The Lazy Man’s Guide To Sunday At Breakout

The Lazy Man’s Guide To Sunday At Breakout

And so here we come to it. The final day of BreakoutCon in Toronto. If this is your first discovery of my ongoing coverage of this awesome con, welcome and also where the fuck have you been? You can read Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking them links.

Today’s instalment does not involve running any games, playing any games, or even rolling dice, filling out character sheets… I don’t even think I opened a book on Sunday. Yet this final day became my favourite and it’s going to be a tradition I will keep up for any con I attend in the future (or at least whenever possible). Because I did jack shit on Sunday. I hung out with people. People I knew before Breakout and people I now know because of Breakout.

To be honest, this was my personal goal in attending. I’ve heard so many stories and connections established by fellow Ottawanians and podcast co-hosts, Jason Pitre (Spark) and Mark Richardson (Headspace), as they name drop infamous figures in the industry. “I remember Ken Hite once told me this joke…” “So I’m talking with John Wick and he’s showing me these early concept maps for 7th Sea…” Etcetera. If you’re picking up a jealousy in these words, then I wrote that correctly. Yeah, jealous. I wanted to meet other designers and publishers, talk shop, and otherwise get the opportunity to spend an entire day talking with people who shared the same passion and obsessive need to create games as myself.

And I was not disappointed.

Todd No Function Good No Coffee

Originally, I was scheduled to play Swords Without Master with its creator, Epidiah Ravichol, but he had to cancel due to an illness and wasn’t interested in starting the ultimate LARP of Pandemic. Rather than jump onto another game, I decided to take it easy and see what happens. So while I did miss out on meeting Epi and trying out Swords, the rest of the day made up for it.

Not to say this wasn’t a casual day of fucking off and drinking at the bar. In fact, now that I recall, I think I had one beer the entire weekend (and zero alcohol of any other kind). Huh. But anyways, Sunday morning was original intended to be a sleep-in day with the option to sign for a couple of last minute games in the afternoon. Instead, I found out about a free continental breakfast for the other con guests and so I dragged my sorry ass out of bed for that. Seems the ass dragging was very apparent when I showed up in the room because half of the folks in there immediately said, “Uh-oh!” and pointed to the coffee setup.

Being as chatty as I am not without a couple cups in me, it took a while to join in any conversations. Until Hamish Cameron (The Sprawl) and Dana Kubilus (CyberKittens) said hello from the other table and I snapped to attention. We shot the shit, they seemed to share my appreciation for letting the caffeine work its magic, and it was nice. I’ve heard a lot about both games and it’s always nice to have faces and pleasant experiences to go with titles. We were later joined by one of my numerous OGP co-hosts, Joshua Kitz (Simple Superheroes), and tried to figure out just what the hell people from Ottawa are called. The day was off to an excellent start and while our time was brief, it was nice to meet them and find other people to discuss matters like sleeping on a dead man’s mattress. (Yeah, you had to be there.)

Once everyone had to move on and start their games, I had enjoyed the idea of just hanging out with these designers so much that I moved straight into the lounge (see this series’ first post for that setup) and simply made myself available. Even to the point of applying Jason Morningstar’s open chair approach: you simply try to make sure there’s always a chair pushed away from the table to entice and encourage others to sit with you. Damn effective and highly recommended.

Look, Ma, I’m Mingling!

There are three purposes to this post. First, to serve as a permanent record of the experience once my mind eventually turns to poo. (P.S. If you are Future Me reading this and you’re not aware of the fact that you have memory problems, this is your moment of truth. If none of this sounds familiar, it’s official. You got your memory from your mother’s side of the family.) Second, to help showcase the impressive talent this con was able to collect in its second year. Third, to brag. Hey, when I stop to think about how long it’s taken me to get to a point where I’m an invited guest at a con I’ve never been to before, I think I get to earn a little bragging rights. Hmm, I wonder if this means I have to drop out of The Imposters project now. What do you think, Josh?

To keep things simple (or as simple as can in the third “chapter” of a blog post), I had the pleasure of sharing a table with these new comrades-in-arms. Due to the public nature of a creator’s work and the fact that they have either publicly stated they would be at Breakout or were publicly listed on the con’s Guest page, I’m only listing some of the people I got to hang with on Sunday. Those excluded have not been forgotten (unless it’s Future Me now and in which case you’ve likely gone the way of my car keys).

  • Chris Challice (Vanagard)
  • Fraser Simons (The Veil)
  • Jason Pitre (Sig, Posthuman Pathways)
  • Mark Richardson (Headspace) and his family
  • Fraser Ronald (who is currently kickstarting Sword’s Edge… ahem)
  • Chris Sniezak and Bob Emerson of the Misdirected Mark Podcast (and friends)
  • Andrew Medeiros (Urban Shadows, The Watch, and 72.3% of all PbtA games on the market)
  • Derek Gour (creator of possibly one of my favourite card games, Hope Inhumanity)
  • Corey Reid (Dino-Pirates of Ninja Island)
  • Joshua Kitz (Simple Superheroes)

Despite the awesomeness and inclusion of everything else at Breakout, this is what made it special for me. This is what I like doing and it was so great to sit around and talk shop with other people who felt like they had hacked their way into this event and some who are already legendary figures in the industry (and especially turned out to be really easy going and approachable). This is the day that made the whole weekend worth it.

Now you’ll notice a serious lack of women’s names in the list above and that’s not because there were none there. There were none who approached the table I was sitting at and joined in. Check out the Guest list for Breakout, they were there. Was it because there was a table full of dudes and they didn’t feel like joining in despite my efforts to keep an open table? Perhaps. So I’m going to say this now and mark it as a goal for next year: I want to meet with a more diverse crowd of designers. Right now I’m in this small, immediate bubble and I want it to get bigger. Consider yourself warned, RPG designers of alternate genders and backgrounds. I’m coming to get you.

Um, in the whole, “Wow, it’d really be great to meet you and talk about design” kinda way. Sheesh, seems the awkward teenager never truly goes away, does it?

In Stores Now

One more thing before I go and prepare to wrap up this trilogy. I sold book to a physical retail store! Thanks to Fraser Ronald for literally tracking me down and dragging me into the room to meet with 401 Games in Toronto because now they have four physical copies of ScreenPlay on their shelves. Virtual too. Oops, wait, now it’s three copies. This was another added benefit and one I did not expect so preparations are already underway to ensure I can deal with retailers again at the drop of a hat.

Time To Wrap It Up…

After nearly 5000 words and three individual posts, I think it’s safe to say my experience at Breakout was a rousing success and all I’ve heard from anyone there during and post-con was praise and full-on joy. It was also really nice to have a con with these kinds of meetups without crossing the border. Plus, after sales at both the Breakout Indie Store and 401 Games, the entire weekend only cost me $160. Kind of a no-brainer that I’ll be back again and again. And again and again. And I recommend you do so too.

I want to give my immense thanks to Kate, Rachelle, Rob, and all the volunteers there for doing a fantastic job. It’s really helped set the bar for what I want to help accomplish with Cangames (taking place in Ottawa this May long weekend – plug!) and what I will expect from any con in the future. If there was one quick and easy way to define my time at Breakout (really, after 5000 words?), it would be “a definitive moment in my career.” After this weekend, I don’t feel like a hack hoping my work would be noticed. I know feel like a hack who stands a chance at being noticed.

Baby steps, people. Confidence doesn’t just fall out of the sky.


I Went To Breakout And All I Have To Show For It Was A Fucking Awesome Time

I Went To Breakout And All I Have To Show For It Was A Fucking Awesome Time

297513138_origHey, what can I say? I wanted a headline that was catchy and bang on accurate.

This past weekend was a 3-day extravaganza known as BreakoutCon in Toronto and I’m proud to say I was there for all three days. Proud and so happy to have gone for so many reasons, excited that I had an opportunity to meet so many great designers, playtest High Plains Samurai, run some of my older games (including Killshot, which hasn’t been done for maybe two years), and otherwise hang out with some great friends both new and original. In fact, you should know it was an amazing experience I have to share in great detail because I’m posting something on the blog. You know that only happens when a G+ post simply won’t cut it.

As much as I could ramble on in so many ways about the entire experience, it might be easier on all of us if I simply post a single aspect of the experience one day at a time. But I want to make something perfectly clear to give everyone a heads up on the overall theme of these posts. BreakoutCon was awesome and I will be back! It’s also a highly recommended con to attend if Toronto in March is in your radar. Seriously. Consider it.

Let’s break this down, shall we? Troy, drop a beat.

A Quest To Break Barriers As Well As Breakout

I went to Breakout for three reasons. One, it was a chance to playtest HPS and network with other industry professionals without crossing the border. Two, it came highly recommended from my fellow Ottawa Game Publishers hosts, especially Fraser Ronald. Third, I was an invited guest. That means regardless of how far down the totem pole I was from the other guests, I was on that pole. (I know that doesn’t sound right in some ways, but let’s just stick with it and move on, shall we?)

Buuuuuuut… it’s in Toronto. And we chose to drive. Oh yeah, I’ve never really tested myself in a con situation for three straight days, let alone run games all day with the likely scenario of doing so with only a few hours sleep. As excited as I was to attend, there were some legit hurdles to overcome. Driving on the busiest highway in the North America in Canada’s largest city, not fuzzing out in the middle of the con (or a game, for that matter), and generally not freaking out at the con. Add to that leaving my wife behind with a toddler for a whole weekend. This was huge because I wasn’t comfortable leaving for an entire weekend plus change. It was a bit presumptuous. When I happened to mention Breakout to the missus, her immediate response was, “You should go. It’s obviously important to you and something you have to do. Besides, it’s your birthday that weekend. Go kick some ass.” You’re right, she’s awesome.

At that time, I was knee deep getting High Plains Samurai ready for playtest and had targeted March as a launch date for the Kickstarter (or at least that was the plan at the time). Using Breakout as the launchpad would be ideal and a valid excuse for me to go. Plus I could (hopefully) sell enough games to cover enough costs to make it worthwhile and split the rest with anyone else going. There were less and less cons in the way (save for the big ones above). Yet the pros were enough for me to say, “Fuck you, cons!” Besides, there’s no suspense here, I went. Obviously, duh-doy!

Yep, that’s Highway 401 alright.

The driving issue was really the most pressing. There’s a lot of cars going really fast in the 401 and while my PTSD behind the wheel is mostly under control, it had never been put to the test. So I did the responsible thing and made sure everyone else in the car knew what was going on and that I would need to drive and it would need to be my Jeep. It was a control thing. But if it became too much, someone else would have to take over. Someone would have to navigate and be on the ball with that GPS. I would swear at drivers, never get aggressive, but something sudden and unexpected at high speeds could be a problem. I could physically react and avoid the problem, it was a matter of how I would react mentally. Despite all that, it felt time to handle them and cross that barrier.

This became more of an issue since the chimney fire a couple months ago. Since then, I wouldn’t say I’ve been having flashbacks or anything (there’s still no memory to flash back to) but fire is suddenly a serious concern. I haven’t been sleeping as well knowing the wood stove has a fire going and have been literally pacing when we start a fire for the first time each day. But I drove. Both ways. No issues. The Holiday Inn at Yorkdale that hosted Breakout is literally right off the highway and within five minutes of getting off the highway, we’re in the parking lot. Lickety split, quick as shit. Now that it’s done and over, I have no more excuses about driving anywhere. Other than simply not wanting to, but that’s healthy.

Oh, yeah. That’s right. There was one other personal/mental health issue I was trying to conquer but kinda ended up going about it a stalker-y way, looking back at it. Note to self: walking around with a subtitle on your name badge that reads, “I accept all hugs” is quite possibly super creepy. But I was. Why? Because my parents never hugged me enough as a child. No, I’m serious. I’ve become very aware of my sensitivity to physical contact, particularly with hugs. That’s why I cry (or at least tear up) very easily when someone hugs me. Hugs aren’t allergies, so my thought was the best way to get rid of that kind of reaction was through exposure. More hugs = less tears, right? At least one of the con organizers and Mama Bear to the Toronto gaming community, Kate Bullock, got it and made sure I didn’t leave TO without one. Or two. (To see Kate in action is to truly think of her as the woman who practically raised all the kids in her neighbourhood – kind and firm. She welcomed you with open arms and she only needed one or two firm words to get you to stop when you broke one of her rules.)

Sleeping Arrangements

A promotional photo for the Holiday Inn at Yorkdale, home of BreakoutCon 2017.

The whole con is located at the Holiday Inn at Yorkdale. By the way, remind me later on to tell you about the problem with trying to feed yourself in Yorkdale area later on. They actually made a movie about our story, you may have seen it. Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. Not this post, but another one will share that story. For now, the hotel.

Having a convention inside the hotel while staying at said hotel is so ideal, I cannot imagine any other way of doing it. You never have to leave the building for anything. Except food. There’s a restaurant, a coffee shop, and a small convenience store inside, but don’t count on the restaurant being timely with food or drinks. Especially not food. Kid you not, I had to wait close to an hour for fish and chips on Friday evening. Going out for grub gets only marginally easier, as you’ll find out in a future post.

The hotel itself was quite decent and the rates we paid as convention attendees were very reasonable, all things considering. As someone who works at a hotel/ski resort, I can tell you some of the small perks found at this Holiday Inn (including auto checkout) make a big difference. There were other perks (not big, but perks nonetheless) gained by signing up for their rewards membership, not even as a long-standing member or anything. Sleeping wise (yes, there was some sleeping), two-thirds of us slept well with myself and Fraser in the Not So Much side and Eric from Cangames in the Yes, Just Fine side. While I have yet to total up my expenses for the weekend at the time of this writing, I figure all told it cost me $200 for the weekend split mostly three ways (including gas, but not including food). And that’s not including book sales. Oh, yes, Breakout sells your books for you when you’re an industry guest. Another topic for an upcoming post.

Overall, I was quite happy with our accommodations and even the restaurant ended up working out as a central hub for others I did know at the con (including Jason Pitre, Mark Richardson, Joshua Kitz, and a couple others) and those I would come to meet and chat over the coming three days. Shall I name drop? Fuck yeah, because it was awesome to meet all of them. Fraser Simons (my Sunday afternoon compadre), Chris Sniezak and Bob Everson from the Misdirected Mark podcast (big fan!), Andrew Medeiros (he seemed to be recognized by a few people there), Chris Chalice, Derek Gour, plus others who do not publish their name for a living. When you end up spending that many hours hanging out between games, having to wait for drinks doesn’t seem that bad.

Tempting Fate in the Sunken Empire

Sunken Empire by Emily Griggs

Ok, ok, let’s at least address one game. When it came down to it, I really only played one game. To be honest, I actually only played one game and I’m very happy it was Emily Griggs’ Sunken Empire. I’ve read Fate Core and never had a chance to play so when this one popped up for Friday afternoon and happened to also be run by a fellow Ottawantonianite (see what I mean, Hamish, we can’t make up our minds on what to call ourselves), I jumped at it. Emily and I have only met briefly when we shared a panel at Capital Gaming Expo one year but I’m also a fan of her Game Chef designs (especially Rest, now available on DriveThruRPG – you go ahead and buy it, I’ll wait here). She did not disappoint. With three inexperienced Fate players in her group (this guy included), she made it easy to handle the learning curve and deal with the adventure rather than the mechanics.

Sunken Empire (also on DriveThru) is a steampunk Victorian-inspired setting where we mucked up the planet much sooner than the course currently set for Mother Earth and humans became forced to live underwater. Aside from giving me a chance to speak only in a really thick Cockney accent with gibberish words that sounded British, love, the way she addressed the treasure hunt itself as a character in the game is quite clever. Yes. Quite. The hunt has values exactly like a character and you basically cause stress and complications to the hunt at the end of each scene by choosing which action/roll lead to the scene’s success more than any others. The moment’s leading character makes that same roll again versus the treasure hunt to determine what, if any, stress the hunt will take. Basically, when the hunt can no longer hide its secrets because you’ve picked away at it long enough, the sunken treasure is found. It’s a nifty approach and worked very well for this game. A fun game that now makes me an experienced Fate player. Another box checked!

On The Next Episode: 24 Hours of GMing

From two playtests of High Plains Samurai to a journey back to where it all began (the second time… or maybe the third when you think about it… unless we count that time… never mind, it’s been two years since I ran Killshot and that’s what else I ran), I’ll delve into the insanity at the tables for the second chapter of this trilogy.

Levelling Up BRG

Levelling Up BRG

It is done.

Yesterday (even in the midst of some personal issues going on at home), I collected the last bit of information needed to make it official and completed the final stage for Broken Ruler Games’ business licence. And here it is.

Photo on 2016-08-25 at 6.42 AM
Yours truly at 5:30 this morning. Hence the dopey look and dim lighting. 

Now it’s time to get serious about having fun.

Funny side note. When we bought our house last year, there was some confusion as to the actual shape of our lot and zoning. Because the property was part of an old ski hill and was split into two, legal wrangling and back-and-forth re-zoning with the township added a small hiccup to the experience. Not a big deal, but it was something I wanted to ensure wouldn’t become an issue with BRG’s licence. You never know. It turns out not only was there no issue whatsoever but our property is already zoned to do so much more.

Our property is listed as Tourism Commercial and not only does that mean I can set up a home office for BRG, I can do so much more down the line if so inclined. I can set up an amusement park, a bed & breakfast, a golf course, public camping, hotel/motel, RV parking, even a tavern. There’s a huge list of options available. It turns out the neighbouring property was re-zoned to Residential Use and ours remains what it was as a public ski hill. While most of these are hilariously unattainable, the fact that I’m already set up (at no additional cost or paperwork) for so much more really does make the mind wander.

Like a kind of outdoor gaming convention with camping/RV parking.

But that’s neither here nor there. For now, I’m happier than a pig in shit to have this next step underway. I have to sit down with my accountant and go over the new software and common practises for business accounting this weekend (what goes where, what can be used as a business expense, writing off stuff, etc.). During the upcoming long weekend, I’ll be sitting down with High Plains Samurai‘s lead artist, Kieron O’Gorman (you’ve seen his work in Killshot) to go over artwork for the Kickstarter planned for March 2017. After that, looking at a small print run to provide locally and distribute through a company such as Indie Press Revolution. More to follow as that happens.

Taking Broken Ruler Games To The Next Level

Taking Broken Ruler Games To The Next Level



Here goes nothing…

This week, I start setting up Broken Ruler Games as a legit business. For these past few years, it’s been a name-only operation run completely by me as a way to create new material. Anything you’ve seen has been purely smoke and mirrors and any money coming in from BRG sales went right into the next project. In light of recent events, I’ve made the decision to take it to the next level and make it a true business.

As far as current and future projects, there’s little to no change in direction. You really will not notice a difference at all and this will NOT replace my full-time job for quite a few years. This is about taking myself seriously and motivating myself to believe in myself to do more with these games than just “pay for the next one.” It’s about creating exciting new games that inspire all of us, myself included, without feeling bound to the conventions of whatever already exists. And getting paid for my work. Definitely about that.

That means wrangling over paperwork, phone calls, meetings, etc. to get these ducks all lined up. Plus taking a piece out of my retirement to make it happen rather than chancing it with lenders whose first question would have the words “video games” wrongfully mixed in. Today, I start taking a chance on myself.

Fingers crossed. This first step is going to be a doozy.

(If this post looks striking familiar to a G+ post, yeah, I confess. This is a clone. Setting up a business is a lot of work and that means cheating when you can get away with it.)

Pocketfunding ScreenPlay: Making A Profit

Pocketfunding ScreenPlay: Making A Profit

Now we come to it, the third and final instalment of this pocketfunding trilogy. You can find the first two parts here and here, both of which deal with the role of stock art in a truly self-published game. But there’s more than just art to consider and when it comes down to it; you need to make a profit. In the case of ScreenPlay, I needed to make a profit as early as possible in order to afford additional adventures/supplements and turn it into a small product line.

It’s a big goal and one I wanted very early on. Even the development process was a learning phase on how to make this happen and became extremely informative on how I approach projects now compared to before that first draft. Yet without a streamlined budget and a low threshold for success, attempting a mini product line (assuming three to five additional products) would tank before even getting the core rulebook out the door.

Combine that with the demand for a professional product and you’re walking a fine line. I was very fortunate to have some experience under my belt and contacts willing to work with me on creating something to be proud of and working under a tight budget. After artwork, a damn good editor is key and I had Vincent Harper on my team to fill that role. I’ve worked with Vince in the past and we have a good working relationship when it comes to small budgets. Plus his literary background was useful in ensuring ScreenPlay‘s text was fluid and easy to read as well as assist in any possible writing terminology we could incorporate into the mechanics.

Unveiling the ScreenPlay Cost Projection Worksheet

Rather than ramble on about this much and that much, I’d rather show you the exact worksheet I used to work on ScreenPlay’s budget. It uses Jeff Timbal’s RPG budget projection worksheet provided for free on his website. There’s a screenshot below and you can click here to download a copy of my finished version for yourself.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 12.04.26 AM

There are a few key notes to address about my version of this spreadsheet.

  • This one worksheet covers both ScreenPlay and Ironbound, the Pay What You Want preview.
  • There are a couple of sections left blank, but not deleted, because removing them breaks other formulas below and I simply didn’t bother cleaning things up. Too busy calculatin’. The Crowdfunding section, as you will see, is filled with $0’s for that very reason.
  • This spreadsheet was completed during the late stages of production and was used to a) ensure my math was similar compared to what its creator came up with, and b) take it a step further than I had considered. Luckily, my math held up fairly well and could now get specific. There’s also the benefit of quickly playing around with figures based on new ideas and corrections when you forgot to include something way back. This thing is incredibly useful and comes highly recommended.
  • Because I paid flat rates for multiple pieces of stock art in advance (and used files from my old Emerald Press days), I listed them under Flat Rate Expenses instead of Illustration Expenses.

As mentioned, my goal was to have the opportunity to create a small product line with ScreenPlay and make the core rulebook affordable and profitable earlier. Cue the Heading 2 paragraph styles to showcase how I made that happen.

Word Count = Page Count

A hard lesson learned from Killshot was that more words requires more pages and more pages requires more money. Not gonna happen here. My goal from the very beginning was to keep the word count low until playtesting revealed it could take on a little more weight. This will save on production costs for the print on demand setup and keep the overall price affordable for customers. Even in a PDF as page counts can still reflect cover price if that’s how you operate.

It also means less money required for anything typically paid by the word (such as editing) and keeps the required number of art pieces low. As much as I was able to find an editor who could willingly work within my budget and use stock art, it also means I can live with myself a little bit better (though not by much of a stretch) knowing I could at least pay Vince at half the going rate instead of only a third or a quarter. Unfortunately, this is the hardest part of pocketfunding and something you can overcome with crowdfunding. While this is better than corners cut in projects from long past, it is only a single step on the staircase to full rates.

(Seeing as this post comes at a time when others are discussing paying people at professional rates and living wages, outright admitting to paying beneath that on purpose probably sounds quite monstrous. And I’m not going to deny it’s not my preferred way to go, nor am I going to get into the dilemmas here. If this is something you wish to address, I encourage discussion in the comment section or through Google+.)

There Was Still An Art Budget

One aspect of ScreenPlay spared no expense: the cover. While I was lucky to find the perfect piece of stock art for Ironbound, there was no way that would work for the core rules. It needed something unique to make it pop and I was blessed to work with Jeff Brown on this gorgeous and perfect representation of endless possibilities.


An original cover means spending mucho dollars but it allows you to craft everything into exactly what your product needs. In this case, ScreenPlay‘s quick rise to the #2 position on RPGNow last week was undoubtedly aided by Jeff’s work. Some things are worth the sticker price. It’s simply a matter of picking which sticker.

Hitting the Black in 275

For both ScreenPlay and Ironbound, I spent just over $1,150. Making that back quickly to start paying for future material while also selling the moneymaker at a low price to encourage higher sales demands a fine balance… and I think I hit it.

At $5 for PDF (and a projected price of $25 for the print on demand edition) and with $300 to be set aside to cover POD setup costs and playtesters rewards, I can expect to break even after 275 sales. That number will not be bang on because it all depends on 89% of all sales coming from PDF – it could be more, could be less. However, as a ballpark, I can live with that. Killshot broke 1,000 sales last year and that’s my comparison. And with ScreenPlay hitting 50 sales in its first week (plus nearly 150 downloads of Ironbound bringing in just over $50 in ka-ching), 275 is looking quite attainable.

(For bonus points, if I skipped POD altogether and went with a PDF exclusive product, it would be paid for after 291 sales.)

Pay-ving the Way Forward

Next is a yet-publicly-announced ScreenPlay treatment/adventure and the cover for High Plains Samurai, an epic ScreenPlay treatment destined to hit Kickstarter. Yeah, that one can only receive justice by going big and having an existing (and hopefully recognized) core product will give it a boost. Based on current projections, I can do both after another 225 sales. That means after 500 sales, I’ll be in the black on ScreenPlay with everything I need for a follow-up release and the much-needed cover art for an upcoming crowdfunding project. At 750 sales, I can pull together some interior early sketches for Samurai and/or a budget for another ScreenPlay follow-up (either another treatment or a supplement, likely a treatment to help attract more customers and players). At 1,000… well, that’s still getting ahead of myself. At that level, it could still be a few years from now. Even with Killshot‘s grand, it was only because of the Bundle of Holding’s 514 sales that pushed it to that mark. 750 for ScreenPlay is crossing that line if it only ever stays afloat in traditional online sales channels.

Already 20% of the way there means the plan is moving forward at a good pace and that pleases me greatly. There are sacrifices that come with pocketfunding your product and while this budget is nowhere near as much as others may be able to spend, it is a worth sacrifice that will allow me to make amends for the future of ScreenPlay: pay editors at a proper rate by word count and fill it with original art work also paid at full rates. Maybe someday there will a Lethal Weapon 4 for this trilogy where I take a look back at the success or collapse of this grand plan. Until then, it’s time to move on with the next project.

Game Chef!

Pocketfunding ScreenPlay: Didn’t I See That Cover Before?

Pocketfunding ScreenPlay: Didn’t I See That Cover Before?

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this mini-trilogy, take a moment to read about the benefits of using stock art when you’re pocketfunding a game (and also to see what in Hades I mean by “pocketfunding”).

Yep, stock art is a real lifesaver when you’re in the small scale independent tabletop game development like me. But it has its drawbacks too and it can all be encapsulated by Ironbound‘s cover.


Aside from those of you who have seen this cover repeatedly due to my promotional efforts, does this image look familiar to you? It should because here are two examples direct from DriveThruRPG’s current catalogue as of this posted date.

Screenshot 2016-05-20 10.28.19   Screenshot 2016-05-20 10.31.23

This piece is by Eric Lofgren, whose work can also be found in or on numerous Oone Games’ products, Numenera, and other games published over the last couple of years. I found it listed online for $100 on RPGNow several months ago and added it to my wishlist as a way to flag it for possible consideration. Two or three months ago, it went on sale for $35 and that made it a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it was also a no-brainer for other publishers but that itself is a no-brainer. A meta no-brainer, if you will. Of course other publishers will use it. Look at how awesome it is!

There was only one issue with this piece as an Ironbound cover. These holy warriors are forbidden from practising magick (spelled with a “k” so you know it’s serious), even though they study it extensively for ways to counter spells and rituals. In the bottom corner of this piece, there is clearly a character using a magic staff and when I showed off this piece to playtesters for a reaction, they instantly replied, “Hey, why is one of them using a magick staff?” Busted.

The trick to stock art is making it fit the subject of your game or supplement. Not only the individual page, but the product as a whole. For example, stock art of modern day soldiers locking and loading to go into battle wouldn’t fit with a historical RPG on agrarian land disputes nor do you want to use art focused on equipment in the spells chapter. This actually makes stock art harder to use than commissioned art because the latter is customized to suit your product, your chapter, your page, everything. In this particular case, everything about this piece fit the product… except for that magic staff.

Thinking Outside The Box While Pressing Right Up Against It

That’s when the idea struck like a bolt of lightning. Ironbound is a ScreenPlay preview/treatment focused on a group of Writers sitting around creating the first draft of a story. What if the cover highlighted the storytelling aspect of the game by inserting text boxes of descriptions highlighting the action as if from one round of play? This would allow me to explain why this particular member of the witch-hunting Ironbound was using the staff; despite damning herself and forcing her expulsion from the group, she uses the artefact to protect her comrades. What a sacrifice, am I right? Plus it has the added benefit of making this version of Eric’s work stand out from the others.

It’s a minor detail in two ways. First, the main focus of the cover remains the artwork. Second, the text boxes are barely noticeable in thumbnails, which is exactly how people first experience them on sites like DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. Still, it was a workable solution that was quite fun to do.

The effect has already been unfortunately expected. I’ve discovered two comments on other G+ threads not posted by me asking why that cover looks familiar or if the publisher possibly “borrowed” it from someone else. Even my publisher (because I’m no longer a publisher, I’m a development studio working with Mystical Throne Entertainment) wanted to make sure I was aware of current duplicates. And while I considered a back-up plan, nothing else in my radar came even close to Eric’s piece.

Grabbing Eyeballs

Mine is not the only case out there, nor will it be the last. There are definite benefits for little publishers/studios like mine in that they provide a cheap alternative for those small, indie projects not worth the trouble of kickstarting. Not everyone operates with the ability to hire original artists and it’s not always because of financial restrictions. That first product is a risky undertaking, especially when you’re learning the ropes about RPG publishing. Some people have the resources to take those risks; I am not one of them.

The big thing about cover art is that its primary job is to grab someone’s attention, force them to lock their eyes on your thumbnail version online or on the store shelf and take that next important step: clicking the link or flipping through pages. Then the layout takes over, then the content. It’s possible a fancy title on a generic backdrop can accomplish the same task and there are some very simple covers out there capable of doing exactly that and it was a consideration going into this project. But when I commissioned an original piece for ScreenPlay’s cover, that left the door jammed open for everything else to have cover art as well. And since Ironbound is basically a free giveaway (that’s how you have to look at selling a Pay What You Want product), I needed to keep my costs very reasonable.

Are there some who will look at this cover and say, “Oh, that one again?” Yep. But for every one of those reactions, there have been two enthusiastic thumbs up. And with over 120 downloads in the first week alone, the initial results are positive. Only time will tell the long term effects.