New on Desk #66 — The Quest for Lucre

The spring cometh, and with it the tax season. Last year I did a Quest for Lucre this time of year, and in hindsight it’s been a clear success, so let’s do that again!

Last year in Lucre

Last spring my accountant told me that my publishing imprint Arkenstone Publishing was in danger of losing a ~2k € tax deduction on account of not having had enough business over the last decade to cover old, deductible expenses. Shit happens, and when I say shit, I mean life. So I set about to fix that, and overall it’s been a pretty nice experience. The completely arbitrary motivation of spoiling the tax bear’s feast gave birth to the “Quest for Lucre”, my noble middle-class ambition of finding some profit for the company before the end of the 2020 tax year.

As the dear reader probably knows, I spectacularly aced the Quest by sitting half a year on my ass and then rushing off to execute a crowdfunding campaign that garnered a sufficient amount of money at the expense of my having to write a book or two, depending on how one counts. Before then, the Quest also inspired me to publish the World of Near in digital format and start begging for Patreon money here at the blog, both of which I’m happy to have done.

The Muster crowdfunding campaign ultimately brought home ~2400 €, which completely overshadows the other humble yet honorable money-making grifts we had going last year, as is only good and proper. The accountant tells me that I’ve been lied to, and the actual number of moneys we needed to optimize the taxation was like 1.8k €, so we actually overshot the target by several hundred euros here.

The overflow is a good thing in that Arkenstone continues to have old deficits that expire at the end of this year, which means that the Quest for Lucre continues. This year’s expiring deficit total is almost 3k €, but thanks to last year’s income overflow the actual profit goal of the year is less:

The Quest for Lucre is now 2200 € of profit before the end of 2021.

The Quest for Lucre progress bar

9%

So about the same as last year, coincidentally. I happen to know that with some little of the Muster money and other minor incomes coming in this year, we’re already ~200 € in the green, so in practice I’ll just need to find 2k € from somewhere to keep starving the tax bear.

What to do, what to do…

The first and obvious thing here is that I’m not actually going to start doing anything about this year’s Quest before I’ve put the commitments from last year’s initiatives to bed. Namely, I need to finish Muster and the CWP series over the first half of the year to have time to worry about the Quest in the fall.

Provided that works out, I guess it would be theoretically possible to work on improving our Patreon correspondence program. The way it works now is that the participants pay me a little bit (like, two euros each) for essays on various topics (chosen by the estates by democratic process), billed when I actually get around to writing them. The Muster crowdfunding project has pretty slowed down developing this activity into a more regular form, but I have to say that so far it works for me; I don’t feel you people (he says to his correspondents) pressuring me too much, but it feels lovely to get a little bit of money as implicit acknowledgement of worth in my writing, and the essay format is quite flexible, it could potentially be used for some pretty cool things. A growth curve that would result in me making ~2k € from the Patreon program before the year is out is somewhat unlikely, but otherwise I would certainly enjoy putting Muster to bed and seeing what the essaying feels like as a more regular thing.

The more likely scenario is that if Muster is finished successfully, I’ll just look into publishing something else. Crowdfunding might again be the order of the day there, as it’s easier to control the schedule of monetization there and ensure that the money comes in before the end of the year.

One simple follow-up idea would be to clean up and publish some of this Coup campaign material that keeps getting developed as we play. I’ll see what people think of the CWP collection and go from there. I’m pretty happy with the production myself, both the rules material and the original adventure stuff is good, but I don’t really have a sense for whether people would feel like paying me more for that stuff.

Monday: Coup de Main #40

Last time the party was split dramatically as half of the adventurers “decided” to go elf-questing with the faeries. We keep following Rob and Phun, though, who made their way to the specifc Mistmarsh-bordering county that’s the closest to friendly ground in the thinly-populated area. We even named the place, calling it the Farden county. Just a couple of populated hexes on the edge of the marsh, maybe ~2k people in total spread in a thin strip 15 miles long along a river.

In Farden Rob and Phun found new, potent members to join in the party. The players have been bringing living characters from prior campaigns again, so we got two 3rd level Fighters, plus a couple of 1st levelers, so the party’s really actually just growing stronger as they go.

After taking stock at Farden, the adventurers kept on their way and found that good planning pays: they found the old abandoned road to Wrenwald where they thought it might be, which would make the ~50 mile hike to the cursed estate deep in the swamp significantly easier. The last party they took through Mist Marsh went on boats, so this was a nice change of pace in that regard as well.

The journey through the swamp proved otherwise routine, but we got an interesting random encounter on the way in the form of a procession of the dead. Phun was the MVP with his magic again, this time conjuring an Invisibility to Undead in an impromptu ritual magic circle (this is starting to become his trademark move, the quickly-drawn magic circles in the field), allowing the party to observe the dead as they went by. Beyond some basic clues as to the nature of the curse of the Wrenwald estates, Rob found that the dead procession had dropped a letter that would totally make this entire thing seem like a middle school TSR setpiece scenario if it wasn’t so very obvious how I was winding it all out from a steady stream of dice rolls; RNG doing the work of an adventure designer, if you will.

(The party learned from the old letter, apparently dropped by the procession by mistake, that the Lord of the Manor, Justin Wrenwald, was in relations with a fairy sorceress of some kind, desirous of parleying over his curse and a stolen golden magic staff and whatnot. No doubt interesting for the players who have to actually decide on their maneuvers, while I can just sit here and see what they do.)

After deftly avoiding the procession the players continued running a smart hexcrawl. I get the sense that they’re actually being pretty strategic about everything they’re doing, approaching the operational area carefully and all that. When the party got to the hex they think the Wrenwald estate is, we had a fun little camping strategy affair; the players weren’t happy with the first camping spot they found, looked for another one, and then that night when the giant spiders came a’hunting they missed the party because they were specifically in a place they didn’t know to look in. Great payoff there, made more entertaining for the players over my switching to the spider viewpoint a little bit. Much more entertaining to keep making smart plays in little things like camping technique if you get to know that you’re actually dodging dangers by it.

I imagine the next session will feature us assaulting the Wrenwald estate in some way, it’s been like three sessions of work to get this far after all. We’ll see.

Session #41 is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday 5.4., 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.

Tuesday: Coup in Sunndi #15

The face-to-face Coup is actually knocking targets down pretty logically: two sessions back we had a weird double-feature session that cracked open two complex, advanced format adventures simultaneously. Last session we got the Business at the Temple of Doom to a fair rest position (albeit with major implications for follow-up), and this time it was time to continue clearing up Who Killed Earen-Raven, the “whodunnit with political edge”.

Mystery roleplaying games are a difficult form, and particularly difficult is unstructured mystery play, which is of course what you end up doing in old school D&D: the mystery is presented via player questions and skill checks, with nothing in the game rules themselves particularly advising the players on what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s raw skill, and while rudimentary results require little but the ability to progress thoroughly and follow obvious cues, it might surprise an outsider how even that is often beyond the roleplayer’s grasp. There’s just so much going on in a roleplaying game, and the gaming traditions often mitigate against goal-orientation at all, that it’s always a bit surprising when the murderhoboes jump into their big boy pants and actually demonstrate skill and planning.

This was one of those times when the players actually flew through the crime investigation in a reasonably sensible way. The adventurers made notes, distinguished venues of investigation, switched tracks to pursue likely clues, and generally just, well, proved capable of following the trail of crumbs. In the first session of the adventure the players had paid much attention to the technical details of the alchemy used in the murder, but while I’ve seen groups get completely single-minded about something like that, here they didn’t completely stop investigating other things, and proved capable of abandoning the alchemical study when it proved something of a red herring.

Ohko familiars of Sunndian witchcraft are basically aetheric flesh shaped like clay.

(The very modern technical criminology angle focused on answering the question about how the alchemical weapon seemingly used to silence the victim had been constructed. Progress was slow. An entirely different witness combing approach ultimately caught a perp for the investigators, at which point they learned that the “alchemy” used was a traditional Sunndian witch familiar being called “Ohko”. The critter had probably just crawled into the mouth of the victim before turning into a suffocating sludge.)

While the investigators got a lot of results as the session progressed, a complication has also been raising its head: the murder team was seemingly motivated by anti-monarchist political ideology and a desire for terror; I compared it to Edward Oxford’s Young England. This was fine per se, of course, even if an extremist organization called “Young Sunndi” was a bit embarrassing for the PC party calling itself “Basic Sunndi”, for the mix-up concerns between patriotic terrorist organizations. (What, they’re PCs — I cannot possibly imagine them not becoming terrorists at the drop of a hat.) The problem was that the captured perpetrators painted a picture of a shadowy mastermind who’d funded the organization and planned the strike. It took a bit of time for the big picture to start to cohere, but the twist was certainly worth it when the investigators realized that the mysterious mastermind, “Aladdin”, was apparently Prince Ali, the local ruler!

Of course the Prince at this writing lacks established motivation to murder a by-all accounts sweet and charming elf lady, so the charge seems ludicrous, but some evidence seems to exist. Like so:

  • The Prince is known to have had a look-alike, near a twin, called “Aladdin”. This Aladdin was a street rat living in the slums of Eyedrin. The two youngsters apparently had even switched places ~5 years back in an ill-considered teenage “Prince and Beggar” fairy tale re-enactment. Not many know about it, but the players certainly do: they adventured with Aladdin until he got eaten by ghouls back in session #3.
  • The perps were resistant to interrogation at first, but then suddenly chanced tack and confessed to the deed when questioned by the Prince himself.
  • One of the perps was interrogated thoroughly, and ultimately fingered the Prince under relentless pressure.
  • The proprietor of the hospitality establishment the Young Sunndi terrorist cell used in their last meeting could not conclusively say that Aladdin (as described to him) wasn’t in attendance.

For what it’s worth, the head investigator, the inquisitor “Sparrow”, doesn’t seem to be convinced by the Prince’s guilt. The team seems more prone to suspect the evil ex-vizier Melchert, or really anybody else aside from the sweet boy who’s been gifting the adventurers with ample rewards for their adventuring since day one of the campaign.

We ended the session there, so the players have some time to decide what to do next. They can score 2k XP right now by simply delivering the actual common-born murderers, or they can continue pushing the case (for a full 4k XP reward) to catch the mastermind as well, whether Prince Ali or someone else. The issue with accusing the Prince is that it’s a great lead-up to a civil war that the frail Sunndian monarchy can hardly afford, plus of course the Prince might just arrange to have the entire investigation team executed, so the situation should probably be handled with some care.

Gentlemen on the Agora

This used to be a regular feature in the newsletter last year, but I haven’t felt like keeping up with it over the winter for some reason. I suspect it’s because I’m trying to focus on writing work, so focusing on the cultural saloon has been of less interest. Also trying to keep the newsletter lengths down, related to the whole “I should be writing other stuff” thing.

That being said, let’s try it again, with a slightly different format. I’ll focus less on passing funny topics and instead try to catch a few big fish ideas that I found particularly relevant in the discussion stream.

Runequest 1st edition makes much more sense. I’ve heard about this in passing in the past, but I’ve never read the 1st edition myself, so it was pretty spooky to have a bit of a “let’s read” session at the Agora. Like 80% of my complaints about how broken BRP is do not apply, because the original wasn’t point-buy. That changes everything. In fact, from all I hear, the original RQ is more like an advanced D&D hack, and doesn’t really have the key features of point-buy universal skill engine game that would later be normative in the 3rd edition that’s more familiar to us here in Finland. It’s spooky how similar the game’s solutions to D&D issues are next to our ongoing Coup campaign…

How to play D&D 4e my way, and make it a pretty solid middle school D&D vehicle, fit for GM’s Story and Princess Play agendas to freely flourish. I ended up writing about the topic in some length as part of a general attempt to explain to people how we went about playing the Chronicles of Prydain as a D&D campaign a couple of years back. Hopefully the discussion was of some use, it took like a working day.

Faery Alignments in Flanaess and fixing the Armor Class were the two major discussions points in the Coup community this week, I think. Good stuff, productive.

State of the Productive Facilities

Eh, I’ve written like 700 words of Muster this week, plus done a lot of good Coup work. Stuff like reworking the armor math, figuring out fairy alignments, and so on. We’ll have an extra game session today, even, so who has the time to write, anyway.

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