Petals and Thorns: The Beryl Clan

The final Petals and Thorns playtest video goes up today. It wound up slightly shorter than the twelve sessions I originally expected, but the party did skip the sahuagin dungeon (they’re more aggressive in the version that’s being Kickstarted now, since I can’t really argue with my party’s logic of “well, seems like so long as everyone stays away from the river they’re pretty harmless, so why should we risk our lives for this?”).

Petals and Thorns Kickstarter: One Week In

As of the writing, the Petals and Thorns Kickstarter campaign has been going for a week and thirty minutes. Success has been explosive compared to my expectations. My initial group of supporters was several times more generous than I had anticipated, as were the people who first discovered my Kickstarter and the friends-of-friends my supporters linked it to directly. I was able to hit my initial funding goal in 12 hours. Things hardly budged for another 24 hours after that, but when I feared things might be slowing down and my Kickstarter wouldn’t have much reach beyond the few dozen people who already knew my work, a link to Giant in the Playground brought in several hundred more dollars.

The success of the first two days left me scrambling for stretch goals several days before I thought I’d need them, but this turned out to be for the best, as it allowed me to figure out what stretch goals were in popular demand. I thought that the game being designed specifically for virtual tabletops would be a big selling point and that a .pdf version would be a pretty “meh” stretch goal, probably something I would’ve put near the back because it was both a bit expensive (I need to hire a freelancer for the layout to get anything remotely professional) and I thought it’d be seen as an inferior product to the VTT version anyway. This is not what happened. What happened is that tons of people wanted a .pdf version, I moved that stretch goal up to the top of the queue, and when the surge from GitP carried me over it, that caused a second surge of people backing for the .pdf version.

That surge petered out around $1,250 on day three. It was well below my next stretch goal, the Pathfinder conversion at $1,500. I expected I’d get there eventually with the $30-$60 Kickstarter’s own community brought in each day, but it’d be several days to get there. I kept posting the Kickstarter around the internet, trying one new subreddit each day, hoping to get another surge, while also looking for a way to bring the cost of the Pathfinder conversion down.

I got the stroke of luck I needed to break through when someone started a flame war in the comments of one of my Reddit posts. They were trying to convince people I was a scammer, but it became obvious so quickly that they hadn’t even watched my Kickstarter video that they wound up with like six people yelling at them. The fight drew in attention and I went from about $1,350 to $1,650 on day six. Partly that was from the Reddit thread, but a chunk of it was from getting over the Pathfinder stretch goal and getting that surge. This is also when I sold out my limited $50 reward to get a character of the backer’s design featured as an NPC in the main town Ramshorn, something now only available from the really ridiculous reward levels at $100 and $400.

Day seven has so far reverted back to the ordinary trickle of Kickstarter backers coming in. I did break $1,700, which is a neat milestone, but not an actual stretch goal. Not only that, but I’m out of stretch goals that might prompt a surge. Everything from here ’till $4,200 – and that goal is a stretch for sure – is just more tokens. I think that’ll be a huge improvement to the production values of the adventure, but it’s not the kind of thing that gets people on the fence to donate. I can’t actually show people the tokens until after the Kickstarter is over, I collect the money, and can pay the artists to draw them for me.

The campaign has already far exceeded my initial expectations, so I won’t complain if the next week is spent limping over the $2,000 mark, but I’ve also been putting together a Facebook campaign. Maybe that’ll be a dud, but I’ve been told $10 of advertising money can go surprisingly far on Facebook, so maybe it’ll end up with another surge that brings in another few hundred. I’m just about out of cards to play, but the game’s gone pretty well for me so far. And I should get an ending surge in the last week for free, as people on the fence are forced to fall one way or another, and some of them fall on my side. After day one, I decided I’d consider the Kickstarter a success not just for convincing my existing supporters to help me, but for actually expanding my audience if I could get $750 and 45 backers. I’ve already got over $1,700 and 70 backers, so mission very accomplished.

Right now my only real worry is that maybe once people actually have the adventure, they won’t like it. I’m pretty confident in the quality of this adventure, but not so confident as to quiet the gnawing uncertainty about the future that tends to haunt my every action. I mean, I’m really bad at marketing. It’s one of my biggest weaknesses. It would be super weird if I were able to get a Kickstarter campaign 300% funded in a week on the strength of my marketing. But I won’t know for certain until it actually ships.

I should probably drop a link to the campaign in here somewhere. If you play D&D 5 or Pathfinder and haven’t checked it out, give it a look.

Petals and Thorns: Into the Catacombs

Today in Petals and Thorns the party ventures forth into the catacombs to complete an easy quest that I probably should’ve directed them to way earlier in the game. In fairness, I actually did direct them to the Order of the Bear, and they decided to wander off the road and into the spider cave instead, so maybe directing these guys is a useless endeavor to begin with.

Petals and Thorns: Against the Goblins

I’m gonna go ahead and keep posting Petals and Thorns videos for as long as they’ll last in order to get some quick and easy posts out of it while also wrapping up that series in a hurry. I’m still hoping to get some regular articles out during this Kickstarter, but I’m not sure I can make any promises. I’ve hit my funding goal way faster than expected, which means I need to figure out some stretch goals fast. That’s an awesome problem to have, but it may still eat into the time set aside for blogging. The “good” news is that Kickstarters usually slow down a lot towards the middle, so while this first week might see my backers breaking through stretch goals faster than I can get in touch with artists to nail down quotes for them, it probably won’t be a problem for the whole month.

Petals and Thorns ep. 8 is here:

Petals and Thorns: What Do You Believe In?

Petals and Thorns Cover Final Art

The Petals and Thorns Kickstarter is now live. You can click on the image above or these words here to get to the page and see what’s all up with that. If you play D&D 5e, you should consider buying it. For that matter, if you play other editions of D&D, you should consider buying it to read and maybe adapt certain elements into your homebrew campaign. Personally, I’ve got an entire Humble Bundle’s worth of Frog God stuff that’ll probably never see actual play, but it was still fun to read, so I figure there’s probably a market for that.

This thing hit 80% funding in six hours, requiring less than $100 to be fully funded. It will be five hours away from the end of its first day when this post goes live. I’m hoping to get it funded in the first 24 hours, so if it’s still not there by the time this post goes live (or if it is and you want to be helpful anyway), post this link anyplace interested in tabletop RPGs you know about, or drop a $1 pledge in (although, as mentioned above, if you play 5e or just like to read D&D adventures, you should take a look at the Kickstarter page and consider actually buying it for $15 – that’s $5 less than what it’ll sell for once brought to market). Kickstarter pushes projects according to how many backers they have, not how much money they’ve raised, so a pocket change $1 pledge hits way above its weight level in terms of showing support.

Also today: The seventh Petals and Thorns video.

Edit from 90 minutes before this post goes live: I am 100% funded in 12 hours. It is perhaps counterintuitive, but this means that $1 pledges are more important than ever. I mean, obviously $15 or $50 or $400 pledges are even better, but not by nearly as much as you’d think. My Kickstarter has been incredibly successful and that’s great, major thanks to everyone who’s already pledged, however with its current backer count it won’t sustain its momentum. The most important thing to this project right now is more backers, at any pledge level, so that we can sustain some momentum into the doldrums of the middle weeks and avoid falling apart.

Iron Fang Invasion Wrap-Up

Iron Fang Invasion is dreadfully boring viewing. Petals and Thorns isn’t that much better, but there is at least a question of what’s going to happen next, whereas Iron Fang just proceeds down the rails while two incredibly overpowered characters smash everything in their path with no resistance. The only reason I’m bothering to record and upload them at this point is because I started and don’t want to stop something partway through. This is not very rational, and in any case this last video is a decent-ish stopping point, so that’s where I’m calling it.

Speaking of Petals and Thorns, it and the GM’s Guide have missed a few updates due to a combination of throwing that Kickstarter together (it should be ready within a few hours of this post going live) and the fact that Google Drive is throwing a fit which is making it difficult for my cameraman to get his Petals and Thorns footage to me. All that stuff is still going to happen just as soon as technical difficulties are sorted out, and in fact Petals and Thorns will likely get several episodes dumped rapidly on top of one another to make up for lost time just as soon as we find a way to get those recordings from Jeff’s machine to mine. So far as the GM’s Guide is concerned, now that I’m no longer editing Kickstarter videos together, those should be returning starting next Sunday, and in the meantime you can find links to the text version at the top of the screen. That version is generally superior anyway. I’m hoping my videos will catch up to the text in quality by the time I get to the end, but I’m not there yet.

Let’s Read LitRPG: The First Five

I’m not only trying to get a Kickstarter off the ground, but will also be attending the Salt Lake Comic Con (officially redubbed “FanX” due to an unfavorable legal battle with San Diego Comic Con and a judge who is apparently unaware that the ship on Comic Con as a term unique to one convention sailed like twenty years ago), plus maintaining the schedule on games that people have paid for remains a much higher priority than blog posts which are free. All of this to say that for this particularly busy weekend I am going to post an article that is just gathering some content I already produced and then ruminating on it. Here are all the LitRPG novels I have reviewed to date, ranked in order of how much I liked them:

  1. Way of the Shaman: Survival Quest
  2. Threadbare: Stuff and Nonsense
  3. Awaken Online: Catharsis
  4. Divine Dungeon: Dungeon Born
  5. Succubus

At some point I’d like to build up a big enough library of LitRPG reviews (or at least book reviews in general) that Awaken Online doesn’t get to hold onto its deceptive middle-of-the-pack status. That book is actually really sloppy, and beats out Dungeon Born largely by virtue of the fact of having sporadic clever moments and good fight scenes spiking up from the baseline of mediocrity, whereas Dungeon Born was almost incessantly boring. It did get a little better towards the end, but so did Awaken Online, except that Awaken Online was recovering from “Mary Sue is lauded as most brilliant strategist ever for overcoming trivial opposition” instead of “100+ pages of nothing happening.” I’d rather roll my eyes than feel them glaze over.

Other than that, the list doesn’t hold a whole lot of surprises. Survival Quest was fun to read and did a lot of things right, with most of the hiccups in my readthrough being the fault of the translation, and even then it all pretty much clicked when I started subvocalizing the first person narrator speaking with a Russian accent, so of course it comes out on top. It was picked on recommendation from a friend specifically because I was hoping for (and got) a book that I could be pretty unreservedly a fan of. Stuff and Nonsense is dragged down a lot by Zuula and has severe pacing issues, but is also littered with plenty of great scenes and has both a strong start and finish. Its flawed brilliance would even have competed with Survival Quest’s consistent competence were it not for that one atrocious character. And no one who’s even skimmed the later Succubus posts will be surprised to see Nice Guy: The LitRPG coming in dead last, a position it will likely continue to occupy even as the list of books reviewed grows.

Dragonball Z Abridged Did Not Earn Gohan’s Transformation

Gohan’s transformation to SSJ2 was never going to be easy for DBZ Abridged to recreate. Firstly, it has the issue that all abridged series’ have, which is that everyone already knows the plot, so it’s much harder to execute that plot in a way that’s engaging. Making this particular scene worse, Goku already went SSJ once, and this scene of a good guy saiyan getting really angry and then getting a massive powerup out of the deal as symbolized by his hair getting spikier, we’ve already done that. So, when I say they messed it up, it’s not really a criticism of them as creators so much as it is a criticism of people who are giving them a pass. After over a year with no DBZA episodes, I get the feeling a lot of fans are willing to call episode 60-1 a masterpiece no matter how far out of left field the trigger for Gohan’s transformation was.

And this gets us into the third major obstacle for Gohan’s transformation, which is that its trigger is the death of a recent addition to the team who is an ally of convenience with no special relationship to Gohan at all. Threatening the life of Gohan’s father, mentor, and friends canonically does not trigger Gohan’s SSJ2 transformation, but killing Android 16 does. Team Four Star could’ve written their way out of that one by skipping the Android 16 monologue and letting Gohan transform in response to his family and friends being directly threatened and in immediate danger of death, but what’s special about that? Gohan was on Namek. He fought Freeza. Krillin, Dende, and later Piccolo being in danger of immediate death certainly triggered a sudden flare in power, but he didn’t go super saiyan. Plus, the flaw in the episode was certainly not with Android 16’s monologue to Gohan. That was well-written and well-acted. I am 100% willing to buy that Android 16’s savage attack on Gohan’s pacifism and subsequent callous murder were enough to push Gohan over the edge.

No, the problem is what came before that monologue, or rather what didn’t: Gohan being any kind of pacifist. Android 16 accuses Gohan of being a coward, but he’s not. He didn’t come here to arrange a peaceful resolution, he came here to fight Cell. Granted, he expected Goku to do all the heavy lifting, but Gohan’s been to enough of these things to realize that sometimes your B-team gets called on to kill a minion, or bog down the bad guy while a spirit bomb charges, or whatever. When Gohan fought Cell prior to his transformation, even in his own internal monologue he never said that he was afraid of hurting Cell. He was afraid that Cell would hurt him, but he fought Cell anyway. When Goku stopped fighting Cell and asked Gohan to finish the fight instead, Gohan asserted that Cell was going to win and kill him. When Goku refused to fight Cell anyway, Gohan ultimately acquiesced to the ultimatum of “fight Cell or let him destroy the world” and went to go fight a battle he was convinced was going to kill him. Gohan’s not a coward or a pacifist. He’s been fighting to protect the people he cares about since episode 1 and never expressed any desire to run away. He wishes he didn’t have to fight, but he never considers actually running away or refusing battle.

The end of Android 16’s monologue isn’t “stop running away,” though, it’s “stop holding back.” This is incongruent with Gohan’s claim to be a pacifist (itself incongruent with the fact that he’s trying to fight Cell, he’s just losing) and the accusations of cowardice, and it’s not even clear why Gohan’s holding back. From my existing knowledge of the original show, I can guess that a fear of destroying the entire Earth in the crossfire may have been a concern, but 1) if DBZA is going to try and recreate the moment of transformation as a dramatic one and not a gag, then they need to recreate that build-up too, not just rely on their audiences already having it, and 2) Android 16 talks about how Gohan’s “rigid pacifism [is crumbling] into bloodstained dust” and will be “a coward to your last whimper.” This isn’t consistent with Gohan holding back for fear of destroying the thing he’s out to protect. Even if the odds of accidentally destroying the Earth in an unrestrained battle are lower than the odds of Cell winning and destroying the Earth anyway while Gohan is holding back, that’s not “rigid pacifism [crumbling] into bloodstained dust,” that’s being willing to sacrifice the Earth to Cell in order to avoid any possibility of being the proximate cause of Earth’s destruction.

And even that is a flaw that is only very vaguely alluded to in DBZA – in that Goku is so committed to going all out for victory that the other Z fighters think he really is going to sacrifice Earth in pursuit of it. No one ever presents this as being necessary to defeating Cell, though, and it’s not a reference made often enough to work as the thematic core for the arc. It’s a one-off gag that first appeared the episode before Gohan’s transformation, made in a way that didn’t directly reference Gohan at all, and which is so transient that it doesn’t appear to be anything more than a joke, but which is suddenly drafted into being Gohan’s entire character arc from episodes 31-60.

Android 16’s monologue is a spectacular takedown of a flaw that Gohan doesn’t actually have. To the extent that the scene works at all, it’s only because it’s accompanied by a well done cover of an excellent song.

Kickstarter Update

I knew I was forgetting something today.

An update on the Kickstarter, which was originally going to run on tomorrow, September 1st. The illustrator I wound up working with is significantly slower than most of the others I was looking at (she is very well reviewed, however, so I’m reasonably confident she won’t just take the money and run, which is a concern for a lot of the guys on Fiverr), so it looks like I might not have my art ready to go until possibly as late as September 10th. That’s not really enough time to squeeze in a whole other let’s read, so I’m just going to extend the hiatus on those slightly. September 10th should be a maximum, but I’ve never worked with this artist before, so I can’t really guarantee anything.

Your Own Kind Of Madness

I’m gonna bust something out of my skunkworks for today (the skunkworks being the folder full of projects I work on with no intention of ever releasing any part of them to the public, but which occasionally produce something that isn’t so mired down in my own niche interests as to be uninteresting to anyone who isn’t me). I like the idea behind things like Darkest Dungeon afflictions, points where a character takes enough psychological damage that they suffer some kind of madness. One fatal flaw that many such systems have, however, is being utterly random. This ranges from the minor issue in Darkest Dungeon itself where a character is varyingly cowardly or suicidally aggressive depending on what dice they roll when their stress hits 100, regardless of what afflictions they’ve had previously, to the Call of Cthulhu problem where characters develop completely random phobias in response to seeing something sufficiently spooky. My solution: Each character, at chargen, selects a specific means of going mad from the stress of it all.

The specific numbers and skills referenced here are in relation to a greater skunkworks project which is mostly compatible with 5e mathematically except in that there are obviously meant to be lots of guns in this setting. You could buff that out yourself, but really, this should be taken as a prototype, an example of how things could work, rather than something that can be copied into an existing game unaltered.

Continue reading “Your Own Kind Of Madness”