Brac’s Guide to Piracy Post-Mortem

The Kickstarter for Brac’s Guide to Piracy, fourth of my series of twelve Kickstarted D&D sourcebooks, is finished. After both Irena’s (the second book) and Bianca’s (the third) got 30% improvement in backers over their predecessors, I was somewhat hopeful Brac’s might be able to continue the trend, especially since I’d hoped pirates in D&D would be a pretty killer hook. This didn’t happen, although Brac’s did still grow, but by slightly less than 10%. At the same time, this put Brac just barely over the 300 backer threshold for an acceptable Kickstarter according to my original goals. I always knew the series was unlikely to start this high, and my goal was to push to a point where I could hit these numbers consistently. I don’t like how razor-thin my grip on that threshold is, though, as Brac’s had exactly 301 backers.

My community pointed out in my Discord that pirates might actually be a much more controversial hook than I’d expected, and it might actually be turning a lot of people off. With the exception of Pirates of the Caribbean, no one’s really released a popular pirate movie since, like, the 60s, and there were no efforts at imitating PotC, or at least, none that succeeded well enough to break into the mainstream (contrast the Star Wars sci-fi revival that lead to movies like Terminator and Robocop in the 80s, or the fantasy revival led by Lord of the Rings that led to the Chronicles of Narnia getting their own series, or even Warner Bros. constant efforts to replicate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Pirates of the Caribbean didn’t even have failed imitators on the big screen).

Video games haven’t fared much better, where again only Sid Meier’s Pirates! and AC: Black Flag are titles I would expect anyone to actually know, and even if you count the 1987, 1993, and 2004 iterations of Pirates! separately, that still gets you about one game that anyone cares about per decade. PotC got a few video game spin-offs that were okay, but I’d expect someone’s reaction to them to be “I guess it makes sense they made those” rather than “I actually remember those,” and I’m pretty sure it’s pure dumb luck that I happen to have rented The Legend of Black Kat back in like 2003 when video game rentals were a thing, rather than any indication of market relevance. Even westerns seem to be doing better than pirates in the video game scene, with both Red Dead Redemption and the Juarez games.

And pirate TTRPGs seem to be represented pretty much exclusively by 7th Sea and people who decided to play Blades in the Dark on a ship, who are apparently not numerous enough for anyone to have bothered making a TTRPG specifically about being thieves who have a ship.

Going into Brac’s, I figured that, what with “let’s be pirates” being the stereotypical game-derailing objective players dream up for themselves, a book that lets you easily say “okay, sure, you are all now pirates” would have a big audience. In retrospect, though, I can’t remember the last time I heard a story of someone who actually tried to go and be pirates.

On the other hand, it’s also possible that piracy is a really popular subject, and it was actually necromancy that I was wrong about. I thought Natalia’s Guide to Necromancy would be a strong start to the series, and that didn’t pan out. Maybe I’m not really building momentum at all, and it’s just that magic items and pirates were popular subjects, necromancy was unpopular, and illusion and intrigue was middlin’.

As a third possibility, maybe the specific subject of the book makes relatively little difference, and my momentum is just running out as I approach (or have arrived at) a plateau.

The fifth data point provided by Thaemin’s Guide should give me a pretty good idea of which of these three possibilities is correct.

If Thaemin’s Guide does poorly, closer to Irena’s or Natalia’s than to Bianca’s, that suggests that the range on my success is completely topic-driven, and celestials and paladins was an unpopular or middlingly popular topic compared to magic items or piracy. I wouldn’t close up the series immediately, but I’d strongly consider winding it down before the planned twelve books, since in this scenario only some small fraction of the books will do well enough to justify the pressure of writing a whole sourcebook in 1-2 weeks.

If Thaemin’s Guide does better than Irena’s but not better than Brac’s, that suggests that my success is completely momentum-driven, but that I’ve reached the peak of what my momentum can get me. This would make me nervous. 300 backers is enough to make the projects worth continuing, but I’m barely at 300 backers with Brac’s and I’d like to have more breathing room.

If Thaemin’s Guide does slightly better than Brac’s (another 10%-ish increase), that suggests that either my success is completely momentum-driven and I’ve nearly reached the peak of what my momentum can get me, but may have a few more 10% gains left before I hit my maximum, or else that my success is partly momentum-driven and partly topic-driven, but that both piracy and paladins were unpopular topics that inhibited growth, or else that my success is completely momentum-driven, but the minor delays in fulfillment on Bianca’s and (probably) Brac’s were enough to tamp down that momentum. This situation is the most open, but all three likely possibilities from this situation are at least a little bit positive, so it’ll mainly be a question of “is my situation kinda good or really good,” which I wouldn’t complain about.

If Thaemin’s Guide does much better than Brac’s (20% or 30%), that suggests that my success is partly momentum-driven and partly topic-driven, and that piracy was a uniquely controversial topic that inhibited what is otherwise a very strong growth trend. This would obviously make it a no-brainer to continue the series for at least the currently planned twelve books, and start seriously considering what my follow-up would be afterwards.

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