A Smarter Way to Publish RPG Settings

Most of the game design articles this week have centered around making games more accessible for new audiences. In this article, I’d like to touch on a method for 3rd party publishers to attract some of the extant RPG audience that’s out there.

Go All-In with Setting

Let’s face it; most 3rd party published supplements are new settings to be played with a particular system. This was the way I went with Jadepunk: Tales From Kausao City and Shadowcraft: The Glamour War. And I’m here to tell you, I wish I hadn’t. It’s not that designing for Fate Core wasn’t incredible fun, nor lucrative (the Fate audience is great to its creators, in my experience). The problem lies in narrow distribution.

Just like how no one outside of the Mutants and Masterminds community is going to know what Emerald City is, and most people who don’t play Savage Worlds will have anything but a passing awareness of Deadlands, few people outside of the Fate community know what Jadepunk is. And that’s sad because Jadepunk is awesome (seriously, everybody says so).

“What?! Jadepunk is AWESOME!”

So unless you have the clout, and extreme patience, to build a single system from the ground up, I suggest you…

Distribute Widely

There are more systems than players in today’s market, and most players already have their favorite 2-3 systems that see 99% of the play at their tables. That’s a huge barrier to entry right there.

So what’s a fledgling game designer who wants to sell their shiny new game to do?

I suggest you write up your core setting document, sans system and put that out as a sort of “RPG travelogue.” Most RPG players are pretty smart, able to figure out how to make their favorite system play for film or comic book franchises that are out there, so there’s no reason they couldn’t do the same for your setting.

See where I’m going here?

The unique thing that you have to offer in this instance is your setting, so this approach makes sense. By only releasing the setting (at first, see the next section), you are giving your setting mass market access – anyone can try it out, without having to learn new mechanics. (And what if someone’s table loves your setting, but hates the mechanics you attached it to; they won’t give it the time of day.)

Once your setting is released…

Add SOME Systems

“But I want to play with mechanics,” I hear you saying. Well, this is where you get your chance. Once you release your setting, you can poll your buyers (or Kickstarter backers) and ask what systems they like. Then you can get to work on conversion documents targeted at your audience like a smart missile zeroing in on exactly who is most likely to buy it.

Personally, I wouldn’t make these conversion documents very long; 10-40 pages are probably enough for most systems, but it’s really up to you at this point. And the most beautiful part: by making conversion documents for your setting, you’ve opened the door for others to make them for their tables, increasing the value of your setting to the wider market.

After a few years of applying this method, you would hit the most popular systems out there, and your setting (if it’s good) and it’s conversion documents will sell better than if it were attached to a single system.

What Do You Think?

Does this sound like it would work? I’ll tell you, Jadepunk has been out since 2014, and I know many people who would love to give it a try, because of the setting, but who have a distaste for Fate rules. (Even some of the people who have worked on Jadepunk have said they want to convert it to their preferred systems).

To me, if setting is your thing, this is a no-brainer.

Flaws are Great and First Vlog Episode

Did you see my first Vlog post? It’s a follow up on the post I made here last week about letting perfect be the enemy of great. But I said something in it that I felt deserved its own post: “great things have flaws, and perfect things don’t exist.”

And that’s so true. How many things have we seen, from Batman to Fortune 500 companies, that are great, but highly flawed? Can you name the perfect piece of fiction? What about the perfect company? The fact of the matter is nothing that is great is without major flaws and nothing that is perfect actually exists (presently on this Earth, anyway).

Let’s throw away the concept of perfection, embrace and love those flaws that show our humanity, and just focus on making great stuff.

By the way, can you suggest a name for my new vlog? I’m thinking the message will be about second chances, following the activities of a creative producer (likely with quite a few behind the scenes reveals of things like future Jadepunk and Shadowcraft releases).

Letting Perfect Be the Enemy of Great

I’m going to tell you something you already know, but that has been a secret to me for years now: I’m not perfect, and I don’t need to pretend to be. I’ve been struggling against perfectionism for too long, letting “perfect” be the enemy of “great”. But here comes change.

When I first released Jadepunk with Jacob Possin, I was applauded for my efforts in doing so. People said they liked communicating with me online, because even if we disagreed about some things, I was honest about who I was – open and vulnerable. But in the last few years, I’ve lost a lot of friends, and fans, on social media (and in real life). I can cite some reasons, but here are the main three:

  1. After launching Reroll Productions, I put on this facade of being the perfect-little-CEO of a company that was just a couple of people making cool stuff. Fake as hell, and everybody knew it.
  2. I adopted causes and political stances that meant something to people around me, but that didn’t line up with my beliefs; I checked the boxes that other people set up for my life.
  3. Some people are just jerks (me included).

I can’t control that last one (and, to be sure, a lot of complaints made against me were valid as hell), but I can control the first two. And it will be easy to fix, as it all boils down to one big issue: trying to please everybody.

Wanting to please everyone, thinking that anything with a flaw in it is not worthy of the ‘mob approval’ that I was seeking, has prevented me from releasing games, fiction, and a huge number of other things that I’ve had sitting on the backburner for fear that people will judge it and find it wanting.

Screw that!

I make some pretty great shit! Will everybody like all of my work? No. Will some people like all of my work? There may be two or three people out there who think I’m always on point (I would question their taste, however). But a lot of people will (and do) like something about my work. And it’s long overdue that pleasing some of the people some of the time is good enough for me.

This somewhat ranty post could about letting yourself be great without the need to be perfect, but that’s not only ranty (at least how I’ve presented it so far), but presumptuous.

But that’s not what this is really about. This post is a declaration to my readers, and to myself, that I’m not going to pretend, or even try, to be perfect any longer. I’m not going to let perfection be my enemy any longer. I’m going to be unapologetically me. I’m going to release imperfect (but as professional as possible) work. And it’s going to be great!

Does anyone else suffer from overplanning? Does anyone else feel like if everyone doesn’t like your work, then it isn’t good enough? Leave me a comment and let me know that I’m not alone.