Monday, December 17, 2012

Interesting Room Trappings?

How do you make dungeon rooms more interesting through various trappings & details?

First (inferior) answer: If the room is likely to be a combat location, or you want it to be exploited as a possible combat location, then add anything which might affect combat: Barriers, arrow-slits, trenches, a ballista, murder holes, crenellated ledges, substances that might hinder escape / pursuit, distractions to allow ambushes, etc.

Second (better) answer: Consider thinking concept-first instead of trappings-first.

Trappings don't automatically make rooms interesting. Interest is built by the presence of meaningful choices in the environment. Come up with the concept of those choices first, and then the trappings naturally suggest themselves.

For example, let's say you want one of the underlying concepts for your dungeon to be "a place where creatures (including PCs) can be chopped apart (sometimes voluntarily) and reassembled into amalgamations, with capabilities appropriate for the parts removed & added."

From there it's easy to come up with a variety of trappings that help communicate and enable meaningful choices:
  • detached (and still animate) heads in jars of "life fluid"
  • cold storage areas with all manner of limbs
  • carts with straps for transporting "patients" around
  • various saws mounted in the walls
  • special guillotines of various sizes
  • journals, books, or charts with relevant research / clues as to the purpose of the dungeon, and or its operation (heh)
  • containers of flesh adhesives
  • suturing gear
  • recovery beds
  • cages with captives destined for disassembly
  • summoning areas & gear, to bring in "special" candidates for disassembly
  • makeshift graveyard for unwanted remains of candidates

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Early D&D Play Reports

Using grodog's list of Greyhawk Sources, and then doing some google searches, one can find the text of play reports for early D&D...

Swords and Sorcery (pub 1974 May)
Source: "Swords and Sorcery - In Wargaming" from Wargamer's Digest (Volume 1, Number 7)
Note: PDF found via the internet archive cache of the Axe & Hammer blog. (See the Free Downloads section on the right-hand side of the page.)

The Giant's Bag (pub 1975 April)
Source: Great Plains Game Players Newsletter #7

The Magician's Ring (pub 1975 June)
Source: "Dungeons & Dragons - The Magician's Ring" from Wargamer's Digest (Volume 2, Number 8)

The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir (pub 1975 September)
Text Part 1:
Text Part 2:
Source: "The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir; a Dungeon Adventure at Greyhawk Castle" (El Conquistador, September 1975)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mini Review: CAS2 Tower of Blood and CAS1 Cairn of the Skeleton King

What follows is my very brief review, originally written in 2008, of CAS2 Tower of Blood (by Robert J. Kuntz and Lance Hawvermale), after only having read the module. (This is not a play review.) It also contains bits and pieces of review-like info regarding CAS1 Cairn of the Skeleton King (by Robert J. Kuntz). Click on the module names above for physical details, page count, etc.

Warning: There are SPOILERS here! I'll try to keep them subtle or cryptic. But don't blame me if they reveal too much! 
Better late than never, I suppose. I only recently acquired a copy of Tower of Blood, and finished reading it the other night. 
I agree that it has a different overall feel from Cairn, but - personally - I like the variety. Whereas Cairn can be dropped into a campaign virtually as-is (especially if you prune out Warrens) and still provide hours of fun, it doesn't implicitly get the DM's creative juices flowing to the extent that you have to think about how the actions of the PCs therein affect the overall direction of the campaign. Or rather, the PCs can complete their goals within the Cairn and move on without worrying about any loose ends that may have unraveled. (I'm ignoring the Warrens on that point.) 
By contrast, Tower of Blood forces the DM to think about a variety of subjects before or during play: What are the details of the area behind the barrier (because the PCs could easily end up going past the barrier)? What are the details for the area (two areas?) behind the portal? What are the details for the "guy behind the guy?" What events will happen if the PCs don't stop the latent machinations of the occupants of the area? Should the ramifications matter? What if the players don't want to care for that sort of world plot? Should I wait to run this module until after any related PPP modules are published? 
As a result, I think Tower of Blood implicitly offers higher potential for richness in the game. Certainly Cairn can be expanded to have that richness, but you have to go out of your way to remind yourself to add it, when Tower of Blood forces you to consider the richness. And the deeper motivations of the NPCs in Tower provide a fantastic foundation for understanding how the environment may change between PC forays into its depths: What do monster survivors really care about, and how will they organize themselves to best ensure their priorities are carried out? (And yes, even the overt villain has two potentially conflicting priorities! Women, sheesh!) Tower gives plenty of foundation from which to answer such questions. 
That's not to say that Tower of Blood forces itself to have a lasting impact on the campaign. Which is to say that Cairn's standalone feel (especially minus the Warrens part) is beneficial for some campaigns or parts thereof, such as when you need a standalone adventure that injects XP into the PCs prior to a plot-arc-driven, higher-level adventure. Tower can certainly be used as a similar device if you sever a few plot connections or change the superficial details of NPC motivations. 
It's relatively trivial to dissociate the overt villain from the shadow world, and put a more mundane (though possibly less imaginative) goal behind the barrier. Perhaps even something associated with the villain's imprisoned love. And in doing so, you still have the makings of several evenings of exciting adventure! 
Personally, I prefer to DM games grounded on the prime material plane, so I'd be likely to disconnect the situation at the Tower of Blood from the plane of shadow and substitute something else dependent on the needs of the campaign at the time the players began it. I'd probably also remove the entrance to the Spider Queen's area, and instead use her and her residence at some other point in the campaign for some other purpose. As with the flexible motives of the denizens of the Tower, the Spider Queen's goals and environment are similarly flexible. 
I applaud Rob & Lance for all of their hard work on Tower (and Cairn!) for their work will allow me to be lazy and still have great fun! Very well worth the money!

Originally posted on the Pied Piper Publishing forums in 2008:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Vance-ier Magicians

To bring the magic-user class a little bit closer to the presentation of magicians in Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, replace the usual AD&D / D&D spells memorized per day limits with the following chart. Despite the fact that the aggregate per-day limit (of all spells, total) is lower than standard AD&D / D&D, this potentially increases a magician's power in certain exploitable ways at higher levels, as explained later.

Magic-  Total      Max
user    Spells     Spell
Level   "Per Day"  Level    Other Memorization Limits
1st     1          1        -
2nd     2          1        -
3rd     2          2        no more than one 2nd level spell
4th     3          2        no more than two 2nd level spells
5th     3          3        no more than one 3rd level spell
6th     4          3        no more than two 3rd level spells
7th     4          4        no more than one 4th level spell
8th     5          4        no more than two 4th level spells
9th     5          5        no more than one 5th level spell
10th    6          5        no more than two 5th level spells
11th    7          5        no more than three 5th level spells
12th    7          6        no more than one 6th level spell
13th    8          6        no more than two 6th level spells

Magic-user Level: The experience level of the character in question.

Total Spells "Per Day": The magician can keep memorized (i.e. prepared and ready-to-cast, as usual) no more than the listed number of spells at one time. These spells may be of any level or mix of levels known to the magician (but see Other Memorization Limits below). As usual, to memorize new spells, the magician must be well-rested. So effectively, the listed number is a limit on the quantity of spells that the magician can cast in one day.

Max Spell Level: The highest spell level the magician can memorize.

Other Memorization Limits: Due to the mnemonic challenge of mastering each new level of spells, only a fraction of a magician's spells "per day" limit can be used to memorize his highest level spells. He is not required to memorize any of his highest level spells, of course, but if he does, the stated limit applies.

So for example, a 13th level magician can memorize 8 spells at a time. He might choose to memorize two 6th level spells, plus six spells of 5th level or lower. Or he could memorize one 6th level spell, plus seven spells of 5th level or lower. Or all eight of his spells could be of 5th or lower level.

Less powerful? More powerful?

At low-to-mid levels, these variant magicians are certainly less potent in an absolute sense. But once the magician reaches 4th level, he is able to memorize more 2nd level spells at a time than would a normal 4th level AD&D magic-user: 3 for this variant vs. 2 for standard AD&D. While only modest at this point, the potential for leverage increases at higher levels. A 9th level variant magician can memorize far more 4th level spells than a normal 9th level AD&D magic-user: 5 vs. 2. And a 13th level variant magician can memorize eight 5th level spells, if he so desires.

If you use Bonus Spells for high stats...

Only use this if your system already grants magic-users bonus spells for high Intelligence. (The following rule isn't suitable for variant magicians in AD&D, for example.)

For systems that grant bonus spells for high Intelligence, even just a single bonus spell is worth a lot more in this variant system. Instead of increasing spells per day, consider raising the Other Memorization Limit by one, when Intelligence is sufficiently high. So an 11th level variant magician with a high Intelligence could still only memorize seven spells at a time, but now four of those could be 5th level.

Optional rule: Memorization "slots" are reclaimed only when the spell's duration expires

In other words, casting a spell is not sufficient to "clear room" in the magician's head for another memorized spell. In addition, the spell must end. So long duration spells (such as invisibility, which can potentially last many days) continue to "use up" a magician's memorization slot, until such time as the spell expires, or is canceled/dispelled.

As a minor point of counterbalance, the magician automatically senses when one of his in-progress spells has been terminated, no matter how far he is from the particular effect.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Contest: Where's This Illustration From?

First person to correctly identify the publication containing this illustration gets a free PDF copy of your choice of either F1 The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies or F3 Many Gates of the Gann. Post your answer to the comments below.

(I don't know whether this shows up in more than one published thing. If it does, you need to identify the particular thing I took the picture from. Life can be hard.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Appreciate the Un-Fun bits in Your Game!

Do you put too much importance on Fun in your games?
Do you give Fun too much respect?
Do you use the word "Fun" too much when discussing game elements?

Sure, it's generally true that, when viewed at a whole entity, any given game is fun – or has the potential to be fun – at least in retrospect, and probably during much of the actual play.

But that doesn't mean all the individual parts of a game should be fun, when examined individually. (Each separate rule, mechanic subsystem, monster, etc.) And it doesn't mean you should reflexively remove the un-fun stuff from a game.

Embrace a little bit of worthwhile un-fun!

There's nothing wrong with improving a game through the addition of things that are un-fun.
Sometimes we use un-fun mechanics specifically because they are un-fun.
Sometimes we use un-fun mechanics because they improve us as people (outside the game), or give us practice with useful real-world skills; play isn't necessarily about entertainment only.
Sometimes we eschew fun mechanics because it improves the atmosphere, simulation, challenge, or level of engagement in the game.

For example, tracking encumbrance in AD&D is definitely not fun, but I use those rules anyway because they improve the game in various ways. Ditto for level drain, mapping, character death, calculating experience points, and many other un-fun subsystems. As a non-role-playing example, the slapping part of the red hands game is not fun (ouch!), but it certainly improves that game! (This may seem like a juvenile example, but I have seen dozens of mature adults playing red hands while standing in line at amusement parks.) Of course, many contact sports contain copious amounts of un-fun elements (or the potential for un-fun experiences), and yet those games are improved through the inclusion of those un-fun elements.

Fun is not necessarily additive. You don't always get a more worthwhile experience by piling on more and more fun stuff. Sometimes the final benefit of an overall experience is increased through the judicious use of un-fun elements, and/or the removal of certain fun elements.

Don't be afraid to admit you use un-fun elements in your games. Don't be afraid to label them "un-fun" when you discuss them. "Un-fun" does not mean "bad." Labeling something as "fun" isn't the same as liking something; you can like un-fun things. Using un-fun mechanics does not make you a bad player or DM, despite the undercurrent created by others' prevalent use of "fun" as a justification.

Help quash that undercurrent by using words other than "fun" to justify game elements, even ones that improve through addition. "Fun" is a cop-out. It's almost a meaningless word, and you can probably come up with a more specific, more illuminating reason for doing something (or not doing something) than, "because it's fun."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

James Raggi's Deranged and Insane – Stone Hold Asylum module

Deranged and Insane: The Lunatics of Stone Hold Asylum has been on the LotFP production schedule since mid-2008, but has not been produced yet. James Raggi made it as the starting adventure site for his 2006 AD&D campaign. A huge amount of information, backstory, and spoilers are already available for the module, and it looks pretty cool!

Note: Parenthesized letter and letter-number sequences below – e.g., "(C2)" – refer to the Footnotes / References section at the bottom. Some of the summarized information below includes direct quotes from James Raggi's writings in those sources.

Brief Module Details

Backstory / Summary: An old businessman, who was once committed to the Stone Hold Asylum for the Insane, claims he was tortured there (showing a missing thumb as evidence), but nobody believes him. He hires adventurers to search the Asylum for proof (A1, C2), and bring it back to him for a reward (C5).  In addition to finding out what exactly happened at the Stone Hold Asylum for the Insane, there are clues to be found to involve the characters in the greater happenings of the campaign (A1).

It has potential backstory / thematic ties to LotFP's Hammers of the God product (note the reference to the Old Miner in C5).

Although currently written to be set in a mountain range, it might be changed to be on an island instead (Q). It might get reworked to combine with Raggi's "Return to the Old School" idea, or may tie into Iri-Khan, or something having to do with Dario Argento's Three Mothers trilogy (T).

Style: The module is for first level characters (C1), and should take several sessions to completely explore, with plenty of dangers and red herrings to distract those unprepared, the unfocused, and the unwise (A1). It's not a simple "kill them and take their stuff" dungeon crawl (C1, C4). The characters will know why they are there but not exactly what they are looking for. Monsters within the Asylum are an obstacle to achieving the goal (C1); they won't necessarily have treasure, aren't necessarily expected to be fought, and may be too strong for a typical party to handle (C3).

The Physical Product: Stone Hold Asylum is potentially a massive-scale adventure or micro setting, with multiple books (packaged together), poster maps, and handouts out the wazoo (V). It includes a significant prop: A 100-page doctor's journal, filled all sorts of medical information and some key snippets of backstory information and clues (C2). This might be delivered as a hand-assembled book, aged with special processes, and possibly with freakily-adorned leather covers (J). The adventure module itself may have a color cover, and the product as a whole may have a high price due to the nature of the materials used. The product may even include an actual squirrel skull (J). It may be released as a special limited edition (M). Map format / size is unclear, because the maps are too big for the standard LotFP page sizes (U). It is not suitable as a pdf release (G).

(Note that these details come from a variety of time periods, some over six years ago, and it's quite possible any eventual product varies from the above.)

Play Resources

James gave his players a number of maps and handouts pertaining to this adventure. At one time they were hosted on the web site, but he has since taken them down. Thankfully the Internet Archive still has copies of some of the resources:

More Content Details (SPOILER WARNING)

What follows is a list of features of the adventuring environment. Further info, and further spoilers, can be found by reading the corresponding linked thread in the footnotes.

from C1:
- covers the entire sanitarium grounds, with initial design work focused on how the site operated, so that it is still appropriately dressed now that it's abandoned.

from C2:
- multiple buildings & multiple levels
- rumors & clues in the form of songs

from C3:
- hillside nearby from which the players can look down on the Sanitarium complex (possible illustration handout)
- gate to the complex is closed and sealed
- massive bear on the other side of the gate (within the grounds), with an explanation for how it got there
- guard tower
- old tennis courts, with a 5-headed hydra
- doors & windows are boarded and shut
- main building has at least three floors, with at least one window on the second floor
- library covered in huge, thick spider webs
- main hallway with a great painting of Bartholomew Sebastion Gainsborough XII, who is missing a thumb
- third floor is dusty, except for some obviously-used areas
- door tripwire to gong alarm (on the stairwell)
- a room turned into some kind of den, occupied by patchwork human & animal creatures
- five doctors' offices, already ransacked
- doctor's journal (the prop) with notes on their experimentations on people, including part-swapping, 
- doctors were experimenting on people; limb rearrangement, part-swapping, trading places, etc.
- beast-men
- three large buildings connected to the main building
- north-most of the connected buildings has a gate puzzle / predicament

from C4:
- patient cell blocks
- bodies of various personalities referred to by the journal
- elevator, which is something of a puzzle / predicament
- blacksmith's shop
- treasure in the form of old items hidden on individuals' remains, plus some scrolls
- big constrictor snake
- giant ants outside the building
- wild dogs outside the blacksmith's shop
- kitchen with freezer-cellar underneath
- cold, smelly ape-things
- room filled with water to waist-level, with hooks hanging from the ceiling, suspending bones of corpses hung long ago

from C5:
- weird polyhedral razors
- bloody carpentry tools
- 500 gp reward

from C6:
- Mongrelmen

Bibliography / Info Sources

In the below, James sometimes refers to the module as "Stone Hold Sanitarium," and frequently as just "Asylum" or "Sanitarium."

A: 2006 Mar 27: Genesis of James' AD&D campaign which features Stone Hold Asylum, including comments from one of his players (pretty far into the thread)

B: 2006 Mar 27: James' Campaign Site, with an advertisement looking for players (no info directly related to Stone Hold Asylum) (date based on mention in thread)

A1: 2006 Mar 30: (within thread) Adventure Concept summary, with backstory and brief physical description of the adventuring environment

C: 2006 Apr 2: Start of parallel, longer-lasting thread on Dragonsfoot on the genesis of James' AD&D campaign which features Stone Hold Asylum

C1: 2006 Apr 13: (within DF thread) More basics about the adventuring site / module:

C2: 2006 Apr 21: (within DF thread) Some very brief physical details about the Sanitarium:

C3: 2006 Apr 29: (within DF thread) First play session report for Asylum, with lots of details on the site / adventure:

D: 2006 May 3: Details for how he made the prop book / journal:

C4: 2006 May 13: (within DF thread) Second play session report for play within the Asylum, with details about the elevator, blacksmith's workshop, treasure (scrolls), big snake, and some philosophical details regarding the design 

C5: 2006 May 20: (within DF thread) Third play session report for play within the Asylum (sorta), with the initial plot seed wrap-up:

C6: 2007 Mar 15: (within DF thread) Fourth play session report for within the Asylum, with reveal of Mongrelmen as one of the occupants

E: 2008 Jun 14: Asylum currently in production, with most location writing done, and a hopeful release in Summer:

F: 2008 Jun 17: James anticipates excitement when the artist begins turning in the illustrations:

G: 2008 Jul 1: Asylum can't be done as a pdf because of how the release is being formatted:

H: 2008 Aug 3: Stone Hold adventure hook (likely unrelated to the original 2006 campaign or the module):

I: 2008 Aug 20: Work on Asylum has stalled due to personal issues:

J: 2008 Nov 19: Many details about Asylum including intriguing possible physical details of the book/product (squirrel skull!), and very small summary; also the commissioned journal-writer never started:

K: 2009 May 3: Asylum still in the future plans:

L: 2009 Jul 28: Sanitarium mentioned as a possibility to release after Insect Shrine:

M: 2009 Aug 18: Asylum writing finished except for the diary handout; planned release after The Grinding Gear, with "special limited edition" possibility:

N: 2009 Sep 11: Asylum still a planned release:

O: 2009 Oct 25: Sanitarium described as a "larger project" still on the horizon:

P: 2009 Nov 5: Sanitarium to come after Hammers of the God (née The Old Miner's Shame):

Q: 2010 Jan 14: (in the comments) Asylum still planned, and may be changed to set on an island (instead of in the mountains):

R: 2010 Apr 1: Sanitarium described as a "larger project":

S: 2010 Apr 27: Goals include Sanitarium release during 2010:

T: 2011 Feb 7: The possibility of tying Sanitarium to either a "Return to the Old School," a Iri-Khan, or a Three Mothers concept:

U: 2011 Nov 17: Asylum maps are too big for his standard page size:

V: 2012 Apr 23: Mentioning Asylum as a possible next thing, including format details

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Inspired modules vs. Adequate modules

The following may be information gathering for a more cohesive thought. Or not. Who knows. Some concepts below might be positive. Some might be negative. Food for thought.

Meat and Potatoes

Tomb of the Iron God "is a fairly standard dungeon delve. ... It doesn't contain much wildly creative material, but it does have lots of atmosphere and solid dungeon exploration. It's a meat and potatoes type of adventure."
-- Matt Finch (source)

Tomb of the Iron God "doesn't contain new monsters or a wildly unusual setting for the adventure. It is a meat and potatoes dungeon, ... and it's not exactly what people will expect from me after Pod Caverns." "I think it is a very good meat and potatoes dungeon, with good atmosphere (I don't think I equaled B1 for dungeon quality, but I think I matched it in atmosphere) and some good rooms. ... I don't want anyone to buy it expecting Pod-Caverns."
-- Matt Finch (source)

Tangent: While this is an interesting definition of a "Meat and Potatoes module," the term isn't actually appropriate for the example module. Matt sells Tomb of the Iron God somewhat short. While it's not as imaginative or inspired as Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, and while it explicitly demands that the DM fill in several important blanks, Tomb of the Iron God is much more imaginative than Matt gives it credit for. It contains several custom creatures, and includes a number of areas that stimulate intense player engagement, and inspire profound action. Tomb of the Iron God exceeds the sum of its parts.

Enable the Awesome

Preface: When you read the following, fight hard to avoid hearing only the superficial implication. There is a deeper meaning in the quotes...

Things that enable the awesome: "In a module, anything that gives certain tools for the players to allow them to overcome obstacles in an unexpected, creative way, or to overcome stuff when they really had no right to expect to do so based on the relative level of the combatants, stuff like that."
-- Joethelawyer (source)

And more from the same post: "[some stuff in the module] turned what would have been a suicidal frontal assault into a slaughter [in our favor]. It evened the odds. The module provided us with the tools to be awesome, the rooms had stuff that allowed us to pull a McGyver with some creative thought."

The point is not that the module provided physical tools to overcome obstacles. The important point is that the module contained obstacles that are, on the surface, impossible to deal with, without using creative thought. In other words, Joethelawyer wants very hard challenges!


Additional info from the same thread makes it clear that Joethelawyer was looking for reasons to engage the environment, and fiddle with stuff; positive, short-term reinforcement. Others too; see below. This doesn't necessarily have anything to do with "being awesome," but it may support the notion of an inspiring module.

"What seems to be missing ... is interactivity. 'Deep background' isn't the same thing as having interesting shit to fuck around with."
-- Black Vulmea (source)

"Look at some adventures by Gabor Lux for examples of dungeon interactivity done right. "Temple of the Sea Demon" and anything from his Isles on an Emerald Sea series spring to mind. Players can miss rooms, find them, ignore things or play with them but there damn sure is a lot of intriguing dressing, tricks to play with & history that can be discovered in fun, dangerous or beneficial ways."
-- zarathustra (source)

Black Vulmea and zarathustra want to be inspired into action.


"The module is disappointingly one-dimensional. There's no twist or mystery. There's no memorable setting, theme, atmosphere or mood. There are no meaningful decisions for the players to make outside the basic scope of finding loot and battling or avoiding the monsters, and the monsters are indeed doing exactly what the players' initial information purports them to be doing. There's almost nothing fantastical, mystical or whimsical about the module, other than the simple presence of some of the monsters and their treasures."
-- me (source)

Which isn't to say that's necessarily bad, because "groups that prefer straightforward dungeon romps will probably find this much more enjoyable than the C+ grade would suggest." Though I personally wouldn't run it without adding considerably more enablers for richer play.

Before writing the above review, I started a discussion on K&KA in order to help figure out the right language to use in the review.

The author of the reviewed module posted a definition of "old school fantasy gaming" that helps understand his authorial style – i.e., why his module is the way it is:

"Old school fantasy gaming? It's about kicking in the door, killing the monsters, disarming the trap on the treasure chest, roughly dividing the loot so it can all get carried out and moving on. It's about bright steel in blackened corridors, rescuing the princess and slaying the dragon. The highest concept one need concern oneself with is staying righteous or alternately making sure the rest of the party doesn't find out how bent you are. Above all, it's about staying close to wargame roots without just playing another wargame.
- The Dungeon Delver (source)

Note the Matt Finch (Mythmere) quote immediately following The Dungeon Delver's post:

"Most of the play is done in areas "outside" of dice resolution and is based on player intelligence and skill. Once you get into dice-rolling, the dice are followed closely; player skill is measured by the degree to which skill in the "non-dice" part of the game can beat a random element."
- Matt Finch (source)

This could be illustrative of the differences between Matt's modules and The Dungeon Delver's modules. If most of the play is done outside of dice resolution, then that's going to be mostly non-combat; whereas The Dungeon Delver's post brings to mind much dice rolling. But of course there's flexibility in how the two quotes can be interpreted.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Encumbrance House Rule: Strength score = item slots

A character can carry a number of items equal to his strength score, and still move at his base movement rate (as defined by armor worn, or lack thereof, as usual). Every five additional items carried (or a fraction thereof), reduces the character's movement rate by 3".

In other words, a PC has a number of encumbrance "slots" equal to their strength score*. Exceeding that number of slots slows the character down. For example, a PC with 13 strength and banded mail armor (base move of 9") can carry up to 13 items and still move 9"; carrying 14 - 18 items reduces his speed to 6", and carrying 19 - 23 items reduces his speed to 3".

* Every exceptional strength category equals one more slot. e.g., a character with 18/76 strength has 21 slots. If you prefer to be more faithful to by-the-book exceptional strength weight capacities, you can arbitrarily assign a higher slot capacity to each category, e.g. 20 / 22 / 25 / 30 / 40.

In general, every carried item takes up one slot, but there are a few exceptions:

  • Normal clothes, backpacks, and pouches take no slots. (Don't bother listing these things unless they're being stored as items to use later.)
  • A weapon & scabbard count together as a 1 slot. Ditto for a quiver & 20 arrows, etc.
  • Small identical items are 3 items per slot. So 3 iron spikes take up 1 slot, as do 3 vials of holy water, 3 daggers, or 3 potions of healing. (The items must be identical. Three different potions would take up three slots.)
  • Every 100 coins / gems take up one slot.

In practice, you just draw a marker at the appropriate rows of the equipment list section of the character sheet, and it's easy to know at a glance how encumbered the character is. For small identical items, list the appropriate number together on the row of the PC's equipment list (e.g., "iron spikes x3"). Ditto for "longsword & scabbard" or "pouch with sling stones x20".

In rare cases, a character needs to carry an extremely large or heavy item, like a massive chest, a rolled-up tapestry, or an incapacitated ally. These take up one slot per 10 pounds of approximate weight. Carrying another character will take up around 15-20 slots, plus the number of slots worth of stuff the carried character had, of course. Typically, this reduces If dragged instead of carried, it's generally one slot per 50-100 pounds.

Bags of holding can be rated in terms of this encumbrance system by dividing their coinage capacity by 75 to determine the number of slots it can hold.

Tome of Horrors Complete "Kickstarter" Results

The final "kickstarter" results for the Swords & Wizardry version of Tome of Horrors Complete are ...

$30776 raised / 330 backers
(That's for the Swords & Wizardry version only. It does not include the payments from the backers of the Pathfinder version.)

Now, this wasn't actually hosted on, nor was it funded using a kickstarter-like ransom model. It was really a pre-order, so the book was coming out regardless of how many folks pre-ordered. It all took place over a year ago, so this isn't a particularly recent event. And the numbers above are actually just estimates, as explained below.

But let's look at the pre-order as though it were a crowdfunded project...

Announced: 2011 Jan 3 or earlier (source)
Pre-order start: 2011 Mar 6 (source)
Pre-order end: 2011 Jul 5 (source), though it was originally slated to end Jun 1 (source), and already had one prior bump out to Jun 30 (source).
Price: $89.99 for pre-orders, $99.99 afterward (source)

Estimating the Number of Backers

The exact number of pre-orders was never made public. But enough info was made public to allow a reasonable guess at the number of backers. Bill Webb (the chief dude of Frog God Games) is the primary source here, but Matt Finch also chimed in with some details that give insight.

549 copies were printed (source) in total, but not all of those were pre-ordered, because some of the print run was reserved for other purposes:
  • Some number of "authors copies" were reserved to give to the authors (source)
  • Some number were reserved for "other commitments" (source)
  • 50 copies to sell at the North Texas RPG Con (source) (source)
  • As many as 150 (source), or perhaps as few as 70 (source) were reserved for general sale after the pre-order period. It's not clear whether that 150 number includes those in reserve for NTRPG Con. Matt Finch guesstimates that 100 copies would be available for general sale (source), beyond pre-orders, and beyond those reserved for NTRPG Con.
  • Matt Finch guesstimates that 300 - 350 copies were sold during pre-order period (source), including some of those going directly to vendors. But this was potentially based on inaccurate understanding of the print run size; he thought the print run was about 500 (source)
It's reasonable to think around 25-50 copies were reserved as authors copies or for "other commitments". Authors sometimes receive multiple copies, and other members of the production staff sometimes receive a copy. There are a bunch of people listed in the credits.

So we end up with 549 copies, minus 50 copies for NTRPG Con, minus 70-150 copies for general sale, minus 25-50 copies for authors & such. This gives a guesstimate range of between 299 and 404 pre-ordered copies, which aligns with fairly well with Matt's guesstimate above.

I split the difference and went with 352 copies pre-ordered.

However, about 25 of those copies went to resellers/vendors (Noble Knight, Troll & Toad, and Jim Raggi – source). So 25 of the pre-ordered copies were actually represented by just 3 "backers."

Which yields a guesstimated backer total of 330. (352 - 25 + 3)

Estimating the Funds Raised

327 of the pre-ordered copies were bought by individuals who paid $89.99 per book.

The 25 bought by resellers were almost certainly purchased at a discount. A standard reseller pays about 60% of retail for the stock, so $53.99 per book.

327 copies x $89.99, plus 25 copies x $53.99 = $30776.48, which I rounded down as the revenue raised, way up above.

It's still available ... for now, anyway

As of this writing, there appear to be a few of the 549 copies still available for sale through the Frog God Games web site. There will be no more print runs of this format of the S&W version of ToH complete, and who knows how much longer they'll last, so – if you want one, grab one now!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sales Numbers: Majestic Wilderlands and Blackmarsh

To help understand the financial side of "old school" D&D publishing, here is some sales info, both concrete and speculative, for Majestic Wilderlands and Blackmarsh, by Rob Conley.


From Rob Conley's post at The RPG Site:
"On Lulu I sold 319 units of Majestic Wilderlands across all formats since 2009
On RPGNow I sold another 319 units of Majestic Wilderlands across all formats since 2009.
On RPGnow I sold over 96 books of Blackmarsh."

Majestic Wilderlands
  • Released 2009 Dec 6
  • 638 copies (mix of print & pdf) have sold as of 2012 Sep 21, for in just short of three years time. (Unclear how this number accounts for the bundled print + pdf option, which comes at the same price as the print version.)
  • $4.55: Approximate net intake per copy. ($7 pdf price x 65% royalty rate from rpgnow.) Print copy net earnings could be a bit higher, but ignoring that fact.
  • $2900: Possible total net intake, modulo the bundled print + pdf accounting. NOTE that this is not a true net earnings, as it does not subtract production costs for art, editing, layout, etc.
  • $2548: Amount he earned as of 2011 Nov 27. (Source)
  • $6 to $12: Price paid per copy sold, depending on how the bundled print + pdf factors into the count of copies sold.
  • $3800 to $7600: Total spent by customers should be roughly somewhere within this range, modulo any purchased at a discount.
Sales Numbers Over Time:
  • 2009 Dec (end): 74 print & 76 pdf = 150 total (Source)
  • 2010 Jan 18th: 87 (+13) print & 86 (+10) pdf = 173 total (Source)
  • 2010 Jan (end): 92 (+5) print & 95 (+9) pdf = 187 total (Source)
  • 2010 Feb (end): 101 (+9) print & 105 (+10) pdf = 206 total (Source)
  • 2010 Mar (end): 112 (+11) print & 130 (+25) pdf = 242 total (Source)
  • 2010 Apr - Jun (end): 149 (+37) print & 158 (+28) pdf = 307 total (Source)
  • 2011 Mar 31: +26 copies sold during Jan - Mar, inclusive (Source)
  • 2011 Jun 2: +26 copies sold during previous six weeks (Source)
  • 2012 Sep 21: 638 copies total (Source)

  • Released 2011 Apr 14
  • 45 sales as of 2011 Jun 2, which recoups his art cost. (Source)
  • 96 print copies have sold as of 2012 Sep 21, or nearly 1.5 years.
  • Note that the pdf version is free, and thus might hamper the sales of print copies.
  • $2.77: Net intake per copy. (Source)
  • $265: Possible total net intake. NOTE: As above, this does not subtract production costs for art, editing, layout, etc.
  • $200: Amount he earned as of 2011 Nov 27. (Source)
  • $7: Price paid per copy sold, modulo discounts.
  • $670: Total of payments made by customers, modulo discounts.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Detangling the LotFP Adventures Campaign Results

The four successfully-funded projects in LotFP Adventures Campaign are difficult to use as crowdfunding data points, because they cannibalized and/or subsidized one another, and also because three significant, backer-enticing additions were made to the overall project pool once it became clear that only a scant few projects would fund, and you could potentially get some or all of those additions by pledging on any one of the successful projects. The following analysis attempts to detangle the projects from one another, and from the additions, in order to give a better idea of how each project did on its own merits.

The detangled results come first, with a methodology explanation afterward.

The Seclusium of Orphone
$6647 raised / 311 backers
(math: $355 Upsell + $4170 module only + $500 retailer + $1520 GB+ + $102 collector share = $6647)
(results as shown on Indiegogo: $7535 raised / 250 backers)

Broodmother Sky Fortress
$4757 raised / 221 backers
(math: $55 Upsell + $2580 module only + $500 retailer + $1520 GB+ + $102 collector share = $4757)
(results as shown on Indiegogo: $7050 raised / 167 backers)

Horror Amongst Thieves
$4955 raised / 228 backers
(math: $213 Upsell + $2620 module only + $500 retailer + $1520 GB+ + $102 collector share = $4955)
(results as shown on Indiegogo: $6623 raised / 177 backers)

Towers Two
$6683 raised ($3923 without GWAR swag) / 175 backers
(math: $501 Upsell + $760 module only + $3800 GWAR swag + $1520 GB+ + $102 collector share = $6683)
(results as shown on Indiegogo: $6601 raised / 112 backers)
Note to prospective module authors: Offer GWAR swag as perks. Or just be Brockie. But that may not help your return on investment.

bonus Conley sandbox supplement + bonus Raggi 8-page adventure
$1622 raised / 76 backers
(math: $1520 GB+ + $102 collector share = $1622)

bonus Raggi 64-page adventure
$3092 raised / 43 backers
(math: $2850 Faithful + $140 Collector + $102 collector share = $3092)


First, a disclaimer: There are many ways the data can be detangled. This is merely one possibility. Enjoy it or don't. YMMV. Also, the total backer count on doesn't always match up to the sum of the backers in the various categories. And somehow, even though I double checked my math, the total of the numbers above comes up about $50 short of the sum of the totals as shown on Indiegogo. Sigh. And maybe I missed a concrete bonus offering somewhere. Good thing this study isn't meant to be precise.

Regarding Backer Count

Backers at the Grab Bag level, various Faithful levels, and the Collectors levels will receive each of the successful projects. (Let's call those backers "GB+".) Therefore, backers at those levels count toward all of the successful projects. For example, Seclusium's detangled backer count is 250, plus the 22 GB+ backers for Broodmother, plus the 25 GB+ backers for Horror, plus the 13 GB+ backers for Towers, for a total of 311.

Backers at the GB+ levels will also receive the bonus Conley sandbox supplement and the bonus Raggi 8-page adventure. Therefore, all backers at the GB+ level on the four successful projects count as backers of that "joint" bonus project. 16 + 22 + 25 + 13 = 76.

Backers at the Faithful and Collectors levels will receive the bonus Raggi 64-page adventure. Therefore, all backers at those levels on the four successful projects count as backers of the Raggi 64-page bonus. 13 + 15 + 11 + 4 = 43

Regarding Funds Raised

The amount each project raised via the Upsell category is not trivially visible. To determine the amount pledged via the Upsell, take the funding total and subtract the amounts pledged in the other categories. For example, Seclusium: $7535 - (10 x $75) - (81 x $20) - (60 x $30) - (3 x $100) - (7 x $160) - (4 x $180) - (2 x $185) - (2 x $250) = $355 toward Upsell. It's difficult to know what the Upsell money went toward, so for detangling purposes …

1. All Upsell money counts toward the project on which it was pledged.

2. All $10 / $20 / $30 pledges count toward the project on which it was pledged. (Duh.)

3. All Retailer Support ($250) pledges count toward the project on which it was pledged. (Duh again.)

4. The GWAR swag pledges count only toward Brockie's project. (Yup.)

5. All Grab Bag ($100) pledges are split five ways. $20 toward each of the base projects, plus $20 more toward the hybrid bonus Conley sandbox + Raggi 8-page category. (Or you could split it six ways and treat the hybrid as two projects. But 5 is good because the math with $20 is easier than math with $16.67.)

6. All Faithful ($160 / $180) pledges are split. The first $100 of those are split five ways, with $20 going to various projects, the same as with Grab Bag. The rest counts directly toward the only additional thing backers are supposed to receive: The Raggi 64-page adventure.

7. The two Collector ($450 / $500) pledges are split. The first $100 of each gets split five ways, as above. The next $60 / $80 of each counts toward the Raggi 64-page adventure. The rest gets split six ways ($610 / 6 = $102) and applied to each of the base projects, and the hybrid bonus, and the Raggi 64 bonus. After all, most or all of those products will be included in the hardback collection.


Some of the projects added various gaming-related enticements. Horror was a no-risk pledge; backers would get the product (and their money back) if the project didn't successfully fund. Baker gave away free pdfs of his other material. Conley tossed in bonuses that potentially any pledger could get. These factors aren't worth detangling, because they're not unlike the extras other crowdfunding campaigns offer. (Well, Horror's enticements was unlike the other extras. But it's hard to detangle that.)