Monday, August 31, 2009

Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition coming in September!

Coming in September 2009!

Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition is a new printing of the classic Labyrinth Lord rules, which fixes known errata. In addition, a new cover and all new interior art has been added courtesy of the very talented Steve Zieser! This edition of Labyrinth Lord will be appearing in game stores in November, but will be available for online sales in September via Lulu and from Goblinoid Games direct to retailers. The paperback version ($21.95) will be in distribution, and a hard cover ($31.95) will be available exclusively online.

Like the previous edition, a free complementary electronic book will be made available in addition to a rich text file. The free electronic book will be without art, but a heavily discounted full art version will be available for $4.95 at Your Games Now and RPGnow. We’re taking this approach because Goblinoid Games is the first publisher of a neo-retro game to buy all of the interior and cover art, and to continue hiring freelancers we have to charge for the updated and improved edition.

The free complementary edition will have the same pagination as the art version and print version, making it a useful free tool so all players can get the rules, with the same pagination to ease reference, free for online and at-the-table play.

The electronic version will go on sale concurrently with the POD version at Lulu.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A bad workman blames his tools

Print on demand technology is very important to small press publishing, and will only continue to be as time goes on. This is true whether it is through a service like Lulu that processes orders, or whether a small print run is ordered directly from Lightning Source or some other similar service.

There is a growing perception that Lulu in particular is a bad service or that it provides shoddy products. The fact is that after hundreds of copies of Labyrinth Lord, I've only seen reports of two copies printed poorly. That's an error rate of well under 1% folks. When RPGnow goes live with their POD service, they will likely use the same printers as Lulu. The quality of the printing is pretty damn good, and this should not be confused with the sometimes maddening customer service with Lulu, who is actually just a middle man for the printers in the first place.

There are more and more people self publishing these days, and sometimes they make mistakes in creating their files for Lulu. This is largely from inexperience, but it's also sometimes because people get into a rush to have the product out there, for a number of reasons. When such a product has a shoddy appearance, some of these people blame Lulu, saying things like the printing doesn't turn out the proper color, is too dark, etc. Some people blame the website interface.

Attention Publishers: When you shrug the responsibility off on the printer, blaming them for things you could have prevented, you are unfairly blaming the source, and therefore creating the idea that POD is crap. When you do this, you are shooting yourself in the foot, because POD technology is becoming the lifeblood of this kind of small press publishing. Do not convince customers that POD is bad, especially because it's not, but also because when you do so you are destroying a market.

The bottom line is that a service like Lulu that is self service puts the entire burden on you, the publisher, to learn the interface and learn what needs to be done to set up your cover properly or your body text file properly. There is no one to inspect quality, which means you, the publisher, need to inspect quality.

That means you need to order a proof copy before you release it to the public.

Inconvenient, yes, but if you want to be responsible, it has to be done.

If properly done, you can get high quality products from POD. There is nothing odd about the way it works, nothing inherent that will produce dark covers, or off colors, or move your text around; none of these things will happen if you do the job right and understand how things work.

I want to provide a couple of useful tips, some of which I've learned the hard way. I get such a low error rate with Labyrinth Lord because I bit the bullet and ordered proof copies. I also took the time to learn how to properly construct print-ready files.



1) Read the directions very carefully regarding the dimensions of your cover. If doing a one piece cover, be sure you calculate spine width correctly.

2) When setting up your trim edges, be sure to extend whatever color is on the cover all the way through the trim edges. Why? Because there will be slight variation in where they cut the cover, and if you don't have color on the whole thing you may end up with a white line on one or more edges. This is true for case wrap hard covers as well. They may or may nor fold the cover over the board in exactly the place where you think they will.

3) Work with high resolution, high quality images. You need to have images that are at least 300 dpi. Scaling them up to 300 dpi will not work, it will only result in fuzzy images, unless you are working with vector art.

4) Use the gamut warning on whatever software you are using to design your covers. The Lulu FAQ says (or at least it did last time I checked) that your cover should be designed with RGB colors. This is not true. They tell people that because it is easier for most people to do RGB. The truth is that the printer prints with CMYK even if they can read RGB. Not all RGB colors translate into CMYK, meaning that when it is converted the color will shift. It could end up darker, or it could end up an "off" shade of color from what you intended. Always construct your cover in CMYK, or at least work with colors that are within the CMYK gamut.

4) Understand that computer screen resolution and brightness does not necessarily reflect what your cover will actually look like when printed. This is true no matter what print method you use. If your screen is set too light or too dark, that affects your perceptions. How many colors is your monitor set to display? It doesn't display only in CMYK, either.

Book Body

The biggest tip here is to be sure you have created a print ready PDF with high quality software. If you use Adobe products you are in very good shape. Take the time to learn how to use it. If you use other software then I'm afraid it is hit or miss, and you'll have to do some investigating to find high quality freeware PDF creators. They are out there. However, PDFs created with other software may have problems with some printers, and not necessarily consistently. Remember that some PDF software is designed for onscreen viewing of documents, not for creating high resolution print ready documents for publishing.

The bottom line is that POD technology is an incredible resource for small press publishing. Even when you order a short run for distribution, it is POD technology, and then you better get it right or your whole run is wasted. Many of us small press publishers will have some titles in distribution, and some lower volume titles only available through POD. These are our tools, our life blood. Do not create the impression that POD printing sucks just to cover mistakes. Do not give POD technology a bad name when it doesn't deserve it.

This also turns to a trust issue. Customers get tired of buying a book only to have the next "fixed" version up two days later (or even two minutes later). This is such a big problem with some publishers that I confess I won't touch anything some of them put up for POD, knowing it is going to be shoddy or the product will go through revision after revision as a result of rushing it or not constructing the files correctly. It's one thing to update a PDF only product, because that is a simple matter of downloading the update, but when you're customers waste the money on a physical product this hurts them and it hurts the image of the delivery mechanism. We all have to do a good job of making sure that when a POD title becomes available, we have taken all steps necessary to ensure a quality product. Mistakes do occur, but typos are an entirely different subject than having gross printing errors on the cover. There should never be those kind of errors in a finished product.

Respect the tools, and use them correctly to do the job right and we can continue to build the POD market. Use the the tools haphazardly and you destroy a method of distribution that is extremely important.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dungeon Room Contest Voting

The submission period has closed, and you can now go to my forum to vote!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mutant Future: First Runner Up

Mutant Future is the first runner up for best free RPG in 2008 in the Indie RPG awards!

It is very humbling to get this recognition. I know that these kinds of retro games won't score higher because they aren't considered "innovative," but nonetheless I think this further demonstrates that this style of game is appreciated, as some people may recall that Labyrinth Lord was a runner up last year. I thank the folks behind the Indie RPG Awards, and as Arnold would say, "Awl bae back!"

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dungeon Room Contest! Submission ends Aug. 24th!

From my forums.

I was perusing the used movies for sale at my local Blockbuster last week, and came across some copies of Gamerz. There were only two left, so I picked up one for myself and an extra one to give away. I think this is a great gamer movie, so if you're interested in getting a free used copy, check out this contest! I'll ship it anywhere in the world, but be aware it has the US region code.

To enter the contest, submit in this thread a room description for one (1) room in a 1st level of a dungeon. The description must be no longer than 300 words (not counting stat blocks, which must be for Labyrinth Lord). In one week from today, Aug. 24th, submissions will close. Then I will set up a vote thread and the community will have 3 days to vote for the winner. I'll send the winner the DVD.

If we get enough submissions and people are willing, we'll compile these into a free PDF, so people can use it as a resource for determining the contents randomly of a room.

Have fun!


Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Planes in Labyrinth Lord

As I've been working on Advanced Edition Characters for Labyrinth Lord, I've been thinking a bit about the cosmology. I want to stick with the forces of law and chaos as the major axes or philosophical underpinings, with concepts of good and evil being ways in which law or chaos may be executed, but not major spheres of philosophy per se. I think this remains true to the pulp literature origins of gaming. So even though AEC will allow good and evil to be added to alignment, they should be interpreted as more organic than law vs. chaos.

So, all of this is leading to how to organize the planes of existence. I want to get away from the complexity, but also sort of bloated cosmology that was in 1e. If you are familiar with the second issue of the Scribe of Orcus, I outlined the basics of one possible scheme for the planes, which I will probably adopt for AEC. I made a two-dimensional representation of the planes that will likely appear in AEC in some form. Here is the rough draft for those curious:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Simple Comparison

Sometimes I think the simplest comparison can say volumes more than a lengthy essay. There are certainly a number of differences between "old-school" D&D and "new-school" D&D, and I think many of those differences in mechanics and play style can be summed up by the following:

Old-school D&D characters are adventurers

New-school D&D characters are "heroes"

Friday, August 7, 2009

Drizzt Do'Urden: When novels and games collide

In 1989 TSR released the Forgotten Realms supplement, Hall of Heroes. Back then I was a huge fan of the FR novels, so I was very excited to get this book because it had the game stats for the major FR novel characters. I was especially eager to see Drizzt's stats, because I thought he was awesome (I know, burn me at the stake). I bought the book, cracked it open and thought, "Wow, that's pretty stupid!"

The thing about novels compared to games is that an author can have his characters do all sorts of things and not have to worry about fitting the actions into a framework of game rules. A powerful character can be stabbed in the heart with a dagger and die if the story requires it. That sort of thing.

So when I looked at the Drizzt stats I expected to see a ranger, albeit a drow ranger. For the most part that's what we got, and his basic stats were nothing special. Then as I read further I got to this part that really gave me the shits:

"So accurate are his wicked cuts, that if Drizzt's 'to hit' roll exceeds the minimum required for a hit by more than 5, he scores double weapon damage and has a base 10%, plus or minus 3% per level difference between him and his opponent, chance of killing the foe instantly."

AGGGGHHH!! Why did they do this? They invented a special critical hit system exclusive to Drizzt!!! My nerd rage knows no bounds!

Yeah. See, for those of you who never read the novels Drizzt appears in, he kicks so much ass it almost becomes comical, especially in the Dark Elf Trilogy. Drizzt wields two scimitars simultaneously, and dances around sticking one scimitar here, another scimitar there, artfully slicing here dicing there dancing over there flashing the blade to one side then to the other side then upside down in a circle up the ribcage to the brain while standing on his head picking his nose...

...all while balancing his checkbook at the same time.

He's the Ultimate Master of the Blade, have no doubt about that. His sword prowess is described in such detail over and over again in the books that I guess I can't blame the writers for needing to somehow justify it when presenting Drizzt in actual game terms. The problem though is that I wanted to play out little arena battles between my favorite character and Drizzt, but he had that damn special critical hit ability. Without that my character would stomp him like the sissy elf he is.

Sometimes I think the best policy is what happens in the novel, stays in the novel.

Zee game is zee zame!

I just love this video, as some of you may know since I've linked to it before. This is probably one of the better examples of a blatant attempt to influence the customer, to convince the audience that older editions of D&D are not just out of date, but silly. Not a hard thing to do either when that audience is already conditioned to believe new edition = better design. If I where teaching a class on rhetoric I'd use this video as an example.

What I want to talk about in this post, though, isn't whether zee game is zee zame. We all know it isn't, so I'll leave that dead horse covered with a throw blanket for the time being (just don't mind the flies and smell, because I'll probably expose it again sometime later!). Instead I want to talk about new editions of games in general. There still seems to be people who get flustered when anyone claims a new edition of D&D comes out in order to make more money from the brand. It's the obvious truth, but what I'm curious about is whether D&D as a brand is very different in this regard compared to other classic brands that have been around for a long time. Let's take a look at a few.

Basic Roleplaying: Chaosium has been publishing this since the very early 80s. This system has been used for a number of genres and licensed properties. The interesting thing about this system is that even though new editions came out, such as for Call of Cthulhu or Elric/Stormbringer, the core rules were largely identical. The main differences could be found in the way some of the subsystems worked, such as demon summoning in the various versions of Elric/Stormbringer. The long and the short of it is you can pick up any adventure from any period of time and run it with BRP, no matter what version, will little tweaking.

So, Basic Roleplaying is not a good example of milking the brand. It has remained nearly unchanged for almost 30 years.

Palladium System: I think readers know what I'll say about this one before reading past this sentence. The sheer stubbornness of Palladium in refusing to revise their games is legendary. Sure, they have tweaked things over the years, but largely the system has remained zee zame through the various versions for the genres they publish. That's not to say they don't publish certain slightly updated or revised books to make more money, it's just that one could basically use older versions in about as seamless a fashion as is possible for the Palladium System.

So, this isn't a good example of the edition turnover business plan either. Think of all the new rehashed supplements they could sell if they did do this!

Tunnels & Trolls: This is another good example of a system staying mostly how it was created. There are different editions of this game, mostly with a few tweaks or add-ons but no big revisions.

Again, not a good example of re-releasing a brand as a new game.

GURPS: This is a rare case where I think the fans wanted a new edition before the game company wanted to release one! This system, at the core, remained unchanged since it came out in the mid 80s. It had considerable material tacked onto it for many years, until it was sort of a mess to straighten out, until a new edition came out just a few years ago. The new edition does have some compatibility hiccups with 3rd edition revised, but largely zee game is zee zame.

I think these are good examples because they are properties that have remained with the same publisher for all these years. Some of the other brands out there have gone between a number of publishers, and are not a good comparison because often a brand may be sold or licensed, and a new system tacked on. They belong to a different discussion.

So if we take a look around at other games, what should we conclude? Well, even if you look at some of the modern games you'll see that many of them don't go through radical edition revisions. Some do. I think White Wolf has done this, though I haven't kept up on what their system looks like now. I know they had a habit that really pissed me off at the beginning, where they would release a paperback 1st edition then turn around and release a revised one in harback after just a few months. It got so consistent that I stopped buying the first book and waited for the second. That practice was probably even worse than revising after a few years, because it made customers buy two core books in a very short time. Regardless, the different editions they released were very much the same game, just with tweaks here and there.

I think if we look at the various RPGs out there we can draw the conclusion that the way D&D is handled is unlike the way most other RPGs are handled, at least since WotC has taken stewardship of the brand. One of the inherent differences we're dealing with here is the attitude towards the customers. I think that a very real concern with GURPS and Palladium, for instance, is that any major changes to the core rules would alienate many customers. This is a very different approach than the way D&D is treated, because for some reason people don't view D&D the same way as they view other RPGs. With D&D people seem to see the shift to 3e and then to 4e as a process of inevitable evolution toward a "perfect" or "better evolved" D&D. I think the fact that this mentality is so deeply rooted in the fans who joyfully go from edition to edition when told to do so is a testament to effective marketing and rhetoric. As a strategy, WotC relies on this as a core group of people who will follow them through editions, and is not worried about the portion they will alienate because they hope to pick up fresh people, often younger people, by appealing to the current cultural tastes of that group.

All that is fine and good, and although it sounds like it I'm really not complaining about the way a corporation tries to make as much as possible from a brand. What I really am whining about is the consequence of this conditioning and how it has affected the gaming world. The problem that has emerged is that people view RPGs as things that should constantly be "updated" in the same way you would update your computer hardware. People are looking for "innovations" in game design, and view those of us who stick with older games as evolutionarily stagnant. Now, I'm not saying that some rules aren't clunky or poorly designed, but I do reject the notion of innovation for the sake of innovation. I reject the idea that we must keep tinkering with a game so that it stays "up to date," whatever that means.

It is telling that if hard pressed no one can really explain what being "up to date" really is when it comes to p-n-p RPGs, and part of the reason is that it is an empty concept that is thrown around because it sounds like it has substance. Additionally, (and this is probably controversial) much of this idea of "innovation" is an illusion, because most of what is possible with pencils and paper has been done, and most things now that come out is just a variation or brought in from other mediums like video games. The real innovation happened when the concept of RPGs emerged. Some of the supposed innovations coming from the Forge, for instance, are only different takes on what the proportion of story to rules should be, and how much either gamer party should be able to influence those. There really isn't anything truly "innovative" anymore. How much can you really upgrade a piece of paper?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mutant Future and the Indie RPG Awards

It's that time of year again for the Indie RPG awards! Last year, Labyrinth Lord placed as a runner up for Best Free Game of the Year 2007. This year Mutant Future is in the running, so we'll see how things go.