Monday, May 17, 2021

Runequest Adventure Review: Cattle Raid



Cattle Raid

Art by Simon Roy

Overview:

This is the second adventure offered in the Gamemaster’s Adventure book that comes with the Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha GM screen set. The adventure happens a season after the previous adventure, Defending Apple Lane, during Dark Season. Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha isn’t like D&D where the heroes are adventuring every day as a career. Instead, usually, the heroes have about one adventure once a season. The rest of the time the characters are home taking care of their day-to-day responsibilities to the families, clan, and their occupations. Which is one of the great highlights of Runequest is how the game tries to give the players a sense of being connected to a community within the game instead of the typical freeboot experience you get in other fantasy games. Adventurer isn’t an occupation it’s just something you end up doing once in a while to help your clan and tribe. 


In my game, one of my players wanted their group to break away from the herd and try and track the Sakars. I had NPCs dissuade the heroes from following this course of action. The GM can have the NPCs can tell them that it’s been a few days since the last time the herd was attacked, there is no clear pattern to how frequently they attack, and there doesn’t seem to be a single region of the Gejay Hills that the Sakars seem to keep to, as far as they have been able to discover. Also, have them point out that the Herdsmen would rather have them protect the Cattle as they move the herd than for them to wander into the hills hoping to come across tracks that may or may not lead them to the Sakar’s den. To the Herdsmen’, the plan to wander the hills in the hope of discovering the Sakars seems like a flawed plan and that the heroes would be better served by following the target of the beasts’ attack; the Cattle.
A GM can also have the players make Battle Check if need be to see if their plan is a good one.
This could also be a good point to call for A Loyalty (tribe or Queen Leika) or Devotion (Orlanth) check to follow any plan that left the tribe’s sacred cattle in possible danger.
This might feel like railroading, but I’m not saying that the players can’t follow this course of action, but the GM knows what will happen the next day whether the PCs are there or not. In my opinion, this will result in the worst outcome if the PCs wander off into the hills to track down the Sakars on their own.

No matter the outcome of the previous adventure, the heroes can be called before Queen of the Colymar Tribe, Queen Leika Black Spear, and be given the simple task of helping a few herdsmen who are protecting some of the tribe’s sacred cattle. This is a good opportunity for the player characters to first meet and interact with many of the major figures within the tribe. These NPCs are all covered in the GM’s Adventure book with full stats and minor detail for each character’s background so the GM can run these NPCs to the best of their ability with little work on their own part. 

This adventure is another great start to help introduce the setting and gameplay to new players and involves a staple of the Gloranthan adventuring: Cattle. From what I have been told, the Cattle Raid is to Runequest what Dungeons are to D&D. Though this adventure is not a cattle raid, per se. Passions also play an important part within this adventure, particularly with one of the main NPCs that the heroes meet and who acts as their guide. This NPC’s passions can force the players’ hand at a pinnacle point where the players need to decide the best way to handle a potentially volatile situation. If they don’t recognize the hazard this character represents or even share those same passions, the results can raise the stakes for everyone and have dire consequences. 

This adventure breaks down into three acts and can take a single session to get through - two if you stretch the roleplaying out a little. The adventure takes place during Dark Season but could be inserted between any two adventures that a GM has planned. I believe the reason for the adventure to happen during Dark Season is due to the sacred cattle being moved into lower pastures in preparation for Storm Season, but this could be easily adjusted for any other time of year, imho. 


Art by Kalin Kadiev

Act 1 starts with Queen Leika inviting the heroes to Clearwine Fort to dine with her. Here the PCs will be able to meet the Queen and her council, as well as any of the other local important figures in the tribe. During the meal, Queen Leika will ask/command the heroes to accompany a Varmandi Herder back to the Gejay Hills to meet up with the rest of the Herdsmen. Recently, the tribe’s cattle, sacred to Orlanth, have been attacked by Sakars - which are Sabertooth Cats. The young herder who was sent to the Queen with the request for help from his clan will have answers to some of the players’ questions. But the players will be able to get more information on the situation once they reach the other Herdsmen. The heroes’ task is simple. Follow the Herdsmen, and if and when the Sakar attack, defend the herd, and kill the monsters that have been menacing the cattle for last season or so. 

Act 2 picks up the next morning, after their feast with Queen Leika, it will take about a day - day and a half for the Heroes to travel from Clearwine to get to where the Herd is currently grazing in the Gejay Hills of the Varmandi Clan lands. During this time the heroes interact with the NPC herdsmen, Heortarl, who is acting as their guiding. This character is in love with the idea of being a warrior and going on adventures and gaining renown from being victorious in battle. Any warrior within the party will find a new friend/follower in this Herdsmen, whether they want it or not. They will also discover through Heortarl’s own expressed passion about the Orleving Clan of the Malani Tribe, which expands the player’s knowledge about the world and how the various clans and tribes work together; and how they don’t work together. Heortarl has a short write-up that gives the GM a window into who this NPC is and how best to run them; which I really appreciate. Overall, though, the players will probably feel that their guide is annoying and will be happy to meet up with the other herdsmen so that they can get this job done and not have to be around this youth for too much longer. 

After traveling for a day - day and a half, the players meet up with the herdsmen in the Gejay Hills. There are short write-ups and stats for each herdsman, as well as what answers they might have for the heroes’ questions about the herd, the Sakars, and the Orleving. Once the group links up with the other Varmandi, the heroes will follow the group as they herd the cattle into lower pastures. It is during this time that the Sakar attack and the players get to do their job. However, this causes the herd to panic and stampede in several directions. Once the combat with the Sakar is done the players will help a group of herdsmen to round up some of the cattle.

Art by Simon Roy

Act 3, the players help track down a group of 50 cattle that got away from the herd during the Sakar attack. This leads the group into direct confrontation with the Orleving Clan, who try to take the lost cattle as their own, with a lot of posturing and threats. This scene is left mostly open so the players can choose how best to handle the situation. The adventure gives the GM advice and suggestions on the various avenues that the players might try to use to resolve the conflict. The adventure has short write-ups for the main members of the Orleving Clan members they confront and what their motivations and current plans are for dealing with the Herdsmen and heroes. Much like the other adventures, how the players handle the situation and resolve it will have different effects on the rewards and consequences they will receive at the end of the adventure. Many of which, can lead to more adventures and role-playing opportunities down the road. However, the various passions can force the situation into one avenue or another, depending on how the dice roll.

Once this situation is resolved, hopefully, the Sakars are dead, otherwise, the players will have to remain out in the Gejay Hills until they find the beasts again and deal with them. From here the heroes will return to the Varmandi Clan seat, Oakton, and speak with the Clan Chief to inform him about what happened with the Sakars and the events involving the Orleving. The adventure gives the GM guidance on what kind of reception the heroes receive from the Clan Chief depending on what happened during the adventure. With luck, they might be greatly rewarded and gain a new friend and ally. At worst, they will gain enemies. 


This adventure is very straightforward, much like the previous adventure, and is a great guide to how Runequest differs from other fantasy games. There are two divine laws that the Orlanthi follow, handed down by Orlanth and Ernalda (god/goddess). The First is, “Violence is always an option” and the second is, “There is always another way”. This adventure places the heroes into a situation where these two laws are presented as tangible options for the players to play with. I only wish the adventure presented these laws within the text of the adventure. There wasn’t a lot that I changed or added to this scenario, but below I will offer the little advice and suggestions I have on running this adventure. The adventure does a great job of providing a lot of GM advice and suggestions already, so there is very little that I can add to it.

What I would add or change to the Cattle Raid adventure.

  • When the heroes go before the Queen of the Colymar tribe, I gave the players time to interact with all the main NPCs. I used the Random Rumors table in the back of the GM’s Adventure book to spark conversation between the NPCs and PCs. However, for as many NPCs can be in this scene, The GM doesn’t need all of them fully conversing with the Heroes. Nameless will probably say very little as an example. Don’t feel the need to play every character in this scene.
  • The Adventure has Heortarl brought out towards the end of the diner with Queen Leika. When I ran this, I didn’t see any reason for him to be excluded from the diner and just had Heortarl sitting quietly near the end of the long table, trying not to embarrass himself. He’ll stand out amongst this group of important people due to his mannerisms and cloth, but I didn’t see why he wouldn’t have been asked to join them as well. I just kept him quiet until the Queen motions towards him.
  • The GM can use the NPCs during the diner scene or before you transition to Act 2, to introduce or remind the PCs about the two laws handed down by Orlanth and Ernalda; “Violence is always an option” and, “There is always another way”. Just a bit of foreshadowing and a way to plant that seed into the player’s mind before they encounter the Orleving.
  • My players were able to stop over in Apple Lane as their halfway point and spend the night there before continuing on into the Gejay Hills. They were using Apple Lane as their home base because of the resolution of the previous adventure. This allowed them to gather their supplies on the way and not have to spend the night outside before getting to the Gejay Hills.
  • When the players meet up with the Herdsmen, I gave them time to role play with the Varmandi clan members. I had it late in the second day when they linked up with the herd and the herdsmen were setting up camp for the night. This will also give the players the time to ask the NPCs more questions about the situations and possibly plan.
  • One or two of the herdsmen will get hurt in the stampede. The players might want to stop and help with healing but one of the Herdsmen will already be there casting healing spirit magic on their companions and would rather have the heroes help the other herdsmen gather the cattle that fled in the hills. I had two players stay behind even after this and so maybe plan accordingly.
  • It would be a good idea to remind the PCs that it’s better to get a ransom for defeated enemies than to kill them when the Orleving encounter happens. Ransom is particularly unique to Runequest, whereas in many other games you generally just kill anyone you end up fighting.
  • One of the things I would add to this the next time I run this adventure would be to include one or two short local Varmandi stories that the herdsmen can tell around the campfire at night. This would give the player more in-game knowledge about the world they are playing in and possibly act as a springboard for further adventures. I didn’t do this the first time because, much like my players, I’m new to the setting. But after the session was over, I felt that this would be a worthwhile pursuit. 

The Wrap-up.

Next time I will hold off on the review of the third and final adventure in the GM’s Adventure book. Instead, I’ll want to talk about in-between adventures and how tI have been running them, and how Runequest does this differently than other games. This will also include the side quests and some of the seeds I planted that foreshadowed the events of the next Adventure: The Dragon of the Thunder Hills. My hope is to have the next post up within the next two weeks.


Side Note:

I had Heortarl show up about a season later seeking to apprentice with our one Warrior - having received permission to so from his Clan Chief after annoying Korol Serpent-tooth about it ever since the players completed their task. My player did decide to train the NPC. I think they decided this because they knew deep down that at some point the NPC was going to start a fight he couldn’t finish or survive and felt the need to at least prepare him for the trouble the kid wants to brew between himself and a rival clan.


Thursday, May 6, 2021

Runequest Adventure Review: Defending Apple Lane



 Last year I made the long-awaited switch from playing D&D 5e for the last 3-4 years to the newest version of Runequest from Chaosium. Most of my game group haven't played anything other than 5e and for some of them, this was their first time playing a campaign in a non-D&D world. For me, D&D is one of the games I like the least, and have always found better games to play. I really enjoyed 5e when we first started to play it but after year 3 of playing I was burned out on this game system and all of its flaws. I should have ended the game before I did because now I hate everything about it. But let's not go down that road. Let's get into my new hotness; Runequest.

I have never played Runequest until now and only recently heard about the setting of Glorantha, but I have quickly fallen in love with this highly detailed mythic, bronze age world of heroes. I have to say I'm loving Runequest; Skill-based game systems are my favorite and Runequest meets the level of game design I enjoy without being too crunchy in my opinion. When I first started to hear about this game I picked up the free pdf of the quickstarter, which can be found on Chaosium's site. The quickstarter is a good look at the rules of the game and what you can expect from a game of Runequest. The Adventure isn't too bad either but I haven't run it yet. Once I got into it and was preparing to change my game over to Runequest once we finished our D&D campaign, I used some birthday money and bought the full Slipcase set for Runequest that comes with the Core book, Bestiary, and the GM screen - this set is not required to play the game but was something that I just wanted since I already was going to buy all of those books and the GM screen anyway. Plus the slipcase is pretty cool.



The GM Screen Pack is 100% worth getting. Maps, character sheets, calendar, pre-gen Characters, and best of all The GM Adventure Book. This book is what I think is currently the best way to start a new campaign of Runequest. Gives you a detailed starting setting with the Colymar tribal lands and brings back a classic starting town (or Hamlet in this case) with an updated Apple Lane. The book comes with 3 adventures, a dozen explorable locations that can turn into their own adventures by themselves, dozens of NPCs with full stats,100 random rumors (some true, false, up to the Gm, and a little bit of both), and a few other worthwhile extras. Truly the best GM screen I have ever seen and/or bought.

Defending Apple Lane

Overview:

Defending Apple Lane is the first adventure in the GM adventure book. It takes place right after the major event that kicks off this edition's timeline (yep, there is an active storyline for the setting). This adventure takes place a few weeks after the Dragonrise and the PC are traveling through the area when the people who live in the hamlet of Apple Lane ask for their assistance. Apple Lane is on major trade routes and it is not uncommon for travelers heading home from one of the numerous battles that took place recently to pass through the hamlet. A man who survived a brutal raid has found his way to the hamlet and remained conscious enough to warn Apple Lane that a raiding party of Tusk Riders is preparing to attack the hamlet. Apple Lane currently has no defenders to protect them, so when the PCs appear they are asked to help defend the hamlet from the Tusk Riders - and the villagers will reward them for their help.

This adventure is a good start to any campaign and for any group learning Runequest. The adventure primarily combat scenes with some roleplaying moments that bookend the adventure, where the PCs interact with the NPCs, particularly when they are planning the defense of the hamlet.

Overall this adventure can be broken down into 3-4 acts. Act 1, which I described above, where the PCs arrive and are asked to help defend the hamlet from monstrous raiders. This gives the players a lot of power in how to defend the Hamlet, with the NPCs taking a backseat and assisting the players where they can since all but two of the NPCs have any kind of combat training. The adventure offers a series of answers to possible questions the players may ask the NPCs and this information can help the players during their planning. The adventure leaves up how much time the players have to plan and prepare before the Tusk Riders arrive. 

Act 2 starts when the Tusk Riders attack. The adventure gives you a lot of suggestions on what kind of tactics the Tusk Riders will use to attack the hamlet. They are mostly seasoned warriors who have a lot of experience attacking similar settlements. The adventure gives you some short workable background and context for each Tusk Rider so that the GM can make the best decisions as the encounter progresses. There is a clear and defined hierarchy within the raiding party's group, which can easily fracture into 2-3 factions depending on what happens as they encounter the PCs. The adventure reinforces that none of the characters want to die in this fight. So play them smart. If they are losing, they should flee to the best of their ability. The Tusk Riders have a big advantage in this fight since they are all riding Tuskers, which are giant battle-trained boars. The boars have their own attacks and give the Tusk Riders a greater range of movement. 

The number of Tusk Riders is adjustable based on the number of players and the adventure gives the GM a clear idea of how many enemies the players should encounter for this adventure. When I ran this adventure, I used nearly all of them. Each tusk Rider has a name and a level of power, none of them are what I would call minions/ redshirts/clones to be used as cannon fodder like you see in many other adventure games. When comparing the number of players to the number of Tusk Riders they should encounter in combat, the adventure tells you which ones to include in the raid based on the PC's party size. 

How this combat session resolves and what situation the Tusk Riders encounter when they attack really depends on the PCs earlier planning. The Tin Inn is the only location in the hamlet that is easy to defend. The inn has an inner courtyard surrounded by a wall with a gate. There are also two temples in the Hamlet, but they only have stout doors that can be barred shut but offer no other way for defenders to respond to any attacks.

Act 3, in my game, a number of the tusk riders were killed in the fight before the others fled. One PC was nearly killed, but in the middle of battle, the healer was able to rush over and save them while the Heavy Infantry Warrior defended them from being attacked again. So my act 3 was the players healing themselves and checking on the villagers while searching the fallen Tusk Riders. The group's Assistant Shaman and his Master detected something odd about the one Tusk Riders necklace of Human Hands, and with second sight saw that there were two human spirits enslaved and bound to the necklace. This gave the Assistant shaman a moment in the spotlight and allowed him to learn about his occupation in the game. With some guidance, he was able to free the enslaved spirits and set them to rest. 

Once they were all done and ready, they set out to hunt down the rest of the Tusk Riders who fleed. This required them to go into the Colymar Wilds but is not a difficult task for anyone with the tracking skill to do. the Giant boars they ride make an easy path to follow, destroying vegetation as they rampage through the hills and forests. 

The Colymar Wilds can be a dangerous place. In these mountains are two known monsters or beasts that most people try to avoid if at all possible. Both are detailed more elsewhere in the GM's Adventure book, but the players can possibly encounter one of these while tracking the Tusk Riders back to their camp. Redeye the Boar is a semi Divine Beast that leaves a path of destruction where ever it goes and is a creature of rage and hate. This is suggested as a possible encounter in this adventure, but if the PCs beat the Tusk Riders fairly easily and the number of Tusk Riders left is too few for a good fight, then bring this guy into play. This creature is stated elsewhere in the adventure book and is one of the many possible side adventures that the players can investigate and encounter at any time. So don't feel the need to include him in this adventure. He can show up at any time and one of the other adventures in the GM's Adventure book will give you another opportunity to have the PCs encounter Redeye.

Once the players have this final encounter with these Tusk Riders, they can then return to Apple Lane as heroes.

Act 4 (or Act 3 is all the Tusk Riders are killed in act 2), the PCs are rewarded by the villager elders, Depending on what the PCs did during the adventure and how impressed the villagers are by the PCs' ability to defend the hamlet, the PCs can gain additional rewards that are more significant than just gold and silver. These kinds of rewards create a link to the community and help launch further adventures. This is one of the many aspects that I really enjoy about Runequest, each adventure has its standard rewards as well as potentially more rewards depending on PCs actions, Player Decisions, who lives or survives, and How the PCs go about resolving the objective(s) of the adventure. It's very much a decision tree done as a reward structure; much of which is not monetary based. Also every adventure you go on, the higher your reputation becomes, making you someone that others can seek out based on what stories they heard about you. Your reputation can affect social encounters, changing how an NPC interacts with you depending on the kind of reputation you have; if they have heard of you.

In an effort to not spoil too much, I'll say that due to my player's actions one of them, for his bravery and Honorable actions, was given the title of Thane of Apple Lane. Because of this, the character was able to hire his friends as retainers and cemented the group's roles in the community. Some players might see gaining responsibility as a somewhat undesirable reward, but in Runequest - Community and the PCs duty to their community and family is one of the many aspects of play. Runequest isn't D&D and this is one of the ways that the game reflects the differences between the two. It's not about Dungeon Crawls and fighting monsters, win treasure, and wandering the lands doing whatever. Don't get me wrong, if this is what you want to do for your game then it is still very much possible. However, in Runequest, your aspiring heroes go on adventures maybe once a season, and the rest of the time they are handling the responsibilities and duties that come with their chosen occupation; local healer, local Priestess, warrior working as village protector, assistant Shaman, etc. 


This adventure is simple and straightforward. Perfect for easing into a new campaign and easing into the Runequest Rules for the first time. Plus, it allows these players to save the starter town that they can then become fixtures in and around this quaint little hamlet. If nothing else, it introduces the players to the Temple of Uleria, the Goddess of Love, whose temple is a local hot spring and bathhouse enjoyed by travelers looking for a good place to rest for a night.



What I would add or change to Defend Apple Lane adventure.

  • Set a timer: The PCs and the villagers don't know when the Tusk Riders will appear. When I ran this session, I rolled a D10 to see how many hours they had to prepare for the attack. Make it very clear to the players, when they are planning their defense, that they don't know when the attack is coming. I use the NPCs to poke at the plans the players were coming up with and several of their plans never took into account the amount of time they probably didn't have. 
    For instance, the players were talking about chopping down trees to block the roads. But they didn't really have the time to do this and it probably wouldn't have done much to stop the Raiders (especially since in my game, the Tusk Riders weren't using the roads). The NPCs didn't like the idea of the Players destroying parts of the groves in an effort that may not have born any fruit.
  • I would have the PCs present when Saraskos, the man who survived the Tusk Rider's raid on his home, arrives to give the warning. This allows the PCs the chance to be present went the warning is given. The original adventure has everything begin a time after Saraskos has already given his warning.
  • Have it so that Saraskos had a family who the Tusk Riders killed during the raid of his homestead. This adds some weight to the raid. 
  • The biggest potential downside to this adventure is the number of NPCs the GM has to manage. When the players are interacting with the Apple Lane residences, the GM should just have Brightflower and Aleenia be the only ones speaking to the players, even though the Apple Lane gives you stats for all the main personalities in the hamlet.
  • There is a lot of repetition to the names - especially the names of the various woman in town. So you are not constantly going back and forth, write down all the main names and a note for each and maybe even prescribe a well-known actor or actress that you can easily picture as a quick character description. This will help break up all those similar names in the player's mind.
  • Have some of the PCs help bring the locals to the Tin Inn or the Temple. There are 13 characters listed in the village under the detailing of Apple Lane; 14, if you count the one child that is mentioned here. There are something like 25 hides of land around Apple Lane, which are managed by tenet farmers, however, there are only 5 (14 people) sets of tenet farmers listed at the end of the adventure. I assumed that there are more Tenet families in the surrounding area and would say that there is a family or 3 or more per Hide of land. So I would say there are at least 20 other families (not listed in the book) out there that the players can help gather for their safety. 
  • Come up with a plan of attack for the Tusk Riders. The adventure book as suggestions that can help in this but I used the map and decided early on what direction the attackers were all coming from. I did this before the players started planning their defense. 
  • Make it clear that the main objective here is to protect the people in the hamlet, not property or other items in the hamlet. I feel like this was something that wasn't as clearly stated in the adventure and the impression my players had was that they needed to protect the recent surplus from the harvest. This forced the players to try and spread themselves out in order to protect more of the hamlet. 
  • Have Hendroste the Horsemaster protect the stables. This just seems logical to me that the Horsemaster would be the type to want to protect his horses, his livelihood. He does have a family and I had them at the Inn since it was the best defendable location, but then had Hendroste on the roof of the stables ready to shot any Raider that came within a reasonable range of his bow. This also allows him to act as a lookout to the south side of the hamlet.
  • When the Tusk Riders flee; it possible the players will try to call this task complete. Have the NPCs say that they will not pay the PCs until they feel the task is complete since with a number of Tusk Riders still out there, they could return at a later day. The task the player took up was to protect the hamlet from These Tusk Riders and as such, they will not feel safe until they can be reassured that the Tusk Riders will not return. Generally, you want them to hunt the Tusk Riders down and either finish them or run them off - make them think twice before trying this again. I used my one player's Honor against him since he had an Honor of 90%. But you could have other players make similar dice rolls, such as opposed rolls Between Loyalty Clan or Tribe and one other Passion. or just a Loyalty roll if they want to call the task complete. 
  • As the Player travel into the Colymar wilds, have the players come across an area that was recently (within a day or two) destroyed by Redeye in its wandering. Trees uprooted, knocked down, tufts of fur, gouged earth, crushed rocks, and a few dead animals should give them a good idea that might be out there.
  • The adventure does have all the answers. This is pretty normal, but when reading through the adventure, I would suggest thinking about any of the questions you would ask as a player and come up with possible answers. 
My plan is to write up a similar overview and notable changes or possible changes for each of the Adventures in the GM Adventure book. So Keep an eye out for that.

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. 

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