New on Desk #96 — CWP Launch Party

The “Coup Workbook Partials” that I’ve been writing are getting dangerously close to done. Let’s talk practicals!

Coup Workbook Partials

This was originally a bit of a throwaway idea that I added to the Muster crowdfuding campaign for more approachability, on the premise that the Muster pamphlet concept itself is a bit abstract for a gamer text, and something more practical and backer-oriented might help catch funding. Now that the CWPs alone have clocked in like 300–400 pages of text, they don’t really feel so small, but at least the casual spirit still lives.

The “Workbook Partials” are these 10–20 page single-topic digital booklets that I’ve pulled together from our ongoing Coup de Main in Greyhawk campaign materials. Character class write-ups, various rules subsystems, the sort of stuff you generally see in D&D rulebooks. No playtesting, no art (beyond a bit of a cover doodle), minimal editing, more like a blog post than a book. You can print it out if you’re into that, or just read it and digest like you’d do with any online article on “how to do Paladins right” or whatever. The only reason I’m not calling it a ‘zine is the technicality of the weird publishing model, on which more below.

The over-arching product philosophy with the CWP series is to be cheap and substance-focused. While the old school renaissance has been experimenting with every possible rpg product format, my own favourite always tends to be the no-nonsense garage ‘zine. It gets the job done, and in the case of this sort of rules cruft, I feel that the format is creatively fitting for the content: rules, the most arbitrary and transitional of play tools, are often published in prestige formats that elevate the importance of the ideas out of all proportion.

One way to think about the creative choice here is that it’s an “ashcan” format, a quickly dashed out manuscript fresh from the middle of the game development process. As Heikki likes to say about the Coup campaign, it’s half D&D campaign and half D&D design laboratory. For me personally, though, the conceit is more about getting back to “rulings” over “rules”, and that means treating this kind of rules text detritus in a more immediate way than the path TSR chose for us all those years ago. I think that the legitimate construction of a campaign rules-set is a creative journey that cannot be pinned into a book for other people to copy endlessly as the Official Rules of the game; the best we can do is something along these lines, recording our ideas and choices for others to study and adopt to the extent they find anything valuable in there.

Most of my daytime career over the years has been in the publishing industry, and the main thing I’ve caught from that is a desire for form and content to harmonize. And while that can mean gilding eternal wisdom with gold, it also means cheap presentation for cheap ideas; I would never want to aggrandize my own words beyond what is functional and honest. As you probably know, the rpg industry is largely driven by product quality, which generally means that the substantial value of the text so carefully embossed within the totemic artifact that is the game book is often not exactly “test of time” material. Plainly, rpg books are more about art than game design. For all that the CWPs really are raw campaign notes and nothing more, patchily playtested at best, I’m still doing my best to not overshoot in the presentation and make the material seem more valuable than it is.

Hmm… Doing the Finnish thing again where I do my damnedest to put my work in analytical context. As counterbalance, I’ll clarify: I’m personally very excited about the Coup de Main campaign, and I think that the rules and ideas developed in the CWP booklets range from “quite functional” to “avant garde of D&D design”. So there. CWPs don’t have any of the usual niceties like a “What is roleplaying?” section or tables of contents, but if you’re an experienced gamer and want to read technical treatises on neat dice tricks, the Workbook Partials should be well worth the while.

The weird trading game

As a crowdfunding backer incentive, I haven’t been orienting the CWP series towards regular publication. Besides, asking for (more) money for what amounts to design drafts doesn’t seem very fair. Instead, I’m publishing the series with an unique trading game license inspired by collectible toys: I’ll distribute the initial digital copies to the campaign backers, and you’re free, should the idea appeal, to trade for the rest of the issues with others who will presumably end up with a different assortment of CWP issues. Maybe look at the ones you get initially from me and then decide if you care; no obligation here. I’ll put the details on the licensing rules in the booklets themselves, but it is about as simple as it sounds here. As this is a digital product with zero expenses for copying it, I expect the trading game to be substantially easier than it’d be for a set of cardboard trading cards.

As a primer on trading, consider this: assuming you play clean and simple and trade issues 1:1 with others similarly interested, starting with a single CWP issue, you’ll need to find about five trade partners to gather the entire 20-issue initial collection. I expect somebody to just put together the whole set and trade it for unspecified favours, simplifying the trading affair for everybody else, but we’ll see how it goes.

I’m planning to maintain an up to date series checklist on its own page here in the blog, so if you decide to get into the trading game at some point and want to catch ’em all, that’s where to look to make sure you’re not missing any. It’ll also be useful if I end up updating some issues for whatever reason later and you want to check that you have the latest version.

You’ll find that the series checklist and numbering recognizes a fair number of CWP issues that are still in planning stages; the initial collection of 20 issues has been selected on the basis of a) backer orders, b) our campaign emphasis and c) what I thought interesting to write about. As of now no concrete plans exist for expanding the series with the “missing issues”, but who knows, maybe I’ll write some more of these next year. Depends on the reception of the initial series, how badly I embarrass myself with Muster yet, and whatnot.

Finally, if you missed out on the crowdfunding campaign and want a taste of CWP, as happens in this crowdfunding reality, I recommend getting in touch with somebody who has some issues and trading for them. I’m sure you have something they’ll want. I guess there’s strictly speaking no reason why I couldn’t give you this stuff (not in my interests to limit its distribution!), but that’d ruin the “fun” of the trading game, so let’s sit on it for now. Maybe if there’s excessive clamor for it I’ll make a Pay to Win option available at some point. We live in a material world, so we should be good material girls, right…

Immediate Launch Plan

At this writing I’m so close to being done with the CWPs that I can almost taste it: issue #38 is struggling a bit, but soon it’ll be done, and then it’s just #40 to reach my goal of 20 issues. Hopefully happens in a few days, because I’m hoping to release the series to the backers later next week! The launch will be quick, quiet and informal as befits a humble project like this; I’ll just send you your randomly assorted pack of issues whenever I’m finished with what little product quality work goes into this. It’s not much, but I’ll at least run the text through some proof-reading and make sure the PDF files work correctly.

If the coming days go as planned, I’ll have those last couple of issues done by mid-week, so the release might happen say next weekend. I’ll write more about that next week, when we know more.

And what about Muster, eh?

People regularly ask me about that, too, now that I’ve been finishing CWP issues regularly. After all, that’s the campaign topic: an old school D&D primer book that I’m supposed to be writing. This CWP thing is more of a run-away side quest. (I don’t know how run-away you can consider it when it’s proceeding exactly to vision.)

As is obvious at this point, I’m following the noble tradition of crowdfunding projects by running behind my schedule: in the original scheduling (admittedly planned before I threw the CWP project on top) I would have already been done with Muster in the spring, half a year ago. As it is, my outside deadline of year’s end is quickly approaching.

I think I’ve said this before, but I feel that it bears repeating for consumer protection reasons: I’ll look into seriously finishing Muster over the two months still left of the year, and if it’s seriously not coming together by the New Year’s, I’ll just refund the entire thing to the backers, with apologies for the futility of our existence. The odds of this being the outcome aren’t exactly zero at this point, which is probably obvious to those who’ve followed the blow-by-blow of my wrestling with the manuscript. I have some hope of maybe being elevated by deadline dread into a champion author (the only real definition of that: meet the deadline) and pulling this off, but I’d rather not bet on it. Basically depends on maintaining the productive focus I’ve managed to establish lately.

The uncertain fate of Muster is part of the reason I decided to focus on the CWP part of the project exclusively for the last couple of months: whatever else happens, if I have to pull the plug on the Muster vaporware, at least the project’s gotten something into the hands of the backers.

Movie Club Revives

Our movie club has a winning formula: everybody brings a movie they’d like to show to the others, we vote on which movie gets watched, and then tell the sponsor how dumb they must be if they like this trash.

(In reality, despite the club regulars being pretty different people with different tastes, we seem to mainly hit four starts out of five. Few movies have gotten a mere three stars, so clearly we’re doing something right!)

I choose to interpret the fact that we convene the club fairly irregularly to be because we are witnessing a case of culture core sociology: who has the time to sit and watch a movie when pretty much the same crew of people could be doing something proactively ambitious instead. Like, we have world-class roleplaying to do, or theater, or some DIY crafts projects. Sometimes it feels more likely to get this crew to convene to make our own movie than watch somebody else’s.

But nevertheless, here we are again. Sipi, who plays a wonderfully experimental game in the movie club, came with the surprising proposition of watching a movie made after the millennium. In fact, something that came out this very year! Bold move, that, in a club that has so far emphasized watching each other’s old favourites. Otherwise nobody’d bothered to bring new entrants, so our selection of movie options was mainly the same old:

Apocalypse Now (1979)
Dangerous Liaisons (1989)
Ferat Vampire (1982)
Donnie Darko (2001) ➖
Alexander (2004) ➖
Green Knight (2021) ➕➕

Sipi’s suggestion of the Green Knight found such solid support that I didn’t need to vote myself at all before it found a ruling quorum. I would have voted for it myself anyway, making it a straight “➕➕➕” situation; Sipi gets his audience, he knew that I have an unhealthy fascination for the original Sir Gawain and the Green Knight romance.

First, personally: I loved this movie! I didn’t know that you’re allowed to both understand old literature and make movies, but apparently there’s some loophole in the rules after all. Makes you wonder, though: why run down Hollywood with blockbusters if this sort of thing is, you know, legal…

The movie’s cinematic craft is old-fashioned and theatrical, with great care put into beautiful visual compositions, detail grunge (this is a realistic dark middle ages Camelot) and big persona monologues delivered in a mumbling way. (Work that volume knob to enjoy the acting!) It’s the exact kind of cerebral that I know many people absolutely loathe in movies, but I was at the edge of my seat with delight. A bit like a more approachable El Topo, if you will.

As for the substance, the movie does a respectable interpretation of the mysteriously thought-provoking chivalric romance. I’ve my own ideas on what the story means and how it should be told, and I didn’t find the interpretation here to be dumb as nails, so mission accomplished.

The judging panel was unusually divided due to the movie’s symbolic storytelling style and, well, high expectations of subject matter expertise. I fully understand the idea that it can come across as hopelessly pretentious simply because I’m not sure if the plot is really intelligible if you’re not familiar with the story in advance. A bit like how some operas are fairly difficult to follow for their story, which is presumed familiar. I guess it would make sense to call these kinds of art pieces “advanced”, being as how there’s a clear presumption of an informed audience.

But even then, the beautiful pictures were beautiful and the artsy-fartsy judges loved the storytelling, so ⭐⭐⭐⭐🔥 it is! Really, to get higher than this would require an unanimous 5-star panel, so this is as close to a perfect score as we’ve come, or likely to get.

There was talk of convening the movie club again next week. We’ll see if I have the time with my CWP publishing plans, but hopefully it happens. We should watch more movies, and the only way to make that happen is to do it!

State of the Coup

Again one of these weeks for Coup de Main: the Monday Coup had an adult-GM related cancel, while the Sunndi game had manchild-player related cancel. Or hangover-related. Anyway. Fortunately there’s always next week!

The way the scheduling carousel worked out, our aforementioned movie club meet was on Tuesday night, actually, in the usual gaming slot. Goes to show how these things work.

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