What Shall We Do With This

A lot of people will go to great lengths to publish an RPG. This used to be a much bigger problem in the past, when the singular vision for an RPG might require taking out a second mortgage on your house to pay for a giant print run that wouldn’t even faintly sell through. Nowadays, various POD and similar options mean the bar is much lower, but the cachet (and, to be frank, the satisfaction) of producing a “real” book is still very strong.

That’s cool, but it’s also double edged, because there is a difference between a creation of art and a product.

I am firmly in the camp that believes in celebrating creation. If you put in a lot of work into making something and are brave enough to put it out there for the world to see, that effort merits praise, even if the creation itself is flawed. It’s a kind of touchy-feely (and somewhat condescending) position, and I acknowledge that, but the hope is that the creation of a “safe harbor” is worth that. Ideally, it opens the door for deeper conversations than simple praise for creation.

However, once you put that product out for sale, and claim the honor of being “published”, then you have sailed out beyond that harbor. Once I can exchange money for your product, it’s on an even playing field with any other product I can buy. That is to say, if your creation is a giant MS-Word file dumped into a PDF, that might be praise-worthy as an act of creation, but it’s not much of a product.

Now, obviously, this isn’t an invitation to be unfair. One needs to be cognizant of the realities of creation – to expect that a one-man-shop can produce something with the polish of a WOTC product is unfair and unreasonable (though it makes it all the more praise-worthy when someone like Daniel Solis does). At the same time, however, this does not absolve a creator of responsibility for covering his or her bases.

When I look at one of these games, I find it important to think about it in terms of the three main ingredients that make a product – money, knowledge and work. Most every element in a game is made of some combination of these things, though some elements skew strongly one way or another (for example, unless you’re also an artist, art is a function of money).

Now, this is important because if you’re publishing your first game, you probably don’t have a lot of money. The reality is also that you probably have less knowledge than you think you do. I don’t mean this as a knock, it’s just something that I think every creator is familiar with. Nothing teaches you more than your first product. That only leaves work, and work is a tricky one. It’s admirable, but in the absence of the other factors, it can be like hitting the gas on a car stuck in first that’s out of oil – lots of noise and heat, but little speed.

All this comes together when you judge a product. Even if you can set aside the things which cannot be done because of money, you have to wonder if failure are a result of a lack of knowledge or a lack of effort. This is a key difference because the first inspires some sympathy (we all have been in a similar position) while the second inspires disdain (because the one thing we demand is that you do the work). Of course, that it’s not always clear where the failing occurs, but whatever the source, there will be failings, and they’re fair fodder for discussion.

Anyway, this is on mind because I’ve been chewing on the failings of a particular product have run the entire course of this line of thinking, and I’ve found myself torn between two instincts. The first is to cede the ground to the “Don’t be mean” line of thinking and just not discuss it at all. The second is to use it as the basis for illustration of how not to make the same mistakes. That chewing has lead to this post, which has really been me thinking it through.

In the end, I think illustration wins.

14 thoughts on “What Shall We Do With This

  1. Ravenspoe

    This topic has been on my mind as well. Over the past 24 hours I have been reminded of what it was like to prepare for my first game release and how terrified I was of what others would think. I have come a long way from those days, yet I still feel very naive about things sometimes. Perhaps I am fortunate to have many friends in said industry who I have been mentored by, or perhaps I was just lucky. Either way there is no excuse not to do research, ask questions, and reach out to the many of us who have learned from our mistakes in the realms of publishing.

  2. Stuart

    I feel like this game has attracted a disproportional amount of scorn from people over the last couple of days. I hear that it doesn’t have a WotC/Paizo style of layout and the website was made by someone without a background in that area… but I don’t follow how if it doesn’t meet some faux pro standards that everyone should dog pile the guy for putting his work out there.

    I mean, there’s not shortage of amateurish RPG stuff online, free or for sale. Take a look at DriveThruRPG sometime. There’s a wide range of stuff for sale there. Why is this product specifically getting so much hate?

  3. Ravenspoe

    Unfortunately a lot of the guff came from RPG.net, and unfortunately it can get pretty brutal on the dog piling over there. I am not going to say that I did not laugh and snicker when I seen the website, or looked on the book seller’s web site. Stuart you are correct, if you look at 40% of the stuff on Drive Thru RPG, it is up there in the same category as the game in question. In the past I have bought my share of Convention Only games. One that comes to mind was a wargame called “The Hunt”. Very home made quality to the game, and by the looks one would think the worse, but I still love that game (heck I tried to buy the rights to it about 6 years ago). I bought the game in question this morning and I will give it a fair shake.

  4. Rob Donoghue

    @Stuart There is no good way to express this except to say that I own an utterly stupid amount of that amateurish material, and I am hopelessly pollyanna about finding things to like in them. And even for this one, I can say that the author’s passion is clearly stamped on every page.

    But there is a lot of valid, solidly grounded criticism to be had. I’m sorry if that sounds mean, I really am.

  5. Rob Donoghue

    I should add – I have NO IDEA what was said on RPG.net. Haven’t checked it out, because it seems likely to enrage me, so when I hear generalization of how the discussion goes, that seems to me like talking about Me, Ryan and Josh on twitter.

  6. Marche Hare

    Mind, I’ve only seen the website (and know I could only do marginally better if that for the web design), but I think part of the issue is that he starts from a stance of apparent ignorance of what has come before (i.e, his claim that no current systems use percentile dice for resolution) and that he seems to attack the other games out there for things he claims they don’t do (some of the promotional lit reads like the first post in an edition war). At this point I’ve not read the book, but at $4 I’m liable to pick up the PDF for instructions sake if nothing else.
    I’m glad you’ll be using this product as an illustration as I’m hoping to publish a few games myself and could use some examples of how to do things.

  7. Arcane Springboard

    I think the issue is that the author of this product seemed to be slagging other products while claiming how great his product was.

    That combination, something I’ve never seen before in an RPG product, indicated hubris, which then invited attacks.

    That and some language I never thought I’d see in a product (ie why there are no half-elves).

  8. Stuart

    I think the issue is that the author of this product seemed to be slagging other products while claiming how great his product was.

    That combination, something I’ve never seen before in an RPG product, indicated hubris, which then invited attacks.

    please review this video… 🙂

  9. Arcane Springboard


    I had never seen that video before. But it was definitely tongue in cheek (and let’s be honest…we could add another segment, 2012, to that now).

    However, the author of the product in question was definitely not joking (as far as I could tell).

  10. Rob Donoghue

    In fairness, this is far from the first game I’ve seen to bust on other games in its promotional copy. It’s not something I like, and I think it undercuts the games real selling points, but it’s not a huge thing.

  11. Fade Manley

    Huh. For me, busting on other games in promotional copy–even if it’s not calling out specific ones by name–is generally a sign of Poor Form right off, and enough to unsell me on any game. But that’s clearly a YMMV sort of thing.

  12. wraith808

    Ok… I know everyone is trying to be circumspect, but can you at least direct me to somewhere that I might be able to get a clue? Because I have no idea what game you’re talking about, and I’m curious.

  13. Reverance Pavane

    @wraith808: I believe that it is The Realms of Atlantasia that a lot of people on RPG.net and Twitter have been sandbagging recently. Available from iUniverse as either POD or a $4 pdf. I believe it is tending to be more simulationist than narrative (and extremely rulebound at 544 odd pages).

    Personally I think the sandbagging of other games coupled with the low price point for the pdf has managed to garner a lot of sales that it would not otherwise have gotten. At a possible cost of the author’s reputation for future products though.

    Still the author believes in his work enough to shell out for an iUniverse package rather than just producing YAPDF.


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