 5 to 1.

        1. I consider bundling a starting adventure with a rules set to be adventure writing, and if you consider that a fool’s errand I fear you’re not helping new GMs find their footing. Bad GMs can do more to drive newcomers away from our hobby than anything else, and that starting adventure (bundled with the core rules) might just give one of the players the confidence to run a game on their own. Obviously your mileage might vary, but I’m going to continue developing started adventures to put with rules.

          1. We are talking about different things. I see bundling a starting adventure as part of the core rules. It is,if you like, the biggest worked example in the rules. The bundled starting adventure should set the tone for all future adventures, showcase high points in the rules and introduce the setting.

            I am talking about only writing adventures either as a side hustle to make a hit of extra money or even as a business model.

            1. You’ll notice I didn’t disagree with you regarding an adventures-only model. That ship sailed decades ago in most cases. I do notice that adventures do tend to sell moderately well for non-fantasy games, which is what I’m working on. I think that’s partly because they’re usually part of a sourcebook or some other supplement for the system, making them useful in more than one way.

              1. Source books are a fantastic way of expanding your catalogue. That is the advantage of owning the system.

                You will notice all the advice really comes down to marketing. I cannot impress on anyone enough that you must see marketing as a core part of the system building process.

                Start now. Get things out on DTRPG even as chapter sized test packets. Start your social media profiles and build the fan base now.

      2. If you are intending to release your game as a standalone game I can offer you some advice.
        1) However much you may hate facebook or twitter create accounts now and start to post on a regular basis about your game and its development. Share screenshots, any art you find online that is inspirational for the genre or that you like. Do not use automated services, do it by hand. Just dip in and out two or three times a day. Come launch time you will need to be able to tell people about your game. Having an audience of thousands to tell is a lot more efficient than having an audience of 2.
        2)Join the biggest RPG forums and join in conversations and if you can naturally fit in mentions of your game then do. This is another place you can build an audience.
        3)Art is the biggest project killer. When you have a working game do a basic page layout and fill any odd blocks of empty page with text boxes in which you say what sort of imagine you want on that page. I use purple blocks for colour art and grey boxes for line art.
        4)You have several options for art assuming you are not a talented artist in your own right. The first is to have an inhouse artist who is going to share in the profits of the game. The second is to stockpile stock art. The third is to find as many public domain art libraries as you can. The final option is to commission the art to be drawn for you. If you use a european or US artist you are looking at a ballpark figure of about $20,000 to illustrate a full RPG rulebook in the 400-500 pages league. Using asian artists will quarter that cos but the commissioning process is often harder. The reason most games go to kickstarter is to fund the art content.
        5) I recommend going to kickstarter. There is a lot of advice on running a successful kickstarter. Get your game ready to hit the shelves, all bar the final art, before you go to kickstarter. That means you can give away playtest versions as an immediate reward but there is zero risk to investors if the game is good to go.
        It is here that you get to leverage all those twitter and facebook followers and forum contacts to publicise your kickstarter campaign.
        If you don’t go to KS then you are still going to use those contact lists to generate publicity for your game come launch time.

        To give you an idea of what to expect most indie games sell less than 200 copies – ever. The reason as far as I find is that they have a ‘built it and they will come’ attitude. There are two things wrong with this. The first is that the actual quote is “Built it and he will come” the second is that indie games with no marketing platform just get lost in the tide of indie games that are released almost daily.
        Those that make it past 250 sales, Electrum Best Seller level on DTRPG, are the ones where marketing was built into the entire project from the earliest stages. The designers were posting, talking and tweeting about it even before it was written. It is from this online following that brand advocates can come.
        6) Do not playtest the way ICE playtested. They have made two eral mistakes. The first was a build it and they will come attitude thinking that people will flock to join the public playtest. They also didn’t spread the word far and wide that the playtest even existed. The second mistake was then to be precious and protective over the game mechanics they had written even if those mechanics were proving to be the source of faults in the game. You do not want to get into the playtesters fighting the devs and the devs facing off the playtesters or defending unpopular rulings.

        For a role model to follow when playtesting and developing a new edition of a game you can do a lot worse than examine Eclipse Phase 2nd Edition open playtest.
        For context Eclipse Phase 1st Edition and most of its supplements are adamantine best sellers having sold 5,000+ copies. In the 20 days since the 2nd Edition’s release it is already a gold best seller having sold between 501 and 1,000 copies. In comparison HARP took 7 years to reach 1000 sales. Tales from the Green Gryphon Inn has sold less than 500 copies in 3 and a half years.

        Being a solo indie game developer is great fun and challenging and you will learn a lot of skills but it is not a get rich quick route. You will learn about writing, editing, page layout, collating art, licensing IP and most importantly about marketing.

        1. Regarding sales of indie RPGs, there is one area where they do sell more than a couple of hundred, and that is if you can get them into shops. The author of SteamCraft stated he made far, far more sales through bricks & mortar outlets than on OBS.

          Going bricks & mortar needs a physical, offset printed product though; PoD simply won’t cut it for the margins. This means an upfront expense getting books printed and into distribution. This is another reason for going the Kickstarter route, to raise cash for offset printing.

          1. Obviously I wasn’t giving a definitive guide to games publishing.

            The biggest pluses for intothatdarkness is that a) the game isn’t ready yet so the whole social media/forum/following can be started in advance. That was a problem I struggled with with 3Deep in that I naively thought that games would sell. I have learned that lesson and have started twlking about my games in development now much earlier and building that following. The second thing is that into owns the system. It is much easier to make money if you own the system. You can then build companions and sourcebooks to leverage your audience regardless of how big/small it is.

            1. And of course have compatibility licenses!

              A thought: Set up an OBS publisher’s account well before release as well., then release free samples of parts of the book to build up an OBS mailing list

              1. I released a playtest edition on OBS and that generated 500-ish downloads, all of which are on my mailing list.

        2. I’ve done some of that with other projects in other settings, and of course dabbled on the game side a time or two back in the day as well. Good advice, though.

          I think ICE had an additional unacknowledged problem in that they were dealing with two different systems (RMSS and RM2), but most of the development team came from RMSS and were unaware of how unpopular that system is with a vocal and experienced segment of their testing base. Between that and the urge to make it “HARP-heavy” to a degree they were going to have problems. But yeah, I wouldn’t playtest the way they did in any case. It flies in the face of basic wargame testing practice, let alone RPGs.

          1. There is one more thing that is related to the advice from Egdcltd and I and that is about setting up a DTRPG publisher account sooner rather than later.

            DTRPG give publishers something called Publisher Promotion Points. You can spend these point on becoming Deal of the Day, home page featured product, section featured product and on banner ad impressions.
            You gain 20 points per month plus 1 point for every $10 in sales.

            It costs about 600pts roughly to be product of the day, 80 points to be a homepage featured product (buying 2500 page views), 30 points to be a section featured product and about 15 points to buy banner ad impressions. All the prices vary as they are an auction type system.

            If you wait until your game is ready then you will start the marketing process with zero PPP. If you create your publisher account today you will start the marketing drive with 20 x Months until you are ready in points.

            Incidentally, I believe this is the cornerstone of RMu marketing plan. They have been accumulating PPP for many years and I have never seen any spent. They must have tens of thousands of PPP which would make RMu product of the day almost weekly for a year or featured product on the home page and d100 and fantasy section pages for weeks at a time.

            In addition I would expect ICE to be able to command some media coverage as the ICE brand is strong and they have industry connections. We should see Nicholas all over the place talking about RMu.

            If that isn’t the RMu marketing plan then it damn well should be.

  3. First, well done on the sterling job of keeping the candle burning.
    Second, perhaps with so much content (I’d like to say user-generated but perhaps self-published) it makes it difficult for new starters (who are the main market for a written module) to know what to spend their money on. So the inclination is to flock to a trusted brand (by implication quality product) and as the entry point is usually D&D, this is what they buy. Double that up with free to use plot lines and maps then uptake and price point are naturally low for adventures for systems outside a core brand group.

    1. That is all very true. The target audience for RMu has been repeatedly stated to be experienced GMs. The implication is that DMs will feel in some way confined within D&D and want a game with more options. I personally see this as extremely flawed thinking. That may well have been true in 1980 but today just one look at DMs’ Guild will show you more options that you could point a stick at. RM was an attempt to merge the best of Warhammer and AD&D into one system. Today there are already a raft of other systems that offer the detail and crunch but are more mature than the untested (no one by JDale’s friends have seen RMu in its Beta3 state) RMu and all flavours of RM have to contend with an enduring reputation for excessive charts and optional rules. Also many experienced GMs have already played previous versions of RM and have moved on. Asking people to give a system they have already rejected another go is a tough ask if you are looking at a ballpark $100 outlay just to read the rules.

      The other issue, that directly relates to adventures, is that these experienced GMs are exactly the people most likely to use free to use plot lines or home brew adventures. *IF* I had a commercially successful game I would still feel obliged to write and sell adventures for it as a support task for the newer GMs. I would be very aware that they would be loss leaders. The compromise is to either use a Community Content Programme (CCP) and let the experienced GMs write the adventures for the new people. This frees you up from all the risks and investment in creating adventures in return for taking a 10% – 20% profit share on each title. The other option is the Compatibility License (CL). This gives commercial publishers permission to create titles for your game.

      There are actually four levels for 3rd party content.
      1) Fan licenses noramlly give fans access to nearly all the intellectual property to create fan products but they must be branded as Fan works and cannot be sold.
      2) CCPs give writers clearly defined rules on what they can and cannot write for and reference. The publisher provides document templates and stock art that can be used freely, in an attempt to have a constistent visual style across all titles. The publisher takes a 10% to 20% cut and the writer gets 50%-60%.
      3) CLs give the writer guidelines on what they should or should not do and can and cannot use. Beyond that the CL gives the writer permission to create any content for your game and you have no involvement and get nothing from it. This is the best option for getting product support from many publishers.
      4) Commercial Licenses are different in that the 3rd party publisher pays you for permission to develop for you system. Normally, this sort of thing seems to be used for developing an completely new system from your core rules. I have seen this used recently to revitalise an old game by rebuilding it around a modern and very popular current game.

      Commercial Licenses are much better for the original publisher than compatibility licenses but you need to be holding the rights to a really popular system to be able to command commercial licenses these days.

      1. And there seems to have been little to no public thought given to reaching out to those who are new to the hobby or are looking for something different. Of course, I fear that RMu is really turning into HARP-heavy, and that’s not appealing to me at all.

        What elements of Warhammer did you see in RM? I actually find it to be more of a D&D on steroids beast, especially in the early days when it was intended as a plug-in. Warhammer hadn’t even surfaced in the US back then, and one of the core features of WHFRP (the ability to change professions/careers) is conspicuously absent from RM in any form (and always has been). That and the initial lack of a solid setting. Just curious is all, and I realize it’s a total tangent.

          1. WHFRP just used an expanding damage result if I remember the first and second editions correctly. It came out in 1986, so roughly contemporary with RM, while MERP came out in 1984. Games like SPI’s Dragon Quest were using skills prior to this (1980 roughly), so it could be that RM drew more from SPI than many might imagine. I played some DragonQuest back in the day, and RM always reminded me more of it, frankly.

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