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RPG community Tabletop RPGs

Mastodon is the new Google Plus (I hope)

I’ve set Twitter aside and decamped to Mastodon (specifically, the dice.camp instance), where you can find me as @martinralya.

Returning to Twitter during the pandemic made me realize three things:

  1. I miss the social connections and serendipitous path-crossings and discoveries that social media can be good at facilitating.
  2. I miss Google+ a great deal.
  3. As much as I get #1 from Twitter, it brings me angst at least as often as it brings me joy — and it’s never brought me nearly as much joy as Google+ did.

Considering what a Musk-ified Twitter could be like got me thinking about leaving, and reflection on what I wanted out of social media — if anything — made me realize how important #2 on that list was to my calculations.

G+ 2

I want Mastodon to feel as much like G+ as possible. It has some of that feel, more of it than I’ve felt anywhere else, and that makes it worth my time.

There’s curation on my instance, BBS-style, by an admin I trust. I can curate my follower list to ensure that I follow folks who primarily post about gaming stuff.

There are no circles, but the first two points should help there.

If I post gaming stuff, generally off the cuff, and keep my posting reasonably focused, then I’m helping that work out from my end.

That sounds like a good start.

What it ain’t

I’m incorporating something into my usage of Mastodon that I learned from G+ going away: A fair number of my G+ posts should really have been blog posts, so when my Spidey-sense tingles I’m going to listen to it.

Yore is my most permanent home online. It’s been running since 2009 and a blog since 2012, longer than than Treasure Tables and my time on Gnome Stew.

For conversation and rejoicing in our shared hobby: Mastodon. For permanence: here, where it should be.

On smaller audiences

Why leave a huge potential audience on Twitter for a much smaller potential audience on Mastodon? Well, why not? Google+ was always smaller than Twitter, and I was happier on G+. Both are smaller than Facebook, and that place mostly made me miserable.

I left a large readership on Gnome Stew for a much smaller readership here. I left publishing, with 40,000+ sales worldwide, for not publishing, with zero sales worldwide.

There are cons in both cases, like fewer people interacting with my work. But on the pro list is something that’s become increasingly important to me: I just do what I enjoy, and if other folks enjoy it too then that’s awesome.

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

The Headless Child, Captain of the Endless Fleet

When someone in Godsbarrow dies at sea, the Headless Child lays claim to them.

If they died in sight of their own god, or gods, or if their faith was strong enough, the Child cannot take them. But if not, they join the Endless Fleet,[1] serving its unspeakably cruel captain for eternity.

And the Endless Fleet has but one mission: to bring ruin to all of Godsbarrow, and to the gods who murdered the Headless Child at the dawn of creation and discarded Its corpse into the sea — or abetted those who did, or stayed silent and did nothing.

The Child’s appetite for vengeance is as black and bottomless as the sea, and as endless as Its fleet.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

[1]: This idea grew out of the concept of the Black Fleet, in which Klingons who died honorably sail after death, which I first heard about in an early episode of Star Trek: Discovery. I’ve already got a black ship in Godsbarrow — what about an endless fleet, instead? And one in which no one sails voluntarily? And what’s the creepiest captain I can think of for that sort of fleet?

The rest flowed out of a recent session of Follow I played with my online group. We’re playing rather unpleasant gods trying to regain our former glory, and touching on hells and limbos and other unifying cosmological concepts — an area I’ve largely left unexplored in my Godsbarrow work to date.

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Finished miniatures Kill Team Lightbox photos Miniature painting Miniatures Tyranids Warhammer 40k

Five Hive Fleet Balaur Genestealers wrapped up

Last night I finished my first minis since May 20, 2021: one Hive Fleet Balaur Fire Team for Kill Team, a unit of Genestealers. These guys were a ton of fun to paint, and given that I started them on April 8, went on a short vacation, and worked on my Warriors during the 16 days it took me to finish them, I feel pretty much back on track with painting.

Hive Fleet Blue Steel

Their underbellies creep me out a bit
Golden angles
Front
Back

I figured I’d shoot one with some terrain, too.

Hive Fleet Balaur scuttling through the ruins

And why not take advantage of the rare opportunity to do a before/after? I painted the blue/pink Genestealers (from Space Hulk) in 2012. It’s not quite “10 years later,” though, because I didn’t paint anything from 2012 to 2020, when I got back into painting and starting both taking it seriously and actually enjoying it. So it’s really more of a “two years of progress” before/after, since this is how I was painting in 2020.

Current way vs. old way, front view
Rear view

Nid thoughts

This was my second time glazing, and the first time I haven’t painted over my efforts and gone with a different technique. (I tried glazing a Custodes sword several times, but just couldn’t get it right.) My glazing isn’t great, but these first four Scything Blades taught me quite a bit; I’m hoping to improve my technique as I work on my Warriors.

I’ve also never used dotting tools before. Still room for improvement there as well, but there’s just not that much surface to work with on Genestealers and I didn’t want to overwhelm their shading. The Warriors’ carapaces are a larger canvas, so I’m looking to step up my game on them.

As a splinter fleet of Hive Fleet Leviathan, I like how my twist on Leviathan’s color scheme turned out. There are at least two official Leviathan color guides out there (one in White Dwarf and one on Warhammer TV), but the main differences between Leviathan and Balaur are the toxic green claws and spotted carapaces.

My goal for these Genestealers was to evoke brightly-colored bugs and poison dart frogs, and to combine that with a “snake’s underbelly” body color for an unsettling — maybe even unpleasant — look that befits the terrifying nature of Tyranids.

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Three small gods: a ship, an inn, and a family of swords

While I was on vacation, away from my Godsbarrow map and the text file where 99% of my notes live, I kept my worldbuilding streak going by emailing myself Godsbarrow ideas. Once I’d done two small gods, rounding things out with a third felt right. I haven’t explored small gods much yet, focusing instead on regional ones, so this was a fun change of pace.

The Spynix Mandus

The Spynix Mandus, the largest pirate vessel in Middenglum’s Red Flag Isles, is in fact a small god. The constant storms, acidic seas, and tearing winds of the region keep it weak by deity standards.

It needs only the worship of its crew to survive, and in the unforgiving environment of Middenglum obtaining even that is a struggle. Most of its crews never even know it’s a god, they just respect its size and power as a vessel. Crews it deems unworthy of it don’t last long.

If the Spynix Mandus ever fell into other hands, more organized than the fractious Red Flag pirates, in calmer waters, and attracted more worshippers, this god-ship would become a force like no other on Godsbarrow.

Polnos Yalba

Polnos Yalba is a small god that is also an inn.

Its location is not fixed. Quite the opposite: Polnos appears in a new location, recharges its spiritual batteries by welcoming guests, and then vanishes without warning, beginning the cycle anew.

It can be a charming place, a terrifying one, a staunch ally, a last-ditch redoubt, or a fickle, fey-touched entity. Its size, style, and other elements often change from one appearance to the next. To date, it has never lingered anywhere longer than a year.

The Selezeer Swords

The Selezeer Swords are a family of blades whose lineage spans centuries. The Selezeer family tree looks much like a human family tree, with generations of swords, child-swords, and branches that bear little resemblance to the trunk.

Each Selezeer sword is a small god. They vary in appearance and motivations, but are always sentient weapons of exceptional quality.

Apart from that, they have little in common. Some branches of the Selezeer family tree are indolent blades, preferred to stay tucked away in their scabbards, while others revel in battle-lust and keep a tally of the lives they have claimed. Some make their nature known to their wielders; others stay silent, never revealing who they are.

Aausti sages estimate the number of Selezeer swords at somewhere between 120 and 200 (although of course they have no way to be certain). Despite the claims made in a popular series of ribald Sou folk songs, it is not known how the Selezeer swords reproduce.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

A year of Godsbarrow worldbuilding

Today marks a year since I started working on Godsbarrow. It’s been a consistently fun process, and even when I’ve banked my creative fires I’ve still done something to make forward progress every single day.

You can find links to all of my Godsbarrow work, loosely organized, on the Godsbarrow handbook page.

Here’s my first Godsbarrow map:

My first map of the Unlucky Isles, done in Worldographer on March 17, 2021

Still a work in progress (as I’m re-drawing four regional maps, adding a fifth, and unifying them all at once), but here’s the map covering everything I’ve developed over the past year:

The current WIP five-region map as of today

It’s safe to say that without Worlds Without Number [paid link] and Wonderdraft, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near as far as I have this past year — nor had nearly as much fun.

Assuming I don’t forget to do some Godsbarrow work tomorrow, here’s to day 366 of my worldbuilding streak!

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

WIP Godsbarrow poster map, 13th anniversary of this site

Work on my first proper multi-region map for Godsbarrow continues apace. All of the settlements and roads are in place, I’ve tweaked a bunch of coastlines and island shapes and whatnot, and the center third has its mountains, fields, and most of its forests done.

Current state of the poster map

I also dialed the white back by 90% in the Ice Courts, and shrank the area of the Abvärwinter in the west. A few rivers have moved, and Ahlsheyan has more settlements now. And of course Middenglum is being worked on along the way. (The little triangle of forts along the Ahlsheyan-Middenglum border has been fun to write up.)

Once I get all of the symbols redrawn — and finish Middenglum — I’ll go back in and touch up the colors, add a scale, and then step back and see how things look. If it all feels right, the final step will be adding a couple hundred labels to the map.

I’m not sure how to add region names, or if I’ll even be able to include them; I still need to wrestle with that one a bit more.

13th anniversary

As of today, martinralya.com has been online for 13 years. (It wasn’t a blog until 2012.) I can’t believe it’s been that long!

2022 will actually bring three anniversaries for this site: the 13th overall; the 10th anniversary for Yore, which launched on August 28, 2012; and the first anniversary for Godsbarrow on March 16th. I guarantee I will forget at least one of them when the day rolls around!

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

WIP: Turning five maps into one

While I’m creating Godsbarrow region by region, in “tiles” which are more or less square, I’ve also been stitching those tiles together into a larger map. As you can see on that map, it’s full of small and medium problems as a result of this rough-and-ready approach: almost nothing along the tile boundaries lines up perfectly, country names appear several times, roads begin or end at random because I forgot I had a road there on the neighboring regional map, etc.

The “let’s stitch these five maps together” map

And that’s fine! My main goal has been to safeguard my creative energy and preserve my forward momentum, and given that today is just 10 days shy of a year of daily work on Godsbarrow, that approach has been successful.

But I’ve always known there would need to be a cartographic reckoning, and I’ve kind of dreaded how much work it might involve. It hit me this morning that there would be more work if I continued working on the Middenglum map as its own entity, rather than slotting it into the multi-region poster map and finishing it there.

So I did a bit of poking around, found a Reddit post about copying and pasting landmasses, and gave that a shot. Wonderdraft’s polygonal lasso tool allows you to copy a landform on one map file and paste it into another map file, and it preserves any colors you’ve applied to the source landmass.

About 15-20 minutes later, I had this:

The starting point for my finished poster map of Kurthunar, the Unlucky Isles, the Gilded Lands, Middenglum, and the Ice Courts

There’s still lots of work to do, but this approach saved me at least a few hours of painstakingly tracing coastlines. It also affords me a fourfold opportunity, one element of which came as a surprise:

  1. Fix all the issues created by making these maps individually
  2. Settle on a scale
  3. Decide if I still like my mapmaking style
  4. Tweak the landmasses

#1 is covered in this post. #2 is sort of an offshoot of #1, but involves less work. I initially chose a scale that seemed too small, then too large, and then stopped thinking about it and just kept making maps. For a finished poster map, I need a scale. In terms of my mapmaking style, #3, I still like it. I’m obviously not a professional cartographer, but if I bought a book with one of my maps in it I wouldn’t be sad.

Item #4 is what surprised me. Seeing the landmasses with no symbols or labels makes it so clear that I created this map as four squares and a rectangle, and highlights how I got better about making it look more natural and organic later on. The earlier top half, especially my first region, the Unlucky Isles, looks more “squared off” than the bottom half.

There’s nothing sacred about my maps at this stage. Godsbarrow is a world still in development, and I’ve certainly come up with stuff in the past couple months that needs to be taken into account in the write-ups for earlier regions.

Take the Red Flag pirates of Middenglum, for example. Warriors from Kuruni, always looking for a way to prove themselves, would absolutely be raiding the pirate isles of Go Quietly Strait. And the Brundiri navy, despite having its hands full in the Unlucky Isles, needs to patrol the southern Alpan Sea to keep those same pirates at bay. But when I created Brundir and Kuruni, Middenglum and the Red Flag pirates didn’t exist.

That’s Future Martin’s problem, and it’s one I’ve known about from day one. I love the raw fire of creation, just Naruto-running through region after region and keeping that fire stoked — and I know that if I’d started with a blank version of this six-tile poster map, 1) I probably wouldn’t have gotten very far, and 2) even if I did maintain my momentum, it would have felt boring and same-y compared to the weird, vibrant stew of ideas that has emerged by doing it one region at a time.

For the second poster map, once Middenglum is done and I’ve polished the current poster map, I probably will start with a larger blank canvas and fill it in one region at a time. I have a year of experience following the Worlds Without Number approach, and a year of work upon which to build, and I think I can thread the needle of staying loose and creative while also avoiding the need to redo another giant map in 2023.

Updated later in the day to add: Even with the landmasses, water, and colors in place, redrawing all the symbols and paths is slow going. I’ve spent about four hours on this today, and I’ve got all the settlements and roads and about a third of the mountains/hills done.

I believe it’s possible to copy all the symbols on one map and paste them onto another, but only as a sort of “flattened” single image which cannot be edited. While redrawing everything is certainly slower, it also gives me the opportunity to tweak as I go (e.g., I said southern Ahlsheyan was more settled, but didn’t actually have that many towns; let’s add a few).

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Middenglum, part 1: overview, geography, nations, and gods

After roughing in the map and concept for my fifth Godsbarrow region, Middenglum, I tucked into doing proper write-ups

Name the region.

Middenglum is the colloquial name for a region which encompasses the lawless, sparsely populated western hinterlands of Ahlsheyan and Myedgrith, which in turn bleed into territory claimed by no nation — Middenglum proper, home to all manner of ne’er-do-wells. Across the Agunune Sea (“AHH-goo-noon”) is an equally sparsely populated section of Kuruni, all but abandoned by the Kurun as it’s so far from Kura’s stomping grounds.

Long ago, the Ahl named this area Mē Dān Gēŋ (“mee dayne geeng”), which means “land of no opportunities” in Ahl. Despite its inviting protected bays, the whole area is so inhospitable and resource-poor than the early Ahl wanted nothing to do with it, and that has largely held true to the present day. Over time, Mē Dān Gēŋ became “Middenglum,” a dreary place full of society’s dregs and cast-offs. Bandits, pirates, fugitives, and scoundrels of all stripes wash up in Middenglum.

It is also, however, a secret “un-nation.” The territory bounded by the mountains on three sides and the sea on the fourth — Middenglum proper — is the birthplace of the null slimes. Null slimes are a species of sentient, psychic oozes, and they most often dwell underground. Most never leave Middenglum proper. But among those who do interact with the wider world are some of the most sinister threats to surface-dwellers in all of Godsbarrow.

Null slimes have no agreed-upon name for their species, and most slimes do not have or use names for themselves. The most prominent deity in null slime culture is the Absence. To worshippers of the Absence, voids of any kind are sacred: the tunnels they leave behind as they burrow beneath the earth, the absence of life caused by murder, the power vacuum created by an assassination, the black caves they hollow out to form subterranean temples.

Null slimes venerate the Absence in different ways. For many, using their bodies’ natural acidic secretions to sculpt holes and voids in rock, or seeking out places where there is no light or sound, are the best way to practice their faith.

But for others, nothing celebrates the Absence like causing voids out in the world. They plot and scheme, manipulating surface-dwellers to collapse governments, start wars, and hollow out people’s faith in their own gods. Middenglum is a perfect base of operations for them: Pirates and cast-offs come and go all the time, and people with little to lose are often more vulnerable to psychic manipulation. A telepathic whisper or two is all it takes to stow a null slime aboard (hiding, for all purposes invisibly, in the bilges) and begin a campaign of bloodshed on the high seas — and beyond.

Choose about six major geographical features.

  • Agunune Sea (“AHH-goo-noon”), notoriously rough, virtually always windy, and prone to long, frequent, and powerful storms
  • Jōkjār Mountains (“JOKE-jayre”), which hem in Middenglum proper on three sides
  • Go Quietly Strait, which connects the Alpan Sea to the north with the Agunune Sea, so named because sailors know it’s best to “go quietly” through the waters around Ghhol lest they draw the bloodthirsty attention of the Ghhola pirates
  • Slljrrn’s Footsteps, the collective name for the scattering of islands off the coast of Middenglum; legend has it that Slljrrn journeyed to the Unlucky Isles across the water, and wherever he paused on his travels an island sprang up from the sea
  • Twin Deaths Pass, which is the easiest way through the Jōkjār Mountains from a geographical standpoint, but actually the hardest way — because if the horrors from the range to your right don’t get you, the horrors descending from the left will
  • Umbreg Forest, a swath of bandit-haunted woodland notable for its sickly trees and poisonous flora and fauna; null slimes have carefully cultivated these woods as a source of deadly toxins, and many of Dormiir’s nastiest poisons originate here

Create six nations or groups of importance.

Middenglum is the heart of this region, and gives the whole area its name. It’s not a nation per se, as it includes portions of Myedgrith and Ahlsheyan — and its original inhabitants, the null slimes, do not use names. Most people, whether inside or outside of Middenglum, don’t know about the null slimes. Middenglum is a place where the dregs of Dormiir wash up, fight amongst themselves, raid neighboring kingdoms, and take to piracy on the high seas. But its true rulers are the null slimes: sentient, psychic oozes who most often dwell underground. Most never leave Middenglum proper. But among those who do interact with the wider world are some of the most sinister threats to surface-dwellers in all of Godsbarrow.

Ghhol (“GUH-holl”) is the largest island off the coast of Middenglum, a wind-lashed place that somehow always smells like vomit and death. Not a nation in any formal sense, it’s the domain of a sprawling extended family of ruthless pirates who bathe in its stinking pools, and whose diet consists of the mutant fish that dwell in the noxious surrounding waters — and the people aboard the ships they scuttle. They worship Ghhole, a titanic eel several miles long who slumbers coiled in the labyrinthine submerged tunnels that honeycomb the island (deep, deep down).

Consuming the polluted seawater in which Ghhole steeps is part of the Ghhola pirates’ religion, and it makes them fearless and bloodthirsty in battle. Anyone can become a Ghhola pirate. Anyone. You just have to be willing to walk the walk, and you’re in. Despicable folks of all species and walks of life wind up here. (Oddly enough, for the very brave and desperate, Ghhol is also an ideal place to hide. Assuming you can stomach living the life of a Ghhola pirate, that is…)

The Red Flag Isles are collectively claimed by the various squabbling clans that all fly the red flag of piracy. In keeping with the rest of Middenglum, this isn’t a nation in any meaningful way. Red Flag pirates prey on shipping through Go Quietly Strait, and often venture south into the Agunune Sea or north into the Unlucky Isles. The only thing they all agree on is avoiding Ghhol.

Binmeque (“binn-MEKK,” no linguistic touchstone) abuts Middenglum proper to the south. The Binme (“binn-MAY”) have learned how to thrive despite their proximity to the dangers on their northern border. The mountains help, but Binme culture is the key: Starting at age four, every Binme is supposed to learn soldiery and a trade, and one’s usefulness to Binmeque is the hallmark of one’s worth. When someone becomes too old or infirm to fight, they learn to perform other military duties: scouting, observation, logistics, cooking, etc. In essence, virtually the entire country of Binmeque is an army, and every soldier is also a farmer, trader, blacksmith, etc. (Like every society in Dormiir, Binmeque isn’t a monoculture; there are Binme who don’t follow the stereotypical “Binme path” in life.)

One avenue to Binmeque’s continued prosperity lies in providing safe passage through Go Quietly Strait to their neighbors to the west and north. Captains heading to or from the Unlucky Isles often hire Binme escort vessels to accompany them, and Binmeque maintains strategic outposts in Middenglum, the Red Flag Isles, and southern Kuruni to facilitate this business. These outposts are incredibly well supplied and defended — which they have to be, because they’re frequently attacked by pirates, monsters, and raiders of all stripes.

The sparsely populated hinterlands of Ahlsheyan, Myedgrith, and Kuruni are also considered part of Middenglum. Including Binmeque, all four nations bordering Middenglum proper have decided that none of them want this territory.

Identify regionally-significant gods.

The most prominent deity in null slime culture is the Absence. To worshippers of the Absence, voids of any kind are sacred: the tunnels they leave behind as they burrow beneath the earth, the absence of life caused by murder, the power vacuum created by an assassination, the black caves they hollow out to form subterranean temples.

The Ghhola pirates worship Ghhol, a titanic eel several miles long who slumbers coiled in the labyrinthine submerged tunnels that honeycomb the island (deep, deep down). Its body pollutes the waters on and around the island of Ghhole, and the tainted water and resulting mutant fish contribute to the depraved bloodthirstiness of the Ghhola pirates.

The pirate clans of the Red Flag Isles hail from all corners of Dormiir, and tend to worship the gods they grew up worshipping (to the extent that they care about gods at all). No god of the sea wants anything to do with the waters in this region, so no one god stands out among the many worshipped here.

The Binme venerate the Fourteen. This pantheon is composed of gender-neutral, human-looking deities whose apparent age ranges from four to a hundred, with none preeminent over the others. Each oversees an aspect of Binme culture, from various martial roles to farming, sailing, and trade. Most Binme feel closest to the members of the Fourteen who represent their chosen trade and military duties, and learning a new trade or martial role later in life brings them closer to new members of the pantheon. Well-made objects and well-grown crops (and so forth) are believed to contain the spark of a member of the Fourteen, so orthodox Binme strive to always produce their best work in the hopes of thereby attracting the divine.

The gods of Myedgrith, Kuruni, and Ahlsheyan are covered in their respective write-ups.

Unlike my recent previous regions, I haven’t mostly finished the next step — the map — at this point, so next up is putting some more elbow grease into cartography.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Miscellaneous geekery RPG community Tabletop RPGs

11 years, 175 projects: Kickstarter noodling

Back in 2016, after 5 years of backing Kickstarter projects, I wrote one of my favorite Yore posts — a personal sniff test for what I back and why (or why not). I missed the golden opportunity to do a 10-year version of that post, but today I’m writing the 11-year version instead.

Kickstarter projects I’ve backed from 2011 to 2021 (look at that correlation between the pandemic and backing stuff that works well from home)

Kickstarter has changed a lot in the past six years. I still primarily use it for preordering RPG stuff, so that’s generally the lens through which I view it — and the RPG community and industry has also changed a lot in the past six years. Those changes have affected how, whether, and when I back stuff on Kickstarter. (Here’s my Kickstarter profile.)

Notes on data neepery

The chart above doesn’t quite match my full list of backed projects (184), since I don’t count projects I backed for $1 unless I later upped my pledge, and there are a couple other uncounted oddballs. It’s also a bit fuzzy in some places; for example, I count most dice projects as “RPG,” because I tend to buy dice to use during play, but not all dice projects. “Other” also isn’t a super-useful category, but it reflects my approach to Kickstarter: I rarely go there planning to back anything but RPGs or board games, but comics and movies/TV have a small but significant throughline so they get their own buckets. But for getting a big-picture view, this chart is more than accurate enough.

It was also a pain to create, because at some point Kickstarter stopped foregrounding when a project funded. It used to be on the main page for each project; now you have to scroll through updates until the funding date appears. In my cynical view, this is because seeing projects which funded years ago but still haven’t delivered could scare potential backers — and revenue — away from other projects.

By the numbers

Of the 175 projects that made the cut to be included in my chart, 62 are things I wish I hadn’t backed for one reason or another. That includes a few projects that never panned out (though I don’t believe their creators intended them to be scams), and a few campaigns that were run quite poorly — but the bulk of those 62 are projects I wasn’t excited about anymore once they arrived.

With success defined as 1) the project delivers and 2) I’m excited when it does, my success rate is about 65%. That’s quite a bit lower than my success rate for purchasing RPG products at retail, which is probably closer to 90%, but it’s about the same as my success rate with board games. I’m generally an enthusiastic person when it comes to RPG stuff; I want to be excited about new games. But this tells me I should back 2/3 as many RPG projects in 2022. Of course, picking the right 2/3 is the real trick!

Revisiting my 2016 sniff test

The star of my 2016 list is the maxim that still applies with the most force in 2022: Have your shit mostly done. I stand by everything I said about this one in 2016:

This mainly applies to gaming books, and comes back to skin in the game. If all you have is an idea, whoopdedoo. I have lots of ideas, everyone has lots of ideas, fuck your idea. Write the damned book. If you can’t invest capital, invest time and energy and then start the KS. I make rare exceptions to this rule for people/companies whose work already lines my shelves; I know they’ll deliver.

Past Martin, 2016

Here are the maxims from my full 2016 list, with 2022 notes:

  • No board/card games: This remains my initial position when I run into a board game project that looks like fun. I consider an unplayed board game a failure on my part (unlike unplayed RPGs), but my track record has improved — and these days, so many major publishers use Kickstarter that I’m generally just preordering a game I would have preordered somewhere else in the past.
  • No FC0B: I’ve softened on this one for zines, since the investment is usually ~$10 and it’s a great way for new creators to get into publishing. But outside of that, this one holds up.
  • No at-cost fulfillment: No longer a factor. Shipping is such a fuckfest, especially during the pandemic, that I don’t care how a project plans to do fulfillment (unless they appear to have no plan for it at all). By all means, farm out your shipping and/or production and charge me for it later.
  • No spreadsheets: The only exception I can recall making is for Car Wars 6th Edition, because that project was understandably massive (and worth it). So this one has held up well for me.
  • No paid autographs: I can’t remember the last time I even saw a paid autograph option in a project, so this is largely irrelevant these days.
  • There must be a print option: It’s complicated. In 2016 I barely used RPG PDFs, but in 2022 I use them almost exclusively (and have for several years). If I’m going to preorder something, though, it’s almost always because I’m excited about it enough to give it shelf space, and/or the use case for it benefits from print (RPG modules, for example). I don’t get excited about preordering PDFs. And just to finish muddying the waters, I can’t remember the last time I saw a PDF-only RPG project.
  • Have your shit mostly done: 100%. I’ve taken chances on this front a couple times in the past five years, and they were mistakes. “Fuck your idea” is still a useful maxim.
  • Have actual risks and challenges: Kickstarter is such a known quantity now that I never even read this section anymore. I can generally tell whether a project is risky just from reading the rest of the project page.
  • Limited clutter: This is part of my holistic risk assessment, so it still holds true. Like some of my other 2016 guidelines, though, it seems to also be a lesson most creators have learned; I rarely see cruft in projects anymore.
  • Some sort of sample: Still true, but these days it’s basically universal for any project I’d even consider backing — so it’s kind of a non-issue.

2022 sniff test additions

As Kickstarter and the RPG and board game industries have changed, I’ve added to my sniff test.

Back sure things, unless they’re inexpensive

This is a corollary to “No FC0B,” I guess? I don’t need your game, so unless it’s inexpensive (e.g., zines) I’m not taking a flyer on your ability to produce it. So why not just wait for eventual publication, since I’m mainly backing sure things? Because I enjoy contributing to a project’s success and supporting creators, I like Kickstarter exclusives, and preordering is a convenience for me. Which brings me to…

Kickstarter is 100% a store for preordering stuff

Kickstarter itself has stepped further and further back from this over the years, insisting that it’s not a store, but it’s more of a store for preorders now than ever before. These days, I bet the list of established publishers who don’t use Kickstarter to sell preorders and generate hype for projects they’re already planning to publish is shorter than the list who of those who do.

Almost nothing is urgent

I can’t possibly play all the RPGs I already own in my lifetime, and I have enough board games. This means I don’t worry too much about how soon a project will deliver — although I do care if your timeline sounds reasonable, and isn’t more than about 12-18 months out. It also means that if I’m on the fence about backing something, I just won’t back it.

Follow people, don’t browse

I follow folks on Kickstarter who have similar tastes, make cool stuff, and/or consistently back projects I like, and by default I “follow” creators I’ve backed before. That’s where 85% of my backed projects originate. (The remaining 15% is 5% Twitter, 5% BoardGameGeek, and 5% occasional browsing/random emails from Kickstarter.) In 2016, Google+ was my filter, but I’ve never successfully replaced G+ in my life, so now I use Kickstarter’s own tools to accomplish something similar.

I don’t know if Kickstarter’s heyday is behind us, but nowadays it just feels like infrastructure: useful, but rarely exciting. My crystal ball says Kickstarter’s recent stumbles, including their response to unionization and the whole weak-ass blockchain thing, and the rise of itch.io and Gamefound (and probably other sites I’m not even aware of), certainly haven’t helped. And despite Kickstarter being — in my experience — a more solid source of projects I actually like when they arrive than it used to be, the bloom is off the rose. Kickstarter isn’t a cool new thing anymore. Instead, it’s just a part of the process; it’s one more store I visit.

And that’s not a bad thing. As a store, it’s generally worked out pretty well for me over the past few years. But will I care enough about Kickstarter as A Thing in five years to write a version of this post in 2027? I wouldn’t take that bet.

But hey, what the hell do I know — I’m the guy who gets 1/3 of his RPG Kickstarter purchases wrong despite 30+ years of figuring out what I like as a gamer.

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Roughing in Middenglum, my fifth Godsbarrow region

After wrapping up my fourth region, the Ice Courts, I wasn’t sure what to work on next. I slept on it and decided to fill in the blank tile on my poster-size map.

Growing up on TSR box sets, with their gorgeous rectangular poster maps, I couldn’t resist the urge to finish out a map that shape of my own. So I started my next write-up, fired up Wonderdraft, created an all-water tile to work with, and started roughing things in.

Long ago, the Ahl named this area Mē Dān Gēŋ (“me dayne geeng”), which means “land of no opportunities” in Ahl. Despite its inviting protected bays, the whole area is so inhospitable and resource-poor than the early Ahl wanted nothing to do with it, and that has largely held true to the present day. Over time, Mē Dān Gēŋ became “Middenglum,” a dreary place full of society’s dregs and cast-offs. Bandits, pirates, fugitives, and scoundrels of all stripes wash up in Middenglum.

Middenglum as of February 19, 2022

It took me a few days to get the landmasses and their coastlines right, and my initial concept of Middenglum evolved along with them — which is one of my favorite things about this type of lonely fun. Once I knew I was filling in my poster map, I looked at all of my favorite fantasy stuff and saw that most of it was on that map: dwarves, gnomes, mushroom people, werewolves, wintery places, sword and sorcery weirdness, non-Tolkien elves, and plenty of squabbling nations, intrigue, and skullduggery.

But one thing was missing: slimes. I adore D&D-style oozes, slimes, gelatinous cubes (my favorite D&D monster), molds, and the like.

So Middenglum is the birthplace and homeland of the null slimes, a species of sentient, psychic oozes who most often dwell underground. Most never leave Middenglum proper. But among those who do interact with the wider world are some of the most sinister threats to surface-dwellers in all of Godsbarrow.

Longtime readers may remember null slimes from Bleakstone, the fantasy setting I started developing here on Yore some years back. Like other elements of Bleakstone, they’re an idea I quite like that needs a little refinement. With a few tweaks, they’ll fit right into Godsbarrow.

The map will probably change (I like the strong Mordor energy of those mountains, but right now they look a bit too engineered), and the regional overview still isn’t in its final form — but Middenglum is well underway.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)