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.

The Samurai Finds Its Voice

The Samurai Finds Its Voice

HighPlainsSamurai_logo_v1There was a moment on Saturday this past weekend when my fingers pulled away from the keyboard and read over the latest paragraph they created. And I smiled. A big beaming smile, followed by the urge to stand up and shout with elation. But it was contained so as not to wake up my son from his nap. What came out instead was the physical motion of someone who won the lottery with the sounds of a ninja whispering.

I have finally solved the puzzle that is High Plains Samurai‘s voice.

If you read about my struggles getting HPS up and going, you’ll know I basically spent my week-long vacation stewing over putting more than just words to paper. There was no soul, no life to what was written. There was a world, a home for interesting characters and the basis for an exciting concept, just nothing that felt right when put together as sentences. It didn’t have a voice. In those few weeks since, a lot has changed and seems to have changed enough that everything has changed. Maybe it was the move to turn BRG into a legit business, maybe all those ideas unlocked from watching Human Planet, maybe something else entirely. Now that it’s the next day and I’ve performed a mental autopsy on yesterday’s two hours of solid gold, I may have an answer.

Strife.

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Not artwork for HPS, by the way. Simply a random piece from my Inspiration folder. Artist unknown. 

Yeah, ok, that needs an explanation.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I like to give my games a unique voice. Let them read as their own thing. ScreenPlay didn’t do it (despite my best efforts, the decision was made to keep it simple and open-ended as it is an open system) but Killshot did. Big time. I wanted to bring that back again to help the reader (typically the Director of any story) become inspired and demand it be played at their table. Nothing was clicking.

HPS’ breakdown provides a total of 12 chapters: six for learning how to play the game, six for the game itself (featuring one chapter for each of the Five Cities and another for the Wastes as the main plot is dissected by location for players to go in any direction they want). From the very beginning, HPS featured fix deities known as Elemental Spirits – Honour, Balance, Patience, Innocence and the creator/destroyer of worlds, Chaos. The earliest efforts to crack this code involved having a different follower/monk of these Spirits write a chapter and give each one its own voice. But twelve chapters spread over five Spirits doesn’t add up and when you have a divine presence known as Balance in your game, you know there’ll be objectives at those meetings. No deal there and nothing else was working. Maybe from another unseen character in the One Land? I even tried entirely from Chaos’ POV and it felt off.

If I added a sixth Spirit, the math would line up perfectly. One chapter each for how to play, another chapter each for the plot itself (and each Spirit would be assigned a particular City or the Wastes – which clearly should be Chaos’ bag). Sure, easy enough in concept but what would I add to this existing pantheon that would fit the bill and not feel like a last minute add-on?

You got it. Strife.

This is a world constantly in combat for both game play and setting. No one gets along with each other and each of the Five Cities populates its own style of honourable warriors, be they gunslingers, samurai, barbarians, gangsters, or inventors. Combat was the constant ripple pushing everyone forward and against each other… and it wasn’t represented in this pantheon at all. How to face conflict, yes, just not conflict itself. Hence Strife was born and added to the mythology. Now there are six Spirits to handle the voice of twelve chapters spread across three volumes. (In a single book, I should add. Not going the whole D&D approach to publishing here.)

Twenty pages later and I have never been happier with anything written for HPS to date. Not only am I confident in the experience this game will create, now I’m certain reading it will evoke the correct emotional response I’m looking for. One that conveys the tone of the setting, the inherent danger of the main plot, and just so happens to work as a complete in-character handout. It’s a bonus touch I like to incorporate when I add a voice and once you get the right one locked in, you can talk about the game as a game but also as a guide to something that feels completely real. In this case, the game is presented as a collection of books from an order of mythological monks from a secret location known as Heaven’s Peak. They have read the teachings of Chaos and prophecized the All-Being will return to finish off the land he tried to destroy, an event only a select few can prevent… and they are not from the One Land. Somehow, the monks have used their power to transport these lessons to our world in the hopes we may tell the story that will save them from total annihilation and it’s fucking awesome!

There’s still quite a bit to go but I’m not here to simply tease you on its progress. No, I also have some updates on when you’ll be able to read these words for yourself and put them to practise. While the reason for the change of deadlines shall remain a secret, my due date for having a first draft of the HPS Kickstarter preview has moved to the end of September 2016. High Plains Samurai Volume One: The Order of Things will contain everything you need to play a character in the One Land, including…

  • the full rules for playtesting new roles and rules designed specifically for HPS
  • a collection of perks, individually chosen special features selected by your character’s homeland, profession and qi power
  • the doomed history of the One Land and how a long figure known only as the High Plains Samurai could be the catalyst for its apocalypse
  • a playtest scenario involving a train robbery

Once it is ready, I’ll begin playtesting across three different formats to ensure everything works properly and snag some recordings of actual play to promote during the Kickstarter: play-by-post, online streams (such as Twitch), and face-to-face games. If you’re interested in joining in the fun, there’s a G+ thread where you can express your interest.

Also happy to announce the High Plains Samurai Kickstarter is currently scheduled to launch in March 2017. Boom!

I can’t wait to finally start showing off this game. Let the countdown begin.

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.

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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!

Upgrading to Disappointment

Upgrading to Disappointment

It’s ranting time, kids, because this old man is about to start complaining about how things used to be better. But instead of a strongly worded letter, it’s in the form of a strongly worded blog post. And it’s not about how music used to be better, oh no. I’m pissed off about the state of video game consoles.

Remember a time when you turned on a console, popped in a game, and started playing? That was the great advantage of consoles versus computers. Sure, computers had better graphics, more elaborate gameplay and other goodies but you needed to master the entire keyboard and ensure you had the correct video card, memory, and more. For consoles, if it was a game for the PS2, you just needed to make sure you had a PS2. Game on!

For Christmas, the missus and I bought ourselves an Xbox One as a present for each other. We’re not avid video gamers, it’s just something we enjoy a bit more recreationally. Her more than me. I like the idea behind playing video games but could count the number I’ve finished on one hand plus a severed finger. Xbox has been my poison of choice and I’ve now owned all three version of Microsoft’s entries to the console wars. I was very happy with the original Xbox, I enjoyed the Xbox 360… and it ends there.

In the two months since hooking it up, I’ve had to repeatedly postpone playing because of upgrades. Big upgrades in the hundreds of megs, significant upgrades. See the photo above as the most recent example. Even one for the controller. The controller? Has an upgrade? Seriously?!! The games are constantly being upgraded too and that’s not including the essential online access needed to play. The first game we bought was Star Wars Battlefront, a long-awaited sequel to perhaps two of my favourite games of all time. Nope, not this time. All the battles require online play.

The kicker is that this alone is not enough to warrant my disappointment because if I still lived in town or back in Ottawa and had access to high speed internet, maybe this wouldn’t get to me as much. We live out in the country and our internet is poor. It’s something we’re working on. Netflix is tricky and any significant download requires leaving a computer running overnight. So I do want to stipulate this rant probably would not exist in blog form were it not for our internet drought. Yet it does exacerbate the problem and turns yet another night I wanted to play Dragon Age: Inquisition into a night of flipping back and forth to watch a progress bar’s status. And when you forget to leave the controller on, eventually the whole unit shuts down and you have to start over again. Play without Xbox Live? Sure, would love to. But it goes back to logging in to a game’s servers every time you want to play and it’s not an option when you skip these big upgrades.

I get that I’m in the minority on this because we’re in single digit percentages when it comes to slow-mo internet. It’s something I’m hoping will change this summer. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m not impressed with this turn of events. I just want to play the damn game. The occasional update every now and then was fine – that’s how it worked on the 360 and I could live with that. This is getting to the point of overbearing and no matter what your counterpoint to my opinion, this one fact trumps all your efforts.

The controller needs a fucking upgrade?!!

I win.

A Fresh Coat of Paint

A Fresh Coat of Paint

If you’re trying to find Uncaged: Realms of the Warden in a Google search lately, you may have noticed it don’t work too good no more. Odds are likely you’ve discovered the answer right here because the old blog is dead. Long live the new blog!

Ok, not really. The old blog was actually I Am The Warden! and that one still exists for posterity (and deleting something with over 50,000 views seems like such a shame). Uncaged is now On The Crapper. A drastic change, for sure, but there’s a good story behind it.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on creating an online portfolio site to showcase my graphic design work. While the standard practise is to assign portfolio sites a domain name based on the designer’s full name, I toyed around with another idea playing around with something having a little fun with my true last name. Taking it to an online poll, the idea lost out by only one vote and so I decided the title, On The Crapper, was too good to put aside. And here we are.

A name change alone would have been fine, but I decided to streamline all my blogs onto one service. Gone is Blogger, say hello to WordPress, the same location as the Broken Ruler Games website and my upcoming portfolio. It took some time to clean it up and complete the transfer (thankfully there were only 17 posts to switch over) and there’s still some work on a couple of pages, but it’s enough that I’m happy to make it official and start moving forward on the latest phase of this blog.

Umm, that’s it actually. No engaging topic this time. Stay tuned and I’ll come up with something another day.