Fifty Followers

With the Sew You Want To Be A Hero posts, my blog has knocked over another tiny milestone: I now have fifty followers. I’m also pretty rapidly heading towards breaking 10,000 views from 5,000 visitors before the end of the year (I am reasonably likely to get that much by the end of October, even).

These milestones may seem paltry compared to the Kickstarter that had four times that many backers and made me a significant amount of real, actual money, but that’s all for tabletop roleplaying, and I have no idea where the ceiling on that is. Obviously it’s possible for Matt Colville to make $1,000,000 for one splatbook, which would cover my art and living expenses for approximately twenty-five years, but there’s no reason to believe I’ll be able to reach even a tenth of that level of success – I don’t have his charisma on camera, and the audience for my work is not “everyone who wants to play D&D” but rather “everyone who wants to play a specific kind of D&D that’s badly neglected by existing adventure paths.” I really wouldn’t be surprised if $4,000 per adventure is the upward limit on what I can achieve, which would require me to produce about eight of them to make a living off of them – and that’s assuming both that I can get nearly 100% of my art assets in a permanent library and that the whole thing doesn’t crash and burn on me somewhere in the next few months.

All this to say, I definitely want to keep my options open regarding a literary career path in case this tabletop thing doesn’t work out, so I’m glad to see my blog – which is popular mainly in proportion to how often I write about books – passing these little milestones.

On a somewhat related note, I may end up doing another NaNoWriMo thing this year. If I do, that’ll mean another interruption to the LitRPG reviews, which is one of two major reasons I’m considering not doing it (the other major reason being I don’t want it to interfere with the schedule on my Kickstarter rewards). On the one hand, I don’t want another interruption this close to the Kickstarter interruption. On the other, I will at some point need to actually write a book if I’m going to make this work.

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: The Novelization Of A Dungeon Crawl Is Still Boring

Chapter 2

Threadbare and Pulsivar enter the raccant dungeon in search of Dark Threadbare, and soon come across…

The little bear thought that maybe there was something hiding under the junk, but no, nothing was under there. The mob of trash had moved on its own and just slunk up and whacked him a good one.

An animate mob of trash. A trash mob, if you will.

And not much deeper in, Threadbare finds the heart of the raccant operation:

Threadbare gazed upon a large cave, with multiple seats and benches made from stalagmites, free-standing and in rows. Ropes and chains of lanterns hung from the ceiling, flashing with odd colors, and at least three dozen raccants sat on them or jumped up and down, dancing to the music.

Garbage piled high around the cavern shook to the beat, piles of trash and even cans of the stuff shaking as the beat thumped on. Occasionally a can would boil over, and a new trash mob would rattle out, then head toward one of the corridors leading out of the cavern.

And up on stage, was a Raccant wearing a pair of baggy black pants, a gold chain, and some odd contraption over his eyes that Threadbare had never seen before. Though for once that wasn’t due to his ignorance. After all, very few people in Cylvania would have recognized a pair of sunglasses.

Didn’t Caradon have regular glasses? Maybe I just imagined that. Either way, “glasses that are dark” doesn’t seem like it’d be that hard to puzzle out. Nitpick aside, though, I like this setup.

Threadbare is able to dispose of the raccant mooks by animating their own masks to attack them and then using his Wolverine claws to tear up what’s left, with some support from his animated high chair minion that he salvaged from the camp outside. That’s when the boss attacks with a hurricane of puns…

Then in a flash, the raccant was there, bashing the high chair to bits with a heavy hammer that he’d pulled out of literally nowhere.

He’d stopped because it was hammer time, and broken it down, just like that.

Threadbare popped claws and laid into him- or tried to, anyway. The bard could dodge like nobody’s business, thanks to his Raccant Touch This skill.

…which then retreats into a particularly abbreviated example of detached summary.

The fight went on for a bit, and Threadbare switched from trying to shred the guy to just trying to survive, letting Pulsivar do the real work. Fortunately that was a good strategy, and in the end, after three dodge skill ups and two more bodyguard skill ups later, the raccant fell, glasses shattering. Threadbare sagged into Pulsivar, hugging his wounds away with what remained of his sanity.

Survival Quest had this problem, too, where what makes for a good MMO fight doesn’t really make for a good book fight, and instead of having the MMO be weirdly high-lethality in order to pace the fights for a book, it retreats into detached summary. Survival Quest at least had the excuse that it was an actual MMORPG and it would actually be weird from a worldbuilding standpoint for the fights to be balanced around high lethality that allows them to be portrayed beginning to end in just two or three pages of book space (and also allows players to win with a strong alpha strike or even just some lucky crits rather than demanding an effective long term strategy – that’s bad for gameplay). Threadbare has a built-in excuse for having fights balanced for pace rather than strategy:

It's Magic 2

Continue reading “Sew You Want To Be A Hero: The Novelization Of A Dungeon Crawl Is Still Boring”

Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Threadbare Returns

We’re back, baby! One successful Kickstarter later and we are looking at Threadbare’s sequel, Sew You Want To Be A Hero. Like all of these reviews (so far) I’m reading this blind, with no idea whether it’s going to be great or terrible. Unlike the previous ones, this is book two of a series. The previous installment, Stuff and Nonsense, was a rollercoaster of really good and really terrible chapters. We’ll see if the sequel keeps ricocheting around or if it breaks one way or another.

When last we left our hero, the animate teddy bear Threadbare, he had just emerged from the overgrown remains of his home after spending five years regenerating from an otherwise fatal wound. He picked up that wound in a short-lived attempt to protect Celia, his little girl, from the nefarious evil king Melos. In a shocking reveal that has no impact whatsoever on the stakes, context, or balance of the conflict, Melos turns out to be Celia’s father, and his sinister demonic ally Anise was Celia’s mother all along (she used to be human – you can turn corpses into demons in this setting).

According to the status screen Threadbare popped up after finishing his regeneration, that was five years ago. Celia was abducted by Melos at the age of eleven, so by now is quite possibly some kind of evil Sith apprentice. As much as Threadbare’s middle dragged on without a plot, that ending was actually a fairly compelling inciting incident (which isn’t supposed to go at the end of a book, but better late than never), and I’m excited to see what happens next – although admittedly, also nervous that we’re going to have to wait until the end of the book for a single significant plot development.

Continue reading “Sew You Want To Be A Hero: Threadbare Returns”

Petals and Thorns Kickstarter: Complete

A couple of days ago, the Petals and Thorns Kickstarter reached its conclusion. After the slump of week three, week four saw the struggle between increased rate of last minute cancellations and increased rate of last minute pledges. There was an early blow when, about four or five days from the end, one of the $100 pledges cancelled. By three days before the end, we’d recovered from that, but we were still fighting to get back up to the $2,800 goal that had seemed so easily within grasp a few days before.

Then the 48-hour reminder emails went out. $300, then $800, then finally over $1,200 in the final 48 hours came flooding in, the biggest spike of any 48 hour period in the entire campaign, even the day one spike when a combination of my pre-existing supporters and a Giant in the Playground post surpassed my original goal and first stretch goal with over $800 in the first two days.

In the end, we raised over $4,000 and had 199 backers. That’s over five times the amount of money and, more importantly, over four times the number of people reached that I was willing to call the Kickstarter an unqualified success. Not only do I have the funds to afford a full set of maps and tokens to make each unit of each faction distinct, I’ll even be able to commission some extra illustrations to make the .pdf a bit less barren. Not only that, but some of these tokens and art pieces are becoming permanent parts of my library, which I’ll be able to reuse indefinitely (although to be clear, that is only true of some of them). And this improved version of the work is going out to well over a hundred new members of my audience (not for this blog, specifically, but for my work in general).

I mentioned before that my primary fear at this stage is that people won’t like it, and that is still the biggest looming if: if my new audience actually likes my work. We are still firmly in the period where all of this could end up being a huge waste of time. The money raised from this Kickstarter is all earmarked to be given to people who are not me – the writing was done completely for free out of hopes that I would make money on selling it in online marketplaces after the Kickstarter concluded, and there is no guarantee that there’s anyone left out there who wants what I’m selling. There’s no guarantee that the people who pre-ordered what I’m selling will like it when they get it. Maybe, upon actually receiving the product, it’s going to turn out that people like the idea of having to grapple with the limitations of mortal power and make compromises, but they don’t actually like doing it. Maybe there’s just not enough there, since a lot of neat ideas I’d had did have to be cut in order to fit into an adventure I could plausibly afford to produce. My original adventure concept would likely have cost twice as much as was raised, and included the entirety of the Eastern Frontier and a much more thorough exploration of the factions involved. How much of that adventure – the one I wished I had the resources to write – wormed its way into how I presented this much more compact adventure without my noticing?

If this adventure leaves most of the Kickstarter backers satisfied, then I can probably count on similar success in the future. As I get a larger library of art assets permanently at my disposal, less and less of the new money will have to be directed towards commissioning and licensing new art, and more and more of that money can be dedicated towards my goal of self-sufficiency on my creative work. It will also increase my backlog, and if I get a steady stream of new fans seeing my latest release and buying up my old work, then the amount of income each new fan brings will grow over time.

But there’s still a lot of ifs in there. If my backers actually like the adventure once they have it in their hands, if my adventures sell beyond the initial Kickstarter audience, if new releases then reach new fans and bring them to my backlog rather than just getting the same number of sales from the same dedicated fans every time. Nevertheless, I am certainly now closer to achieving my goals than I was before, and while a lot of things could still go wrong, there’s no strong reason to believe they actually will go wrong outside of my standard pessimism.

On a slightly related note, Let’s Reads should be resuming in a few days, although with how busy I am assembling my Kickstarter rewards I can’t promise we’ll be going back to daily blog posts. I haven’t quite decided which book I want to read next, but I’m leaning towards Threadbare, since I’m curious to see whether that series gets better as it goes or succumbs to its flaws to crash and burn. I think these reviews are at their best when I don’t know how things are going to turn out in advance, and Threadbare is the one series so far where that’s still true even after the first book.

Evermore: For Real Open

I haven’t gotten any more free tickets to Evermore so far, but I also probably won’t be returning for another week at least, so we’ll see whether the chain of free tickets has finally expired. The tl;dr of my opinion on Evermore’s full open is that it’s good, but if at all possible do not go on a weekend. All theme parks are worse when there’s long lines to major attractions, but Evermore has a story and an atmosphere, and the pacing of the first is absolutely slaughtered by sitting around in a line for thirty minutes between beats and the atmosphere takes a lot of damage when costumed NPCs are drastically outnumbered by uncostumed soccer moms pushing strollers. There’s not really anything Evermore can do about either of these, obviously they can’t require costumes to enter and it would be foolish to set their capacity for an optimal experience rather than a functional experience, so I don’t fault Evermore for either of these things (nor, for the record, do I fault the soccer moms for showing up with strollers), I’m just advising anyone who actually plans on visiting the park to avoid weekends.

The one thing Evermore can do about the massive lines is the one thing that it has: Offered lots of side quests to chase down to help disperse crowds between different locations. The primary quest regarding the Nettletons and subsequently the hunters is absolutely packed but if you want to resolve a spat between Harvey the Ghost and the gatekeeper, the steps on that quest are generally much less crowded and more accessible. There’s another quest about finding the missing pieces to someone’s necklace that I heard about but didn’t have time to actually complete, something about an elixir that Mother Nature/Earth is working on, and possibly more that I haven’t discovered.

These still don’t solve the problem with pace, however: Once night falls and the all ages Magical World of Lore event gives way to the spookier Cursed World of Lore, I went direct to the hunters. The good news is that capturing a vampire requires proving your worth to become a hunter, and that requires actually completing some challenges: You have to get a bullseye at an archery range, go through the top floor of the catacomb and retrieve a special black stone as proof, and then get a tarot reading from the fortune teller, who tonight is a different person from the other fortune teller but still seems pretty cool. This is exactly the kind of actually doing stuff that should be required at this stage in the story, since it helps transition from exploration to investigation, albeit in this case it’s more general preparation, but that might be a better name for that phase anyway. What matters is that we are no longer just learning serving as a messenger between NPCs who are exchanging favors with each other and are instead being required to actually do stuff that other NPCs couldn’t do for themselves.

The downside is that with a thirty minute line at the archery range, even if you get your bullseye with your first three arrows it’d still be a massive understatement to say the pacing grinds to a halt. After my first attempt failed, I wandered off to go find something else to do (thankfully, as I mentioned earlier, there are other quests) and came back when the park was nearer to closing and the lines were short enough that I could try again once every minute or two. During the soft open, the archery range pretty much always had at least one bow open, and I loosed a few dozen arrows with no line at all. I hope that’s because it was Wednesday and not because it was the soft open, because I’d like to shoot some arrows again (quest requirements or not), but I really don’t want to stand in line for it.

An unfortunate side effect of this is that I was entirely out of time to figure out what happens next. I finished the quest, got the card, but it was practically midnight by then, well past time when it would be reasonable to do anything else but wrap up dangling loose ends before going home, and certainly too late to start a whole new quest. What happens next? Is it any good? Are they going to be able to move into a confrontation with the dark forces of the Fey King as effectively as they transitioned from exploration to preparation? No clue. The hour I would’ve spent doing that, I instead spent drinking hot cocoa and watching the Fey King heckle people in the town square. Which, the interactivity of the giant Fey King animatronic is still really cool and it was fun to watch, but there was a shadow of anxiety over the whole thing, that maybe the crowds would never die down and I’d end up wasting the whole night just waiting. Having to put the main plot on pause for a while didn’t just mean I had to find something else to do, it meant I did that something else while worrying that I’d never get a chance to see the plot through to its conclusion.

Continue reading “Evermore: For Real Open”

Kickstarter: One Week Left

The big slowdown I’d be anticipating since the Kickstarter’s beginning finally hit in the third week. There was a single reasonably big day that came from one guy pledging $100 to hit one of the really big reward levels, but other than that, the Kickstarter has crawled upwards by $15-$30 per day, if that. There have been several days where it budged not at all, and overall the campaign has moved less than $300 forward. I’ve had some amount of success with a final wave of Reddit posts at significantly earlier hours when hopefully fewer Americans and more Europeans are around, but it’s still only $15 here and there. It does look like the $2,800 stretch goal will be hit, on the basis of that slow trickle of new followers, and it’s always possible that the last few days and final 48 hours in particular will bring out a final pulse, a surge that may carry me as far as $3,200 if we’re being optimistic. More realistically, however, I’ll probably get over $2,800 just barely and hopefully the credit card declines won’t exceed my estimations and I’ll be able to get Order of the Lion tokens. Unique tokens for the backers will be a stretch, however.

Gabriel Pickard: Map Set Comparison

Gabriel Pickard is pretty really prolific. He’s also really good, one of the best map artists on Roll20, and certainly the best with a backlog this vast. Let’s take a look at what specifically is in there.

Gabriel Pickard got his start mainly doing Quick Encounters. These were packs of readymade maps, usually 25×25 or 30×30, following a certain theme. Early Quick Encounters were forests or underground mini-dungeons, and later eventually started going to really weird places like sky islands and the insides of kaiju. Quick Encounters are great for what they’re named after and I often use them as the backdrop for random encounters in adventure modules that don’t usually provide maps outside the dungeon. They are not modular, however, so don’t buy a pack of them and expect you’ll be able to stick them together into a bigger map. There’s no way to hide the seam except by burying it under tree doodads, at which point the seam is just as obvious from the giant wall of trees.

Pretty soon afterwards Gabriel began releasing Vile Tiles. These are packs of doodads and backgrounds with which, I assume, Gabriel creates his maps, and can be used to make endless variations that will look about the same. Vile Tiles can be used to build maps from scratch or tweak ones that already exist. They’re time intensive but allow for extreme flexibility. I occasionally use Vile Tiles for tweaking purposes, but lack the mapmaking skills to make proper use of them.

Where things really get good is when Gabriel began making Save vs Cave and Village to Pillage. These two modular packs are fully compatible within themselves (i.e. any Village to Pillage pack can be used with any other, and any Save vs Cave can be used with any other, although there’s no way to link them together). These can be used to make much larger maps. Save vs Cave maps can easily reach 100×100 with just a single $5 pack, although that’s in part due to lots of solid rock. See, Save vs Cave sets come with just fifteen or so different rooms and then lots of generic corridors, corners, and junctions. The rooms have varying entrances and exits which allow them to be plugged together, and you can use the corridors and corners to join an exit from one room facing south to an entrance to the other facing east, but in order to do this you’re going to end up with some empty space on either side of the corner. If you just link rooms together as directly as possible you’ll get a space efficient dungeon, but often one that requires a lot of backtracking since rooms frequently branch but rarely loop on each other. To make a properly Jaquayed dungeon, you’ll need to accept a lot of empty space, and also that a lot of the times there just won’t be entrances in the right spot to make connections where you want them. Take a look at this, for example:

Continue reading “Gabriel Pickard: Map Set Comparison”

Evermore: Soft Open

It’s never a good sign when a company starts giving you free stuff to apologize for the quality of an event you have tickets for but haven’t actually been to. That’s the position I was in last Wednesday, having woken up to an email in which Evermore offered me a free ticket to the hard open because I had “bought” a ticket to the soft open, which I got for free when I actually bought a ticket to the preview night back on September 8th. I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep chaining these free tickets along? Are they going to be so embarrassed about the barely-finished state of the opening proper that they’ll give me free tickets for Halloween, and then be so embarrassed by that that they’ll give me free tickets to their winter arc, too? Is this going to end up with me just getting a lifetime subscription to the park because I bought a Comic-Con preview ticket?

Personally, I wasn’t disappointed with the soft open, but I can see why other people would be, especially people who went on the first day, when it was likely even more unfinished than when I got there. Unfinished sections of the park were roped off with uncostumed staff standing there to make sure no park guests accidentally (or maliciously) wander off into the construction zones and the plot stops dead in its tracks halfway through because the goblin forge isn’t finished yet, so they just awkwardly tell you they’re locked out and please come back next week when we can get on with the plot. I didn’t reach that point until the park was near closing time anyway, but then, I’m not super concerned with getting through the story as fast as possible. I take my time talking to characters and other park guests (“worldwalkers,” in the parlance of the park’s lore), and am further slowed by frequent pauses where I try to figure out something to say without breaking character. Also, on at least one occasion I was slowed a bit by being mistaken for an NPC and people asked me for plot threads which, since it was late in the night, I was actually able to provide. So far as I know, those people still think I work for Evermore. In any case, people who are more mission focused and less awkward can probably get through significantly faster and hit that end of the plot “sorry, come back next week” point sooner.

One thing Evermore has significantly improved upon since the preview night was how eagerly the plot was thrust upon me. That one fellow who asked me to slay monsters back on preview night? This time, he directed me straight to Clara Nettleton, who is now the starting point for the plot, so obviously so that I don’t even feel like it’s spoilers to mention as much. Further story spoilers are going below the break, so if you’re reading this because you actually want to go to Evermore during the current plot arc (ends November 8th), now might be the time to stop.

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Petals and Thorns Kickstarter: Day 15

Petals and Thorns is still on Kickstarter. The second week (eight days, really) was significantly less explosive than the first – as is to be expected. There was one absolutely massive surge, the largest since day one, when an /r/Pathfinder_RPG post really took off. Clearly that Pathfinder conversion stretch goal is paying dividends and going forward I should probably plan a 5e and Pathfinder version from the start, and just bake the extra cost of formatting two .pdfs into the .pdf stretch goal. A second, smaller surge came when I released Petals and Thorns: Hirelings, a one-page RPG, and promised there would be more like it for anyone who backed $5 and above.

Between these two surges, the momentum on the Kickstarter continued unabated even into the second week, but the days between surges revealed a growing problem: The rate at which Kickstarters own community pledged, by far the biggest source of support so far, was slowing down. This was not surprising, and in fact I expected it to happen much sooner. Eventually just about everyone on Kickstarter who wants Petals and Thorns will have already seen it and pledged for it, and apparently we reached that point sometime around day 12 or 13. The one-page surge helped mask this, but by day 15 incoming pledges are barely even balancing out cancelled pledges, not because cancelled pledges are at all common, but because incoming pledges have gotten so rare. The end of the campaign will hopefully bring in a rush of fence-sitters deciding at the last second to support me, which will hopefully more than balance the last-minute cancellations, but other than that surge (which may end up being negative!), I’m pretty sure the rest of the income for this project will have to come from posting it to new communities to try and find untapped reserves of potential backers. Unfortunately, I have no idea what communities might be left to tap.

Evermore: Preview Night

As of the writing (and slightly more so as of the posting), Evermore has been soft open for several days. The proper and official opening is coming September 29th, and the first arc of the story will run until November 8th. I got into the sneak preview at Comic-Con clear back on September 8th, and as part of the bundle for buying that ticket, I also got a free ticket that I’ll be using Wednesday, September 28th, to check out the soft open.

So what is Evermore? Evermore is a theme park unlike any other, by which I do not mean “so much better than Disneyland that it deserves a category of its own,” but rather “so different from Disneyland that if you think of it as being like Disneyland you’ll get it all wrong.” If you have to pick between going to Evermore or going to Disneyland, it’s not a question of which one is better, it’s a question of whether you like LARPing better than rollercoasters. Evermore has shows, restaurants, and food stands, but it has no rides. Instead, it has actors in costume, in character, wandering about the park that you can interact with. A fairy king has fallen to corruption, and that corruption is spreading through the town fast. A couple of people are trying to figure out how to reverse or at least contain it, but no one seems to be making much progress. Dig in the right places and you’ll find some of the townspeople are handing out honest to god quests.

I’ve been following the development of Evermore from a distance for years, and I decided that for the occasion I would slap together my very first cosplay.

Continue reading “Evermore: Preview Night”