Monday, August 31, 2020

Organization is the magic

By Christopher Robin Negelein

 First up, I hope everyone is keeping safe and keeping their sanity in these bonkers times. 

As for me, publishing wise, I’ve managed about one public project a month, all of them community content. Which, honestly, is the sole way I can see things getting produced that fast. Perhaps the same could be said of a one-person OGL or indie PDF only game, but I can only imagine that in my situation is practically starting from scratch for building an audience.

Of course, Solar Sails (Shattered Sails?) is going to be a bit of everything and that’s going to take some time regardless if it is me, or a crowdfunded crew. But it has to start somewhere, somehow. 

Recently, I did an online panel about community content and as is my habit, I over prepped. I had way too many notes and observations and not enough time — or enough rudeness to hog the spotlight from three other talented fellows. 

One of the ideas I wanted to dig into is organization, more specifically how much pre-planning can save your butt. Essentially the more you figure and commit to early in the process, add some 

Let’s use Solar Sails as an example of early-early stage planning. A quick disclaimer; everything at this stage is subject to change as new information -- and reality checks -- come in.

Figure out what the physical product is

Ideally, the book would be two halves. One part world setting with GMing advice and another part game system for players, GMs and void vessels. This way the layout for the gaming sections could be swapped out for different games, though “swap” is still too casual a word for the work to be done. 

On a physical distribution level, there would be only one or two system specific books available to order (possibly 5e and Cypher.) After that, any other game system books be PDF and POD.

I see these less as stand alone games and more like large supplements since this is genre-adjacent as compared to something completely different like Esper Genesis. Both strategies have their pros and cons.

The pros for the “partial” product is that it should be smaller and take less time -- or if it is a bigger book, then more of it will contain setting fluff as compared to be a mostly mechanical book (as D&D books tend to be) so a win-win either way.

Keeping the two sections apart also means one can more easily create a gazetteer companion product, which could possibly be an early stretch goal. … See how you can get into the weeds so quickly.

Back to the concept of a 5e supplement for Solar Sails. 

I took what products I had in that vein that are 5e and did a spreadsheet, Arkadia, Odyssey of the Dragonlord, Odyssey of the Dragonlord’s Player’s Guide and Lost Citadel - which just came out.  (Side note, Savage Worlds has done this format for years, though they also usually include a modular campaign.) 

And if you have read between the lines, research helps with your planning. 

Right off the bat, it is apples and oranges from just considering the expertise of those involved. 

Arcana Games is the small indie studio behind Arkadia and was interviewed on Dragon+ and has done DMs Guild products along with D&D adjacent stuff. Arkadia is a Platinum seller. While the KS promised a 150 page product, a 100 page product was delivered and a second kickstarter got a seperate 70 page adventure into print (the original KS folx got the adventure for free.)

The product states its focus is to add some Greek to your D&D and that anything in D&D can be found in Arkadia. 

Odyssey of the Dragonlords comes from Arcanum Worlds, and also happens to be the guys who did Baulder’s Gate AND have the Platinum seller on DMs Guild, Heroes of Baulder’s Gate. And eventually Modiphius handled distribution of print products. The AW founders are now also working directly for Wizards in their upcoming game studio. 

The focus is a big D&D campaign with a Greek flair up to level 17 with a PHB where players could use their classes and the most common races (remember, people half-elf is now an exotic race -- no, really. Look it up.) But there’s suggested latitude for the GM to have NPCs judge those not on the list as strange and exotic. There’s also additional rules to add a personal arc for the characters.

Lost Citadel (The last city standing in a world of undead, check it out) is by Green Ronin who have a long track record with d20, Mutants and Masterminds and are now dipping their toes into 5e.  

This setting is the most restrictive, banning most of the races, tweaking the others and adding in a race that fits the setting better along with changes to magic and a creeping doom. The fiction is quite up front and center with this book in several places.

Of course we can include WotC’s Eberron book, which devotes 179 pages of world building and adventure suggestions (55%)  in a 322 page book (which I think is a record for a WotC book, though to be fair I haven’t read Ravica yet).

So what have we established here?

That there are no standard projects - or that the closest standard would be to follow a WotC example. It is one of the reasons most publishers measure a project by word counts (one the creative end) and signatures (books are bound together as 16-page “mini-books”) on the print end. (Which tells you that Arcana Games didn’t know the print side as well as they could with a promise of 150 pages. They needed to either do a 144 or a 160 pages … or say 150 and commit to over deliver.)

At the beginning, my deadlines are my deadlines 

Perhaps the second most crippling decision a freelancer of any time needs to commit to is a deadline on a project that seems nebulous. (The first being, “What’s my day rate?”)

Honestly, KS should be called Kick-finisher. You need to have as much done as possible before calling in the art and the layout. So set the deadline for your content first. 

But how?

RPG books can be tweaked several different ways thanks to art. While Word helped me figure out the world for Lost Citadel and Arkada, I had to guess with OotD. But the word count ranges anywhere from 650 to over 800 words per page. 

If I was starting from scratch I would have calculated how much I can write in a week, assuming my day job and other human obligations that nip into my writing time. And set a deadline for the first draft. I wrote 1,000 words a week, I would hit 100,000 in a little over two years. Fortunately, I write faster than that. 

But you may not -- for now. Writing is like a muscle and a skill and you get better with time. You have to keep at it and you have to keep pushing to keep up your speed and self-editing skills (which are perhaps the biggest technical skills you need in RPG land.)

But get your content done and get it organized into sections and chapters, as polished and finished as you can before tackling a workflow for your art, layout and printing.  

I’m wrapping this up for now, but I have the feeling that this might be Part 1 of a longer series (as we tackled that previously mentioned workflow) and I’ll be the first to admit that I will be learning some as we go on with Solar Sails. So … enjoy the ride?

Go, Ganza! Go. 

 I'm open to bribes for more Cypher stuff! You can do a one-timer at , or regularly via this Patreon. Regardless, I'm still working on Solar Sails, a fantastical world of SPELLs that's JAMMERed with all sorts of the fantastical. 

Check out my 5e stuff! 

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Ganza Gaming Twitter @ChrisRNegelein


I’ve been writing 5-star, award nominated, and Electrum selling gaming stuff for both Cypher and 5e SciFi. You'll see how it's all done behind the scenes and get free stuff after clicking that pledge button. 

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