Kickstarter

Transmissions From The End #008

What’s up End Transmission fans, he said by way of greeting, unsure if he was addressing an actual group of people that actually exist or a figment of his fevered imagination.

This episode is a sneak preview of what we’ve got coming up for the year 2017. Because we’re still early in the year, be aware of all of the following: there are some things we want to keep under wraps for now, some things we haven’t figured out yet, and some things we haven’t even thought of yet. With all of those caveats at the way, let’s talk about some stuff. Here’s an update on almost everything.

Systems Malfunction

For over 10 years it was an amazing, awesome, experimental boffer LARP. Then it was a gigantic, bullet-stopping setting book for the Singularity System. Then last year in October you guys funded us so we could make Systems Malfunction–still powered by the Singularity System–a standalone RPG. Again, thanks!

But I really, really, really want the book to be full color because well…just look at all of this full color art we produced during the Kickstarter. It’s AMAZING! But we ran out of time on our KS more than $10,000 short of our Full Color stretch goal. We thought more about what an injustice it would be to have to grayscale down those images from glorious CMYK,  So we tightened our belts and crunched the numbers a bit and now we’ve got an IndieGoGo set up. If we can get $3,500 in the next 59 days or so, we can make the book full color, which would be so great. For those of you who already gave generously to the KS and are already getting SysMal, if you have any ideas for additional rewards we could offer you through the IndieGoGo, shoot ’em over to me.

As for production on the actual book, here’s a quick look behind the scenes. The manuscript is currently just a hair under 50,000 words. Probably about 10,000 of those words are boilerplate and need to be rewritten. As a point of reference, Psionics weighed in at 78,000 words and change, and that was before about 30,000 words of fictions. I anticipate needing to write approximately another 20-30k words before the manuscript is complete, not counting a 10,000 word piece of introductory fiction. The latter I won’t be writing myself, at least plant A is that I want to hire a famous writer to write it. Someone whose name you will have heard of. But you know, make plans and hear God laugh, all that stuff. Anyway, I don’t anticipate having much trouble finishing the text portion of the game that remains to be finished at the rate which I write/design games, but art and layout often take longer, and we won’t know if the remaining art we’re commissioning will be color or B&W for 60 days. Still, we should be in position to deliver on our promise of a GenCon 50 release date, barring any (further) unforeseen personal disasters. Backers will receive their books first where at all possible.

S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R.

Last year I tried to launch the SPLINTER “living campaign” and didn’t get anywhere with it so I’m really hoping to make it work this year. If you don’t know what a “living campaign” is, the idea that diverse groups of gamers are playing the same adventures in the same setting at different game tables at various conventions across the country. It’s synonymous with ordinary play. D&D, Pathfinder, and Shadowrun: Missions have all run successful living campaigns at some point in their lifecycles. I know that we won’t be able to orchestrate on that scale any time soon, but we’re also doing things a little bit differently in that it is a literal, cohesive campaign: players can play it from the beginning or jump in wherever, experiencing an epic story where their choices really matter (my plan is, like what many established living campaigns did to one degree or another, to gather data on the choices made by players and think about how those can effect the writing of future adventures).

The living campaign is called Glory & Gore.

We have three episodes already written, and I had planned on writing the fourth, fifth, and sixth episode some time this year before Origins. Whether we have three episodes or six for 2017 players, it should be hard for the living campaign to do worse than the sad story of 2016, where we only ultimately ran two four hour instances of the living campaign. I am hoping to have a GM team that can run at least 25 instances of Glory & Gore, or 100 hours of organized SPLINTER gameplay, over the course of 2017. Wish me luck.

In other SPLINTER news, we have a terrific (and terrifying) adventure coming out hopefully at this year’s I-CON called Return To The Dread Abyss Of The Digitarchs from Oubliette co-creator Richard Kelly who also lead the charge on the (free) SPLINTER QSR. Art direction on it is almost three weeks behind, so it maybe delayed to a Lunacon or Origins release. Having not written it myself, I can say it is one of the greatest published adventures I’ve ever seen, for any game system.

Finally, I have a vision of a SPLINTER box set which will include the most current printings of SPLINTER Core, Sometimes Little Wondrous Things, and Ugly Things, perhaps also the SPLINTER Quick Start Rules, and pamphlets with things like three new playable Bloodlines (!) and rules for Martial Arts in the Realm (both ones Players train in Earthside, and ones passed down by Bloodlines for Aeons).

Psionics

Only two major pieces of news on the Psionics front (although there is some more Dicepunk news in the following and final heading). The first is that we want to take steps towards mass-producing the Psionics comic in a normal comic book size/format and try to get it in the hands of brick & mortar and digital comics retailers. Quite simply, we feel it’s too good a comic to be restricted to the cozy niche of tabletop gaming. We want to get it out there in the world.

And I also want to write a sequel, which is…daunting. But I want a comic book series, and it was never meant to be a one-off. I’m going to have to nut up and do it eventually, but thinking on the fact that I procrastinated writing “Tomorrow’s Starlight” longer than I procrastinated writing anything in my adult life, it may be later rather than sooner.

Speaking of sequels, sales of The Pleasantville Project have been decent enough that we are seriously considering beginning work on its sequel, continuing the Eternal Storm Campaign that will walk Psionics players from the awakening of their gifts to the end of the world as they know it.

No Country For Great Old Ones

(First off, a DicePunk adventure I believe I mentioned on here last year, Escape From Cleveland is officially cancelled before entering production. It stopped being fun around the same time that Trump was elected, making the possibility of Trump’s presidency 100% terrifying and 0% funny. However, since Psionics is firmly set “now”,  Psionics fans deserve an update on how the Trump presidency has effected the secret factions of the Psionics universe, much as it’s shaken up everything in the real world. This update will be short, free, and most likely delivered through this blog.)

No Country For Old Men is an adventure we have in the works that will feature officially licensed game statistics for Delta Green, Savage Worlds, and HERO System, Fifth Edition, Revised (or FRED) in addition to our own Dicepunk system.

No Country For Great Old Ones will be an intense, southern fried crime drama with subtle elements of supernatural horror. It’s deeply inspired by the excellent film “Hell or High Water”: my basic thought process, having been playing a lot of Delta Green at the time was, wow, what if we threw some Mythos into this mix.

The Delta Green and HERO System rules deal directly with the Lovecraft mythos, while the Savage Worlds and DicePunk rules keep the same basic structure of the adventure, but use elements of the mythos that we developed for Phantasm(2010) in place of the Lovecraftian stuff (I finally saw Phantasm RaVager, and my feelings are mixed). No Country will be unique in a few ways besides having full stats for four different game systems. Namely, it is a “two sided” adventure (think of an old record, with an A side and a B side) where the PCs can be either the “cops” or the “robbers”. Once you’ve played through it from one side, you can play through it as the other side, and see how the other half lives, and see what formidable enemies your former characters make.

We could probably rush No Country into production in time for Origins of this year without a problem, but we’re also considering doing a Kickstarter for the adventure to raise awareness. That would delay its release until well, well after GenCon, however, since as a company rule we don’t launch a Kickstarter until we’ve delivered on the previous one.

That’s it for the fourth week of February and the first time I’ve managed to force myself to make a proper update this year. Tune in next Thursday or the following Thursday  (hopefully) for more Transmissions From The End.

<End Transmission>

 

 

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SPLINTER’d (Kickstarter Campaign Ongoing)

Not gonna lie, I wanted to make an ETG post quick to get the taste of the last post out of my mouth. I certainly don’t regret anything I said, as such, but let me say this: having at-all controversial opinions and a crippling anxiety disorder is a really tough combination to live with. Hell, having an anxiety disorder doesn’t pair especially well with having principles, period. I’m eager to get back to discussing games I actually like, and of course that includes the ones that I invented myself.

So, SPLINTER. Our Surprising Things Kickstarter has been live for about a week now. It will be a full week tomorrow. So far we’re about 30% funded with about three weeks to go. That’s not terrible by any means but of course I’m already worried we won’t make it: see again, anxiety disorder making life more difficult than it should be.

This also has to do with the fact that this KS is very much necessarily our litmus test for the future of the SPLINTER game line going forward. If this KS funds, obviously SPLINTER has enough public interest to support in full. If it doesn’t, that would be a clear indicator that SPLINTER is just too niche and weird a project for the adventure games market. So the stakes are scary high. If you’re reading this and you haven’t backed and/or put in your 20 hours on social media pestering all your friends to back, please help me out and do so. (To those of you who’ve already given, the vast majority of you have given AMAZINGLY generously, so thank you all so, so much!)

Some exciting news, though, in the field of…actual news. I’m happy to report that our KS has been featured on the frontpages of Tabletop Gaming News (TGN) and Roleplayers Chronicle. That’s super groovy and hopefully it will bring us to a larger audience.

When we hit the 50% funding mark, I’m going to reveal some of our stretch goals which I’m pretty stoked about. This isn’t quite a preview, but it verges on one.

So the SPLINTER Core Rulebook is the very first product End Transmission Games ever published (not the first game I designed by a long shot, though, as both Phantasm and Psionics are older than it by five years or more, but that’s neither here nor there). Anyway, as our oldest product SPLINTER is obviously the one I most wish I could go back and change, since I’ve learned so much about this game design business since its release.

Mostly, this is a production values thing. Mikaela has grown by such leaps and bounds as a layout artist that the difference in visible production quality between SPLINTER (her very first layout project) and Psionics is obviously a difference of several orders of magnitude. Likewise, some of the art that we included in SPLINTER is not up to our current standards (although don’t get me wrong, some of it is just as great as anything in Psionics: I really dig black and white art in general.).

But there are also some things in SPLINTER’s rules that I’d like to change. Traditionally, this is why roleplaying games have second (and third and fourth and sixth) editions. It’s too early for a new edition of SPLINTER, though, by every conceivable metric. For one, it simply hasn’t been enough years. For another, we haven’t sold anywhere near enough copies to justify launching a new edition as any kind of sound financial decision. Finally and most importantly, we haven’t received nearly enough actual play feedback to have a truly informed perspective on the issues with the rules that would be needed to make the targeted changes for a new edition.

When it comes to the SPLINTER rules, I’m fairly happy with the rules governing gameplay in the Splinter itself (both the core dice pool mechanic and its particular interactions). But the “real world” rules for “playing your Player” Earthside use a primitive primordial ancestor of the DicePunk System that I’m not entirely proud of. I’d love to upgrade the Earthside rules to use the DicePunk System proper (at the Realistic/Literary Campaign Power Level), since it’s better than its prototypical ancestor in pretty much every way. This would have the added benefit of making our roster of supported coherent games that much more coherent. We’d be supporting DicePunk, Singularity, and Splinter which as one game with two systems would be DicePunk/other, as opposed to not-quite-DicePunk/other, which is even sloppier and more confusing. Fans of DicePunk games like Psionics could logically have their attention drawn to Splinter, and vice versa. Finally, since EarthSide stats influence Avatar stats, using the modern incarnation of the DicePunk system for Splinter’s Earthside play would improve upon that two-systems-in-one-game interaction.

A chance to overhaul the SPLINTER core rules would give me an opportunity for lots of other little tweaks too–while writing this, for instance, I noticed that many of the SP awards in the Subscriber Point Reward table on page 59 are a bit low for my tastes–but I’m not looking to make any major changes to the core “in-the-Splinter” gameplay. Except for the massive influx of new content that’s the entire point of the Surprising Things project.

So, at this point I’ve basically come around to revealing that our first stretch goal will be some kind of overhaul of the SPLINTER core rulebook. Which is an idea that really excites me, so here’s hoping.

Mining For Inspiration

Sorry Phantom Followers, it’s been a while! As I think I’ve talked about here before, I’m terrible at updating.

Nonetheless, here is a reasonably timely update for the Psionics Kickstarter! This update actually contains a lot of the stuff I want to talk about here, so I’m just going to post in a chunk of it in.

[Our local playtest group] has been struggling with some not entirely unexpected scheduling difficulties but nonetheless has managed to log three playtest sessions (six hours in length) since the playtest period began. We have our next one scheduled for tomorrow, and hopefully many more between now and January 1st 2015, when the playtest period officially ends (although we may keep playing after that). Local playtest experience has already yielded a few solid handfuls of rules corrections, tweaks, and ideas.

As I said previously, the priority between now and the start of 2015 is finishing the manuscript and incorporating actual playtest feedback into the final manuscript. What I am doing first is the “meat and potatoes”, all of the rules, mechanics, and procedural advice necessary for a game that feels entirely complete and able to support many robust campaigns. What we’ll shift focus towards going into the new year once the nuts and bolts are in place is the “candy coating”, all of the pretty stuff. This means first embellishing the manuscript with flavor, quotes and of course awesome fiction (which you generous people have paid for), and then embarking on the journey of securing the awesome art that you generous people have paid for and letting Mikaela work her layout magic, perhaps going into the later stages of that process in March or April (too early to say now for sure). Until then, I’m letting my actual play experience serve as both a continuing stress test of the rules and mechanics and as a groundswell of inspiration I’m currently storing up as the basis for the thematic and aesthetic trappings that my fiction and the fiction of other contributors will imbue the game with as the final coat of polish before the art and layout phase. This process is, fittingly, happening side by side with the painstaking “training” of the Psionics Pandora station.

It’s the last few sentences that I want to expand on here. So I did, although I didn’t expand on the music part much. Let me just say either listening to music is an inseparable part of your creative output or it isn’t, and either you know the uniquely frustrating experience of hammering a Pandora Station into the shape you want, or you don’t. : )

Basically speaking, this unusually lengthy playtest process is fascinating to me and I’m really enjoying having the time window to leisurely unpack the process and take my time with it. My past games have been written and published with much less time for playtesting and almost no time for REFLECTING on that playtesting. While I think the games we’ve already published came out pretty great (I’m biased), I’m finding both the playtesting and the time to reflect to be really invaluable. If nothing else, I’m catching mistakes that I never caught in past projects until the book was already published.

To be blunt, by no later than early next year, I need to write some fiction for Psionics and also write some evocative hooks and guidelines for the Fiction we’re going to pay other talented people to write. This prospect scares the everloving shit out of me. There are a lot of reasons of varying importance for this. The fact that I’m rusty at writing fiction-qua-fiction and I know I’m rusty at writing that kind of fiction (gosh, I think it’s been years since I’ve done it anything resembling regularly) isn’t the core issue, nor is the fact that I’ve never been a “manager” for other writers before.

The issue is more that my standards and expectations of the quality of the Psionics fiction–my own writing not just included, but especially–are enormously high. But even that doesn’t get at the heart of it, because I don’t just want it to be awesome, even more than I wanted the fiction associated with the Singularity System and SPLINTER to be awesome.

The real stumbling block is that for me there is a certain seemingly ineffable, seemingly unnameable, emotive, philosophical attitude, literary quality, aesthetic, and most of all style that I want the Psionics fiction to have. What I want, in my head, is so evolved in style from earlier versions of Psionics as to be almost unrecognizable when compared to the 2007 and 2002 incarnations of the unpublished game.

I hate things I can’t say in English, but the French have a better phrase for this. It is a very literal “je ne sais quois. I’m not being clever or coy here, because “je ne sais quois” is French that literally translates to “I-DON’T KNOW-WHAT”  and I DON’T FUCKING KNOW WHAT. Or more saliently, more accurately, I do know what, in my heart, and my mind, but so far I’ve been totally unable to approach putting that quality and style into even the most rudimentary words. Which is a very problematic thing because putting it into words is literally my most important job.

Never fear, though. I’ve got time, I’ve got a burgeoning playtest campaign to mine for inspiration, I’ve got books to read, and I’ve got music to listen to while I do it. So I am going to sais quois this je ne sais quois, come hell or high water. Mainly by playing Psionics.


In other (enigmatic) news…invisible drama (if I’ve talked to you face to face in the last month or so, don’t worry, I’m not talking about you) continues to be more or less invisible, against my fundamental instincts, as I try to focus on productive things rather than my mounting thirst for absolute destruction.

I hope to make a more general update on our company soon. But since aspirations don’t always align with reality as far as blogging goes, here’s the short version in case I disappear for a few more months. We’ve got an exciting distribution deal with Studio 2 Publishing and that might allow us to actually have a reasonable presence at GenCon next year, hope to God.

Let’s Start A Fire

At long last, things are happening. In my brain slides that strange moment of recognition that perhaps after all there *was* a right answer all along. “I’m sorry, but the correct Religion was…MORMON.”

Within fifteen minutes of stepping out of the shower this afternoon, I was: on the #rpgnet chatroom talking to Dan Davenport (the GMShoe) about scheduling a PsionicsQ&A for August 21st, on my personal facebook linking the Psionics Kickstarter, on the Psionics Kickstarter responding to backers, and combing through and shaking my head at decidedly sketchy and quite mercenary Kickstarter-boosting spam from half a dozen different directions.

Yesterday at 5:00PM our Psionics Kickstarter went live after a month of really hard work.

corridor kickstarter image

Since then we have received $1,417 dollars of our $2,500 goal, which we have 45 44 days to raise. At the time of this writing, we are just now nearing the 24 hour mark. Our First Wave $5.00 and $10.00 rewards are sold out.

In the #rpgnet chatroom I’m amicably swapping KS backs with fellow indie devs and rapping capsule description of my half-dozen or so published games to a tiny chatroom of gamers that haven’t heard of any of them in the years they’ve been out. I can’t even be surprised anymore. We never did a Kickstarter, after all.

So, finally, and once and for all, with great relief, I will make this statement: things are finally beginning to happen. Things are finally beginning to move.

My friends: please back us on Kickstarter. Let’s keep this motherfucker burning.

-DTO Out

Hard Out There For A Pimp

So much-belated Origins 2014 after action con report GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I think this may be shorter than usual, but I do have a tendency to say something like that and then write something like INFINITY pages, so we’ll see. I always have trouble hitting the mark between “short enough to read as perfunctory” and “really freaking long”

This year we were at Origins, running demos, and selling games. By we I mean the End Transmission Games crew, myself, Mikaela, and Rachid Yahya tagged along to help us out (thanks again, Rachid!). We were able to hold our heads up proudly because the Systems Malfunction setting book for the Singularity System is finally done after about a year and a half of sweat and toil and cat herding! Go buy it! Now!! Buy two of it!

Our pal Jason Walters of IPR/HERO Games/Blackwyrm Publishing invited us to join our booth to the three that IPR/Blackwyrm had to form an island, and we were happy to do so. It was a nifty arrangement and I’d love to do something similar in the future at Origins shows yet to come.

Following a meeting with Jason Pitre at the con, we have applied to join the amazing Indie Game Developer Network, home to many cool dudes and ladies what makes the indie RPGs. I sincerely hope we are accepted among their ranks, because it seems to be our last shot at having a sales presence at GenCon this year, without which we’re DOOOOOOOMED…not to have a sales presence at GenCon this year. Which would be terribly unfortunate, as our books are already headed there, and so are we.

Now on to the topic of… SALES, SALES, SELLING AND SALES

Sales were…not great, but not terrible. At least that’s my gut feeling without access to sales data for any companies of our size in our position…and without knowing for sure of any companies that are exactly our size and in exactly our position. Sales is a tough topic. As I said to many people and had said to me by many people over the course of the con, selling an RPG is a lot like selling a car. To someone who already has several cars. That they don’t ever use.

Basically, what I am learning is that our company sells the majority of our products during conventions. A lot of this is hand sales, us actually selling things AT conventions. This can be ascribed to A) Mikaela being i) a pretty girl and ii) actively outgoing, and please note that the latter of those two things is literally no less possible for me than the former, and B) game designers excitedly talking about their products to potential customers. But not all of the sales that happen DURING conventions happen AT the convention. We also see huge spikes in our online sales during cons. Which is weird but not really…I guess some of the dozens of people that take a business card and say they’ll “check us out online” do just that, and like what they see.

Besides conventions, we do most of our sales through DriveThru RPG, a huge online megastore of all things vaguely roleplaying related. While we are fortunate enough as of this writing to have an awesomely high publisher rating on DriveThru RPG and numerous very favorable and flattering reviews, DriveThru does not do anything to actively promote are products like they do for larger and better known companies. I think the number of sales we have through DriveThru have more to do with the degree to which DriveThru has cornered the online RPG Market.

Our sales on “indie” venues like the indie RPGs un-store and Indie Press Revolution are much more disappointing, especially since these are “indie” venues and as a publisher, we are as “indie” as you can possibly get. In fact, to quote MC Frontalot, with only a pinch of irony,

Unpromoted,  don’t know how you found me.
Soundly situated in obscurityland,
famous in inverse proportion to how cool I am,
and should I ever garner triple-digit fans
you can tell me then there’s someone I ain’t indier than. 

IPR who is our distributor (kind of), for instance, does not (perhaps “can’t” is the word to use?) carry our products at national conventions because they don’t sell well enough to justify taking up shelf space that could be used for the “mainstream” “indie” RPGs (to what degree is that an oxymoron?) people are literally flocking to buy (cough). From a purely capitalistic perspective, this makes perfect sense because it makes financial sense. It’s just the fact that places like IPR present themselves as advocates for independent creator-publishers just as much as they present themselves as business ventures that makes it a hard pill to swallow. When you’re so Indie (read: unpromoted, unadvertised, unknown) that self-identified Indie venues can’t carry your shit because it’s too obscure, it starts to feel like a real Joseph Heller, by which I mean a Catch 22. Of course, it’s not like the big guys are looking out for our interests either…or even know we exist. Oh well, not whining, just philosophizing. 

But we’re pursuing avenues to try and raise awareness of our brand and all that other…corporate shit…that I despise…because I’m a flaky tortured artist creative type and all I know is to mak gams, not to mak money *le sigh*. Anyway if you’re reading this and you weren’t yesterday, then maybe something’s working.

And then there’s the big old fashioned national Distributors that are still in many ways the gatekeeper to FLGS (Friendly Local Game Stores) sales and that whole huge market segment (not everyone buys on the internet or at cons), but that’s such a big topic it will have to be saved for another post.

So that about raps up the recap of Origins and the thoughts stemming from it. We learned our lessons from last year, we brought a lot less books, and we sold a great big mess of them, in person and (I’m presuming, if things go like they usually do during cons) online. We put a ton of business cards in a ton of hands and had a ton of interesting conversations and made a ton of contacts, just like last year. As far as our public awareness, we are still somewhere between “way under the radar” and “totally unknown” but hopefully rising on the graph. Anyone into us know is into End Transmission Games before it was mainstream. Or “indie”. Or whatever it is sells thousands of games. 

There is a new S P L I N T E R product on the horizon! Finally! It should see release in the next few weeks, maybe I’ll blog about it first! We are also planning our very first KICKSTARTER. I will definitely be a-blogging about that soon.

Till next time!