Twelve Kickstarters In Twelve Months

Kickstarter Momentum

As Dark Lord was wrapping up its real content generation and entering the editing, proofing, printing, and shipping phase – all of which require some direction from me, but not a lot – I started thinking about what my next move should be, and I realized that I wasn’t really building any momentum. Almost nobody realized that the Petals and Thorns guy and the Dark Lord guy were the same person, because those Kickstarters were over a year apart and neither of them were so apocalyptically massive that anyone was still thinking about them after that much time had passed. Likewise, whatever new Kickstarter I was going to launch, even if I had it ready within a month, wouldn’t benefit much from the success of Dark Lord.

I needed projects small enough that I could launch a new one within six weeks of when the old one finished, so that people who’d been browsing the tabletop category on Kickstarter or who had seen it linked in a Discord or whatever would still remember the last one when they saw the new one. Due to the small scale of the projects and because the middle two weeks are often disappointing anyway, I decided to go with a fifteen-day schedule, and as per standard Kickstarter wisdom, I decided to make sure I was starting and ending in the same month, because having an end date in the same month as the current date makes the project seem more urgent and encourages people to back immediately, which helps build momentum in the early days.

What all of this added up to is that if I ran every other month, I’d be pushing the limits on the six week news cycle, the amount of time it takes for people to forget something’s relevant. The alternative was to run a Kickstarter for fifteen days out of every month, to be running a Kickstarter about as often as not. And the content I had was, when broken into the smallest reasonable chunk, a ‘zine-size sourcebook with about 30 minimum pages of content, plus wrappers (cover, table of contents, backer acknowledgements, etc. etc. – stuff that needs to be added but isn’t in my Google Docs draft). And it’s not like I’d have the whole month just two write the content. I’d also need to leave time for formatting in order to ensure that backers received the .pdf version of one book by the time the second one was launching, because no way would anyone back my second project if the first was still outstanding on even the digital version. Plus I’d need to assemble the actual Kickstarter campaign for the book on top of writing the content for it.

Is that rate of content generation even possible?

Yes

Natalia’s Guide to Necromancy started crowdfunding on February 12th, 2021, and finished on February 28th (this one was actually sixteen days, because I hadn’t totally sorted out the long term plan at this point). It was digitally fulfilled on March 13th, the print versions were sent out March 26th, and signed copies were sent out April 5th. The .pdf version was 39 pages long, although this includes wrapper content like the cover, table of contents, etc.

Irena’s Guide to Intrigue and Illusion started crowdfunding on March 16th, 2021, and finished on March 31st. It was digitally fulfilled on April 14th, and the print version was sent out April 30th. As of the writing (May 1st), I’m still waiting on copies to arrive for signing, but that part’s not hard, just time consuming. The .pdf version was 44 pages long.

Bianca’s Guide to Golems started crowdfunding on April 15th, 2021 and finished on April 30th. The .pdf should be delivered no later than May 22nd, due to a planned delay during which Megan Bennett-Burks, my formatter, is attending some kind of family function. Bianca’s Guide is easily the biggest book yet, and although I won’t know a final page count until it finishes formatting, it will likely strain to remain within the 64 page maximum I’ve imposed for shipping reasons.

The draft for Brac’s Guide to Piracy is completely written and edited, the Kickstarter is complete except for the intro and update videos, which have all been scripted and are waiting on cover art for recording and animation. I’ve intentionally kept it from bloating out as much as Bianca’s, to try and maintain a final page count of somewhere around 40-50 and avoid pushing up against my limits.

And Brac’s Guide to Piracy was on a subject I had mostly not even thought about until the project was already underway. None of my campaigns had done anything resembling piracy for years, and the one that did briefly flirted with the idea before giving up on it long before I had to actually do anything. The writing for Brac’s Guide to Piracy was finished over a week ahead of schedule, and it was easily the hardest book so far, and will probably be one of the hardest for the entire series. The future is always uncertain and it’s possible one of the other eight books I have planned will end up being the one that derails the series, but right now, the train looks unstoppable.

So I’m committing to the plan publicly. Twelve Kickstarters in twelve months, digitally fulfilled within 30 days, physical copies shipped within 60 days, and signed copies shipped within 90 days – and those are maximums, the standard plan is half that.

Expectations

Since the goal of the Kickstarter marathon is to get people to remember who I am, the measure of success is backer count, not money. So let’s talk about how many backers is a decent amount. I’m Kickstarting a tabletop project, so we don’t care about non-tabletop projects, and I’m Kickstarting sourcebooks for the most popular system on the market right now, so my upper limit shouldn’t be any lower than the cap of what the category can accomplish (the top decile is usually dominated by first party releases from brands started in the 80s or 90s, but if MCDM (established 2018) can break through that, then in theory I can, too).

So let’s look at some data from 2019, because that’s the last time someone gathered it all up and sold it for like $10:

Bottom decile: 0-77 backers
Ninth decile: 79-115 backers
Eighth decile: 117-170 backers
Seventh decile: 173-234 backers
Sixth decile: 235-318 backers
Fifth decile: 323-448 backers
Fourth decile: 457-622 backers
Third decile: 625-858 backers
Second decile: 865-1273 backers
Top decile: 1281-21735 backers

From these numbers I derived some goals:

0-99: Total failure. Only niche projects should be getting numbers this low, otherwise either the project itself was bad or it was presented poorly.
100-199: Poor. Hovering around eighth decile, this is firmly under average. Broad appeal projects like 5e sourcebooks should not be getting numbers this low (except from first-time creators with no reputation, at least, but that’s not me anymore). If a single book in the series hit this low, that might just indicate that specific subject was unpopular, but if it two in a row hit it, that probably means the project has no momentum.
200-299: Mediocre. Covers seventh and sixth decile, this range starts mediocre and tops out fairly average, but I gave it the “mediocre” label because I don’t like to settle. I decided early on that if this was all I could sustain then that wasn’t great, but it might be something to work with, especially if the series wound up having a long tail – maybe the original Kickstarters would be only mildly successful, but I’d end up getting a lot of passive income once I had 10+ books on the market. This bracket was my initial goal for the first project.
300-449: Good. Mostly conforms to fifth decile, this is high-average and suggests a successful project. This is the highest bracket I’ve ever reached as of the writing, and it may theoretically be my limit.
450-599: Great. Mostly conforms to fourth decile, this is firmly above average. A single project spiking upwards to this number would probably just indicate luck with the Kickstarter algorithm or the memosphere, but if the series gets this high on a steady upward trendline, that would be definitive success for the momentum building plan.
600-899/900-1199: Amazing. Mostly conforms to third and second deciles, respectively, and has clearly broken away from the pack. Far enough ahead of where I am right now that I haven’t much thought about what their implications would be (the graphic I commissioned to mark progress doesn’t even have a divider between these two, though I’ll probably have one added if we ever threaten to actually reach it), but the ultimate goal of the series is to get at least one book to this level.
1200+: Crazypants. I’m rounding down to get the start of this bracket to be exactly twice 600, for the sake of the graphic I had commissioned to measure progress. At some point in this bracket things transition to absurd numbers where the success of the project is clearly built off of some other project, usually an existing RPG that’s been around for at least fifteen years and often thirty or more, but sometimes it’s something like the Root RPG based off of the fairly recent Root board game, or the MCDM Kickstarters that draw their success heavily from Matt Colville’s YouTube channel.

Results

If the nature of the production pipeline didn’t demand I have the cover for Irena’s already paid for by the time the Kickstarter for Natalia’s Guide to Necromancy was finished, I might have quite foolishly called the whole project a failure after Natalia’s and called it off. Natalia’s made money, but not enough to justify the effort, and it only brought in 158 backers, a poor showing. I expected it would do better and at least get very close to 200 backers, but the final 48 hours were very disappointing compared to the standard explosion as Kickstarter sends out reminder emails to everyone watching the project (and also I think the algorithm boosts projects in their final 48 hours more maybe?). Since I already had Irena’s mostly ready, I decided I may as well put a bow on it and get some return for the investment and effort, even if the project was now perilously close to going no further than two books.

My hypothesis at the time was that there’s not very many people on the fence about a project whose core product is $5. If they’re not sure, they back $5 for the .pdf immediately rather than coming back later. Thus, no final 48 hours explosion.

This hypothesis has been pretty thoroughly falsified by the final 48 hour explosions for both Irena’s Guide to Intrigue and Illusion and Bianca’s Guide to Golems (the latter is just entering its final 24 hours, but there’s clearly been a boom already), so I have no idea what was up with the final 48 in Natalia’s.

Regardless, Irena’s scored 210 backers, mediocre in absolute terms but very promising in that it was 30% growth over Natalia’s, while Bianca’s ended with 278 backers, which was 30% growth over Irena’s. Recklessly extrapolating these three data points into a fundamental and inviolable law of the universe, I would reach the crazypants bracket by book nine. I figure I’m very likely to hit a saturation point sometime before then, but who knows when it will be.

Maybe necromancy is actually unpopular, and people are dying for content for the social pillar and magic item crafting. Maybe the plan to build momentum is working really well. I’d say by the fifth or sixth crowdfunding project, we’ll know.

The Future

At this point, I have Brac’s Guide to Piracy totally drafted and the Kickstarter set up and ready to launch as soon as the cover art is finished, which it mostly is, so that’ll be going off on May 16th as per the schedule. Piracy seems like it’ll probably be another popular subject, so if the growth so far has been driven mostly or completely by subject choice, this one might continue that trend even without indicating any long term growth at all.

I’m never committed to the next book in the series until I start fleshing it out properly, which I don’t do until I’m sure the previous book will be a success (usually about halfway through the crowdfunding), but right now the June book is probably going to be Thaemin’s Guide to Gods and Outsiders. The last book I anticipated being a hard sell wasn’t, especially, but I’m even more confident that Thaemin’s is going to reveal how much people like the series as opposed to this one book, which I imagine would do pretty mediocre by itself. Thaemin’s Guide to Gods and Outsiders is going to have some new classes like the Summoner and the Healer, but you can tell the second one is basically intended as a replacement for Clerics, and while I have an argument as to why the Cleric is bad and you should replace them, I doubt most people will want to hear it (both classes are still fully compatible with having a Cleric and the Healer is also way better for new players).

I have no firm plans for the other seven books in the series. I do have a list of probable subjects picked out – I wouldn’t be committing to twelve ‘zines if I hadn’t already picked out twelve subjects I’m confident I can write 30+ pages on – but I don’t have outlines or pagecount estimates or anything, so I don’t even have a particularly good guess as to what books past Thaemin’s will contain besides “something to do with fiends and warlocks” or “something to do with dragons” and so on. This makes it hard to guess what books might be more or less popular, but the data should be fairly clear by the time we get that far, and if it isn’t (if, for example, Brac’s follows the 30% trend but Thaemin’s does about as well as Brac’s – I’d be unable to tell if I’ve hit my limit or if Thaemin’s has an unpopular premise that’s canceling out growth) then I’ll have the next book or two outlined and hopefully at least one mostly outlined by then, which means I’ll be able to make new predictions.

Overall, the future remains uncertain, but current indications give reason to be optimistic.

World of Horror Supercut

I’ve kind of dropped off posting the videos as they come out in favor of posting these supercuts, which I’m going through for the backlog right now, where I take a bunch of videos and cut it down to just the best stuff. Probably also going to do some more traditional supercuts at some point (Requiem has suggested “Chamomile is incredulous about Freudian theory” as a good subject for one, which will probably happen once we have enough material).

Chamomile Anime Aesthetic

I recently found out about a game where you write “your name + anime + aesthetic.” Instructions were unclear, but I wound up Googling “Chamomile anime aesthetic.” The third result included a character who likes kinda like me. Like, it’s definitely a “tilt your head and squint” sort of resemblance, but given that most of the results were just pictures or drawings of actual chamomile plants, I still thought it was kinda neat.

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EDIT: This was supposed to be scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, but I guess this works, too.

The TTRPG Factory Is Pretty Cool

Full disclosure, I know the guy who runs the TTRPG Factory personally, so I’m not exactly unbiased. It’s a good blog, though, full of weird ideas from a campaign premise like Hydropunk Cthulhu to ideas for a single shop like fantasy spas.

I can never tell how many of my followers are following my blog because of things like my chapter-by-chapter book reviews and writing articles and how many are following me because of my TTRPG work. I post about the former way more often but most of my actual success has come from the latter. If you’re in the latter bucket, the TTRPG Factory is about two months dense with good ideas to mine, and it’s still updating a couple of times a week, which, y’know, is more than I can say right now.

Paizo Art Fails

Broadly, Paizo’s art is pretty good, and it was pretty much best-in-class back in 2009 when it was first distinguishing itself from Wizards of the Coast. The strength of Pathfinder was, before anything else, it’s amazing art direction.

No one’s immune to the odd dud, though, and they seem to have gotten worse over time. Here’s a series of three Paizo art fails, two of which came from near the end of PF1. I haven’t looked at PF2 yet, so I can’t tell you whether this is because they had shifted their best artists over to the new edition or if it’s just because the company’s talent pool was collapsing for some reason. What I can tell you is that PF1’s art slid from “epic adventure” to “hilarious spit-take” towards the end.

We’ll start with a relatively mild fail from early on in the edition, though, my favorite Paizo monster, the Dork Wyvern:

Continue reading “Paizo Art Fails”

Bojack Horseman

I heard Bojack Horseman had its last season recently, so I finally got around to watching it. And it’s really good in its portrayal of a self-destructive, self-absorbed (horse)man who shows just enough promise of getting better that you can still watch him. In season 3 in particular this really dragged, since Bojack wasn’t really in any better a place than he was in season 2, and the show was sustained mainly by having other characters who were really going places while Bojack mainly stayed the same.

That’s an approach that could’ve worked for a while, probably for a full six seasons, with Bojack remaining selfish and short-sighted enough to serve as a constant source of conflict, while real character growth came primarily from the characters in Bojack’s orbit. They’d fall into Bojack’s orbit when they’re in a similar place as him, then they’d bounce back and start to do better, and eventually they’d recognize that Bojack was sabotaging their efforts at doing better because he wants to keep them on his level, so they’d leave him behind, freeing up room in the cast for new characters. You could even do a thing where the show was ultimately built around one, specific relationship from its beginning to its end, with Diane Nguyen dropping into his life in episode 1 and exiting his life in the series finale. We’d see lots of other friendships and coworkerships and significant otherships that were either ongoing when Diane met Bojack or else which ended within the span of one season because the person either wasn’t damaged enough to have that period where they’re comfortable resting where Bojack is or else just wasn’t charmed enough by Bojack to want to stay with him even when their own life was collapsing. Towards the end, Diane would find her happiness, realize Bojack was holding her back from it, cut ties with him, and that would be it. Bojack never really changed, and we see that ultimately he’s going to keep causing drama and chaos until you leave him behind. Maybe all of Bojack’s ongoing relationships wrap themselves up at the same time, or maybe we leave them behind, too, because it turns out Diane was always the series’ stealth main character and once she’s out of Bojack’s life, that’s it.

I say “could” which implies that they didn’t actually do that. This may confuse some people who’ve seen the show, because the series’ final two episodes were almost exactly that. The problem is, the series’ final two episodes came at the end of season six, not season three, and they’re the finale to a show they didn’t end up writing. Because the other place you could go from season two is the place they ended up actually going: Despite season three’s holding pattern, the general trend of the show was for Bojack to become a measurably better person with every new season.

In season one, he’s established as bitter, pathetic, and self-absorbed. He’s damaged and we can see that there’s reasons he’s the way that he is, but also that Todd and Diane and Princess Caroline are better off without him, and that Princess Caroline has been giving him support for over a decade since the end of Horsin’ Around and he still hasn’t improved, so she’d be perfectly justified in cutting ties with him at this point, and Todd and Diane would be justified in following suit just by virtue of seeing how little Princess Caroline’s support made an impact on him.

In season two, his career is revitalized, but he doesn’t make a whole lot of emotional progress, and by the end of the season he’s not only backslid into being flaky and unreliable, he reaches new lows of terrible behavior. Still, he’s back in the saddle and trying to change his situation, even if only for self-absorbed reasons. He is showing some faint signs of improvement, but his friends would still be justified in giving up on him, because at this stage it’s not clear whether that improvement is because he cares about them or just because he’s finally gotten bored with living in stasis.

In season three, there’s the holding pattern I mentioned. Except for season 4, every Bojack season ends with some terrible drug-fueled mistake from Bojack, and this one actually kills someone, but Bojack’s behavior isn’t actually worse. I’m making the assumption here that Bojack, like the audience, assumes that Sarah Lynn is already dead when S3E11 ends (the episode summary on Wikipedia actually claims that Sarah Lynn is already dead at the end of the episode!), which means that the later-season revelation that Bojack waited seventeen minutes to call the paramedics to construct a plausible alibi that she’d called him and he’d come to see her, rather than being directly involved in her death, is a lot less monstrous than if he knew she was still alive, that she was dying not dead, and stopped for seventeen minutes to construct an alibi anyway.

I mentioned before that Bojack doesn’t have any kind of terrible mistake at the end of season 4. Instead, the terrible mistake is made by his mother, partly because she’s senile, although her actions are indefensible even given her understanding of the situation. Season 4 sees Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter’s marriage falling apart in order to meet its sadness quotas, and then lets Bojack get away mostly unscathed, establishing a healthy new relationship with someone who he’s been a good influence on almost without qualifiers, and who is likewise a good influence on him. We’ve seen Bojack commit to making a real difference in his life, trying to moderate his drinking, and we’ve seen him  make some meaningful improvements in his life and how he treats people because of it.

In season 5, Bojack is mostly in a holding pattern again, but this time it’s a holding pattern where he’s made significant improvement to who he is as a person. Over the course of the season, though, his progress slowly crumbles until he ends up making another horrible mistake in another drug-fueled bender. And if the show had its finale here, it still would’ve made sense. I mean, the specific circumstances of the characters leaving his orbit would’ve been different, and in particular Diane hadn’t really had the moment where she found her happiness so it wouldn’t really be a thing where she realizes she has to get away from Bojack to keep it, but still, Bojack’s backslid, his progress in seasons 4 and 5 was pretty minimal (he’s managed a total of one relationship where the other person didn’t come out worse for knowing him, and even that requires us to call Hollyhock better for knowing Bojack despite the fact that knowing him was the direct, though coincidental, cause of her getting drugged). Like, yeah, we can see him trying to get better, making actual changes in his life rather than just saying he’s sorry and promising to try real extra hard to stop going on benders where he hurts the people around him, and the efforts aren’t completely token, but they are half-measures. If people wanted to leave him at that point, it still wouldn’t be unreasonable.

But then in season 6, he goes to rehab and goes sober for nearly a full year, completely changing his life to get away from who he used to be. There’s moments where he almost slips back into old habits, but he digs his heels in and refuses to let it happen. He makes his new job as a university drama professor work, and when a crisis begins developing and he starts coming up with a very old Bojack sort of vindictive response, his friends are able to talk him out of it pretty quickly. He does have one of his benders and end up relapsing, but that’s to be expected from a recovering addict. The progress he’s made in season six gives everyone in his life, everyone who’s put up with his drama and unreliability and abuse for five or ten or twenty years, it gives them real reason to believe that he is changing and that these crises will be less frequent and less severe going forward. It would make sense if someone who just met Bojack while he was doing well in season six then decided to back away after he broke into his old house while someone else was living there and then tried to kill himself. For people for whom this is just the latest in a long line of massive fuck-ups, though? Why? Why was this the straw that broke every camel’s back, leaving Bojack almost totally alone? Yeah, the finale had all his friends being gentle and kind about leaving him forever, but they still all left (except Mr. Peanutbutter). It’s not even in the immediate aftermath of the big huge bender! The season finale actually takes place a year later, after Bojack’s finally faced real consequences and gone to prison for breaking and entering during his suicide attempt, where he’s happy to be close to breaking his sobriety record and scared of falling off the wagon.

Why did they write a finale where Bojack’s friends, even though they still care about him, decide that he’s toxic and never going to change and cut their ties with him, and then append that to a season where Bojack, after a long, hard journey, finally gave everyone some strong evidence that none of that was true?

Imbolc 2020

Imbolc lies on February 1st, and it’s the New Year according to the pagan calendar that I build my life around, not because I’m actually pagan, but because the holidays are very evenly spaced which means I can use them to measure progress towards goals. Imbolc is February 1st (or 2nd, the internet can’t seem to agree), Ostara is March 22nd, Beltane is May 1st, and so on. February 1st is also close-ish to the date when I first wrote the first post for this blog, clear back in early 2017, so it serves as the new year because hey, that happens to be just about the anniversary of the project that wound up being the umbrella under which all other projects have since been collected.

So February 1st, 2017, to January 31st, 2018, is what I called “the Year of Endless,” because I was doing the CGP Grey yearly theme thing that he just recently released a video about so I can direct people to that instead of telling them to listen to like fifty hours of his Cortex podcast in order to get the idea. That was the year (ish) I posted one blog post per day every day for a full year. Then in 2018 (and change), it was the Year of Burning, which, having built a foundation and some good habits, I spent trying to get some real income off of my creative pursuits, the idea being not so much to be making $X by the end of the year but just to spend the year actively building towards that. Initially I was aiming for novels with YouTube videos as a backup plan, but that was the year my professional GMing really took off, so I did that instead. In 2019 (and change), I decided I was going to try and ride that tabletop RPG star and see how far it would take me, something which I toyed with calling “the Year of Ascension,” but that’s a name I never really liked because it precluded the possibility of failure – which is what actually happened. By the end of April, the answer was obviously “not very far,” and I spent the entire rest of the year trying to extricate myself from the Kickstarter obligations that project – successful enough to require me to deliver, unsuccessful enough to clearly not be the way forward – had saddled me with. And this highlights why “the Year of Ascension” was a bad theme. It wasn’t really under my control how much I ascended. I could try, but whether or not it worked was up to inscrutable fate and deadly destiny, and when it didn’t work, that left me kind of floundering for most of the year.

Side note, the Year of Endless isn’t a great example of a yearly theme because it has a definite failstate and is much more similar to the New Year’s resolutions that CGP Grey wants people to not do, but I found it worked well because the specific thing I was trying to do was to produce things reliably on a schedule. If I were just trying to produce more creative output in general, nailing myself to a schedule would’ve been unwise, but that was never my problem. My problem was wandering away from projects half-finished and playing video games for six weeks until something else caught my eye and I’d go try to do that instead. Even then, the Year of Endless was pretty flexible. A blog can host almost any kind of content, and what I posted varied massively over the course of the year. What started out as a specific project whose daily milestones were posted to a blog transitioned to a general effort to finish all unfinished projects and finally ended up as just me posting whatever, as it came to me, just to maintain an active demesne as a creator.

Back on topic, Heroes of Ramshorn’s Pathfinder conversion is in formatting now, so my end of that obligation has finally been completed, and the Year of Whatever The Hell That Was is basically wrapped up. Professional GMing remains a steady source of income to be used on whatever but it isn’t going to blossom into a fulltime salary for the foreseeable future, so it’s time to start looking into other possibilities. This year I’m going to go back to those things I drifted away from back when my professional GMing started taking off, novels and videos and such, looking for something else that can work. I’ve talked about this before and I’ve made some progress in that direction, but now I’m formally dedicating the next year to it with the same kind of “success or bust” attitude that I had towards tabletop RPGs in 2019, with one major difference: Both success and bust are defined as success, at least for purposes of the theme, because themes shouldn’t be fail-able. My goal here is that by the end of the year (meaning, by January 31st of 2021), I’ll have invested enough effort into new ventures to be reasonably certain that they either are or are not a good use of my time going forward. Maybe I’ll get to the end of the year and find that the quest led to nothing, that all of the ideas I have now are ultimately not a good use of my time, and then I’ll have to figure out what to do next, but either way, I’ll have gained knowledge.