Thursday, January 21, 2010

Science Fantasy: Character Classes and Races

In the sci-fan supplement that we are working on, we have narrowed the field for character classes to the following:

Tech:  Short for Technician.  Basically the everyman from the sci-fi setting.  What I mean by this is that he is the "average person" who has found himself becoming an adventurer, and because technology is prevalent in the sci-fi setting, the average guy is a tech.  In the same way, in my mind, that the fighter/fighting-man is the average guy in the fantasy setting--let's face it, all he has to do is pick up a sword and go adventuring.  Nothing about the fighter/fighting-man requires special talents or abilities--just a desire to go out and swing a sword.  His primary attribute will be Intelligence.

Psion:  The person gifted with extreme mental abilities, the psion functions in many ways like a typical spellcasters does, except obviously his abilities do not come from an ability to channel arcane energies but from the ability to harness the powers of his mind.  His primary attribute will be Intelligence--I think.  An argument has been made that Wisdom might be appropriate.

Soldier:  Trained in the use of military hardware, the soldier is the professional combatant from the modern (futuristic) world.  He is adept at using hadnguns, lasers, artillery, etc. and gains a slight bonus when doing so.  At the same time, he is physically tough and doesn't shy away from hand-to-hand combat.

While there are ideas for other classes, I think that for the sake of keeping the project short and (relatively) manageable, we'll stop there.  Perhaps future products will include more.

As far as races are concerned, we will definitely include robots at a playable race.  The inclusion of the robot is going to be one of the toughest aspects of the game to get right--both mechanically and stylistically.  The initial conception of the robot is a creature that has a set number of hit points (which do NOT increase with level) and a static set of skills (because earning experience points and 'gaining levels') doesn't work for a mechanical being who is programmed.

Obviously, those two points greatly restrict what a robot character is and can do--especially in a game that is built on the level-up mechanic--but there are many game systems that do not rely on that mechanic which can be just as fun as D&D.  The important question becomes how do we insert a non-leveling race into a game such that it still fits well in that type of game, still provides the player with enjoyment, and is not so overly different that it just doesn't feel right within that context.  I think that this will be the greatest challenge.

One could argue that there isn't any reason that robots couldn't gain experience and level--but for some reason, that I can't put my finger on, I like that limitation on the robots.  Perhaps, in my mind, the static (versus growing) robot just seems more pulpy to me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Psionics and the Dilemma

I've been working on a Science Fantasy supplement for one of the retro-clone rules.  As I talked a little about here, I'm going to include a psionicist as one of the character classes.

First, a little about what I was planning:

As far as the mechanics are concerned, the psionicist (perhaps just psion) would effectively be another spell casting class.  The psionic abilities (talents) would follow a Vancian system whereby the character can only cast (invoke) a set number of talents per day.  That number, and the relative power of the talents, would increase as the character advances in level.  However, whereas "true" Vancian magic limits spell use based upon the ability of the magic user to memorize those spells, the rationale for the psion is that the character is limited by the mental stamina necessary to cast that number in a given day.

However, if the limit is not based on the ability to memorize specific spells but merely the number of times per day that a talent of a given power level could be invoked, the class becomes much more flexible in how it can expend its adventuring resources in a given day.  [In magic user terms, the 1st level MU would not have to worry about whether he should memorize sleep or magic missile with his one slot, because if he knows both, then he can cast whichever he deems most appropriate at the time.]

The challenge then becomes how to restrict the abilities of the class.  Still working on that.  I have some ideas, but I'm not sure which I like the most.

I think that the talent list would borrow from the other spellcasting classes a fair bit, especially those spells that closely mimic what we would consider psionic-type abilities.  I would then create new talents to fill-in the holes that I see.

Those are just some rough thoughts that are guiding the thought process for the design of the class.  Now on to the dilemma:

So today after reading through My Daily Read, I head on over to RPGNow to take a look at the latest offerings and I see this--a psionics class (and entirely new psionics system) for OSRIC.  What is an aspiring game designer to do?  Did these people read my mind?  So now the conundrum: Do I purchase their product, take the bits that I like, and go on from there?  Do I ignore it and pretend that it didn't come out?  Do I immediately decide that the science fantasy supplement on which I am working absolutely NOT be for OSRIC, so as to not risk being accused of stealing their IP?  [I haven't yet decided which retro-clone the supplement was going to support, but this goes a long way in my mind of ensuring that it won't be OSRIC.]

I need to think about this.  I'm really not sure what to do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday Talkies: Introduction

As if we weren’t working on enough different projects, I wanted to write a little bit about yet another one. In addition to my love of maps, I really enjoy languages—mostly fictional ones. When it comes to fantasy languages, obviously Tolkein in the king, but there is a long tradition of “made-up” languages appearing in literature, whether in fantasy or science fiction or even more mainstream genres. Most of us who have played rpgs for any length of time have at least dabbled in language creation.

Activities as simple as creating names for our characters (as a player) or creating place names (as a DM) are what I would consider the first steps in language creation. Many people have gone much further than that, and there are whole online communities devoted solely to the topic of created languages—one prominent example is here.

What I find amazing is that there has not been (to my knowledge) any materials published specifically for the DM/player for use with rpgs, either presenting fantasy languages or assisting players (in which I include DMs) in devising their own. In light of that, we are working on a project that we are calling the Fantasy Language Project. While we are not sure of the full scope of the FLP, at the least it means that I will be posting here on the blog reports of the work that we have done—a record of how we develop the languages that we will work on. We will point to the resources that we have used and give you a glimpse of the process from beginning to end.

Perhaps, if we find that there is enough interest and that the FLP assumes a life of its own, we will start an electronic newsletter and move all content that we create onto that format. In that way, Carto Cacography can maintain its identity as a blog devoted to rpg mapping (amongst other things). In the longer term, one idea that we have had is to develop one or more languages and then publish dictionaries for them, including grammar, vocabulary, etc and compiling all of the design notes into one easy-to-read format. Even further, we could provide a license along with those dictionaries allowing the commercial use of the languages in any published works.

While it might prove unfeasible, the idea of seeing an elvish or dwarven language, even if only in snippets or a few passages here or there, that is consistent across products from many different publishers is appealing to me.

Starting today and continuing onward, there will be a ‘Tuesday Talkie’ post each week that details the efforts of the FLP. It will include a status report and any other updates that I deem appropriate.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Magic Items They Can't Publish

As someone who is interested in publishing for 4E, the blog post here was a very interesting read.  Basically, WotC is publicly acknowledging what many people have been saying from the beginning regarding magic items: The 4E system has sucked all of the 'magic' out of magic items.  They are little more than window dressing, designed to give the appropriate numerical bonus at the appropriate stage in a character's life.  What a sad state of affairs.

Of course, a situation like this is the perfect opening for a small indie publisher to put out some interesting material.  I've been scribbling notes regarding new magic items from months now but have never gotten around to putting them into a coherent form, let alone anything suitable for publication.

Even more compelling is the fact that, to my knowledge, there is only one company putting out magic items for 4E, and that is Creation's Edge Games.  I've not purchased any of their products, but I may need to--if only to see what they are doing.  I get the impression that their products follow the standard 4E format, which means there is little to differentiate them from WotC.  Now that is not a hit on them at all.  They are pursuing a valid strategy.  But it is a strategy that I am not interested in.  If I were, I probably would have pursued it before now.

Because the product would present items that are far outside the norm for 4E, it would have to include a lot of advice to the DM regarding how to use them in his campaign, etc, etc.  (You old-schoolers are probably thinking to yourself, "What?  Really?"  My answer is that I have learned that many new-schoolers really appreciate that kind of advice.  They were kind of trained to expect it in my opinion--but that can be a topic for another time.)

Not only does the blog post open the door for the publication of new and interesting magic items for 4E, it actually could be used as part of the advertising.  Think about it: You are introducing a new product line that describes magic items, and you are doing it in direct response to a blog post written by a WotC employee.

Let's just make it official: The Fantasy Cartographic is, at some point in the future, going to release a product detailing new and interesting magic items for 4E, items that bring the magic back into magic items, but items that will fit into the 4E rules.  If anyone is interested in contributing to such a project, send me an email, and we can work out the arrangements.

Science Fantasy and Us

So I mentioned here that TFC is working on a Science Fantasy supplement for use with one of the retro-clone rules sets.  While we are still trying to refine exactly what that product will look like, including such basic things as specific content to include, page length, art, etc., we thought that we'd post some of the things that are bubbling in our minds.

The product, initially codenamed Dragons & Deathrays until we realized that "D&D" was already taken, will include material for players to bring sci-fi characters into a fantasy realm and guidance for DMs for including technology and "science" in his or her fantasy setting.  It will include:
- At least three sci-fi themed character classes.  (One will be a Psionicist.)
- At least three new character races.  (One of those races will be robots.)
- A large section detailing weapons and other technology for use by the characters.
- Rules for the inclusion of computers in the game, both as artifacts and as NPCs.
- A large bestiary of sci-fi creatures.
- Ideas for different types of campaigns making use of these new materials and advice for the DM on how to run each.

The science and technology present in the supplement will not match "hard sf" or current sf but will harken back to the pulp sci-fi from the first half of the 20th century.  The supplement will draw from previous greats, such as Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, in formulating some of the material, but a good bit of it will be brand new, pulled from the recesses of our minds.

I think that the general scope of this product bears discussing: The materials will not be such that an entire sci-fi game could be run using the retro-clone rules.  The scope is to support that DM who wants to include elements of science fiction in his own campaign world, from just a few artifacts here or there all the way to having the sci-fi aspects be a major plot element in his game.

I will occasionally post snippets from the writing to gather feedback (should any be forthcoming) and clarify in my own mind where we want the project to go.

Ultimately, we would like to contribute to this small niche in the OSR.

Creative outlets

Drawing maps was a creative outlet for me. I don't think that it's too far of a stretch to say that most people who play rpg's are creative types. I'm not different.

When I was younger and had more time to pursue creative things, I wrote, drew, and built all the time. HUGE lego fan.

Again, like a lot of people, adulthood and work have conspired to limit my ability to pursue my creativity. I'm in the US Navy, which I love, but I can guarantee that the US Navy does not require much creativity, or allow me to use it very often.

So drawing maps is good stuff. And that's important.

Frankly, I think that all of us (humanity, I mean) need some type of creative outlet. And I don't just mean people that consider themselves "creative". I mean everybody.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Publishing for 4E

(Most of this post was actually written back in March 2009, so please forgive the obviously dated comments.)

Fairly shortly, we are going to release Fantasy Class: Martialist, a GSL compatible product for use with the 4th Edition.  Somewhat foolishly, we had decided that we wanted to release a new character class for the game.  Following a lot of time and effort, FC:M hit the streets.  I have to say that it was the single most difficult project that TFC has atttempted to date, but we wanted to attempt it.  Why a character class?  Already there are several products out that detail new races. There are several products out that detail new paragon paths. Same with magic items. Same with adventures. There are fewer that describe new monsters for 4E, but they're out there with more on the way. What does that leave? New character classes.

In that category are the Advanced Players Guide by Ari Marmell, Fang, Fist, and Song by Goodman Games, Secrets of Necromancy by Zodiac Gods Publishing, and, only in the very recent past, The Witchdoctor by One Bad Egg. (There might be one or two others out there, but those are the only ones of which I am aware. If you know of others, please comment here.)

Designing the class was difficult for us, but it is an inherently difficult process in general.  Why this is so should be obvious to anyone who knows the 4E system: character classes demand a lot from a game designer--especially if one wants to be taken seriously by the gaming community.

So, what does it demand? IMHO, the following:

- Something new. The character class is the fundamental method by which a player interacts with the world. Players like to do things that they haven't done before, or things differently than they've done before. One of the great successes (depending on to whom you speak) of 3E was the vast array of options it gave to the players--both "official" material from WotC, and 3rd party stuff from Malhavoc and others. But a class has to be "new"--otherwise why deviate from the core? "New" can mean different things to different people, but "new" is key.

- Good fluff. A key aspect of new-ness is the flavor describing the class. Even for the core classes, flavor sets the tone for the player. Glancing through the PHB, a player will read the flavor before slogging through endless descriptions of powers. If the flavor doesn't speak to him, doesn't inspire him or excite him, he's probably not going to decide to play that class. Flavor (fluff) speaks to our heart while crunch (mechanics) speaks to our intellect.

- Interesting class features. Other than the powers (which I'll get to below), what makes the class different than the others? Would a fighter be a fighter without his ability to mark opponents? Would a paladin or cleric be a paladin or cleric without their channel divinity abilities? Obviously, not. Class features fundamentally determine the nature of a class--they are the core of each class. Given the amount of customization possible when choosing powers, the class features provide the constant across all members of that class.

- Powers. Whole blog posts could be written (and in some cases have been written) about powers in 4E. I'll try to keep it short. At the least (and in no particular order), powers must be useful, varied, interesting, balanced, match the fluff of the class, and support its ability to do what it is supposed to do. Balanced--both across the class and across the classes. Balance is hard--incredibly hard.

I believe that powers are what makes class creation the most difficult task for would-be 4E game designers. Without a doubt.

(The rest of the post was written in early January 2010.)

So why did we start our foray into 4E publishing with a character class?  Well, frankly, because we had no idea just how difficult it would be.  Looking back, I'm glad that we did it.  We learned a lot about the 4E, but we also learned a lot about producing a quality product.  We are very proud of how it looks, as well as how it plays.

Another interesting resource

If you are into megadungeons, little dungeons, or no dungeons at all, this blog could be of interest to you.  It's all about real world subterranean works, and I think that it will find a spot on My Daily Read.

Go check it out.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: Death Frost Doom (Part 2)

Some Disclaimers:
- I've only read Death Frost Doom and have not had a chance to play it.
- I've read some other reviews of Death Frost Doom, but, as much as I am able, I am going to write this review as if I haven't.  I may rehash or comment on issues that have been made elsewhere, however, I will strive to write a useful review even for those who have read others.
- While I will attempt to make objective comments and support them with my reasoning, reviews will ultimately always be subjective.  Deal with it.
- Parts of this review may delve into areas beyond what a normal product review would do.  This is purposeful.
- I will try, even when it becomes difficult to do so, to avoid any spoilers.  Because of this, some of my comments might not make complete sense if you are reading this review before purchasing the product.

I purchased DFD from for $5.00.  The download included four files: a three page cover, credits, and map file and a 37 page adventure file in both Letter and A4 formatting.

The cover appears to be a pencil, ink, and charcoal drawing on paper.  Several pieces by the artist, Laura Jalo, appear throughout DFD.  I'll start off by saying that her art has a distinct style, and it fits very well with the DFD's tone.  But, frankly, I don't care very much for it.  I feel that it appears somewhat amateurish.  (Personal opinion.)  It is a little disappointing, because I visited her deviant art page (linked at her name) and I really like some of her other pieces.

Begin Tangent: To be honest, I've not purchased many products with "OSR cred," but the art that I have seen typically puts me off.  I've read lots of OSR blogs over the past six months, and art is a topic that comes up occasionally.  Let me dip my toe in.  Erol Otus, Darlene, and many others were the collective 'face' of gaming when we were young.  Their works are interesting, evocative (in their own way), and hold a special place in many of our hearts.  But I have a question: If Erol Otus wasn't on the cover of all of those products when we were young, and we didn't so strongly associate his works with "good rpg art", and we saw his stuff in or on products today, would we love it as much as we all seem to now?  Spoken another way: Is his art that great or do we look at it through nostalgia-tinted glasses?  I, personally, believe that there is some nostalgia in it.  Why does that matter?  Perhaps it doesn't.  But I would LOVE to see a product born of the OSR that looks knock-your-socks-off fantastic.

Someone please show me an OSR product that has the same quality of art that a just-released WotC or Paizo product does.  Another common topic in these circles is trying to bring new gamers into this little niche.  If we had some products that LOOKED GOOD, perhaps we could attract some of them.  Whether you like it or not, bells and whistles can help drive sales, and interest.

Does a product have to look like it was published in 1979 for it to be well-received?  Must we take pains to use the same style sheets (including the same fonts, etc) that were used 30 years ago?  I hope not.  End Tangent.

The second page of this first file is a map of the dungeon.  According to the credits, James himself did the cartography.  The quality of the map is pretty low.  (Again, bells and whistles, people.)  Now I fully understand that people don't buy a product from LotFP for the maps, but this is the best that he could get?  There are people out there who will do maps for free--really, really good maps; I talk about one such place right here.  Frankly, I'd do a map for him for free--if he would be willing to use it after reading this review.

Begin Tangent: Based upon all of the hoopla, I would consider DFD to be one of the premier products to have come out of the OSR--in terms of originality, style, the conviction to write a very specific type of adventure--and I find it disappointing that the map is of the quality that it is.  Did James just not care?  End Tangent.

The final page of this initial file was the credits.  Not much to say there, although the untranslated inscription across the top was a nice touch.

Last thought on the initial file: If James were to sell DFD in retail, on a shelf in a store somewhere, would he bother to put the title or any other writing on the cover?  I believe he would, so why not here?  Obviously, he made a conscious decision to do it this way; I'm just not sure why.

On to the second file:

37 pages broken down as follows:
- 1 page of Author's Notes.  A nice little glimpse into James' mind regarding DFD.
- 30 pages of adventure, including notes on fitting it into the DM's own campaign, two pages describing the adventure's lone NPC, and 27 pages of dungeon description and art:
    - There are 4 full-page illustrations, three of them by Laura Jalo and all in the same style as the cover.  There are also approximately 2.5 other pages (total) of half-page or smaller pieces.
    - Two more maps, of the area around the dungeon and the cabin that sits atop it.  (My comments regarding the map above hold for these as well.)
- The file closes out with a small, four page mini-adventure, another full-page illustration, and a full-page table that serves as an appendix to material presented earlier.

The adventure:  It is everything for which one could hope.  It is challenging, deadly, will punish the unwary, and will reward (in a way) intelligent and cautious exploration.  More importantly from my perspective, it does everything that James himself said an adventure should do.  (It's one thing to talk-the-talk regarding adventure design; it is quite another to walk-the-walk.  James does for the most part--I have one nit-picky thought below where I feel that he dropped the ball.)

From the beginning, it is a scenario that relies on mood.  The mood is paramount, and James' writing gives the DM many little hints to heighten it.  This adventure would be a blast to DM, but to do it really well, and take full advantage of the mood would require a lot of effort.  (BTW, this is not a complaint.  I view it as a strength.)

If you don't like 'Save or Die,' you probably won't like this adventure.  BUT the cases where that saving throw is needed are all based upon player choice.  There are no "You just entered the death room so make a saving throw or you die" situations.  And as long as the players can choose to try to kill themselves or choose to be cautious, I am happy.

Now to my one nit-picky comment on the adventure itself:  A common complaint in poorly created dungeons are those traps that can easily be set off by adventurers yet not be set off by the hordes of wandering monsters that pass by it every day. While wandering monsters will probably not be an issue in DFD, a similar problem does exist for the previous denizens of these caves in the High Priest’s Temple. Surely in all the years that the Duvan’Ku used this temple, one of the three triggers associated with the pit would have already occurred.

And my one negative comment on the adventure:  (I am almost positive that) James has said in his writings that he is not a believer in the Mythic Underworld as espoused by Philotomy Jurament.  James prefers the more concrete, naturalistic dungeons.  Unfortunately, to me, the object in the High Priest's Temple (around which so much of the drama of this scenario revolves) is purely from a mythic underworld.  I say this as a reader who believes that every single other element in this adventure has a reason to be where it is and makes sense within the history that is presented.  However, the item that I am referring to makes no sense except as a means for James to spring a possible campaign-changing event on the players.  Is the item a common thing in nature?  Was it something else that was warped by the incredible evil that took place here into what it is today?  Was it placed there specifically by the former inhabitants of the dungeon to do what it is doing today?  No explanation whatsoever.  If one is happy with the mythic underworld, no explanation is needed.  However, with no mythic underworld that I can find, the lack of explanation bothered me.

The layout:  I've already discussed the art.  I've already discussed the maps.  I have one more comment on the maps.  The fact that North is in two different directions in the three maps is jarring.  And while it is a minor issue, the fact that it would have been so easy to make them all consistent bothers even more.

While some my accuse me of being overly critical, I feel that this, my last comment, is valid: Does James have something against two columns in his layout?  There must be some reason that 99.9% of all published material on Letter or A4 sized paper and above splits the text into two or more columns.  I think that columns make large blocks of text easier to read--I know that it does for me personally.  Would it have been hard for James to do the same here?  I don't think so.  Perhaps in a future printing, he will.

So what is the verdict?  Overall, I really liked the adventure.  If you want a interesting, challenging, "old-school" style, dungeon-crawling adventure, this is the one for you.

However, I think that production values are just as important as content if I am going to shell out money for something.  I wish that James had put a little more into the production values.

The Bottom Feeder

I've linked to this blog a few times before, here and here.  I should have done it before now, but I'm going to add this blog to My Daily Read.  There is so much to like about this blog:

- Jeff Vogel is fun to read.
- His opinions and sensibilities, I believe, would fit right in with the OSR.
- He is a game designer (granted, a different type of game) whose experiences are worth reading by anyone who has any desire to write for rpg publication.

I recommend it.  Go take a look.

Review: Death Frost Doom (Part 1)

James Raggi has said, here, that the OSR needs people who are more critical.  He was referring to the tendency of the people who write reviews (of OSR material) to be almost singularly positive and commenting that this, in his opinion, weakens the movement.  He is absolutely correct--no person or organization of any kind that fails to conduct critical self analysis will be as strong, as meaningful, or ultimately as important as those that do.  Looking in the mirror with honesty and candor is a necessity.

I had not purchased any of his products before reading that post.  Despite reading a good bit about Death Frost Doom and Green Devil Face and becoming a regular reader of LotFP, I hadn't pulled out the wallet.  After reading the post, I decided that I should buy something, if only to see what the fuss is about.  And if I'm going to do that, I may as well review it.

[As someone who has had several products reviewed, I take the writing of a review very seriously.  I have some strong thoughts on reviews, and although I haven't yet posted them here, I am working on several different posts on the topic.]

In that same post, concerning people who might choose to write more than sunshine-and-rainbow reviews James goes on to say, "Pursuing this is going to mean drama and hurt feelings. Whoever bothers to do this has to have a thick skin, and probably should have no publishing aspirations of their own."  I do have publishing aspirations of my own, so there is a little voice in my head telling me not to do this.  But I feel very strongly that well-written, honest, and informative reviews are an important way for this little niche to grow and demonstrate that it is serious about more than nostalgia.  I'm going to take a stab at it.

I've purchased Death Frost Doom.  I've read it twice.  I've not had the chance to DM it, but my review will focus on the adventure and the product.  Note that I believe that a good review should discuss both of those halves of any gaming material--the content and the presentation.  The review will be posted a little later on today. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Price versus Quality

My very first product, Locales, Volume One, is perhaps the one that is closest to my heart. At the time (with 3.X still alive and well), I didn’t want to learn a new (to me) game. I had not become aware of any online communities devoted to the older editions. As I already discussed here, I felt that a systems neutral product was the way to enter the marketplace. LV1 didn’t sell that well. As a newbie publisher with no prior experience in the pdf market and new to, I had no idea why. I have several ideas now, but they will be a topic for another post. In any event, frustrated with LV1’s sales and eager to make a go of it, I put out a few small products over the next several months that were little better received.

Again, I believe that I understand some of the causes for the poor sales, but one that I want to discuss here is price. I have consistently assigned too high a price point for my products. (This is my belief based only upon sales numbers, and it is a lesson that I will remember as I move forward.) I have tried to compare my products to others out there and assign comparable prices. In most cases, I think that I succeeded in offering comparable products at comparable prices. What I have failed to take into account is the sales numbers of those other products. Now, no one has access to sales data for companies unless those companies choose to publish their numbers. It was perhaps foolish to assign prices and assume a certain number of sales based upon other products without knowing their sales numbers, and yet it was what I did time and again.

I have come to the conclusion that most others are suffering the same sales that I am. One option, then, is to lower my price point.

The other option, however, is to improve the quality of my products. I think that if one were to compare, for instance Caverns, Tunnels, and Caves: Volume 1 with Fantasy Class: Martialist, they would agree that I have definitely done that. The prescription for success seems to be, in the pdf market at least, a lower price point and higher quality. That prescription is simplistic at best, and there has been much discussion in various forums and across the blogosphere about the effects of such a decision both on the mindset of the purchasing public and on the ability of 3rd party publishers to exist in that reality, but for my purposes here, I will assume that to be true.

When I look back at those earliest releases from The Fantasy Cartographic, I am a little embarrassed. Not at the quality per se as I still believe those products are useful and have a place in the market, but at the quality versus what I believed I could charge for them. (I must state that I am not including LV1 in this category of product.) I started this post talking about LV1. I come back to it now, because following its release, a few of the others who had collaborated on it with me warned me against putting out those subsequent releases saying that they would weaken the brand—that I was just putting out product for products sake, and that I should instead immediately begin work on Locales, Volume 2. For various reasons, I was not up for an LV2 at that time. Perhaps I will write about that in another post…

So that leaves me now in a position where I have on the market (at RPGNow) several products whose price vs. quality ratio is probably (still) not where it should be. What is a small publisher to do? One might suggest that I do nothing and let the anemic few sales a year continue. But I think that there are other options.  Things to ponder, and write about later.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lamentations indeed

There is a reason that he is a part of "My Daily Read."  Go here.

So much to say about this post.

First, damn him!  I had plans to actually work on my next project this evening, and, instead, I read through several of those (and all the attached comments).

Second, having come to the OSR late has really hampered me--I feel like I could have made some positive contributions to those 'conversations,' and I wouldn't have to be playing catch-up.  Oh well.

Third, just go there.

The Cartographist

One might get the impression that I like maps. The name of my small press is The Fantasy Cartographic. The name of this blog is Carto Cacography. My online handle in many forums is ‘The Cartographist.’ The last is perhaps the greatest conceit of all and shall be the topic of this small post.

‘The Cartographist’ came about when I found my way to the Cartographer’s Guild which is, if you haven’t visited, the absolute best resource for gamers (and non-gamers alike) who are interested in the creation of maps of a fantasy or sci-fi nature. I cannot say enough good about that website. You need to go there. Now. Seriously.

The main draw is their forums. They recently surpassed 10,000 members and are growing steadily. With few exceptions, those members are people who are into crafting maps. (The exceptions are those people who are into looking at maps.) Most are amateurs, although I would dare anyone to call much of what is produced there amateurish. The maps are incredible—of cities, towns, game worlds, dungeons, buildings, space craft, galaxies, and a whole lot more. But that really doesn’t tell you why is the Guild is so good.

They are not only into crafting maps, they are into helping you craft your own. They are friendly, helpful, and courteous and will provide feedback if you are working on a map; they will offer helpful hints; they will make suggestions; they will even teach you how to use the various software out there to make maps. The Guild is an incredible resource for tutorials for Photoshop (PS), Gimp, and a whole host of other applications. The core group of moderators are all fantastic people and their enthusiasm and kindness have extended to the entire community. You cannot go wrong if you go there.

Of course, the conceit of a handle such as ‘The Cartographist’ assumes that I am good at making maps. Now, I love maps, I can doodle them all day long, I have drawn literally hundreds in my life. I believe that my maps are quite good—especially if one shares my sensibilities for what makes a good map. But I have to admit that there are many people in the world who can produce absolutely incredible maps (and a lot of those at the Cartographer’s Guild). Once I came to see the quality of the work done by many many people at the Guild, I felt that perhaps I should change my handle. It was almost as if I was trumpeting loudly something that deserved perhaps a loud kazoo. I contemplated changing it—for quite a while actually.

‘The Cartographist’ is still my handle.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What he said

This can't really be a blog written by a guy who loves maps if I don't link to this blog post.  I have to agree with everything that he says, especially G1-3.

But I want to add one module whose maps have always inspired me: I6, Ravenloft.  One of my favorite AD&D modules of all time and possessing, in my opinion, the best maps of any module up to its publication.  Bravo!

Looking Backward, and Forward

By all accounts, 2009 was the Year of the Megadungeon.
I think that a strong case can be made for 2009 and megadungeons, as evidenced by the existence of Dungeon-a-day (whether or not you agree that it is a true megadungeon),, and the numerous blog posts and forum discussions regarding the topic all over the internet.  Being a fairly simple guy, I like things that are big and have always liked megadungeons.  Obviously, many other people do as well.  On the one hand, I am disappointed that I came so late to the OSR party.  By the time I found it, the year was mostly over, and megadungeons seem to have been supplanted somewhat in the online discourse.  I will say, however, that we are working on a megedungeon product: A set of maps (what else?) that presents an ancient dwarven city--a BIG dwarven city.  The intention is for it to be similar to Locales, Volume One in that it will not include fully-detailed, fully-statted descriptions of its contents, but only brief descriptions of the major areas.  The maps themselves will also include a good many notes (in true megadungeon fashion) so that they are useful to the DM.

According to many people in the blogosphere, 2010 is going to be the Year of Science Fantasy.  If that is the case then that is exciting as well, as we are also at work on a product, a supplement as it were, written to expand the horizons of one of the retro-clones toward sci-fi.  More details to follow.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The pdf market today

The Fantasy Cartographic has released products only in pdf.  We may, at some point, go to print, but that isn't in the cards at this time.  Something that I’ve noticed is that the PDF market for Dungeons & Dragons is very different today than what it has been at any time up to this point. I say that based on the number of publishers currently putting out 4E material and the number of products that are currently available on Although I didn’t track 3.xE very closely, as I’ve said before, I feel that the number and pace of products being released for 4E is lower than what had been released for 3E. One could argue that the previously overly restrictive GSL is to blame, however with the revisions released last February, I would have thought that more publishers would be putting out material. A separate point but perhaps pertinent is the fact that a large number of Pathfinder titles are being released right now at RPGNow, as is material for other rpgs and other types of products. Is it possible that the 4E market for third party material just isn’t there? As someone who is attempting to put out 4E material, I hope that is not the case.

But it might be.  The announcement from One Bad Egg early last fall that they were closing up shop and ceasing production might have been an early sign. This came as a surprise to many people who felt, like I did, that One Bad Egg was one of the premier 4E publishers in the PDF market. You can read about their decision here. They listed two main reasons for ceasing production. The first is their sales numbers, which they didn’t feel was at a level sustainable for them is a company. From a business perspective, this makes the ultimate sense as sales drive profitability, and businesses need to remain profitable to continue to exist. To me, however, their second reason is more interesting. They felt that the quality of material that WotC is putting out and the quality and quantity of material that is available at D&D Insider makes it very difficult for small publishers. (I hope that I am not putting words into their mouths or misrepresenting any of their reasons for making their decision. This is merely my interpretation is of their announcement from last September.)

What I find curious is that Wizards has always produced good quality material. I wonder if DDI is such a game changer. Perhaps it is. It has been commented at other places in the blogosphere that third party publishers in general are not doing as well in the age of 4E. Whether that is a result of DDI, the current quality of Wizards material, or some other factor is, I believe, unknowable.

If the market for D&D material from third party publishers is in fact different than at any time before, what does that mean to me and perhaps to others as small press publishers of roleplaying materials? I believe that it means this: Basing a business strategy on the production of 4E materials is a decision that cannot be taken lightly. If the expectation of gaming material quality is extremely high (in other words expensive to produce) and the potential sales are low, 4E is a market that should only be entered with caution. Perhaps it would be better to enter the market for other gaming systems. Perhaps the market for Pathfinder, 3E, or even one of the retro-clones is stronger than that for 4E at RPGNow and elsewhere.

In the case of the Fantasy Cartographic, we are interested in pursuing both markets: some small releases for 4E complemented by releases in support of one or more of the retroclone rulesets.  However, dividing our efforts between the two stylistic extremes of the gaming market is a path probably best not followed.  Targeting the OSR might make better sense for us.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Old school elsewhere

Another very interesting post from Jeff Vogel.  I'm really starting to dig this guy.  I'm not sure that there is much that has to do with rpg publishing in it, but it does point to the differences that may exist (at least in his mind) between old school and new school game design in another realm.

I find it fascinating that those terms have, at least with respect to player survivability, similar connotations in a different medium.  Although it is obvious that he is a gamer and so has some familiarity with pen and paper roleplaying.

Sales figures

As 2009 is now 10 days dead, several companies/individuals have posted sales figures for their products for last year.  I'm sure there are more out there online, but you can read about Evil Hat Productions here and here, Chgowitz here, Steve Jackson games here, and LofFP here.  And there is also the Gamer Lifestyle blog, which posts monthly revenues information.  They are also a nice resource for people, like myself, interested in the rpg existence from the business side.  So all of these posts are gems to me.

(For an interesting read on sales figures and indie game development in another realm, go read here and the follow-on article here.  I think that these blog posts give us (3rd party publishers of rpgs) some interesting things to think about.  The comments that follow them are also quite revealing.)

But as the President of The Fantasy Cartographic (TFC), I feel that I should do the same.  I've not, before now, revealed any sales figures, because I've not had a platform on which to reveal them.  But now that this blog exists, I have no excuse.  With that being said, TFC has been releasing product since November of 2007, which means that I have three years of sales data.  Without further ado:

2007 Sales Figures

   Locales, Volume One:   6

2008 Sales Figures

   Locales, Vol One: 21
   Hand Drawn Maps, Vol One: 28
   Caverns, Tunnels, and Caves (CTC), Vol One: 29
   CTC, Vol Two: 11
   CTC: Battlemaps One: 5
   CTC: Battlemaps Two: 5
   CTC: Battlemaps Three: 5

2009 Sales Figures

   Locales, Vol One: 34
   Hand Drawn Maps, Vol One: 5
   Caverns, Tunnels, and Caves (CTC), Vol One: 11
   CTC, Vol Two: 13
   CTC: Battlemaps One: 5
   CTC: Battlemaps Two: 4
   CTC: Battlemaps Three: 4
   Power Cards: Secrets of Necromancy: 14
   Fantasy Class Preview: Martialist Heroic: 315     (Free download)
   Fantasy Class: Martialist: 17

Any number of a wide range of conclusions can be drawn from reviewing this data.  I'll offer one that comes to mind when I pretend that I am not me while looking them:

"Uh, dude.  Why even bother?  What is the point?"

Which are questions that I have asked myself many times.  But that topic is not the point of this post.  To this point, even with those low sales numbers, TFC has basically paid for my gaming hobby the past few years (I'm a cheap gamer) until just recently.  If nothing else, my rpg activities are self-sustaining.

I think that these figures are instructive for people who are interested in entering the pdf publishing realm, if nothing else.  And that is why I post them.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nice little site

I have to thank James over at Grognardia for bringing this to the collective attention of all of us.  You'll see that it is located on My Daily Read, and I am very excited to follow it.  It being Microdungeons!

Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, there is a distinct possibility that Carto Cacography might host a few similar doodlings from myself.  I think that Tony Dowler is on to something with these.

The plan

So the first several posts to this blog were my personal gaming history and how I came to start up my own independent press. Those posts all first appeared at an Enworld blog that I started sometime back in September 2008. Obviously, that blog has not been supported for quite some time and will no longer be supported; Carto Cacography will now be my exclusive online outlet.

As this blog moves forward, my postings will be less about the past and more about the here and now. I aim to write a lot about The Fantasy Cartographic from the business perspective. This blog will also serve as a repository of materials that may or may not appear in my gaming world or in published form. Of course, it may from time to time include other things as well.

Several small publishers have recently published their sales numbers for 2009; I’ll be doing the same shortly, except that I will include sales numbers for The Fantasy Cartographic’s entire existence as we opened for business in November 2007 and have never released numbers before.

Another topic that I will be delving into is the opposing forces that interest me in gaming right now—4E D&D and the so-called “Old School Renaissance”. Some would argue that there can be no more diametrically opposed forces in D&D gaming than these two, although I contend that 3.X is more opposed to the ideals of the old-schoolers than 4E is. Of course, those are all issues of personal taste and opinion, so we will see if I can add anything to that discussion. As someone who is trying to publish gaming material in both realms, my opinions might be different than most.

I will also, occasionally, post about items in popular culture and how they inspire me from a gaming perspective. Hopefully, these posts will give you some ideas for your gaming worlds.

That all is the plan at least.  We'll see how it goes.  I also have grand plans to post 5+ times per week.  Perhaps a bit ambitious with other writing projects and real life trying to keep me occupied, but that is the goal.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Edition Wars

I think that this might be the last word on the Edition Wars.  And some of the follow-on comments are pretty funny as well.

My Introduction to the OSR

While I consider myself a proponent of the "Old School Renaissance" in gaming today, that is not to say that I don't appreciate and even enjoy the latest edition of D&D.  Quite frankly, I was someone who was following and writing my own material for 4E before I had even heard about the OSR.  Actually, it gets even worse than that.

I had finished the Fantasy Cartographic's latest product, a new character class for 4E called Fantasy Class: Martialist.  I was sending it out to several blogs and websites soliciting reviews.  One of the blogs that I sent it to was Grognardia, because I had seen it on the blog roll of a few of the other sites that I frequented.  Ha!  Poor James must have thought to himself, "What the hell is this guy sending to me?  Doesn't he know who I am?!"  But, in his true fashion, he very kindly sent me an email stating that that reviews of 4E products were not his forte.  I sheepishly apologized and then started reading his blog.  Wow!  I felt like I had come home.  His blog introduced me to Lamentations of the Flame PrincessPhilotomy, the AlehouseDragonsfoot, and of course many more.  Suddenly, OSRIC, S&W, and all the retro-clones introduced to me the reality of publishing AD&D (and older) style material in the here-and-now.  (Yes, I can link-drop with the best of them.)

So, while I am new to the OSR, having only been reading the blogs, thinking about the older games, etc. for about six months now, I am quite comfortable here.  As someone who started gaming in the early 80s but came into the OSR only recently as a newcomer, I feel that I've come a little late to the party, especially concerning the discussions/arguments between proponents of today's systems and those of my youth.  Consequently, I've spent a lot of time thinking about that overarching discussion, and I wanted to offer my views.

First, I completely agree with those who espouse a 'game-and-let-game' approach.  Regardless of what game someone plays or what edition of a given game, as long as they are roleplaying and enjoying it, that is most important.  Our hobby, this hobby, would be best served by having lots and lots of roleplayers, and petty arguments about this game or that game serve no one.

Second, I'm sure that this might be considered blasphemous to some who stump for the Old Ways, but I have to say that 4E "feels" like D&D to me.  I enjoy it.  I like it a lot, in fact.  Now--is it a different game, with widely different playing styles, mechanics, and mindsets?  Frankly, yes, but it is just as much D&D to me as the D&D that I grew up with.

Third, I have various complaints about both ends of the spectrum.  I see strengths and weaknesses in OD&D just as I do in 4E D&D.  Perhaps I will go into more detail at some point in the future, but suffice it to say, neither is perfect.  And let's face it: A good group of players will make the game their own anyway.  House rules, ignoring what doesn't feel right, and concentrating on those aspects of the game that the group enjoys work as well regardless of the system.

The second dry spell

Earlier I had discussed the dry spell--the almost ten years when I only gave scant attention to anything rpg-related. That period ended in 2001-2002. Early 2004 commenced a second dry spell in my life. After spending untold hours drawing maps of various things on a computer using MS Paint (!) and really re-immersing myself in D&D and its current state of existence, I was forced to put it on the back burner.

Work grew extremely hectic: It was common to work 65+ hours per week. I travelled often, up to several weeks at a time, and was busier when travelling than when at home. Not only was work amping up, but the arrival of the little one in my life and all of the inherent duties associated with having her completely removed the possibility. Two years went by when I didn't think at all about the maps I had drawn or about D&D.

I also believe that this period, from 2004 until sometime in 2006, was a key time for the rpg, and particularly pdf, markets. It was key in that a lot of consolidation and elimination seemed to occur during that time. The big names grew bigger; the tiny names disappeared; a lot of churn had occurred and the playing field was solidifying. In short, the novelty of rpg pdf publishing had worn off. Looking back, The Fantasy Cartographic could have had a more successful beginning if I had jumped into publishing about three years earlier than I ended up doing. [More on that in a future post...] But I didn't.

In 2006, a family event was to occur that was going to bring together all of the people that I had played D&D with when I was younger. I was going to see (almost) everyone with whom D&D was a common topic of discussion. That prompted me to pull out and dust off the maps that I had drawn. And after two years, I was still happy with them. I even asked myself--why haven't you done anything with these? But I made the firm decision to actually compile them into something and publish them. This was when The Fantasy Cartographic was born.

[Why The Fantasy Cartographic? Well, honestly, I grew up reading, and completely loving, National Geographic magazine. My father had had a subscription since 1967, and they all sat on the bookshelf in our family room when I was growing up. The magazine was, to the real world, what D&D was to my imagination. It was geography, adventure, strange and faraway places, peoples, and cultures, and maps, fantastic maps. IMO, if there wasn't a D&D, the National Geographic would have provided everything that I needed to take me away from my mundane existence. I could go on, but maybe I'll write more about the National Geographic in another post. Suffice it to say that The Fantasy Cartographic is my personal tribute to the National Geographic.]

Initially, I thought that I would just gather all of the maps and sell them--just maps with titles, no text, no description, nothing. I eventually came to the conclusion, however, that to do that, the maps would have to be fantastic. Not just good, or even great, but knock-your-socks-off fantastic. They weren't. Now, I love them. But in a world where WoTC has Map-a-Day or Map-of-the-Week or whatever they called it, where they make available on the internet maps from their products for free, mine wouldn't cut it. In a world where everyone seems to prefer full-color, hyper-realistic, stunning works of cartography, mine wouldn't cut it. [Personally, those types of maps are really nice to look at, but I don't need those to play D&D. All I need is a crisp map that is evocative in some way. The maps that I had drawn were crisp. Black-and-white. Easy on the printer. They were maps that I would use and have used.]

So how to make this collection of maps something that I would be willing to ask people money in return for? Perhaps more importantly, something that people would pay money for? I decided that I would write an adventure idea for each map--some fluff inspired by the map, completely rules-free. So that brings me back to this family event coming up in the summer of 2006. Rather than do the writing by myself, why not enlist the aid of the people that I first played D&D with? And that's just what I did.

I brought that assortment of maps to said event. Each map had a title and nothing else. The guys looked them over, each volunteered to write about one or more of them, and off it went.

And fourteen months later, Locales, Volume 1 appeared for sale on Why fourteen months?  Perhaps I'll discuss that another time.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Maps of caves

After about 3-4 months, I had drawn maps for 5-6 cave complexes. Those were caves on a single page with anywhere between six and twenty chambers. Only 5 or 6? Well, life (i.e. everything else) kept me busy, and I couldn't devote all that much time to it. But I was enjoying it.

One thing that I was trying to do was make cave systems that appeared (at least to me) more 'natural' than those I had seen in most adventures. I didn't try to follow the grid; in fact, I tried my best to ignore it. I was trying to distance myself from caves like those that appeared in the Keep on the Borderlands' Caves of Chaos. Now don't get me wrong: Classic adventure. I think it was the first module that I ever played. LOVE IT. But I wanted my caves to look more cave-y.

[I did some caving in my younger days. A few of those caves were mapped. They didn't look anything like the caves that appeared in D&D adventures. I wanted my caves to look more authentic. I think that I succeeded.]

But just as the caves were approaching what I considered "authentic", I decided that I had had enough with caves. I wanted to map something else. So I mapped a keep. Then another one. Multiple levels. Spiral staircases. Battlements. All of it.

Then I decided that keeps weren't doing it for me either. What, then? I decided to combine the two: I wanted to create a massive underground keep. I decided to map a hollowed-out column in a vast underground cavern. When I first thought of the idea, I believed it to be a unique. So I started mapping. Actually, what I did was draw a side-view diagram of the thing. I marked off where the levels were going to be. I planned for it to contain 18 levels, lots of rooms, and multiple means of ascent and descent. I started at the bottom level and then worked my way up. About half way through drawing this column, I read a review for a gaming product (can't remember what now) that contained a hollowed-out column. I was a little frustrated by that but wasn't going to stop. Kept going until I worked my way all the way to the top of the column.

While mapping the column and regularly updating the side-view diagram to properly depict it, I came up with a general story for the setting. After finishing the column itself, I decided that I needed to map the rest of the cavern to make use of the story that I had developed. The column became known as the Column Fortress at Deep Rushing. It was named so because it overlooked the fastest and deepest portion of the underground river that flowed through the cavern. It was the military center of the cavern. [If one were to play 4E, most its inhabitants claim martial powers.] The cavern itself became known as the The Cavern at S’siyerteresk Falls, named after the deep-gnome-named waterfall at the highest end of the cavern. To this day, I am extremely proud of the column, the cavern, and the backstory.

Then I decided that I wanted to try something different. My next idea was to create a dungeon that, through powerful magic, wrapped in and around itself. I wasn't sure how or why, but I didn't concern myself with that. I started mapping the first "level" that was basically a large ring. Where the ring was about to re-connect with itself, I stopped on that page and started a second page. The dungeon wrapped until about to hit itself, and then it was time to shift to a new page. In the end, the map was five sheets of paper. I liked it as much as the cavern fortress.

So what caused this dungeon to violate all rules of space and time? Well, at its center sits a tomb, wrapped in the most powerful magics known to all the races, designed to hold the corpse of the demon prince Bgixilidynon. It is those magics, powerful enough to keep the Lord of the Great Corruption trapped within, that are powerful enough to wrap space around it.

To get to this point, with 6 cave complexes, two keeps, and three more fully fleshed out locations, took me a little over a year. During that year, I continued to visit, continued to lurk around ENWorld, and continued thinking about D&D in general. Then my life got really busy, and I stepped back from all of it.

Yes, I put it in a drawer and forgot about it for awhile.

The interweb... er, net

I continued to draw maps using Paint and my trusty mouse.

You might be asking yourself, why didn’t you go online and try to find some better art programs? I’m thinking you might be, because I am—now. Frankly, sadly, the thought never occurred to me. But, in case you didn’t know, there are several programs out there that are completely free, available on the internet, that are much, much more capable than Paint. I don’t know if that was the case when this little hobby of mine started, but it certainly is the case now.

When I think back to 2002-2003, when I started drawing maps on the computer, I don’t think that Google had yet grown to its gargantuan size. I’m not sure what search engine I used back then, but if I had searched, I probably would have found something better to use and probably some help. Now I am aware that there are online communities for just about everything. I guess I was a little internet clueless back then.

A slight tangent into mapping

So all of this looking at gaming material online really got me back into the mood. And one of the things that I loved about gaming was, as I said previously, the maps. I love ‘em! When I played D&D regularly, I drew maps all the time. I drew maps for everything, and I drew more maps than I could possibly use. Dungeons. Towns. Castles. Keeps. Binders full of graph paper maps…

So one night, after I had surveyed the latest offerings, I got bored and decided to try drawing some maps. But I wanted to see what could be done on my computer. What did I have on my computer? MS Paint. Yes, Paint. And a mouse. Now firstly, Paint is a terrible program. Come on, you’ve all doodled something with it, and you know that there really isn’t much to it. But it’s okay for simple things, and it’s, well, simple. Secondly, drawing anything with a mouse is difficult. I don’t care who you are.

But that was all I had, so I set to it: First, draw a grid—simple enough. Why? Because even on the computer I wanted my graph paper. Then messed around and drew some squiggly lines that became a cave, then a cave complex. Took that image and pasted it into a word document just to see what it would look like. Printed it out, and voila! Map on paper.

Of course, this being Paint and my first attempt, I learned that pixilation makes my nicely curvy cave complex look really not curvy at all. But it was late and time to hit the rack.

Next night, I re-did the grid to improve the resolution. I actually doubled the number of pixels per square. Then I drew another cave complex. Dropped it into a word document, and printed it out. Map number two! Less pixilated, smoother, and I liked how it looked.

Okay, so perhaps there’s not much to all that. But it got me excited about mapping on a computer. Now the maps were simple. Black and white, not artistic, per se. But they were functional. Frankly, IMO, they were as good as the maps that started it all for TSR. (Which put me easily 25 years behind the onward march of mapping technique and style.) But I liked them. So I kept on playing around, gradually improving the resolution, and learning short cuts and tricks to make MS Paint and mouse drawing quicker and more efficient.

[Now for a tangent on resolution, for those who may or may not be interested. Any good image software today will allow you to set the number of pixels per inch for your work. MS Paint does not. All it does is spit out a bitmap. The only way to really improve resolution is to take whatever image you drew and, when you insert it into a word document, or other publishing software, shrink the size of the image. Take an image that is 400 pixels wide and drop it into a document. If the image is 8 inches wide then the resolution is 50 pixels per inch (ppi). Take that same image and resize it to be only 4 inches wide, and the resolution just jumped up to 100 ppi.

(I’m not going to get into a technical discussion regarding ppi and dots-per-inch (dpi), because while close, they are not quite truly equivalent. But for the sake of my story, they may as well be.) Most published material out there that contains images or artwork of any kind uses a resolution that is at least 300dpi, and sometimes more. I didn’t really fully appreciate this until after I had drawn some maps, although it’s fairly obvious when you look at them on the printed page. None of my first set of maps would equate to 300dpi, but later ones eventually would.]

Time wore on, and I drew several maps. But I have to say: Drawing maps as I was, with MS Paint and a mouse, is a time-intensive, mind-numbing experience. I was doing it mainly to see what I could accomplish. Despite the pain of it, it was a nice little creative outlet for me. So I kept at it.

Percolating Ideas

So I spent some time at, because that was the first (and for a long time only) online shop that I came across. One of the features that I loved was the online preview. In fact, I think that I found more utility in the preview than in any reviews that I read. You can get a few pages from the document free and, at least, get a feel for its general quality and tone.

[This is something that I feel strongly about, and it is one area that has influenced what I do with material for The Fantasy Cartographic. I almost always create a separate pdf document for the preview, and I try to show broadly what each product is about. If someone is going to spend some of their hard earned money on a product that I sell, the least I can do is give them a taste of it.

Two important points:

1. I intensely dislike it when publishers at or other sites do not make use of the preview feature. And while does make use of the small, turn-the-pages, flash preview, I much prefer a full-size pdf preview for a product.

2. For all I know, providing a preview might actually descrease the number of possible customers, because by better informing people, they are better able to decide not to purchase my products. From the business perspective, this probably isn't the greatest idea, but I feel that it is the right way to do business.]

So I spent lots and lots of time looking at previews on It really gave you a sense of what was out there. At the time, I think that was in the final stages of its 'bubble' period, where there were still lots of little publishers putting out lots of material, some good, but a lot mediocre or worse. I think it's obvious, but those companies that were putting out good and better material during that time are the same companies that, for the most part, are well-established, still-around, and still putting out good material. Go figure.

I also learned, or at least believed, in my humble mind that:

1. I was a better writer than a good chunk of the people putting out material back then. [While this is certainly debatable and my own conceit certainly plays into this belief, I would say that the ones that were good writers are still in the business, and the ones that weren't, aren't.]

2. I could spell better than the average person publishing at the time. [Same comments as above.]

3. I knew the rules of modern grammar better than the average. [Again, same.]

So, after reviewing lots of material and coming to the above conclusions, I was pretty excited about the possibilities.

{I say these things with a bit of humor, knowing that I've now laid myself wide open for comment should I ever fail to maintain the highest standards in those areas.}

So what does all this mean? Since crunchy bits are not an option, maybe I can pursue some fluffy stuff. Mmmmmm.

The dry spell

I went away to college in the fall of 1992. Didn't look at or even think about rpgs for almost four years. During that time, I learned that TSR was bought out by the company that made Magic The Gathering. (What?!)

Graduated from college and several more years went by. Work took up lots of time. Moved from Maryland to Florida to South Carolina to Connecticut to Hawaii and back to Maryland. It was now late 2001/early 2002. I heard that a 3rd Edition of DnD had been released. (?!?)

Jumped on the computer and did a little looking around. Wow! It was a completely new world: OGL. ENWorld. Malhavoc Press. (Who was this Monte Cooke character, anyway?) Mongoose. And lots more...

Of course, to me, the OGL was a brilliant and wonderful thing. "You mean that there are small (and obviously growing and thriving) companies out there making material for D&D? And that anybody could do the same provided they followed this OGL-thingy?" I immediately pulled out some old homebrew stuff that I had written years prior. [Of course, I didn't call it homebrew, because that term didn't exist yet (at least, it wasn't in my vocabulary).] Wonder if anything is suitable for publication? I obtained the submission guidelines for a couple of the companies out there--I think I still have the copy that Mongoose was using back then.

Then I stepped back and really took a look into it. I went to the local bookstore and took a look at the PH and DMG. Uh-oh. This 3rd Edition was a different beast. I was quite happy with AD&D. 3E (and then 3.5E) had, in my opinion, changed the game. So much for publishing...

I needed to learn the game, first. And that is typically extremely difficult (at least for me) when I don't have a gaming group. That put a real downer on the whole situation.

Of course, I started to have inklings of other possibilities. Perhaps, the dry spell had come to an end.

Still a long time ago...

I had the general outline for To Win Boriscalion in my head but hadn't really put it on paper. Obviously, that was the first step.

So I wrote a list of the monsters that I wanted the fighter to encounter. A giant skunk. A pair of goblins. A handicapped troll. Some giant ants. An orog.

Then, before writing anything else down, I decided that I needed to draw the maps. (Of course.) Drew a nice two level keep, with gardens, and a small basement. Then I went back and wrote the rest of the adventure, in longhand, on a yellow legal pad. Then typed it using my trusty, brand-new, Brother word processor. Then re-did the maps into something that would be submission worthy. Dropped the whole thing in the mail and waited.

Now, I know what you're thinking, because I'm thinking it, too: Not a very challenging adventure, looking at those monsters. More importantly, that's what Dungeon was thinking, as well. Among other things: Monsters weren't challenging enough. Story had some holes in it. Why would that monster wait in that room for the PC to arrive? "What?! You mean I can't stick a bunch of monsters in various locations and assume they'll stay there? That's what the first six years of DnD consistently relied upon." Dungeon had moved on from the glory days of simple hack-n-slash. Apparently, I had not.

I was happy that they actually wrote a letter explaining what they felt were the issues with the adventure and why they weren't going to accept it for publication. (The letter is signed by no less than Wolgang Bauer!) That's much better than a form letter. And even better, they complimented me for the map! They also said that they'd be willing to take a look at it if I revised it. Unfortunately, senior year of high school with its numerous activities, one or two romances, and trying to apply for college left me no time to go back and try again. Looking back, I am still shocked that I didn't try to fix it up and re-submit.

Thus began the long dry spell...

A slightly less long time ago...

As my gaming continued, I started buying AD&D material. But it always seemed like Mike, my best friend and partner in all things D&D, had more. He had the subscriptions to Dragon and later Dungeon magazines. He got the Forgotten Realms campaign setting (in the gray box). But I was always borrowing his stuff. I was the one who wrote to both periodicals requesting the submission guidelines. I was the one who wrote 'The Ecology of...' articles that never left my own possession.

In 1990, at the ripe old age of 16, I started submitting adventure ideas to Dungeon. Turns out, most of them weren't very good. I still think that the general plot hook that formed the basis for each of those ideas was good, but my ability to turn those plot hooks into gripping 1-2 page submission letters was sorely lacking.

And then six or eight submissions (and 18 months) later came To Win Boriscalion. TWB was a single player v. DM adventure for a 2-3 level fighter. The gist was that the fighter got a tip that the boarded-up manor on the hill was no longer being guarded by the city, effectively freeing it to be looted by whoever chose to try. The manor was the home of a merchant family who made their fortune in the lumber trade. The patriarch of the family was in possession of a sword that had a particular taste for orc blood. The orcs wouldn't attack the wielder of Boriscalion so he was able to start a logging operation in their forest; he grew wealthy and only more greedy. The family's fortunes rose and then fell, leaving nothing but the abandoned manor and a rumor of a magical sword inside.

Following that submission, the reply from Dungeon wasn't the standard rejection letter, but a letter telling me that they were interested in seeing the completed manuscript. Wow!

But why? Why try to submit anyway? Why, to be published, of course. To see my name in lights, or at least in a magazine that brought me a lot of enjoyment. And for some reason (laughable still to this day), I thought that the money was pretty exciting. "You mean to tell me that they will pay me $0.04 per word for up to 2500 words for an adventure that I'd probably write anyway? You're kidding, right?!"

Once the initial excitement wore off, it was time to get to work...

A very long time ago...

I was a wee lad of five or six, and my older brothers played D&D. First, it was out of the original White Box, then it was AD&D. For awhile they played Empire of the Petal Throne. Through it all, I was the little kid who hung around on the periphery and watched.

#1, my oldest brother, was typically the DM, and he occasionally allowed me to look at his dungeons before he ran the party through them. He did that until he realized that I loved maps and would attempt to recreate them and then give the re-creations to my other brother (#2). I was then banned.

I started playing D&D with the (Red Box) Basic Set. I created a new barbarian character class almost as soon as I knew everything there was to know about the Red Box. We played one adventure using a party that included my homebrew barbarian, and then moved into AD&D and left the barbarian behind.

Later, #1 became the first player in my first real AD&D campaign. I really learned DMing from taking him through my little world. His character was Chark, a half-orc, fighter-cleric to Gruumsh (if I remember correctly). Actually, Chark was the first word of a name that was at least ten words long--all in orcish from an early Dragon magazine article that listed maybe a page or two of words in orc-tongue. I think that it was Chark Da'Odrog blah blah blah; translated it was 'Chark, something-something-something, Destroyer of Worlds.' (Funny how you remember things from 25+ years ago.) Needless to say, Chark had a huge impact on that world, and became a demi-god in future iterations of the campaign.

So why jump into the autobiographicals when this blog is supposed to be about my efforts in the exciting world of rpg publishing? Well, I think it will inform the rest of the story. I think, looking back, that it already shows why I am doing what I am doing.

I love maps, always have as you will come to learn.

I've always tried to write my own material--the D&D Basic Set barbarian was the very first stab. There have been many since.

Between the barbarian and The Fantasy Cartographic, there have been one or two attempts to actually enter the publishing world, both those will be the the subject of next time...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Why? (The Short Answer...)

I've decided to start blogging for a number of reasons, some of which I will articulate here and others to be discussed at a later date.

Foremost, I have always been interested in the publishing side of the RPG industry, especially over the last 6-8 years when anyone could enter the fray. I was always interested in hearing other people's experiences from the insider perspective. Of course, when you're not on the inside, it's very hard to hear about it. While I am still certainly not on the inside, I am attempting to make a go of it.

This blog is really for two audiences. The first is me; the blog is a way to record my history in the business and track progress as it occurs. The second audience is anyone who might be thinking about entering the industry as an independent publisher. That audience can read my blog, get some insights, ask me questions (if they desire), and maybe decide, based on my experience, to try it for themselves or decide better of it.

The idea for this blog is probably not original, and might not interest anyone other than myself, but the desire to blog comes from the same creative conceit that tells me that someone might actually pay money for somthing that I've produced. And so, with that said, why not?

I'm going to try to post an entry every few days, or weekly at the very least. The first several will recount my personal experience with roleplaying and the decision to try to become a publisher. After that, who knows? If interested, you'll stick with me, and if not, I'll be feverishly typing into the void.

The First

I've been toying with the idea of writing a blog for a long time.  My biggest fear is that I won't keep at it regularly, that I will lose interest, that it will die on the vine.  But I have come to the conclusion that none of those things matter.  Ultimately, I reached that conclusion because I have SO many strange ideas buzzing around in my head.  I'll not have the opportunity to take all of them to fruition, but perhaps by putting them somewhere I'll force myself to take some action.

My name is Nick, and I run a small (tiny) publisher of roleplaying materials called The Fantasy Cartographic.  This blog will be my means of putting the word out on what I (and those others who choose to join me) am doing, what I am thinking, and whatever else catches my fancy.  Looking ahead, I think that I will write a lot about being a small 3rd party publisher (3pp) of gaming materials right now.  I'll write about my successes (few), failures (lots), lessons learned (more than I can count), hints, and tips.  But I'll also use the blog to write about things that I have no intention of ever publishing.

As with most blogs, I anticipate that it will be a highly personal affair.  I'll go it alone if I have to, but I hope that some of you will join me.