Monthly Archives: December, 2012

Pathfinder Big Books of <Topic>

My research process for Echelon usually involves pulling as much related material together as possible so I have it all in one place.  That way I can work with a single document — print it out, scribble in margins, and so on, rather than packing around several books and something to write in, and it gives me something easy to copy and paste from.

For some time now I’ve planned to mine Pathfinder for Echelon.  At first just the core book, then working my way into major supplements and third-party material.  I’ve gone through Dawnforge and Iron Heroes much as I had expected to, and now I’ve started on Pathfinder.

I’ve known for some time that Pathfinder is fiddly and there are a lot of options, but even with just four books from Paizo (Core Rulebook, Advanced Player’s Guide, Ultimate Combat, Ultimate Magic) there is an immense amount of material on the topics I’m interested in.  I don’t mean ‘just’ feats (the four Paizo books have a total of 704 of them! The D&D 3e Player’s Handbook had, I think, 70, the Pathfinder Core Rulebook has 175) and spells (the four Paizo books have 1263!, almost half of which are in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook), I mean that between archetypes and class-specific stuff (rage powers, arcane discoveries, sorcerer bloodlines) I’m building documents dozens of pages long.

It occurred to me that these are a decent supplement length. It is almost a spin-off of the work I’m doing for Echelon, but it wouldn’t be that much more effort to take these reference documents I’m working on and package them for sale. Pathfinder is a paragon of exception-based design (“take that common thing and make these changes to it and that’s your character”… and you can do that with your class, your class abilities — cleric domains have subdomains that modify the originals).  What if, as a value-add, these were fully-applied?  That is, each class has each associated archetype applied so you can see what it looks like with the changes made, and since multiple archetypes can sometimes be applied, either do that or at least identify which archetypes are viable together.  Subdomains are presented as applied to their base domains, so you can see the full power set and spell list, rather than referring to two different books.

This is an almost incidental amount of work compared to what I’m already doing, but I can easily see producing a document of 60-100 pages per class, possibly bigger and/or with supplentary documents.

Most of the work, I will be doing anyway.  I wonder, if I were to package these for others to use, if there would be a market at DriveThruRPG or the like.  There is little truly creative here, it is largely repackaging to get focused, related material in one place, and applying the changes described in the delta objects (class archetypes, subdomains).  However, it would provide a document with everything I have available on a single topic, rather than having to refer to four hardcover books… and various PDFs, and other books as I incorporate them in my research.

I suppose my primary questions are:

  • Would this be of interest?
  • What would be a reasonable fee to charge for a single topic or class?
    • Especially since it is not what would really consider original work, but a convenience.
    • I expect initially these would be largely text-only (boring to look at!), but  if this led to being able to afford art I can see revising the documents to incorporate it.  On the other hand, I suspect most people interested in this might consider in-document art to be kind of nice to see, but really be more interested in the content.

I’m not looking to make a lot of money here, but there is enough work involved that I think it would not be an unreasonable thing to charge for it rather than give it away.  It also might help finance, or at least subsidize, my buying-RPG-stuff-online habit….

Reaper Bones Unboxing

Ultimately I didn’t back the Reaper Miniatures Bones Kickstarter, I simply couldn’t afford it with the other things I wanted more.

This video makes me smile, though.  The initial pan over the minis in the Vampire box is impressive, and just how much is there is really cool.

And apparently they’re still on track to deliver in March.  Very nice.

Pathfinder Rage Power Graph

I have been working on some Rage talents for Echelon and decided the Iron Heroes berserker abilities were a little too thin for my purposes.

Thankfully I remembered the Barbarian Rage Powers collected at d20PFSRD.com and decided to raid them.  There were rather more than I expected, drawn from the Pathfinder Core Rule Book, Advanced Player Guide, and Ultimate Combat).  In fact, I make it over a hunder (109, if my arithmetic doesn’t fail me) of them.  And Class Acts: Barbarians (which I don’t have just bought) has 32 more.

And has permissions set to disallow copying content – Open Gaming Content I am allowed to copy! — easily.  I am not happy about this.

Anyway.  Altogether I have 141 Barbarian tricks.

Pathfinder Barbarians get, I think ten of these.  Granted, these are just tricks, but 10/141 is… yeah.  Throw in prerequisites and it gets kind of hairy.

In fact, hairy enough I decided to do up a little graph of the relationships.

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Polyhedral Pantheons: Alternate Polyhedrons

This morning, for whatever reason, I was thinking about using other polyhedrons in the Polyhedral Pantheon methodology.

I originally considered the Platonic solids, partly because they would give the most consistent results, but mostly because the entire idea was prompted by the Rose of the Prophet series written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

Platonic Solids

The icosahedron and the dodecahedron (d20 and d12) work well and are trivially transformed one to the other.  The icosahedron has twenty faces and twelve nodes; nodes have five adjacent faces and faces have three adjacent nodes.  The dodecahedron has twelve faces and twenty nodes; nodes have three adjacent faces and faces have five adjacent nodes. According to the methodology, this results in up to thirty-two gods, twelve with six domains and twenty with four domains.  Each domain used will be available to four or six gods out of the total.  This configuration can make it possible to have all nine alignments supported on a single polyhedron.

The octahedron and hexahedron (d8 and d6) are similarly easily transformed one to the other.  The octahedron has eight faces and six nodes; nodes have four adjacent faces and faces have three adjacent nodes.  The hexahedron has six faces and eight nodes; nodes have three adjacent faces and faces have four adjacent nodes.  This results in up to fourteen gods, six with five domains and eight with four domains. Each domain used will be available to four or five gods out of the total.  This configuration does not allow all nine alignments to be supported on a single polyhedron.

The tetrahedron (d4) is transformable to… another tetrahedron.  Four faces, four nodes, each node with three adjacent faces and each face with four adjacent nodes.  This gives us eight gods, each with four domains. Each domain used will be available to four gods out of the total.  This configuration does not allow all nine alignments to be supported.

That covers the Platonic solids.

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A New Polyhedral Pantheon

I was goofing around a bit today with the Polyhedral Pantheons methodology and ended up with some potentially interesting results.

The only constraint I put on the result is that I wanted all nine alignments covered. This requires that the alignment domains be placed on the nodes, with certain relationships between them (which are conveniently marked on the spreadsheet I use to save me work).  Other than that, I didn’t put much deliberation into where the domains ended up.

Consequently, I got some combinations that have been described as “counterintuitive”.  I don’t see any that are outright unworkable, though.

God Alignment Primary Domain Secondary Domains
1 LG Destruction Law, Darkness, Nobility, Good, Death
2 LN Luck Law, Death, Water, Fire, Animal
3 LE Earth Law, Darkness, Water, Knowledge, Evil
4 CE Magic Darkness, Nobility, Evil, Rune, Chaos
5 CG Void Nobility, Good, Chaos, Strength, Community
6 NG Weather Good, Death, Community, Glory, Fire
7 NE War Knowledge, Evil, Rune, Protection, Repose
8 TN Sun Water, Knowledge, Animal, Air, Protection
9 TN Healing Glory, Fire, Animal, Air, Trickery
10 TN Madness Strength, Community, Glory, Artifice, Trickery
11 CN Plant Rune, Chaos, Strength, Repose, Artifice
12 TN Travel Air, Protection, Repose, Artifice, Trickery

Some of these might require some mental gymnastics to explain.  All eight non-neutral alignments are covered, along with four True Neutral gods.  If I include the secondary gods I’ll get one more of each of the primary alignments (Chaotic, Evil, Good, Lawful) and sixteen more True Neutral.  I’ll likely want to shift that around some.

God Alignment Primary Domain Secondary Domains
A LN Law Destruction, Luck, Earth
B TN Darkness Destruction, Earth, Magic
C TN Nobility Destruction, Magic, Void
D NG Good Destruction, Void, Weather
E TN Death Destruction, Luck, Weather
F TN Water Luck, Earth, Sun
G TN Knowledge Earth, War, Sun
H NE Evil Earth, Magic, War
I TN Rune Magic, War, Plant
J CG Chaos Magic, Void, Plant
K TN Strength Void, Madness, Plant
L TN Community Void, Weather, Madness
M TN Glory Weather, Healing, Madness
N TN Fire Luck, Weather, Healing
O TN Animal Luck, Sun, Healing
P TN Air Luck, Sun, Healing
Q TN Protection War, Sun, Travel
R TN Repose War, Plant, Travel
S TN Artifice Madness, Plant, Travel
T TN Trickery Healing, Madness, Travel

There are three domains not represented above: Charm, Liberation, and Scalykind.  All others are present four times (if they land on a “node god”) or six times (if they land on a “face god”).  Each domain pair present above shows up twice (“Law and Destruction” is present in God 1 and in God A, and only in those two… but that means that people who want those two domains have access to different other sets of domains as well).

If I want to have it so no two gods share two domains exactly the same, I’m going to need to apply a bunch of subdomains.  I haven’t looked into it recently, but I’m not absolutely certain I have enough.

I’m going to have to think about these for a while.  If anyone has any ideas for what some of these gods might mean, I’d be happy to hear them.

Gygaxian Democracy: Echelon Races

Seems odd to use ‘Gygaxian Democracy’ when the idea is to move away from what EGG wrote so long ago, but let’s give this a try.

I need more interesting races to work with than those in the Revised System Reference Document. “Humans in funny suits” doesn’t do it for me, I need non-human races to be more other the more powerful they get.

Notes on social mores and behavior are good, especially since they lead other thought, but I am more interested in what they are and do.

Let’s start with the basics: dwarves, elves, halflings (optional), gnomes, half-orcs (people get unhappy without half-orcs and gnomes, it seems).

Actually, while that’s my primary focus, don’t let that stop you.  Minotaurs, ogres, flying lizardmen, whatever strikes your fancy.

Tell me about them.  I’m not looking for just a list of races to consider, I want to know what makes them not-human.

Make them other.  Make them clearly not human.  Make them weird… and don’t worry too much about power level. I can make almost anything reasonable work, I just need a direction.

Kickstarter… Considered Harmful?

Justin Halliday, over on google+, posted a link to an opinion piece by Ross Winn asking “Is Kickstarter bad for RPGs?

First, I’m going to answer “No”.  I think Kickstarter is great for RPGs.

Looking over the stated reasons why, let me respond to key elements of each.

My first point is that retail distribution and sales have been problematic for many companies. There are many reasons for this. Retail is an expensive and capital intensive business. Quality employees are expensive to hire and maintain. The OGL phenomenon has lead to a wild proliferation of products. The major publishers have set tighter guidelines. Distribution has shaved margins past the point of profitability. However retail has always been the soul of our hobby.
I have spoken before about how I first started to play in Lincoln Nebraska at Merlin and Mary Hayes original Hobbytown. In the last twenty years I’ve been buying at Emerald City in Seminole Florida. For decades the retail store has been the center of our communities . It was where we bought our games, where we learned about new games, and where we discussed the finer points of the hobby. Without the stores and their commitment to us we would have been adrift without any support.
Kickstarter removes the retail component and redirects that profit to the publisher. On the surface this is a boon for many publishers in the short term, but each dollar of profit removed from the retail channel intensifies the crisis that exists in the retail space today. Quality retailers deserve our support and removing these products creates a death spiral of shrinking margins and closing stores.

To summarize:

Retail operations are expensive and difficult.  For decades — for practical purposes, ‘since before the Internet’ — the FLGS was our only real support as customers.  Kickstarter threatens their existence.

I can’t argue that is unfactual.  Indeed, it is consistent with my own experience from long ago, and I imagine the impact to retailers exists.

However!  I cannot say it is wrong.  As with any industry, technology shifts necessitate changes to business models.  The music and video industries are (struggling to find a way to) deal with the loss of the distribution channels formerly known as ‘brick and mortar’ stores.  This is something that happens, and weirdly enough… increases profit for the producers.

Do I want to support retail stores?  Or more or less directly support Fred Hicks, or Chris Tregenza, or Ben Gerber, or Robin Laws, or Jamie Chambers, or Dave Howell (twice!), or Joshuha Owen and Charles Jaimet, or Sage LaTorra, or Steve Russell, or Andy Kitkowski, or Devin Night, or Nathanael Cole, or Eloy Lasantaall of whom I interact with, at at least some level?  If I have to pick, it’s not that hard.

Admittedly, I’ve only had a beer with one of those (thanks Charles!), but I’ve never had a FLGS buy me a beer at all, so it’s still in favor of actual people.

As for learning about new games… for me that has been almost entirely when fellow gamers bring something new to the table (often learned about online) or ‘online gamers’ bring my attention to it and I research it online.

There was a time when the FLGS was my primary source of information about New Stuff, but they were incredibly limited compared to have I have online today.  Today I find I am the one telling them about new stuff and asking if they can bring it in for me… and that includes relatively major small press stuff.

Similarly, my primary source of good conversation for… well, almost 20 years now, has been online.  Originally USENET in rec.games.frp.dnd, then various IRC channels, some web forums (which I still don’t like, despite having one of my own over at my Echelon site), most lately on google+ (that massive time sucker).  Never in the FLGS have I had the opportunity to get into detailed examination and discussion of any games.

Second, Kickstarter promotes bad business models. When I say this many people are going to be angry. I’m sorry, just hear me out. Being a game publisher is hard, you have to wear many hats, you need to write, you need to edit, you need to sell, you need a diverse skill set, and you have to raise capital. This unique blend of components creates a level of excellence. Marginal games with limited appeal don’t get made, and in my mind they probably shouldn’t.

This I have to disagree with for a couple of reasons.

First, ‘marginal games with limited appeal’ are where actually interesting stuff is found.  If the market constrains itself to mainstream games with broad appeal you’re looking at an diminishingly small set of possibilities.

Marginal games with limited appeal may not be commercially successful, but it’s the weird stuff that eventually leads to greatness, and that does deserve to exist.  Even if there’s only ever a print run of two hundred that fades into legend.

Come to that, even with the gatekeepers the “level of excellence” is not always very high.  I have seen people give away material better than I could see from ‘established publishers’ whose primary advantage was having capital, since the contents of the many hats was evidently not very high grade.

Not to name names; if you’ve known me long enough you know who I mean.

Finally Kickstarter is bad for the hobby because it excludes new players. This is related to the retail question and the Indie game publisher question because it affects our industry not just today but also tomorrow. Our greatest evangelists have always been the game store professionals and independent publishers that go out into the community and bring new customers into the fold. RPGs are sadly dying as computer games and social media give all of the utility of the table top experience without leaving your home. While I am not a luddite and understand that the wider world is not going back, working from inside the hobby to destroy these paradigms is not replacing them.

I’m curious about how the author feels Kickstarter excludes new players. It doesn’t prevent word of mouth and learning from existing players.  It doesn’t prevent learning about games online (and in fact, often accelerates the dissemination of information online).  It does potentially limit knowledge of the product in retail locations before it hits the streets… but in a more conventional distribution mechanism the product might or might not be known to the retail customer before release anyway.

If anything, I think Kickstarter projects encourage word of mouth advertising, especially when set up so backers gain more by spreading the word — the Reaper Miniatures kickstarter did this remarkably well, Fate Core isn’t chasing this as nearly as hard as they could, The Reliquary and several others have.

(Admission: I am evidently a carrier; when I find Cool Stuff on Kickstarter I spread the word, whether I back it or not.  And I sometimes point out projects I find worrisome, but that doesn’t happen so much any more.)

I have rarely seen ‘game store professionals’ go out and bring in new customers.  The closest I have seen to that is at local cons where they are either sponsors or vendors… and you’re probably not going to a local con unless you are already familiar with the local stores.  Independent publishers, on the other hand, are well served indeed by Kickstarter.

All in all, I really can’t bring myself to agree with the initial assumption and assertion that the FLGS is the critical part here.  There was a time when the FLGS was a critical delivery mechanism, and an important part of the information path regarding games, I won’t argue that it wasn’t these things… but I contend that the FLGS is now a potentially convenient delivery mechanism (if they have the product in stock) and no longer an important part of the information path regarding games.

I find it difficult to agree with his recommendations, also.

One, set a goal and stop. Capital is hard to come by these days and Kickstarter offers a fantastic way to raise money from like-minded individuals and gauge the market. So if you need ten thousand dollars to print your product, acquire art, or advertise by all means use this tool. You should also stop funding when you reach your goals and use that capital to support the retail and distribution network.

I disagree on both parts, though the first is a risk to be managed.  If you find that your market is larger than you expected you might find yourself in trouble (good luck, Fred!  I don’t think you expected Fate Core to go this big…), but there are worse problems than discovering you have more potential win than expected.

As for “use that capital to support the retail and distribution network”, this appears to assume that they are critical to publisher and customer success… which I am not convinced is true.

Two, make your products valuable to the retailer. If you offer collectible patches, special editions, and promotional t-shirts turn those products into SKUs and sell them through the retail and distribution channel as well. You can do a special color or designation for early adopters, but you don’t have to cut those channels out of the process.

This is inconsistent.  “Don’t offer stuff just to backers, but offer stuff just to backers”.

Explain why the retailers — who do not risk anything unless they are backers — deserve the same rewards as people who back, and I might agree.  “Because they are retailers!” is not a sufficient answer.

Three, change your idea when you fail. If your Kickstarter fails to reach your goal solicit and use criticism that can improve your game and make it saleable. If it fails again than it wasn’t meant to be.

Ah, finally something I can agree with!  If it doesn’t work, find something else to try.

Of course, this is how you should go about dealing with failure.

I really can’t agree with the thesis.  Kickstarter does have some issues regarding RPG projects, but “doesn’t support retailers” [which they often do] is not one of them.