Saturday, May 23, 2020

WebDM and The Keyhole Dragon.

WebDM

If you have not heard of or encountered these two lovely people over on twitter or on youtube and twitch then you should check them out. They have been putting up video discussions on various topics centered around Dungeons and Dragons for years now. Many of the subjects they discuss can be easily be applied to any other game system and genre as well, but they tend to approach it from the understanding that most people either know of or play D&D. Their discussion can often be very insightful or inspiring and you can tell that they are very genuine and thoughtful people who have great chemistry together. They sprinkle helpful tips and hints for players and Gms alike - while also recognizing that they are not experts in any way or fashion. I believe they have said before that the idea that anyone can be an Expert in the field of RPGs is a concept that seems nonsensical and if I can say, even:


Every so often I binge-watch a bunch of their newer content while I am working on a project. I am always looking for something to listen to that will keep part of my brain distracted while I draw or animation (but not when I need to listen to the Audio in the animation). This past week was one of those weeks where I listened to about 6 eps on various subjects. One of which was the 3rd or 4th video they've done on Dragons. This one more focused on dragons in general usage and how they can be used and portrayed in your game. several of the other videos were more focused on a type of dragon or their use in combat, etc. 

Check out the video in question here:



The Keyhole Dragon

It was while listening to this the conversation above that Pruit and Jim went on a tangent and sparked my imagination, inspiring this week's Monster Drawing that I stream every Friday morning over on Twitch. The stream had a bit of a rough start this past week. for some reason my internet kept dropping out and I had to stop after the third time to reset both the router and the Modem to fix this. But once all that was taken care of, I spent the next two and a half hours drawing the Keyhole Dragon. I'll post the video of this up on my Youtube in a few weeks, one I work through the current set of Timelapse videos I need to put up.



This skinny, boney Dragon usually only grows as big as a larger creature size, maybe Huge if they are an Ancient Dragon. And as the name suggests they can disappoint and snap their bones, squish and flatten their organs, and reconfigure and contort their bodies in order to fit through small spaces and openings, such as a Keyhole. They are a sneaky kind of Dragon that likes to enter its prey home at night and devour them while they sleep. Stealing the preys treasures before leaving. Some times all you have to show that one of these dragons have been in a home are a few stray scales. 

Aft posting this up on Twitter yesterday, it was great to have it acknowledged by the WebDM guys. I'm glad they got a kick out of.
Anyway, Everyone stays safe and maybe think about putting gum in all your locks - just in case...

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Looking Back At Some Monsters



Why it all started

I've been creating a weekly monster for a few years now as a way to challenge myself. The premise was to come to the drawing board with no idea of what was going to draw and spend a few hours creating something cool without spending a whole lot of time making it perfect.

No revisions. No pre-planned sketches. No pre-existing creatures. Just Monsters.

When I first I didn't have any rules outside of that first general idea of making something kool without having an idea of what I am going to draw. They just developed as I did one every week and continued to expand a little at a time over the years. Originally I was just going to draw them and then later I started to write up details about what they were and how you could use them in a tabletop role-playing game. And course this evolved into having a Patreon and making books and adventures based on the creatures I came up with.
Honestly, I spent a lot of time as a kid drawing monsters and such. It was memories of being a kid and drawing these fun monsters and such that kind of sparked this idea originally. That and other artist friends who said I needed to put my self out there a bit more; and by "self" they meant my artwork.

The First Of Many

My very first Monster Drawing was a fungus person. Not really a Myconid but similar. I called him a Shroomkin and left it at that. He started out as an odd-shaped blob, a silhouette of black on the page. I learn this concept designer technique in college, where you make a strong silhouette by drawing a random shape on the page and filling it in with black. Then you draw on top of the silhouette and pull a figure out of that shape.

 For a while, I was also doing these weekly drawing challenges that are very similar, where they would give you a weird shape and you would draw a character design out of it. It was a lot of fun.

Monster Number Two

Using the same process every time I was able to come up with different designs and I was often surprised at how well they came out.
I use Adobe Animate (Flash) to draw all of these monsters and there really is not a reason why beyond that I like to use it for this. Something about painting in Vector is enjoyable, and since its vector, you can change the size of the monster to any size smaller or bigger without losing resolution.

Monster Three

It was at the point when I designed the Troll Hound that I started to come up with the beginnings of background information about each Monster I drew. Like the Troll Hound, a weird creature that Trolls raise and train in a similar fashion to what humans train dogs.
At this time I also started to expand where I was posting these drawings. I found a discord group, that sadly not very active anymore, that ran the Monster-A-Day Reddit. Every day they would writeup a new set of monster stats for new monsters to use in D&D 5e. So I started to post my images to their Discord and a few of them even were given full writeups based on what they thought when they saw the image. Here is this Troll Hound, also known as the Crocanine.

More to Come

I plan on posting more of the monsters I drew in the first two years over time. If you find any of these interesting, you can check out the first Collection of Monster Writeups I have over on my Shop, called Here be Monsters; Vol 1. Which is currently only available in PDF form. It consists of 14 Monsters that you can easily drop into any game system. Each monster has a full ecology writeup to help you stat them out as well as run them.

If you would like to support me in drawing Monsters and writing RPG related content, then please become a Patron over on Patreon. At the lowest tier, you get a new monster writeup every month.

Any as always you can follow me on Twitter, where I'll post when I'll be going live to draw a New Monster every week over on Twitch on Friday mornings.

Monday, May 11, 2020

How to write a Campaign Recap

The Begining of the End

Also known as, how I came to this decision.


8 months ago my Saturday gaming group took a break from our long-running campaign and switched it up a bit to play some spelljammer. None of us had ever played spelljammer and I had some of the 2e ADD books for it and thought it sounded interesting and wanted to give it a try. I spoke about this in a previous post a little bit and if you are interested in knowing more about the spelljammer game I ran for 5e, you can check that out. The general idea here is that we wanted to see how broken the 5e got the higher in levels you went. It's safe to say that it's pretty broken. We started at level 11 and only got as far as level 13 or 14. Even at those levels, I can't imagine what you would throw at your players outside of just gods once you got to level 16 or higher.

At the time I was getting very burned out of 5e and wanted to try something different to recharge as it were. I don't think it worked and so I decided one week that we would wrap up what we were doing in Spelljammer - having played through a few adventures to get a taste for it. I was ready to call it quits on 5e all together, each passing week feeling a little miserable to run a game I didn't like anymore. Again I'll make a separate post about this later.

As the final week of 5e spelljammer fast approached, I kept thinking about the other campaign we never finished and how I have never finished a campaign I started as a GM. I've also only ever finished one campaign as a player over the last 28 years and that was the very first one I ever played in. So I really wanted to finish this one but I don't want to commit to continuing to using 5e just to finish it. Honestly, I kept waffling on this because I feel like for the first time as a GM I had a sold campaign and storyline that I really thought was worth seeing to the end. I ever played with the idea that we could transfer the characters over to another game system and continue that way, but I didn't like that idea because I wanted to finish the campaign and not wait for months for that to happen. Even cutting out all the extra fat from the final chapter of the campaign it would probably still take a year. Honestly, if combat didn't slow the game down so much we would probably be done.

Then it hit me two weeks ago. It's a roleplaying game. you don't need to use the rules. We could still use the same character sheets, hen needed I could roll a D20 and the task or action would successes if it was under the character's ability score. And to speed things up I could narrate chat with no rolling needed; that way we cut out all the hours that the group tends to lose in combat sessions. So with that, all worked out and Spelljammer wrapped up, this past Saturday we Returned to a long campaign with the objective to wrap it up before moving on to try out Runequest : Glorantha.


The Recap

But it had been a while since we played last and the group had found a bunch of clues pertaining to the main plot a few sessions before we switched to spelljammer; I needed a way to remind them of everything that came before so that they knew of where we were and what was going on. Plus, as a GM, I needed this refresher myself. So I wrote up a Campaign recap as a way to remind them of things that they may have missed or forgotten and to help the players who started in the middle of the campaign of what came before. At some point, after the Campaign is over, I'll write up a post covering the full Campaign, with notes and highlighted sections that show the process I used to create this campaign. This way anyone can look at what I did and get some clear insight into how they too can easily start a campaign running and have a successful and fun story to tell.

When Approaching "How to Write" a campaign recap, its important to cut out a lot of details and just stick to the events that most stick out. When players appear, acts that had an effect on the game, and the key plot points. When I first sat down to write this all up, I realized after I got through a third of the recap that I was adding too much detail and that it would easily turn into a short story if I didn't just stick to the basics. 

So I present to you the long recap I read to my players in all of its glory. I am happy to say they really liked, giving me a round of applause and cheers. Several thanked me for the little quips and inside jokes, I added. I was happy it wasn't a giant fail on my part and it was well-received.


The Journey Thus Far:

This journey is coming to a close as your brave group sleeps out under the stars. Spring slowly awakes the valleys of Sembia, new life growing where snow piled high only weeks ago. Snow and Ice still hold sway back in the mountains where, what feels like years ago, your journey first started to unravel the mysteries you now pursue. Only months ago, Kalenner, Ariyanna, and Auster defended Ridgedale from a raid of goblins and bandits as a Gold Knight riding a Red Dragon rained flames down on the village Ridgedale. Only to discover when it was over that it was all a ruse. While the village fought their attackers and the flames, others came to steal away the children of the village, including one clever halfling child who had grown close to the companions over the last few days.
 They would have never guessed how that one night would change their lives. Soon after, while pursuing the kidnappers, they would find themselves fighting evil blight creatures summoned by an ugly Hag into the fae to poison the forest. A witch who even now schemes to avenge herself against the party who foiled her misdeeds. After freeing the Dragonborn Kriv from the tortures of the Green Hag, they discovered and freed the village’s stolen children after being spirited away to the ancient fortress of the Falcon’s Peak. Finding out in the process that there was more to the kidnapper’s plans - a theory furthered by the news upon their return. All across the Dalelands, and places beyond, similar raids had happened all in the same night, each sharing the same tragic result.
They followed rumors of dragon sightings deep into the mountains to find clues to the whereabouts of the other missing children. Between two frigid peaks, at an old monastery called the Temple of the Fire Opal, they made a deal with an Abyssal Red Dragon, Thalax Tor. He had a score to settle with the same Red Dragon that attacked the village. Their lives spared only to be the weapons that Thalax Tor would use for his revenge. During this time, they also meet new companions, though one of these would come to betray them. 
Luc, a runaway noble and a novice wizard of the Cormyr Kingdom, sought to escape his past. The Companions saved his life, and so he repaid the life debt owed by joining them on their quest for answers. During the trip back to Ridgedale, Kalennar lost an arm to his arrogance and ill-placed faith. Only to receive a new, strange replacement from an old enemy who once again escaped before any of them could finish her off for good.
Mod betrayed them, the other companion they picked up in the mountains, turned on the group, trying to remove the Druid who protected this area. If it wasn’t for the Heroes, who knows what would have happened. In the end, they discovered that someone was controlling Mod through a ring he wore. These green rings of stone were away for the people who were behind all this to possess and enslave people from afar— taking over their bodies to commit evil acts and enact dastardly plans.
In a dream, Auster was called home to Highmoon, and along the way, they met an odd Dragonborn named Freya, who was more than she appeared. At his monastery, the monks gave Auster a relic of the order. A staff wielded by the first master said to be the ban of the unholy and undead. He was to take it with him, for there would come a time when he would need it to end a great evil in the world.
Using the information gained from Thalax Tor, they traveled to High Castle before pushing onward into the southern mountain range. On the road to High Castle, they met a bard who was seeking to write an epic and, upon hearing of the companion’s journey, decided to join them, following her intrinsic bard sense of a tale worth telling. But even at this leg of the trip came with hazards. The companions were stopped on the way to High Castle by a Human Knight, Dragonborn Paladin, and their companions. These bounty hunters sought after an outlaw, with a wanted poster in hand. The wanted poster had an all too familiar face on it, exposing Luc's secrets to the group. Fortunately for Luc, his friends never gave him up, and the bounty hunters never suspected a thing. They rode on without looking back, leaving the quarry far behind.
Once equipped, the party had to get to the other side of the Wyvern’s peaks, a deadly region, especially during winter. An old mine passage was the only way to avoid many of the snowed-in passes, and deadly Wyvern attacks the peak was well known for. But this path turned out not as safe as it first seemed.  Having been diverted off the trail by purple worms that had made the old mine their home, they soon found themselves lost deep in an underground world of tunnels, chambers, and deadends. Down in the deep and dark, a familiar environment for Kalennar, they sought out a way back to the surface. After deadly battles, chance encounters, and unwanted experiences with eldritch beings, They only found a way out by making a bargain with an elemental creature that hungered for gems and ore.



At last, they tasted the frozen air of the mountains above. They had come out of their underground experience much changed. Kalennar had received word from a newly made ally that even the drow communities had suffered a similar attack to what was experienced in the Dalelands, throwing the Underdark into confusion and disarray. Luc reflecting the most considerable change amongst them, marked on his flesh and in his occasional bursts of red hot anger that blinded him when encountering enemies. It would be some time before they discovered that the stars and darkness that now played across his skin acted as a window to a place far off in space. While they were looking into that space, other things could look back through. It would be some time before they noticed the red point of light that got closer and closer by the day—an ill omen for sure.
They were near the place Thalax Tor’s old lair, stolen by Vrentorix, the dragon that attacked Ridgedale, but between them and the dragon’s lair was a ravine cloaked in fog year-round. Here a guardian spirit warned them away, for none had ever passed through the ravine to return to the living again. The Heroes would not stop now when they were so close to the answers they sought; thus, they fought off the spectral knight and entered the ravine undeterred. Little did they know but later find out that there was another path that would have led them around this accursed place. But maybe destiny was closing their minds to any other option, limiting their view so they could be where the universe needed them.
Shadowed voices whispered to them as they walked deeper and deeper into the ravine. They found themselves in a cursed place where the ghosts of a long-forgotten war still languished and disparaged with no release from the wicked spell that scared the very stones. It was here, as foretold in his dreams that Auster carried out his sacred duty and used the relic of his carried to bring an end to the curse of this haunted place. When Auster struck the Black Alter with the holy staff, each artifact destroyed each other, freeing the spirits of those who died in this place over the centuries. 
Once the fog cleared and each of them was awake and healed after the destruction of two equally opposed artifacts, they made their way to the end of the ravine, and from there, they looked out across a chasm to an old dwarven complex. The only way across the chasm blocked by an ancient dwarven fortress that guarded the pass. Here a companion of Thalax Tor waited. She came on behalf of the Abyssal Red Dragon to make sure the deed completed, or the party had died in the trying. She gave them no guidance and did not wish them luck. She was impartial as the dragon who sent them.
The Dwarven ruins were once the home of the kobold servants of Thalax Tor, but now new occupants had taken the fortress as their own and added to its well-planned defenses. The party’s hope of sneaking past the many guards and sentries of the fort, to make their way to the dwarven complex on the other side, was short-lived. A fierce battle ensued, and two of the companions fell as a White Dragon’s deadly cold breath overtook them. The others survived long enough to escape, taking their fallen with them, retreating into a corpse of alpines to lick their wounds and hide. The Bandit, Goblin, and Hobgoblin search parties were sent out for them as the white dragon circled above. During this time, too wounded and tired to weep for the fallen, the party watched as color returned to dead flesh. Once again, Ariyanna and Freya breathed, fully restored to life. Kalennar's raven companion refused to be carried by any now save Ariyanna or Fraya. The Raven Queen gave him a voice so he could act as a guide for the once deceased companions. The goddess of death had restored the two, but only if they put an end to a great cosmic injustice - the clues to which they would find inside the dwarven complex they already sought entry.



After resting, again, they sought to find a way past the fortress, but the sudden appearance of the White Dragon stopped them in their tracks. One that Fraya knew upon seeing from her time when she was a dragon herself. They were never friends, but this afforded the company a chance to speak with the White Dragon, Geldren, and strike a deal. From Geldrin, they discovered that many dragons were bound to obey the enemy by cruel spells sealed into the collars like the one he wore. The Heroes freed Geldren from his enslavement, and in return, he helped them and himself, get a little revenge against those who thought they could control him. With the dragon’s support, they were able to throw the fortress into disarray to defeat the leaders before continuing to the main complex. 
The doors to the ancient mine were heavily barred from outside, keeping the doors from being opened. Why the doors were bar as such, they did not know but were soon to find out. Inside were the secrets they sought, and so nothing would stop them in this duty. Geldren had told them that Vrentorix was not here, called away some time ago, so finding other clues was crucial. Thalax Tor’s revenge would have to wait another day. The secrets they found in the dwarven complex again sent waves of change through their lives. The complex was an old dwarven foundry, its dusty hallways lined with melted and partially destroyed suits of armor on wooden skeletons. The same people who masterminded the kidnapping of tens of thousands of children were harnessing the power of a fire node, used initially by the dwarves to power their forges. Now it powered dark magical experiments that twisted the meaning of life. One of these experiments went out of control and killed many of the members of this plot. Their battered corpse, many of which still wearing green stone rings, littered the halls and chambers. It wasn’t until they were nearly on top of the greatest secret hidden with this place that they came face to face with the twisted creation that had been born within this facility to bring death. 
It was in this place, where they found the answers that they spent what felt like a lifetime looking for. In the main chamber where the experiments took place, they discover row after row of odd glass and metal coffins that were bound two to a group, each with a lever to pull or lift. In all the coffin-like chambers were the still and unmoving bodies of dead children, and in all but one, the adjoining coffin was empty. This single chamber contained one of the suits of armor they had seen throughout the complex, in various states of destruction. However, this one was unmarred and new. It was while trying to get the child out that they pulled the second lever, revealing the full extent and purpose of these devices. A bright flash and the door to the suit of armor popped open with steam and fumes streaming out. The suit of armor came out, brightly lit glowing spheres that were like eyes, blinking around confused. Its odd hollow voice unsure.
Here was the darkest secret laid bare before them.  No well-organized group of slavers stole the children. An unknown group of Wizards and Clerics were taking the souls of the young to create an army of living constructs, bound to their masters, and requiring no food or drink. Scattered in the notes and documents left behind, they found many clues and explanations that filled in holes that they had long sought while leaving many new questions behind. Luc’s own family, imprisoned and possibly dead, were caused by the actions of people who were behind all of this. Perhaps even people his family called friends, controlled by greenstone rings like so many others they had encountered. One clue led him to believe that something even more sinister was happening back home, hidden on his family’s lands. Other documents indicated that the people who were behind all of this were amassing in Westgate, an independent city-state well known as a refuge for pirates and exiled nobles—working unseen in the city, waiting for the climax of their plans. Pinnacle, to which was the construction of a great magical gateway that was nearing completion as the season passed. All was needed as a few rare materials to finish the spell.



An ancient and forgotten temple, hidden from dwarves who once worked their forges at the heart of this volcanic mount, quietly waited. Kalennar, having been pulled by something in his family's ancient past, found a giant statue of a dragon. One that had been in this place long before the dwarves came and turned the mountain to their purposes.  Using the pieces, he received long ago; he unlocked the puzzle that guarded the only passageway that led to this lost temple. Here it was revealed who it was that called to his blood. Who he gained his magic from that set him apart amongst the drow. That marked him as different. Here he The Dragon Goddess Hlal, who his family was bound to in ancient days. Now fully revealed to him, she tasked him to take up her book, having been left here for ages, and to take it back into the world. His duty was to either find one to take up the book and be the new High Priest of Hlal or take up this sacred duty himself, gaining even more power inturn. 
Most painfully, Auster and Ariyanna discovered that loved ones from their past tied directly into this plot of kidnapping and evil magic. As a reward for his actions in the curse ravine, in a dream, Auster was told that at the end of this journey, he would find his long lost mother amongst the kidnappers. Ariyanna, finding out upon their return, that a childhood friend and forlorn love may have been taken and possessed by these people, and forced to play a part in the kidnappings. Last time any had seen him, he was on a ship bound for Westgate, ignoring the questions from those who knew him as if they were strangers.



Now, heading south to help a necromancer that they are unsure if they should trust, they take a small detour - looking for a star that fell to earth a few nights back. Each restless in their thoughts except the newly born Jasper, the living construct. As the morning sun rises, the companions rise with it, each falling out of sleep as if they fell from a high cliff, frightening dreams scattering with the morning light, as quickly forgotten as they were terrifying. Leaving all feeling tired after a restless night but unsure if they even dreamed at all. This experience was all too common by now, having plagued them for weeks. A demoralizing experience, especially for those races for whom dreaming was an uncommon condition and foreign concept.

Not much further, they would be where they thought the star fell. Maybe as the day progressed, they could remove this albatross that hung about them and haunted their nights.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Black Pyramid; Post Mortem.

The Black Pyramid


Back in February 2020 Zinequest 2 started up and blew up Kickstarter. By Feb. 19th The Black Pyramid, my zine-style scenario for the RPG Mothership, by Tuesday Night games launched. On that same morning, I had a doctor's appointment for my daughter and so I launched the campaign and then headed off to that appointment. However, during my hour-long appointment, I kept checking on the campaign and watched in amazement as it was fully funded during the time I was out of the house. This blew my mind. Before this, I had very little experience with Kickstart; using it once to try to kickstart a full RPG system 8 years before. That campaign failed so I put the game up on Drivethrurpg for POD. Recently, I've looked back at this game, it's ok. I could do a lot better today and plan to revise the whole game system and premise.
My previous experience in running a Kickstarter was not a great one. But for BP to not only be fully funded in over an hour but then to watch as people continued to show their support for something I created over the next two weeks; it is probably one of the most exciting and amazing moments of my life. It's definitely in the top 10; in there with the birth of my two daughters, marrying the love of my life, and graduating College. So this has been an amazing trip and has motivated me, even more, to continue to produce content for people to use in their home games. Many more adventures and creature content will be coming out down the road.

I have been mulling over everything that I have experienced and encountered during this whole process, wanting to write up a post mortem on how I approached the Kickstarter and all of the backer rewards and shipping. I think, much like any other time someone writes of their Kickstarter experiences, it allows others to learn from that experience and avoid a few of the pitfalls. I'll try my best to present this as easy and accessible as possible and try to not ramble on and on too much. Though honestly, I feel like I have already started to ramble anyway.

Stretch Goals

So first and for most. Don't add any new Stretch Goals, outside of ones you have already planned for. I almost added a new stretch goal, jokingly thinking that I would never hit that stretch goal. The Stretch Goal would have been if we Hit $2,000-3,000 that I would make a Mothership based animated short. Thankfully, I was smart and spoke to a few trusted folk and decided against it, because when the campaign came to an end, we were funded at over $4,000. As much fun as that would be and might be something I wouldn't mind doing someday, I have been super busy all spring and really wouldn't have had the time to do create such an animation. Usually, when I make animations for clients, I get at a minimum of $6,000 for animating a short. so this wouldn't covered the time It would've taken to make, to begin with, and would have cut into the time I would need to work on client projects. So it would have been a bad decision in the long run.

I had two stretch Goals for Black Pyramid and both of those were things I already had planned and knew I could complete in time. The first one was for a full-color, double-sided map. The Zine is in black and white, in keeping with the spirit of the Zinequest restrictions. But when I created the maps that appear in the zine, I made them all in full color, in a similar style you see in the Dead Planet module from Mothership; isometric and color-coded into separate areas. So putting these together onto an 11x17 poster size sheet wasn't time-consuming. And considering the numbers they were printed in, they were also fairly cost-effective.

The second stretch goal was additional digital content. This content needed to be something that you could play by itself or as a continuation of The Black Pyramid scenario. Even before I put the stretch goal up, I was very sure what I wanted to do was expand upon the Pirates that play a very minor roll in the scenario. Originally when I conceived this extra content I imagined it as maybe 2-3 pages of content. Some random tables, a map, and some NPCs. But, as is my nature, this expanded to 15 pages of content, a zine by itself in all honestly, with a fully illustrated cover. Shown below.

If you are interested in this scenario, you can find it for free on my shop, along with a bunch of other RPG content and The Black Pyramid zine, both the physical and digital copies.

Originally I just called this extra content, The Space Pirate Base. But when I was almost done with it I decided that it needed a kool Mothership worthy name. So looking at some of the content in the scenario I came up with the name Diminishing Returns. I would elaborate on what in the content helped me with coming up with this name, but I don't want to spoil anything for anyone reading this that might want to play through it. However, I will say one unrelated thing about the scenario in general. I hope you really get a kick out of the Vending Machine.

So for the stretch goals, they were all doable. Though to be honest, I dragged my feet to get the extra content done. It's one thing to have a ton of ideas, but its a whole another story to type all those ideas up and put them to paper. But I promised my backer that when the books came in and they went to download their pdf copies, they would be able to download the extra content at the same time. I got it done in time so that is all that matters. Though I had to do one update on the pdf when one backer noticed a few typos. No big deal. Easy fix. Next time I'll try to give myself more time to get the extra content put through the same proofreading process the main zine went through.

Kickstarter Fullfilment

So one of the steps I took that may vary with how many other content creators have handled their Kickstarters is that I took some advice from David Schirduan's blog, Technical Grimoire. In the linked post, he discusses whether or not you should use Kickstarters' own built-in system for collecting shipping costs. I have shared this blog posts with a few friends who do use Kickstarter every year or every other year to fund their various projects because one of the things they and many others run into is running out of funds when it comes time to ship their product to the backers. Shipping prices change, being readjusted every year and so it can be a challenge to make sure you're coving your ass when you set your Kickstarter funding goal.

So David suggests that you set up a site on a place like Gumroad and goes into details, the good and bad, of why. I thought about taking this route myself and had started to create an account on Gumroad but, at the same time that this was all happening, my wife was asking how I normally would sell my RPG content. I talk with my wife about this kind of stuff all the time, asking her opinion because she can more often than not find the aspects that I have not taken into account. But I had never really talked to her about Gaming related things because she is not a gamer and if I do bring gaming up and ramble on and on about it her eyes glaze over. So I try not to do that. But with the Kickstart and the Weekly Monster drawing I do, this subject came up in discussion. My wife had been telling me that I should open an e-commerce shop to sell some of my artwork on stickers and such instead of losing money on sites like Redbubble. I thought it was a good idea but was unsure if I wanted to commit to a shop when she first brought it up. So long story short, I pulled the trigger and instead of making a Gumroad account, I decided to build an e-commerce shop attached to my Portfolio site, as its own subdomain. I would only suggest going this route if you already had a website like myself.







Even before the Kickstarter Launched I knew I was going to follow David's advice and as such made sure everyone understood that by adding a disclaimer to the Risks and Challenges section of the campaign page. I can only guess that everyone understood what I wrote since I was never asked about it. If you choose to do this make sure you write it out in plain text so that there is no misunderstanding on how you are going to handle shipping. That you will be asking for them to pay for shipping at the moment they "order" their copy of the zine. With my Kickstarters, I  the backers that they each will be getting a unique coupon to order their copy. This coupon removes the cost of the book but still applies the cost of shipping. These coupons can only be used once and to make it easier for me, I attached the backer's name to them so that I could see who had used their coupons and who still needed to order.

Coupons

At the time when I decided to go this route, the most I had done was make sure I could make a unique coupon using the WooCommerce plugin for Wordpress. It wasn't until later when it was time to make the coupons that I looked full into it. Not really a mistake on my part, but it could have been a big issue if it wasn't for the fact that WordPress has a lot of plugin support. Originally, with Woocomerce you can make unique coupons that can be limited to certain users and in how many times they can be used. But you had to go through and make each one, one at a time. Very long drawn out process to go through and making each one and making sure you check all the same boxes. Every. Single. Time. I didn't realize this until I sat down to do it. When I discovered this I definitely felt a little intimidated since I needed to make close to 400 coupons. But with a few minutes of searching on google, I found that there were a couple of Coupon Generator Plugins that you could get for free to make this process easier. So I generated two batches using a plugin. One for the people getting just the PDF and one for the backers who were getting the hard copy and PDF. Then I went through with my list of backers and assigned a code to each and sent those out with direction on how to use the codes and what to do.

Bonus Sells

The great thing about handling the backer rewards this way is that it made it very easy to allow the backers to make additional purchases. If they wanted to, a backer who backed at the lower level and got just the PDF could now also order a physical copy and pay the extra cost. Or a backer could order multiple copies as well as purchase other content I have up on the shop.

During all of this, I also discovered I could link a POD T-Shirt company to my Woocommerce and sell shirts that way. I wouldn't need to keep a bunch of stock sitting around on something I was unsure would sell. I made this illustration for a free product I put together for this year's anniversary of my weekly Monster drawings and loved how well it turned that I wanted to see it on a shirt. I heard good things about Printful and order two shirts from them, each with one of my designs on them. They came out beautiful and now they are up at my shop. But I digress.








Printing

So when the money from the Kickstarter showed up, I was able to transfer my website to a new host so I could have the security certificate I needed to open an e-commerce subdomain. Now I just needed to send the Zine off to the printers. Throughout the Kickstarter and a few weeks after as I was getting everything set up, I was proofing the zine, using not only my wife but several other people, making and expanding the content where needed. I think its a really good idea to have someone who is unfamiliar with RPGs like my wife to proofread your game content. They will have questions that will help you see holes in the content and writing that you missed. During this time I also continued to add artwork, as well as, a new map that is in the final product to help fix any of the holes that I or others had found during the process. Pretty quickly, and much faster than my backers suspected, I had the final layout done and ready to go to the printers.

I had originally planned to use a local printer, one that I had worked with before to make art prints and stickers. I had a history with them that I wanted to rely on, while also supporting a local company. At the same time I was also looking at Mixam, the same printers that Sean McCoy uses for Mothership. Actually, even before the Kickstarter had started I had spoken to my local printers. I wanted a rough idea of how much printing off my zine would cost which in turn helped me set the funding goal.  When I had reached my goal, I sent them a rough of the layout and asked for a quote on the number of books I was foreseeing that I would need to be printed. This way I could compare it to Mixam's prices and choose overall what was the better option. On one hand, I could get it from Mixam but I have to pay for the books to be shipped to me. On the other hand, I could just pick them up from the local printers myself and save the extra cost of shipping them to me. So it came down to which, in total, was going to be the better price. The rough estimate I got earlier and Mixam's low print run online quote was pretty comparable. I was also hoping, now that it was fully funded and still had over a week left till the end, I would be able to a Mockup printed by the local printers to show on a Kickstarter update. We had discussed this originally when I talked to the local printers, they said they could totally do this. But after 3-4 pokes with email and one extra visit to the shop I couldn't get any quotes from them. The whole Quarantine really sealed the deal in the end when it came time to send the final doc to print. This all happened over two months or so if I recall correctly.

In the end, I went with Mixam since, even now, I have never heard back from my local printers. I have no idea what was going on with them or anything. Currently, with the pandemic, they might be shuttered at the moment but I doubt they can afford to do that and they are trying all kinds of things to remain open like many of the other local small businesses.

My only issue with using Mixam is that they only do Digital proofs of your books. They don't print one copy off and send it to you to check over. I rather have a physical proof to look over, especially if I have images in a spread that bridge two pages. Other than that they were very helpful and easy to work with. Mixam had my zine printed in very little time and out to me within a week. I also had them print the poster size maps that all the backers were getting. Both look great in my opinion and I will probably use them again in the future.

Proofreading Pitfalls

Now that is not to say that there were no issues with the zine when I got them. But much of that was my fault. When I was doing the proofreading of the zine, I had the text in a separate document and when things were updated I would copy and paste them back into the layout document in inDesign. I thought this would be fine but a few things did get past me in the final layout that I'm a little embarrassed about. These have since been fixed in the PDFs and all future reprints. One really bad mistake is in the section about Archeology and that is a mistake that happened during the copy and paste process. Learning from this experience, for the next project, I will have all the proofreading be done in the PDF of the layout itself once I start doing the layout. Honestly, since I do all of this myself, for the most part, from art to writing to layout, I should have waited to do the layout at the very end after all the proofreading. Lessons learned.

Shipping

I think the biggest hurdle I ran into was Shipping. I did a lot of research on shipping. A lot. Having heard all the horror stories and knowing a few people who had shipping issues when it came to shipping after a Kickstarter, I wanted this to be handled as well as you possibly can. And overall, using my website to handle the shipping worked for the most part. The information I gathered through my research allowed me to set my shipping prices so that I wouldn't be causing myself additional costs due to miscalculation. Except for international shipping. In all my research I missed one key factor when it came to shipping internationally.

There are many options when it comes to shipping through the USPS, often it's hidden on the USPS site but during my research, I read about small press content creators, comic artists, and zine makers, who used the International Flat parcel Retail option. This is the cheapest way to ship internationally, and so I had planned to use this option, which would make it a little cheaper for my international backers to get their zine. Well, when it came time to ship those zines, I discovered that back in 2018 this postage was removed as an option to the general public and especially e-commerce sites. Why? Who knows.

So now I was looking at Double the cost after all these fine people had already paid for shipping. It was going to hurt. This was a difference of $10 - $12, each and I had a significant number of international backers. Once again, my wife came to the rescue with her excellent google fu skills. She not only discovered why the postage site I was using to print off shipping labels couldn't sell me international flat retail postage but also discovered a solution. Stamps.com back when the post office made this change, saw an opportunity to broaden its customer base. They offered to ship International Flat retail by using a loophole. They have a large company that still qualified for this postage, so what they did was sell you the postage through their site, when you print that postage it will redirect your mail to one of their facility where it will get the correct outgoing postage. This way your mail is piggybacking on their discount and qualifications as a large retail business to get your package to where it needs to go. That's the long and short of it. Stamps.com basically found a loophole to the whole situation. Now, Stamps.com is not free,  unlike the site I use - Pirateship.com. You pay a monthly fee to use their site for shipping, which is fine if you ship a lot. But they do give new customers a free 4-week trial.

So I took advantage of their services for 2-3 weeks and then canceled it once I got the majority of my international shipments out the door. Then before I canceled the account with them I updated the international shipping price to the correct range so that any new international orders would have the correct shipping applied.


Pirateship

I can't recommend Pirateship.com enough, by the by. It was suggested to me by my local post office when I dropped off the first 40 packages. The mailman I was working with said that his girlfriend runs a Etsy shop and used them for all her shipping needs. By using this kind of service I wouldn't have to waste time while he applied postage to all the packages one at a time or waiting in line. I could just drop them off and leave. It took a little over 3 weeks to get most of the package out the door. Now I am at the point where I can drop off packages twice a week as the orders slowly come into the shop.


Stripe

Now there was one more minor issue I ran into when handling all of this, which made it take a little longer before I could start to ship all the zines to the backers. When I set up my Woocommerce shop, I opened a Stripe account to handle payments. What I did not know at the time was that when you first open a stripe account it takes one full week before they transfer the funds to your bank. Normally the transfer happens as often as you have it set in the settings of your account. But buried on their site somewhere was this little clause. So that held me up a week. I wanted to bring it up just in case someone follows my path and runs into the same issue. Just account for that extra week that you'll have to wait to receive those funds.

Conclusion

That's pretty much everything I can think of. I hope you find this insightful and it can help you in your own endeavors. 

As usual, if you like the content I put up and want to support my efforts you can purchase RPG Content, Stickers, and T-Shirts from my Shop. You can also show support by subscribing to my Twitch or Youtube channel. And as always you can become a Patron over on Patreon where patrons get free content every month.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

April Monster Round Up

April Showers, Drawing Monsters.

Welp, another month has passed and once again I forgot to make a post about each monster after I drew them. So once again I will be running through all of them in one post. I might as well just accept that these month rundowns will become s permanent monthly posting.

As I type this, I am rendering out timelapse videos of some of the drawing streams to put up on youtube. Another endeavor that I keep putting up due to a very busy work schedule this month. You can always check out these timelapse videos over on my youtube channel; they allow you a glimpse at my working process for each of the monsters that I create each week in a fraction of the time that they take to make.

Dungeon Pets

All of April's drawings were from my top tier Backers on the Dungeon Pets Zine that I am making as part of Zinequest2.

The Pilfer Monkey

That darn thieving monkey. This pet monkey is a bit of a klepto and probably the pet of the party's rogue. He comes with a variety of pouches and bags to smuggle all his ill-gotten gains in and a fashionable scarf that he can use as a head and face covering. The soft fur on his feet allows him to move silently through any area and he can turn invisible at will.

I had fun with this and used several pieces of reference when designing him since I already knew he was going to be a monkey since that was the backer's request. As usual, I was happily surprised by the end and each little decision I made along the way seemed to be a success. Even now I'm adding to his write up to make him as valuable of a pet as many of the other pets that will appear in the zine.

The Hermes Rabbit, a.k.a. The Cloud Hopper

Originally I had the idea to name this cute little guy after the Hermes the messenger god of greek legends; However, the next day I realized that it would be a missed opportunity if I did not call it the most obvious name for this fine creature. The Cloud Hopper. I figure one name is possibly its academic name while the other is its common name. 
Again for this one since the backer's suggestion was only for a flying rabbit, I knew what kind of creature I was drawing and used photo reference. One thing I thought long and hard on though was how it flew. I did not want it to be the most obvious or common solution to make something able to fly. Which is to attach wings to its back. I also thought maybe making its ears rotate like a helicopter, but saw this as a bit too cartoon of a solution. So drawing inspiration from the Sandals of Hermes, I attached the wing to its legs. I have to say that this was an excellent solution. As for what else this amazing critter does, well you'll have to wait and see when the Zine comes.


The Hammer Boar

With backer suggested was for a Mini- Bullette, a well known and fully made up a creature from D&D. I couldn't use the likeness or the name of the Bullette from D&D, but the general idea of a smaller creature that can ram its way through a crowd of people gave me an idea to run with. The Hammer Boar is the final outcome of this process. Nothing like a charging boar to give anyone a fright, but a charging large ridable boar is doubly so. The Hammer boar can charge into enemies while conveying its rider forward. Plowing through the enemy as if they were made of paper and toss them into the air with dread speed and force.

Honestly, with his little saddle, it makes me think of He-Man a little. If can see one of the masters of the universe just sitting astride this mighty beast as they give their battle cry and make a mess of Skeletor's evil plans.

Well, that is all for this past month's monsters, or as I should say - Dungeon Pets. If you get the chance and see me post an update on twitter, come hang out on Friday mornings while I make creature weird and fierce.

Monday, March 30, 2020

March Monster drawings. A backlog.

I didn't put up many posts for the monster drawings I made this month. So to remedy this situation, I'll just make one big post about them.
Another thing I have not done yet this month is giving my Patrons on Patreon their monthly monster writeup. So They're receiving two for April to make up for this error on my part. I've been so caught up with the two Kickstarters and getting everything prepared for those and now all this Covid-19 stuff that I kept forgetting to sit down and do the writeup.

Marches Monsters and Pets

We only have three monsters so far this month. I plan to make another one tomorrow so that we can have 4 all together. Then do the first one for April this Friday like normal. The monsters I have been mostly focusing on this month and into next month are all Backer requests for the Dungeon Pets zine. I have 5 more of these to make and one of them took longer than I thought it would. 


But first....


No name for this yet.

And the idea of calling a Saurian seems too on the nose and overdone.
As a kid, I enjoyed a little show called Dinosaucers. I think fondly back on that show, but I have not seen it in several decades. Anyway, the first monster drawing for March reminds me of this show a lot. My usual method for drawing my monsters is to come to the drawing board with no idea of what I am about to draw and just make something. I start with a weirdly shaped silhouette and see what kind of creature that inspires out of me. Not the typical high fantasy stuff I normally make, but its good to break away into other genres. I see this guy as more as a race option than a monster. 



The Ice Raven

My first Backer Suggested Dungeon Pet; this one suggested by my friend Sophia. The Ice Raven is a flying bird-like elemental from another plane. A lite costing of frost covers any surface that they touch and they can create small currents of freezing winds and hale. This was fun to create. I had the basic shape set in my mind when I started to draw but did not know much more than that. the contrast between Icicles on the chest and head was a spur of the moment idea that paired well with the prefect planes of Ice that made up the beak and wing feathers. If anything, when I go back and clean this up for the zine, I'll add some more color variation to this to make it pop more. It's still too blue in my opinion.


I don't have a name for this one either.

Another Backer suggested pet was a Shapechanging pet. So I made some weirdly shaped silhouettes and pick one that I thought would make a cute pet. I knew setting out that this one was going to look weird. As a shapechanger, its normal form should look like its borrowed from a few other creatures.  I think this guy, for the most part, turned out well. I might change up the color a little. I'm not completely sold on it yet. I also need to figure out a name - changeling is already taken and I don't want it to be called anything Mimic adjacent. this cute tiny pet can turn into anything that it has seen before that is also of a tiny size. They can walk on two legs or on all fours and the tentacles on its head appear to be mostly decorative since it cannot use them like appendages. 



That's it, for March. Three monsters; each drawing and colored in a period of 2-3 hours each. I'll have more of these to show in the future and I'll try to post them the same week that I make them on this blog. See you next time. Be safe and keep at least 6ft away from each other.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Role Playing games and the Story Circle

The Cambellian Monomyth and a Dungeon walk into a bar...

Recently Ben Milton, also known as QuestingBeast wrote a tweet examining a few published books on the subject of "How to be a Good GM/DM". The Tweet in Question. I am guessing a few of these books strongly suggest the use of Joseph Campbells, "The heroes Journey", as an outline for designing a good adventure/game. Some even going as far as to say that the GM must adhere to the monomyth, railroading their players onto a single file path in order to create an engaging story. Gygax, himself, even felt that in order to create a good game you needed to trick the players into following along the path you set for them and to treat them like children when they don't see eye to eye with you. I can only guess he developed this opinion about players because he ran a lot of games with his own children and after time, just saw all players in the same light. I can only guess, though.

There are a lot of comments on this string of tweets that agree with Ben; that all of this advice is destined for the burning heap. I, personally don't see Gygax as a model to live up to or even to give a lot of praise to. I respect that he help create the hobby we all enjoy, but I also think he was wrong about a lot of things. I imagine he didn't do improve very well if he felt that he had to force his players down a path. This is also probably why he liked Dungeons. Dungeons are, overall, very linear. The most a player can do is take a right instead of a left, ignore doors, sneak past enemies, or even leave early and gain nothing for the trying. 
Over a decade ago, I found a copy of his book; Roleplaying Mastery. I was still pretty new at being a GM at the time and thought it might have a few helpful hints that I could use to improve my skills. I wouldn't go a far as to say that it was trash, but it is not great either. 
Maybe I should go back to reread it, I still own it, but I have too many other books I need to finish and not enough time to waste on a useless relic. But anyway, I'm getting off point.

I agree with Ben that the books he was citing were giving some bad advice. Honestly, the gaming community is full of bad advice going back to the creation of the game. I think we are all just trying to figure out the how and the why and use points of reference as best as we can. We as a community have gotten better at explaining this, but even now the process of being a GM ultimately comes down to - you can read all the books but you can really only learn by doing. Sink or swim, as it were. When the adventure transitioned from just being about weirdo's sneaking around in dungeons and turned into heroes galavanting around the countryside, fighting monsters in city streets, investigating mysteries in small villages, and making pacts in secret groves, I imagine many of the old school Gms continued to run their game like they did when it was just about Dungeon crawling. City streets or forest paths were just more dungeon hallways. Except there were no walls to keep the players hemmed in. Now the players could just do whatever, and these GMs experience the same stuff we all experience at one point or another. Frustration. They never learned to improve, to go with the flow, because that not how they learned to run a game. This is not a general All of them. Not all GMs are the same. Some transitioned out of the dungeon easily, for some, it was a struggle, and for others, they never made it out of this musty catacombs. 
There is a reason why we all Start out running RPG by sending characters into a dungeon. It's easy and simple; these first baby steps of becoming a good GM allow you to slowly ease into it. It very much like putting Ikea furniture together. Once you figure it out, you can do it and afterward, you say, "Well that wasn't as hard as I thought it would be." It allows you to make mistakes without any big stakes being involved. You can add a story or just run the dungeon as is. It's a great way to learn the early ropes. But at some point, you should leave the dungeon and expand your horizons. 

Getting back to the Cambellien Monomyth. It's a great analysis of how a story or myth is structured and why and how we respond to those stories. Personally, I use the boiled down version envisioned by Dan Harmon - of Community, Harmontown, and Harmonquest called The Story Circle. It's just a simplified version. I like to think about the Story Circle when I design adventures. I'm a professional Storyboard artist and animator and so the story is something I spend a lot of time thinking about and learning how to structure a good or great story is pretty important. So I try to bring it into everything I write.

So here is the core of this post. I agree with Ben but I also disagree with Ben. I believe you can use the Cambellian Monomyth or the Story Circle to build a great adventure. But only as a guide. The problem he was seeing, that I think should be highlighted, is that all those advice books were treating the monomyth not as a guide but as a stringent, unyielding structure. This structure is great for creating a novel, a comic, a movie. Something where one person is telling a story. RPGs are different in that they are games where a group is telling a story. In a good game the players have as much control over the story as the GM. Using the Monomyth as the end all be all, this is the only way to tell a story is how you get bad movies that are cookie-cutter and its how you get bad games because everything is forced and players have no authority. But as a guide, the monomyth has key points that can help you and particularly new GMs structure an adventure.

So if you use it as a guide it's pretty straightforward. So here is how I look at it and maybe this will be helpful for others.
  1. The starting point - The Call to Aventure. This is your hook. The characters find a map, they are asked for help by a stranger, are given a quest by the king. This is the Before they go into the unknown and risk them own lives to overcome the hidden dangers that lay ahead.
  2. Supernatural Aid. This comes in many forms. it could be a fortune teller that gives them insight before they journey into the unknown or it could be a merchant that sells them a few healing potions. Skies the limit, but its before they really begin. Its a pretty normal point in the adventure for many games. it's not unheard of for the PCs to seek out guidance or lore from someone they know. All of that fits within this area. This can be approached in two ways. 1) the players choose to seek help or items to assist them on their adventure, or 2) someone or thing will seek them out to give the party assistance and will have their own motives for doing so. 
  3. The Threshold and Threshold Guardians. This is when the players set fully into the adventure and have left the normal day to day behind. They take their first steps down the path of adventure where ever it might lead them. How they take these steps is up to them. The threshold is simply the line between the safety of home or normalcy and the dangers on the road ahead. Its nothing fancy. The Threshold Guardians are supposed to be NPCs who travel with and help the characters, they are often mentors and people who have been at this for a time. This I can see adding to the adventure if you were running first level characters and it's their first time on an adventure. They can show them the ropes and give guidance. Seth Skorkowsky has a great video up about this that everyone should check out. But if the party has been on adventures before, then we can skip this part. I mean, the monomyth is a guide, so if it doesn't make sense to the adventure then don't include it.
  4. Challenges and Temptations. This is the meat of the adventure. It is where the players discover clues, fight monsters, and discover treasure. This is also a great point in which to use the rule of three. Setup three challenges for the players to overcome using player skills and character abilities. Each one is more challenging than the last. A good way to approach challenges is to have One Physical Challenge, One Mental Challenge, and One Ethical Challenge (which is usually a mix of the other two).
  5. Then the Characters Enter the Abyss. This is not a literal Abyss (all the time), it's where the adventures meet the villain. But it ultimately is where the adventure's conflict is resolved. its where the McGuffin is found or the princess is tied up, or the prince is about to be sacrificed at. Its where the Why of the adventure is found.
  6. Then from there is going back to where you started. Pretty straightforward stuff.
  7. The last step is the characters returning to the normal world and I don't think this is a step that's fully possible for adventurers. I never played a game where the player characters returned home and went back to something normal. Usually, they just move on to the next adventure. The Adventure for Adventurers is the norm. So this also does not apply to most fantasy games.
IF you view this as a guide it can hep a New GM design an adventure. But I think the problem arises when the Gm tried to run a very Co-operative experience like its a Novel like it was just their story alone. That's the issue.

I haven't read a lot of published sources on "How to GM". I tend to be a hands-on learner and a lot I know comes from experience and from sources found on youtube.

Anyway, food for thought.