So many questions, naturally. Yeah.
So many questions, naturally. Yeah.
In case you are interested in a notable internet reviewer interviewing a notable RPG designer, I’ve got an episode of the Gnomecast for you.
Right off the bat, I think it’s important to note Harlem Unbound is an alternate take on the standard Call of Cthulhu setting but with an emphasis on Black characters in the 1920s. Basically, it’s Lovecraft Country (HBO) using CoC rules. It is a VERY specific setting and Chris’ reputation in the biz is currently focused on highlighting Black and other marginalized communities in traditional RPG settings. Hence, it’s not for everyone.
It’s also the only RPG product in history (other than D&D somewhere) that has become part of a permanent exhibit in a national museum. It’s been praised for its twist on Lovecraft overt racism and Chris is considered one of the top indie creators in the biz today.
Bringing it back to the crux of this sub-topic… if Chris isn’t able to “make it” in this biz, who can?
When I hear someone talking about being a “serious gamer” or read someone’s manifesto about how they are a “dedicated gamer,” it tends to come across as a pissing contest. Sometimes, it’s right up there with gamers bragging about which edition they started with, how long they’ve been playing, or why WotC should revive Spelljammer and hire them to write the boxed set. It makes them feel better about themselves.
If anything, these are people are who “serious about their games” or “dedicated to running a good game.” It’s not a title, it’s a goal. I consider myself quite serious about my games and dedicated to running a good game for my players, but I do more prep for making Kraft Dinner than my games. To some, I’m a hack. And that’s ok. I kill their character just like anyone else at the table - with bitterness and a smile on my face because I’ve also slashed the tires on their car. Revenge is a dish best served ice fucking cold.
Which brings me to “serious and dedicated designers and publishers.” The same thing applies. We’re all serious about our creations and dedicated to making a good game/supplement/adventure, but our successes (and failures) don’t give two shits about our intent. There’s a lot that goes into being “successful” in this industry and seriousness or dedication is simply the entrance fee.
I’ve been doing this for 20 years. (See? Now I’m just bragging.) And it’s only now that I’m finally on the cusp of unlocking the ultimate goal for me - working full-time in tabletop games. Aside from longevity and stubbornness, what’s my secret to success?
I haven’t earned more than $30,000 a year for the past 10+ years. Correction: my household doesn’t earn more than $30k for the past 10+ years. My wife and I have experienced medical emergencies and mental health issues that have always kept us down and we have been able to maintain a simple and happy life with what little we have. Turns out that’s been helpful because the bar for earning as much as any “real job” is so low that it doesn’t take as much for me to make as much as a retail job. Combine that with an obsession for game design that cost me one marriage and by gum is it about to work. And it still took 20 years. Assuming things don’t fuck up completely. In no way am I more talented than anyone else or more deserving. Hell, barely anyone knows who the fuck I am. But it’s been possible for me because I’ve had the “great fortune” of never having enough. And my successes are because of my freelance work, it has nothing to do with my games. I’ve won two ENnies and have a name that sticks out like a sore thumb, yet I’m a nobody is a sea of eager faces trying to keep their head above the water.
And I love it.
Someone compared my successes to their own once after I started thinking of calling it quits. “If you’re not successful, then what the hell am I?” they asked. Success is interpretive. We all see it in our own light.
There’s no one way to get ahead in this biz and there are so many great designers out there who will die unknown and possibly penniless. It’s the curse of this market we are so passionate about. Success is a personal approach. It’s what we need to feel accomplished enough to do what may have been impossible the year before. Or the decade before. Whatever works for you to meet your goal is success. Seriously.
One of the unfortunate situations that Chris ran into when he tried one of his streamed games of Haunted West was that he had had some big named people lined up to play in his game, including Matt Mercer. However, one of Chris’ goals is for people to play POC to learn empathy about them by playing them as protagonists in the game. But when the internet found out that Matt would be playing a POC, instead of looking at it from the standpoint of “playing a person of color to learn about their perspective,” it was viewed as the same paradigm as a white actor playing a POC character . . . which is weird because while RPGs are similar to performances, and streaming blurs that line, it’s not quite the same. That stream never ended up happening.
That said, I’ve seen Chaosium sponsor various stream to boost visibility of Call of Cthulhu, but I haven’t seen them use either Chris’ product or Chris as part of those promotions. I’m not saying that Chaosium is doing anything intentionally nefarous, but they did publish 2nd edition as an official supplement, so it might be nice for the company itself to work it into their widening promotional efforts.
Online streaming and visibility, however, are weird. D6 Star Wars gets mentioned by big name Star Wars creators all the time (Filoni, etc.), and it gets highlighted as being the origin of a lot of the setting in various articles on the official site . . . but you almost never hear Lucasfilm referencing Fantasy Flight Games, and when they do, its usually something like the X-Wing miniatures game.
Sam Witwer, professional actor and the voice of Darth Maul not only in Clone Wars and Rebels, but also in Solo, ran a streaming game for the voice actors on the Rebels animated series, and I almost never hear people talking about it in regard to streaming RPGs. That should have been huge.
So I guess what I’m saying is, I have no idea how this hobby works, and who ends up getting the nod and who doesn’t. I’m happy that Magpie is having a massive Kickstarter with the Avatar RPG, but I never would have predicted that level of success. I don’t know if anyone can fully comprehend what takes off and what doesn’t and what draws from outside the hobby, and what doesn’t.
Really enjoyed this episode, and Farty’s note above which was read on a later episode.
To me, it’s like all hobbies. Some folks dabble, some go all in, some are obsessed. It’s a tough hobby in that live play requires finding other humans who like the games you do to play with, committing to playing regularly and consistently, and all the things Brett, Sean, and Butterpants talk about.
For me personally, I reached a moment, after playing RPGs via play-by-post almost exclusively for 20+ years, when I decided I really wanted double down and focus on the hobby. That meant getting back into live at-the-table (and now virtual) gaming, and that meant I had some decisions to make regarding my “me” time. I was into all sorts of different nerd hobbies – comics, board games, television and movies, computer games… and RPGs. I made a conscious decision to trim the time spent on these other hobbies way back so I could focus on RPGs.
And you know what? I couldn’t be happier. Like many BSers, I draw inspiration and ideas from a bunch of other mediums so it’s not like I don’t still mess with other parts of Nerdlandia, but my focus is heavily on RPGs and it’s been super-rewarding to have that focus pay off.
Anyway. Dedication is a positive thing!
The success of the Last Avatar KS feels more like vindication our hobby is capable of more than just a few million dollars a year. I’ve never really bought the projections found in trade mags because they’re estimates from not all brick & mortar stores (meaning those who respond to the survey, which is almost never 100% complete in ANY survey). It was just hard to see the vibrancy of the hobby, its duration, and the intensity of its fans as something that only sold tens of thousands of copies per year.
With WotC now raised to a more public profile on Hasbro’s platter, I think we’re going to see exactly what the top selling game is doing. And that will be a big eye opener.
May I look at your full ad? I think I’d like to use it to develop session zero “ground rules”?
Sorry, this is quite long. I hope it helps. If anything, it eliminated players that didn’t want to dig through all of this crap.
Relatively new DM looking for players to run through Curse of Strahd.
Don’t apply if you’ve played, DM’d or watched a play-through of Curse of Strahd
Schedule: Weekly, Mondays at 8:30 PM MST/MDT (UTC-07:00/DST-06:00) - On time is late.
Group Size: 5 maximum
First Session: Monday, September 14, 2020
Game Length: approximately 2.5 - 3 hours.
Levels: One through ten (or more)
Curse of Strahd (CoS)
Under raging storm clouds, the vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich stands silhouetted against the ancient walls of Castle Ravenloft. Rumbling thunder pounds the castle spires. The wind’s howling increases as he turns his gaze down toward the village of Barovia. A lightening flash rips through the darkness, but Strahd is gone. Only the howling of the wind fills the midnight air. The master of Castle Ravenloft is having guests for dinner - and you are invited.
CoS has been touted as one of the best pre-made campaigns by Wizards of the Coast (WotC). It’s a dark and gritty sandbox adventure. The full CoS campaign is designed to take players from levels 1 to 10. It will typically take about a year of weekly sessions to complete, but heavy role play groups can take much longer.
Who am I?
Well, I’m a relatively new DM. I’ve been DMing D&D 5E actively since the start of 2020. I have played previous versions, but many years ago. Since I’m a newer DM, I feel more comfortable playing with newer players. Because I’m an older player, I feel more comfortable playing with older players - we are at a similar stage in life. That said, I will not eliminate someone based on age or experience. The most important determining factor is that we have a similar approach to the game.
I prefer a classic, lower fantasy D&D. I don’t enjoy the high-fantasy anime-type characters or settings. Sometimes playing on a Virtual Table Top (VTT) can lean towards video game-type play. I use Roll20 for battlemaps, but I enjoy theater-of-the-mind type play. Also, I’m a huge fan of horror movies and novels. I enjoy creepy, psychological thrillers to hack and slash horror. This is a horror game. My goal is to make it dark, tense and frightening. The campaign deals with many traumatic and uncomfortable content. Please look for a different group if you are overly sensitive.
Who am I looking for?
Character Creation Rules:
NOTE: The following was sent after the fact - before session 0. It helped to frame the game.
Curse of Strahd is an exciting, tense, fast-paced adventure. It is a vivid exploration of classic gothic horror tropes and monsters, from werewolves to vampires, ghosts, and more. It is a true sandbox, giving you the freedom to make your own choices and build the kind of adventure you enjoy. It is an unabashedly character-driven campaign, giving your PC an incredible chance to shine and make their mark on the story our group tells.
However, Curse of Strahd is also a brutal, stressful, and alienating experience. Your character will be trapped in a bleak, gothic land quite different from the world they know. The adventure contains several encounters and areas that will likely be far beyond your capabilities when you first encounter them. It does not provide routine or readily-available loot or magical items.
For a player who’s not expecting it, Curse of Strahd can suck. Really suck. Let me put it this way: if you want the freedom to engage in combat and exploration without worrying about the potential risks, this is very possibly not the campaign for you. Likewise, if you are potentially triggered by gruesome depictions of horror or psychologically disturbing relationships, or if you prefer a D&D campaign that features only victories or setbacks (rather than the potential for outright defeat), you might want to try a different module.
Now, if you’re still around, stick with me - because there are reasons to play this (excellent, engaging, incredibly memorable) campaign.
You should play Curse of Strahd if you:
If, after reading this far, you think Curse of Strahd may be the campaign for you, awesome! You’re in for a fantastic time. With that said, here are a few protips to succeeding in the course of this campaign:
Intrepid adventurers and sadistic murderhobos don’t last long in Barovia. Don’t tread from the beaten path unless you have good reason to, and don’t alienate or antagonize NPCs if you can avoid it. Make more friends than enemies. Don’t go searching for treasure, fortune, or fame - because you will probably die a horrible death.
Remember that you are not your character, and invest real time in developing their thoughts, personality, and motivation. Externalize failure, and use setbacks or defeat as an opportunity to explore your character’s perspective and personal growth.
Play smart. Many of the enemies in this adventure cannot be overcome easily in direct combat. Use guile, preparation, subterfuge, diplomacy, and research to achieve your goals.
Spend time engaging with the other characters, even when not discussing plans, tactics, or objectives. Learn about their fears, their perspectives, and their experiences. Build meaningful relationships, not apathetic battle teams.
Outside goals are hard (if not impossible) to achieve in Barovia. We’ll work together to create a character driven to Barovia for some purpose that can only be fulfilled within its borders. We will work on shaping your backstory into something that can be relevant in the world of Barovia.
Try to remove yourself from the “XP and loot” model of progression in traditional campaigns and video games, and instead try to enjoy the narrative progression of winning allies, fulfilling objectives, and advancing the story of the campaign and player characters.
Don’t try to play an apathetic character unless you are 100% sure that you can pull it off while being a supportive team player and engaging the story like a normal PC. Seriously. You’ll make this adventure a lot more difficult and unenjoyable for me (the DM), and you’ll be cheating yourself out of a fun experience. You don’t need to play a knight in shining armor, but you definitely shouldn’t play a villain.
Curse of Strahd, as-written, is full of disturbing and graphic content. I will do my best to downplay or avoid some of these topics, but it is a horror story. There will be uncomfortable sections.
Oh - and don’t Google anything related to the campaign. The Web, after all, is dark, and full of spoilers.
Whoa. That’s covering some bases.
@Farty makes me jealous that I wasn’t able to be a part of that game. That was well thought out and I hope you got your bang for the buck from the players that enlisted. I am definitely stealing/borrowing your type of candor when I pitch my next “serious” game. Thanks for sharing!!
Feelin Good about Setting Expectations
They all stuck it out to the end, and they were very good players. I was actually very worried about posting this at first. I didn’t think anyone would join after all of that.
Where did you post this? I want to know where to go to recruit players who are willing to read all this?
(But, seriously, I may need to recruit 2-3 for Swords & Wizardry: The Northlands Saga Complete.)
Yes @Farty. I second Gabe. I want to know where you posted this too. Even my good players would probably not read anything of that length or thoroughness.
I posted the ad on Roll20. I find that’s the best spot for 5e games. I want to give Delta Green a shot on there, but I don’t think I’ll get anywhere near the same response. The ad for DG will be A LOT shorter. I don’t think anyone is actively looking for DG on Roll20.
No need to trawl roll20… play with BSers!
Impressive stuff, your recruitment post. Curious, were there a lot of applicants?
What’s this what’s this?
There were 12 applicants during the week it was posted. I think I interviewed 10 and selected 5.
I was going to try Delta Green here first to see if I can get a game going. I was reading through “last things last” and the Control Group book for an easy scenario to start with. I still need to figure out the rules.
Cool. I’d play if the timing was right. I’m itching to run some DG myself — just updated my games on the sheet. Last Things Last is pretty amazing, btw, though i think it makes for a much better experience if the players have not read it. (Usually the case with DG and many other games, but I think very much so with Last Things Last.)
I 2nd the notion of desiring to play your DG game if schedules work out. I’m fairly new to the BS scene and have not joined a BS’er game yet. I was waiting for the Summer to end and my schedule to get regular.
I have not been a player in DG game yet, I’ve only GM’d 4 sessions for an ongoing campaign. Started with Operation: Fulminate from the rule book, then 2 scenarios from the Delta Green Shotgun Scenario Contests. “Yummy, Yummy, in my Tummy” and “Operation: Secret Agent”. There are a lot of good gems from there.
Feelin Good about Playing DG