Let’s Talk About This Vlog Thing

By this point in July I’d planned to be a lot further into developing this blog. I wanted to have an assortment of foundational content up, which I could build upon both here and on the Patreon. Clearly, that hasn’t happened yet. Suddenly I have a vlog thing on YouTube, where I talk about how and why I create things, which was certainly never part of the mandate. What the heck happened?

Well, money. The need for it, and more specifically, the need to acquire a lot of it in a short period of time. Without going into details, our immigration journey took an unexpected swerve. There are a lot of expenses that need to be covered before our trip to their office at the end of next week. That means taking on more paid writing, which takes up the time I planned to use for blogging. It also means doing anything I can, that doesn’t cost too much time or money, to try to promote my existing work and boost sales, Hence, YouTube.

Vlog Thing, You Make My Heart Sing

The strange part is that, in spite of my obvious anxiety over doing it, it was kind of fun. We shot four videos, and I’ve got five more planned out. It’s not meant to be an ongoing thing, unless it somehow takes off. The ease of it, though, was oddly satisfying. Everything worked, and the entire process was hassle-free. I think I needed something to just not be complicated or difficult for a change. The end result was better than I expected, too.

This vlog is clearly for Dancing Lights Press, so it’s probably not going to make an appearance here on a regular basis. Should I do one for this site, too? A separate channel where I answer questions, go off on rants, and talk off-the-cuff about this blog’s topics? What do you think? Seen enough of me, or do you want more? Let me know in the comments below!

Lighthouse System: Simple, Universal Storygame

Plugging my wares isn’t going to be an overwhelming thing in this space, but I need to do it from time to time. First of all, this is how I pay the bills. Second, it gets a little weird when I talk about writing and the lifestyle that goes with it, but never actually discuss the things that I write. I’m particularly proud of Lighthouse System, a simple, universal storygame.

If you’re not familiar with story games, they’re exactly that: games build around telling stories. They’re tabletop roleplaying game a la Dungeons & Dragons, sure, but the emphasis isn’t on tactical combat. They also don’t tend to be big, expensive coffee table books, favoring lighter and more casual rules.

What follows is an overview of how my system works. It was developed over a number of years, largely based on what sorts of mechanics we actually used and which ones we tended to ignore. All of the games that I write are built in this framework.

Core Mechanic

  • Roll a d20 and add modifiers.
  • If the result is high (11+) you succeed.
  • If the result in low (10 or less) you fail.
  • When the result is even, you narrate the outcome.
  • When the result is odd, the guide narrates the outcome.

Risk

  • When you declare your action, you bid a die.
  • The size of the die dictates the desired outcome.
  • d4 is minimal outcome, d12 is maximum.
  • Risk die are tokens, you don’t roll them.
  • Interpret degree of success or failure based on risk.
  • If you fail, you temporarily lose that die.

Complications

  • Successful actions against a target create complications.
  • These can be injuries, based on risk die bid.
  • Injuries create penalties: d4 = -1, d6 = -2, etc.
  • Complications can be obstacles or problems.
  • If you fail an action, you can take on a complication.
  • Duration is based on risk die size, but can be cleared in-story.

Fun Stuff

  • The Lighthouse System is easy for new players to learn.
  • Experienced players can explore risk and shared narration.
  • Shared narration allows for more overall participation.
  • Players can narrate the guide’s successes and failures.
  • Players can narrate their own successes and failures.

Characters

  • Character profiles are descriptive.
  • Think GIJoe cards, fictional world encyclopedias, Wikipedia.
  • Be as detailed or a minimal as you like.
  • If a profile implies they should be able to do something, they can.
  • Profiles can be updated during play to reflect what they’ve done.
  • No character death unless the player agrees to it.

Lighthouse System Facts

  • It got its name because it’s “rules lite” and our house system.
  • Yes, seriously.
  • The core book is 96 pages and only $10 USD.
  • We make other games using the Lighthouse System.
  • They contain setting material and ready-to-play characters.
  • You don’t need the core book to play our other games.
  • Those games are also 96 pages and only $10 USD.

Give It a Try

  • You can buy our stuff at DriveThruRPG.
  • It’s all in PDF, Kindle, and epub.
  • The only way to do it wrong is to not have fun.

About Those “100% Funded” Banners

My main hustle, Dancing Lights Press, has started running ads declaring various projects to be 100% funded. They’re meant to evoke Kickstarter campaigns. The caveat, if you read the text, is that they don’t need additional funds because they already exist. They’re not crowdfunding projects at all. The tagline goes on to declare “No Risk. No Wait. No Nonsense.”

Caveat/spoiler: I have nothing against people who run crowdfunding campaigns. There are many cool  creative people who do these things amazingly well. I would support more of them if shipping to Finland didn’t cost the equivalent of the GDP of South Sudan. The point that I’m going to make here is that crowdfunding is not a good fit for me. 

There are several different trains of though behind this. The first is my own sense of ethics. I have seen many creators over the years bite off more than they can chew where crowdfunding is concerned. They have a grand vision and a seemingly solid plan, but no practical experience. When they run up against something they didn’t foresee, or when life throws them a curve because the Kickstarter is a side gig, they can’t recover. There are also people who intentionally run scams of course, knowing exactly how much they can pull off without running afoul of the law, but I think there are fewer of those than you’d expect. In either case, people are out money and never see a product.

I’m a one-person shop, and I’ve managed to pay the bills doing nothing but this for over 3 years. That’s because I run lean. If I get sick, there’s no one to pick up the slack. I have physical and mental health issues. To set up a Kickstarter and make promises, to me, feels irresponsible. Running a crowdfunding campaign might net me a lot more customers and higher sales, but from an ethical standpoint I’m not going to take peoples’ money if I’m not 100% certain that I can deliver on time.

A lesser consideration is the level of expectations people who contribute to Kickstarters have. I could complete a project and then run a crowdfunding campaign. It would basically be delaying release by 30 days. People want rewards and extras, though. They don’t want to throw $10 + shipping at you and only get a book. They want the option of throwing $50 or $100 at you and getting super-deluxe editions with bells and whistles and exclusive merch. That’s not what I want to create. Having run the numbers, that business model isn’t profitable for me. It would also take an incredible toll on my physical and mental health. People don’t like hearing that truth, that it’s just not worth it for me.

What’s really behind the “100% Funded” campaign, though, is the attention crowdfunded games get. I have a thing that exists, that gets good reviews from customers and reaches best seller status, but I can’t get any press. It’s not that I’m a small publisher. Vloggers, podcasters, and websites cover plenty of indie releases. The problem is that I’m not on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. They just don’t care about your book unless you’re part of that wave. I can’t get them to take a review copy or run a press release. Once, exactly once, did I convince someone to run my press release. What he actually ran was a post mocking me for not running a crowdfunding campaign and expecting him to care about my product. I don’t think he even read the press release, because he got a lot wrong. He certainly never read the book.

My brand at this point is doing my own thing, my own way, and not really caring what the rest of the hobby and the industry is up to. There’s an audience that gets what I’m doing, and I am ever grateful that they keep my afloat. I know that sounds petulant, but over the coming weeks and months you’re going to see a lot of posts in this space challenging the orthodoxy that exists, paradoxically, in a creative field. The Black Box Manifesto was only a first shot across the bow.

If you’re interested in checking out 100% Funded books that you can download now, visit my page at DriveThruRPG.

Topic: Worldbuilding and Related Posts

Worldbuilding: This topic is for posts about the creation of tabletop roleplaying games and the work I do as Dancing Lights Press. It’s going to have more to do with my creative process and the use of the medium for self-expression than cliched nonsense about murder hobos and genre tropes.

My focus is on worldbuilding rather than roleplaying specifically because it’s a broader and more relatable topic. It’s for writers as much as tabletop gamers. I want the emphasis to be on the creative aspects, rather than mechanic, game theory, or the hobby itself. Plenty of other people have those angles covered.

The reason I picked this as a core topic for the blog is because it’s what I do for a living. Books that I write and publish have a strong emphasis on worldbuilding, not just for its own sake but in relation to characters and story. I have no end of opinions on the subject, so there will be plenty of material for me to work with.

Posts

You can find more posts on this topic here:

https://berinkinsman.com/tag/worldbuilding/

Hashtags

#ttrpg #rpg #tabletop #worldbuilding

Black Box Manifesto

by Daniel M. Perez

Roleplaying games were originally introduced over forty years ago with simple rules that bridged tabletop miniature gaming with a kind of improvisational theater. They were produced as black-and-white paper pamphlets containing a few pieces of line art and sold for a fairly affordable price. Over time they have evolved into intricate and extensive rules-sets contained in full-sized, full-color, artwork-heavy books with glossy pages and lavish production values. They are sold for high prices to offset the expense of the design work poured into them. There are exceptions, of course, but this does describe the majority of the tabletop roleplaying game market.

That model has created issues that affect my enjoyment of roleplaying games. As a hobbyist, books with page counts in the hundreds virtually guarantee that I won’t have time to read and process them. As a consumer, I often struggle to justify the expense. And as a creator, the model places unfair expectations on the form and content of a game’s design, as well as on the resources needed to deliver a finished product.

I propose a new paradigm.

The Dogme95 film movement, the black box theatre movement, and the Art Brut movement all demanded a renewed focus on creative work itself, rather than the technical elements of their respective mediums. Inspired by those creators and their ideals, I propose a similar set of rules for the creation, development, and sale of roleplaying games. These rules are meant to hearken back to the origin of the hobby, a theater of the mind style of play, and the simplicity and utility of boxed sets. This is the Black Box Manifesto.

These rules were created for my own use, to provide myself creative and practical boundaries. The intention is force myself not to rely on what is considered the norm, but to create a new set of expectations as to how roleplaying games are designed, produced, and presented.

In the spirit of community, the Black Box Manifesto is being released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License so that other creators can explore its possibilities. There will be no centralized gatekeeping, no checking whether a work meets all the rules, and no declarations as to whether a work meets the criteria, instead relying on each creator’s honesty and interpration of the spirit of the rules. It is my hope that this new paradigm inspires a surge in creativity in roleplaying games.

My heartfelt gratitude to Berin Kinsman for his help in reading, refining, and inspiring this work. He is as much the creator as I am.

The Rules

The work must be a self-contained whole, able to provide a complete entertainment experience by itself. If using an open licensed system, the work must contain all material necessary to be of use, referencing other works only as the open license requires.

No interior artwork. The use of fonts and layout to distinguish parts of the work is allowed. Maps and diagrams may be used if they are absolutely necessary and must be printed on the inside covers. The front cover may feature full artwork.

The work must make use of a unified task/conflict resolution system. Only one subsystem branching off the unified resolution system is allowed.

Setting material included in the work must be restricted to the most immediate area relevant to the work.

The work must be pamphlet-sized, either half-fold (8.5 x 5.5) or 6 x 9, with no more than 96 pages front and back, not including the cover. All pages must include content essential to the work, although a couple blank pages are acceptable if needed for printing layout purposes. No Ads.

Price for an electronic version of the work may not exceed $10 USD (or equivalent). Price for a print version of the work may not exceed the cost of the electronic version plus base print cost.

The focus of the work must be on the elements that promote human interaction in the shared creation of a story, not extravagant production values, winning awards, or gaining status.

The Black Box Manifesto by Daniel M. Perez and Berin Kinsman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.