New on Desk #47 — Mustering for the crowdfunding

My manic ramp-up towards productivity continues. I realized that if I want to get that D&D crowdfunding thing I planned last summer done before the year’s out, it’s now or never — so I guess that’s what we’re doing next week, launching the crowdfunding campaign!

Starting a crowdfunding campaign

It’s actually pretty easy to start a crowdfunding campaign. For anybody interested, here are the main practical concerns as a handy checklist:

  • Write a detailed project pitch for the project page. Give the project some brand identity and personality, like a name and distinct keywords and whatnot. Standard writer stuff.
  • Get some layout graphics from an amiable friend capable of doodling something up. Having some pictures helps break up the text visually, I think, and it communicates commitment.
  • I’m told that having a video is a good idea, too. I don’t care myself (never watch them), but for some reason campaigns with video have much more success on average. (My theory: the video signals commitment in general, so anybody who cared to make a video also cared to everything else right, and that’s what the statistics show; you’re more likely to have conducted the crowdfunding campaign well if you cared to make a video, not that the video itself necessarily convinced people to fund you.)
  • Distinctly, get something that can pass for cover art; the campaign’ll be represented in many places by an iconic picture you pick for the purpose. Make it attention-catching and appropriate to the project.
  • Figure out the economics of the project, set goals and budgets appropriately.
  • Fight through the “know your customer” paperwork of the crowdfunding service provider. (This one’s my personal nemesis.)
  • Prepare to market the campaign as best you can. Tell about it to your friends or something. Write a blog post.

So that’s a half dozen things to do, sure, but it’s not that much work overall; we’re talking about 2–3 days in the office, really. None of the work is difficult per se; the writing is actually probably the hardest, on the assumption that everybody knows somebody who can make them some art, or you can just use photos to illustrate the project.

Of course I still managed to delay starting this crowdfunding project for like three months for no discernible reason; I just had other stuff taking up all of my time. The new D&D campaign was a particularly dumb move in hindsight, for the hypothetical productive Eero who wants to skate through his project board efficiently. For months now I’ve spent all the time I could have been making money playing D&D instead. The ironic bit is that I started the campaign specifically to background and inspire this very crowdfunding project.

The paperwork gets special mention for me, though. I loathe the stuff, it’s so insipid. I do realize that adult people are expected to fill stupid forms, but, well, if that was my thing I’d probably be a respectable and functional adult instead of a cavern troll in training. My favourite piece of paperwork bar none must be the American-style “proof of residence”; apparently it’s normal in the less organized parts of the world to prove that your address is real by making a copy of an utility bill (a water or electricity bill, etc.) for your business partner, thus showing that an established local company at least thinks you’re real and live in that address. It’s so sweet and quaint how they don’t really seem to care what kind of bill or receipt or letter you copy (or forge) for them, as long as it purports to be sent by some vaguely respectable fellow corporation.

The nice thing here, though, is that the more annoying parts of this business are all overhead: now that I’m squared out with IndieGoGo, a hypothetical second crowdfunding campaign could be as much as 30% less aggravating to set up. I was wondering about doing a second campaign this year if this first one fails, but with the merciless calendar the way it is, that’ll clearly be a concern for year 2021. Still useful to have this bit of experience to draw on later.

Muster: the friendly primer to old school D&D

Anyway, the important part is of course what I’m trying to crowdfund, exactly. As was discussed in the spring, I wanted to do something modest in scope, yet meaningful. Market research (id est, asking friends and correspondents) indicated that people want old school D&D stuff from me; this does accord with what I’ve been hearing for years. The big breakthrough was when I figured out in the summer that the thing to do is a primer, a book intended for teaching the form, rather than another big-book-of-rules-cruft. The clarity of method has always been the strong point of my D&D dao, after all; not that I write bad rules, but if there is any virtue to my rules-work it’s basically due to superior method and nothing else.

I’ve already just about finished the crowdfunding page, so feel free to click through and see what I’m plotting. At this writing I still need to create the video advertisement that goes on top of the page, but I’ll get that done soon and then this thing is pretty much ready to go, for good or ill.

If you see anything in there that’s likely to scuttle the campaign’s chances, perhaps something you dislike intensely enough to affect your spending choices, do let me know so I can fix it early.

I thought of a brilliant backer incentive

My original idea was doing Muster as a pure work-for-hire arrangement, with the backers collectively paying me (and my court artist) to produce the book for creative commons, to maximize overall utility. An introductory manual to a given playstyle is something you want to spread far and wide, after all.

The one weakness in this plan is that some people — not you or I, but some other people — may be less inclined to put any money into a project where they don’t personally benefit in any way. Let other people pay for it. It’s an issue with ransom model publishing in general, I suppose; it’s easier for a person to justify spending money on something they purchase for themselves instead of something they purchase for everybody.

The question of ancillary crowdfunding doohickeys is no doubt familiar to many, but I think I figured out something pretty interesting and useful in this regard: I’ll make use of the thing I’ve been actually doing for the last six months, namely the Coup de Main campaign development. It’s not a finished rules set quite yet, but it’s finished enough to be distributed among the select crowdfunding audience, and of high enough quality to offer provocative insights to anybody interested in old school D&D development.

I have a pretty interesting idea of what precisely to do with the Coup materials in this context; read about it in the project description. I hope that it’ll be a fun little diversion, and an useful accompaniment to Muster itself. After all, Muster isn’t going to be about specific game-mechanics for the most part, so you’re going to want to use some kind of rules mechanics with it. I’ve been happy with the Coup, so perhaps you will as well.

Call to Arms; a muster, if you will

This probably goes without saying, but just in case it’s not clear, I’ll say it straight: I don’t think that Muster is very likely to pass muster at IndieGoGo. The project is not super-ambitious in scope, but I’ve been so secluded from the wider Internet over the last decade, and I particularly don’t have any scene presence among OSR hobbyists, so the predominant target audience probably won’t become aware of the new campaign very quickly, if at all. I know plenty of people for whom a project of this scope wouldn’t be a big deal to finance, but something that relies on social media presence to succeed isn’t really my forte.

If you’d like to help me a bit on this, the greatest help will be if you choose to discuss the project with your gaming friends, correspondents and hobby communities over December. I’m not comfortable doing desperate driveby marketing myself, but if you think Muster looks interesting and worthwhile to make reality, I think there’s nothing wrong with you helping to spread the word. I don’t even have a Facebook account, the marketing here is very literally in your hands.

I’ll be doing some minor marketing things myself for this, but most of it’ll be producing some more preview content to further bolster the case for the project. For the market penetration, for actually having people hear about the project, I’ll be mostly relying on you to tell your friends. We’ll see how far that goes.

Monday: Coup de Main #23

In the realm of practical gaming, last Monday’s Coup was more of a planning session than action. Sure, we got Rob Banks back from those dastardly kidnappers, but even that was more of a matter of not doing anything proactive: the party, quite correctly, concluded that their best bet was to do what the kidnappers said and not try anything funny. They didn’t even have to give up anything they really didn’t want to; the truth was that their antagonist, Kimchell the spy, had already shot his best bolt a couple of sessions ago. He didn’t have the position to leverage the kidnapping in any truly significant way, so the party got off lightly for Rob’s mistake.

Part of why we didn’t jump immediately to new adventures was that this was another one of the rare 2+1 sessions where we simply didn’t have very many players clamoring for action. The other part was that this was a suitable place for the party to actually split up, the way mid-level parties do: two core characters, Rob (Chaotic Thief) and Phun (Lawful Cleric), simply had different immediate interests and adventure hooks in mind:

Rob is keen to go perform a heist in Greyhawk to prove himself to Donmas Kaapu, another Thief he’s attempting to infiltrate. It’s sort of a test of his mettle, Donmas wants Rob to mess with his arms smuggling competition. Should be a basically straightforward Grand Theft Auto style caper, quickly in and out in a bout of ultraviolence, but who knows how Rob approaches the task.

Phun, meanwhile, wants to do downtime study in Yggsburg: he has books to deport from the Yttragern manor, and a town council meeting to have the manor declared town property (for basically altruistic Lawful reasons; Phun just thinks that it’s dumb for a fine house to sit abandoned like that). He has a bunch of magic items to study, books and a couple of other PCs that he really should be training in key skills.

The party desiring to split up, naturally what we did for the rest of the session was some considerate character generation as Heikki and Tuomas created characters to accompany each other’s main PCs to their respective adventures. (Yeah, I don’t know if Phun practically speaking needs another PC to help him, but that’s their problem.) Both characters became pretty interesting, let’s take a peek for lack of anything more interesting to report:

AbilityValueBonus
Strength120
Dexterity15+1
Constitution100
Intelligence13+1
Wisdom8-1
Charisma13+1

Heikki rolled an uncommonly good stat line! We’re doing 3d6 in order, with Basic D&D stat boni, so that’s a pretty talented individual.

As the campaign uses class stat requirements, you need passable stats to enter various more exotic classes. Alternatively, a character with good statistics can look to optimize their chance of gaining “foil”, basically a 10% bonus on level gain, by intentionally entering a class they’re over-qualified for.

The obvious choices would be to become a Thief (which Heikki already has in Rob Banks, of course), a Wizard or a Charisma-based class like Bard or Hedge Mage.

Character class: Assassin
The Assassin class requires DEX and either INT or WIS, all in moderate amounts, which makes the character seed here well qualified. The class is rare in-setting (limited options on where a character with the class hails from) and mandatory starting Alignment of Neutral Evil. Bold move!

Character race: Half-Orc
The Coup campaign doesn’t really do the traditional elfdwarf race thing, but the race of “half-orc” or “orckin” is a real option; while a real orc connection is possible, Oeridian culture operates on the on-drop rule in this regard, so many half-orcs hail from communities of untouchables among human populations. Half-orcs have a real affinity with the Assassin Class, as many orc tribes train the class; this, alongside the Scarlet Brotherhood, is one of the only two ways for a human to access the Assassin class in Flanaess.

Foil test fails! (2/6 chance)
Noble test succeeds! (2/6)
Wretch test fails! (1/6)
Gift test fails! (1/20)
This is where things got intense: Heikki’s half-orc assassin is a “noble”! This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re literal feudal nobility, but it does mean that the character has a close familial relationship to somebody who has some kind of Name Level position in the world. This is an interesting set of prospects, as different classes play the “Name Game” in different ways; papa doesn’t need to be a high-level Fighter Lord, they can be e.g. an Old Man Assassin or Master Illusionist or whatever.

The relatively high foil chance is also notable here; it derives from the character having both DEX and INT talent in excess of class requirements. The character failed to gain foil on first pass, but they might get new opportunities during play.

A boatload of skills were established
Assassins are defined in Coup as a type of Thief-Monk multiclass, which in practical terms means that they combine two of the most prominent skill-focused classes into one character. The Thief’s Skill Diligence and Monk’s Cultivation Edge combine for an unparalleled ability to grasp exotic and difficult skills quickly and definitively. At higher levels the class gains access to both Thief-style “skill metamagic” in the form of skill modalities and Monk-style Way abstract metaphysics.

What that all means in practice that the character starts play with the wide variety of lethal ninja skills that is implied by having been trained as an orc desant (what the orcs here call their assassins) since childhood. This kind of skill character basically doesn’t have any other edges aside from the skills, so it’s good that Heikki’s got a good handle on things; the skill list looks like it’s joinked from Rambo, basically.

Normally background wouldn’t matter — beginning characters are adventurers and I don’t care any further — but a noble character has more definition in their background to start. This may imply specific adventure hooks and other concerns right off the bat, a bit like how characters tend to develop naturally towards mid-levels.

Heikki’s so-far unnamed half-orc assassin is a “Prince of the Pomarj”, the son of the king in the Empire of Pomarj, the only nigh-civilized orc kingdom in Flanaess. We developed some pretty good orc backlore here; grim stuff, what with how the ruling caste treats humans in Pomarj, but at least we now have a better understanding of how orcs tick.

We decided to grant the character +1 STR and -1 CHA for their harsh orcish upbringing. The campaign doesn’t generally do race-based stat alterations, but I’m generally fine with going one point this or that way on the basis of fictional positioning, which is a slightly different thing. Go ahead and get raised by orc desants, I won’t mind some stat adjustments for that.

Heikki figured out a pretty interesting charop goal for the character, too; I’m all for that kind of stuff, that’s basically why I even bother writing up these reams of rules stuff. Always great when a player figures something out.

So Heikki’s conceit is that because the orcish civilization is how it is, his character should actually multiclass into “Savage”, this background class element that I’ve defined for the purposes of defining the Barbarian class (which is a combination of Fighter+Savage, basically). Well, fair enough — can’t really argue that, orcs are Savage if somebody is. Being Savage would make a huge amount of sense for this character, too, as its signature class feature is that Savages upgrade their positive stat bonuses, benefiting characters with quality stat lines in various ways. The character here is, of course, just the kind of fellow who’d benefit from this.

Multiclassing in chargen is generally free, you just do it, but here there’s the complication that one of the character’s few weaknesses is that their CON score is not quite up to standards to become a Savage — he’s one point shy! After close reading of related class features we discovered that the Thief’s Diligence feature actually allows them to add their level to their stats for the purposes of this exact kind of thing, so the character does actually qualify for Savage, but only after the game starts and they’re actually a Thief (or Assassin, rather).

So the character can become a Savage, but they need to do it in play. The default in this case is spending 400 days in class training (dancing with wolves, or orcs, I suppose); not by any means trivial. The Monk (the other thing the character already is) grants a multiplier to downtime multiclass training, so getting to 2nd level (200 days) or even 3rd (133 days) would make this much more manageable.

Alternatively, the character can quest for class initiation, do something that allows them an instant jump into the class. This would make a great personal quest, which the character may gain as a noble, so I’ll need to think on whether the orc king might have been able to figure out some personal deed of valour that would allow his weakling half-human son a shot at becoming a man among the orcs.

AbilityValueBonus
Strength6-1
Dexterity100
Constitution90
Intelligence100
Wisdom14+1
Charisma16+2

Tuomas’s stat line was much more mediocre, but they do have a great WIS and amazing CHA, which is all you need to set up a successful specialist in D&D. The game favours specialization, after all, and while my class write-ups tend towards crazy MAD (modern D&D charop term that, look it up), it’s an integral truth of dynamic systems that proper planning allows you to focus on your strengths and mitigate weaknesses.

That high Charisma allows the character to maintain multiple loyal retainers later on, and it’s generally helpful for “party face” tasks. Typical character class choices would be the Bard, or as a new option, the Hedge Mage — sort of like the modern D&D Sorcerer, the Hedge Mage uses CHA as their core casting stat.

Character class: Hedge Mage
Tuomas is a passionate “wizard player”, so I specifically encouraged him to check out this new contra-wizard thing I’d developed; that stat line is very appropriate for that, and the class allows very wizard-like practical playstyle when it gets going. As I expected, Tuomas agreed, so a Hedge Mage they would be!

Foil test fails! (2/6 chance)
Noble test fails! (2/6)
Wretch test not attempted! (1/6)
Gift test fails! (3/20)
No surprises here, this would be a default character; not everybody gets to be a noble. The Hedge Mage gains Gift on 4th level anyway if they survive that far, but having it at start would have been perfect.

Casting Methods:
+ Baking (skill of craft)
70% Symbolic Action
20% Familiar Bond
40% Poisons
Hedge Mages perform magic similarly to wizards, except they lack the universalist ritual magic system implicitly used by a wizard when preparing and executing their spells. Instead, each Hedge Mage has a bunch of “casting methods”, skills they are capable of using to channel the magic. Rowan here (Tuomas picked a name early) is first and foremost a magical baker; basically like potion-making, except a bit different in details. They’re also potentially capable of using voodoo, having the familiar beast they picked up (a fox) channel magic, and of course creating magical poisons.

Spells:
80% Invisibility to Animals (Baking)
80% Speak with Animals (Baking)
+ Message (Symbolic)
+ Charm Person (Symbolic)
The spell list is awkward, as is usual for starting characters. Rowan can bake cakes that allow her to become invisible to animals, or talk to them. (I assume it’s her who needs to eat the cake, not the animal; that’s within the purview of the player to determine.) The big ticket item is the Charm Person, which in her hands requires her to have a symbolic connection to the target of the spell, but the spell has indefinite duration as long as the casting item (a voodoo doll of sorts, I assume) is preserved.

These details are all good examples of how Hedge Mage magic works: the specific casting methods influence the magical parameters of the spells used through them. It’s a total mess for now, but later on the Hedge will be able to vary casting methods to e.g. create Charming bakery products or teach their familiar a Charming gaze or whatever. When they gain access to the Gift — psionics — they’ll be able to kinda-sorta surpass the entire casting method thing and perform magic on a superior plane, with Pure Will.

Obviously Pihlaja (we decided to translate her name into Finnish at the end for giggles) doesn’t have a particularly significant background for our purposes; she’s no noble! Just an adventurer to fill in the ranks for now.

The one thing we know about her is that we’re intending her to join Rob Banks in Greyhawk, for his new heist adventure, as Tuomas’s main character is doing other stuff. The Poison skill was actually added with that in mind; the current theory is that Pihlaja is a humble baker by day and a nefarious poison-maker by night, the kind of gal who would join Rob’s Thief-y project. We’ll see how that develops in play, this isn’t a game where we want to really worry about backstories before you gain a couple of levels and whatnot.

The player, on the other hand, no doubt has complex ambitions about her magical development; that’s Tuomas’s thing. I assume she’ll want to set up a proper lab/kitchen for her witchcraft as soon as she gets some money, and she’ll surely hit the inspiration-based magic learning mechanics I’ve set up hard; Hedges can gain some significant arcane knowledge quickly if you’re willing to go where the inspiration takes you.

So yeah, that was pretty much it for the session. Next time we’ll start on Rob’s new adventure, I think. The first thing will be some “interesting” disease-survival checks; Rob left for Greyhawk after a major beating, so his HP are low, and it just so happens that my monthly disease check (like the one thing I’ve actually adopted from GG’s DMG) indicated that he’s falling sick on the way to the City. Fun times if our 4th level Thief just outright dies on the road. Very medieval.

Session #24 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 23.11., starting around 15:00 UTC. Feel free to stop by if you’re interested in trying the game out or simply seeing what it’s like.

Thursday: Varangian Way

Our Thursday story game, Varangian Way, continues in a very workmanlike fashion. We were again playing with just me, Petteri (the game designer) and Tommi. This isn’t ideal, as Varangian Way would like to have like 4–5 people at the table; with three people you sort of have to be pushing the game forward all the time yourself, and have few breaks, which is a bit rough.

The game development process works very well, on the other hand, I think; we really have a pretty solid crew in that regard. Many good insights were again discovered, and new things tried. The most significant was probably that we specifically attempted to develop a quicker, meaner scene framing technique to support the game’s sweeping arc of action better. I think we played 5–6 scenes over the session, and while some of it did feel pretty laborious, this is probably the direction the game wants to go: less literary emphasis and atmospheric drama, more quick, definitive scene resolution and a forward-moving impetus to the entire sandbox.

Being as much of a fan of game development as I am, I won’t mind continuing the game as long as Petteri feels like it’s being useful. He does need to take the time to do game design at some point, though; there’s plenty in the game that he could work on, resolve questions that have come up. The game’s firm enough to play the way it is now, but it won’t improve from here in a major way without taking it back to the lab and putting it together again.

State of the Productive Facilities

Well, I’m on the clock now: if I want to actually start the crowdfunding campaign on Muster next week, I’ll need to create the video for it. I also have ambitions about finishing some long-awaited essays for the blog:

The C2020 lifepathing article has been sitting almost-finished for months, I really should just sit down and finish it soon. This one’ll be a freebie in Patreon terms; I have yet to actually bill my gracious patrons for a single essay, what with my unplanned hiatus (or feverish D&D campaign, either way) over the autumn, and I don’t want this one to be the first — I’m not feeling it, what with Muster stealing the creative spotlight. I’ll finish this one C2020 article and we’ll come back to that topic sometime later, maybe in 2021.

The writing outline for Muster is also one of the essays on my project board, and that one actually makes perfect sense to finish soon. I mean, if I want people to pay me for writing the thing, it’d make sense to offer at least a considered outline, right? It’s too useful in marketing the crowdfunding campaign to leave undone, so I’ll surely try to get to it soon.

After that, who knows? I feel like I’m pretty productive again, and hopefully that continues for the winter. There’s all kinds of fun stuff that I could be finishing and making available, after all.

2 thoughts on “New on Desk #47 — Mustering for the crowdfunding”

  1. This sounds fantastic – especially the first two bulleted lists in the IndieGoGo pitch! – and I love the system-agnostic approach (and think it might work well to attract a broader audience, too). I’ll be more than happy to spread the word, online and offline.

  2. Pingback: Kiinnostavia blogauksia: marraskuu 2020 | Efemeros

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