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Is There Money in Self-Publishing?

black box movement

Today I’ve got two ready questions. “Is there money in self-publishing? What do you think is a good day-job for tabletop game designers?”

Is There Money in Self-Publishing?

Step one, don’t refer to it as self-publishing. I am a publisher that also happens to be a content creator. This is a business (ask the tax collector), and it’s my full-time job. Even though I acknowledge that what I do falls under the umbrella of self-publishing, I reject the stigma. People hear that term and assume you’re amateurish and unprofessional. If you want to make money doing this, you can’t come in with the idea that what you’re doing is less legitimate than outsourcing the publication of your book to someone else.

Stop asking if there’s money in this. Start asking yourself how there’s money in this. In 2014 my wife and I moved to Finland so she could attend grad school. I don’t speak Finnish, and possess no skills that couldn’t be done by a Finn. Being unemployable, I had to invent my own job. Writing and publishing were things I could do. I had no choice but to figure it out, and quickly, so I could pay the rent and keep food on the table. There is money if you’re willing to work hard and be creative in locating revenue streams.

What’s a Good Day Job for a Designer?

Do you want to be a designer full-time, or do you want to do this as a hobby? If doing this is your dream, then any job that covers the bills while leaving you the time and energy to create will do. Nothing that’s going to suck you into a career track and pull you away from the dream. If you’re doing this as a hobby, then find something you enjoy doing and pursue that as a career. Tinkering with games will always be there.

I spent several years working in various aspects of the book trade, and I can’t say many skills were transferrable. Maybe look for work as a copywriter to hone your writing and editing skills. Find a job in marketing, because that often has more to do with the success of a book than that book itself.

The bottom line is that whatever you decide to do, commit to it. Expect that it’s going to be hard. Realize that there’s going to be a lot of trial and error. There is no universal path that anyone can walk. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for you. What worked for me mentors and role models didn’t work for me. We all have to find our own way to success.

 


About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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[Hippogryph] System Summary and Core Mechanic

hippogryph system

System Summary and Core Mechanic

The following is an abridged excerpt from the Hippogryph Codex on the system summary and core mechanic. References to page ## will of course direct you to actual page numbers in the completed book. 

Tabletop roleplaying is ephemeral. The action exists in the moment of play, and then is gone. It’s not a movie, it’s live theater. It’s about the journey, and those fleeting and spontaneous moments that occur along the way. This book isn’t the game. The game is what happens in real time, around the table.

That’s why Hippogryph is referred to as a system. It’s a methodology, a way of doing things. These aren’t rules, to be strictly enforced. What you’re reading are guidelines to be applied when you need help determine the outcomes of actions. These are tools that can be used to create things that you need and want for the worlds you’re building, adventures you’re unfolding, and the characters you’re playing.

You control the actions of the character you have created. This is the means by which you contribute to the story that you, the other players, and the guide are all telling together. The guide will narrate the world and the actions of supporting characters, and the other players will narrate their individual player characters’ actions.

To act, follow the principle of story first: say what your character is trying to do, then figure out how you’ll do that using the system. Your character’s elements inform what they can attempt, and create the context for interpreting the results. Even without a specific ability that says whether you can or cannot do something, you are always allowed to try. When in doubt, check with your guide and the other players at table.

Determining Success

How do you know if you’re successful? Many times your character will automatically succeed. If the action isn’t hard, nobody’s trying to stop you, and there’s no need to determine a specific degree of success, the guide may declare that the action succeeds. In difficult or unpredictable situations, you will need break out the dice to determine what happens.

When deciding whether or not an action requires a roll, consider the following questions:

  • What’s stopping this action from happening? Are there inherent difficulties present in the task itself, obstacles making the action more harder than usual, or distractions interfering with your concentration?
  • What could possibly go wrong in attempting this action? If you fail can you simply try again, or could something be broken, a resource be wasted, or a person get injured?
  • What interesting things could happen if the action goes wrong? Beyond failure of the action itself, what might (or might not) happen if you fail? Will it affect other actions, other characters, or the arc of the story?

Core Mechanic Summary

Whenever you take an action, follow these steps:

  1. Think Story First: Describe what you’re trying to do.
  2. Determine the Type of Action: Choose from attack, create an advantage, defend, and overcome.
  3. Select Abilities to Use: This includes appropriate combinations of attributes, skills, and features.
  4. Roll a d20: Roll a 20-sided die and see what number comes up.
  5. Add Modifiers: This includes abilities, conditional modifiers, and bonuses from invoking elements. Add them to the die roll result.
  6. Determine the Outcome: Based on the total of roll and modifiers, see if you fail, tie, succeed, or achieve a critical success.
  7. Describe the Action: Narrate the outcome in the context of the scene and the characters involved.

Examples of the Core Mechanic

  • Michaela wants to fight an orc using a sword. This is an attack action, using her +1 Strength attribute and her +2 Fight skill. She rolls a d20 and gets a 7. The total of the modified roll is 10. The orc needs to make a defend action against a difficulty of 10.
  • Bandile is trying to crack the code on a map, so they can figure out where the treasure is buried. This a create an advantage action, using their +3 Intelligence attribute and +1 Language (Decipher Script) skill. The guide decides the difficulty is 15 (Tough). Bandile rolls a 14, for a total of 18. The code is cracked, and they can now invoke a bonus to decipher other text that uses this same code.
  • Greta uses her Craft (Cobbling) skill to make a new pair of boots. This is an overcome action, where the guide has set the difficulty at 5 (Easy). Her +1 Wisdom attribute and +2 Craft (Cobbling) skill are appropriate here. She rolls a d20 and get a 3. Adding modifiers, the total is 6, and successfully creates new boots.

About the Hippogryph System

Hippogryph is a d20-based, story-driven tabletop fantasy roleplaying system. It is the collision of the D20 System and Fate RPG, but like the legendary creature it is more than the sum of its parts. This isn’t off-brand D&D with Fate aspects stapled on, nor is it a collection of feats, spells, and class abilities translated into Fate terms. Hippogryph is a unique system that blends established legacy fundamentals with flexible, DIY story game ideals. Info Page ¦ DriveThruRPG ¦ Our Shop


About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

 

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How Do You Promote Your Games?

black box movement

Today I want to answer another reader question. “How do you promote your games to get attention to it on DriveThru?

There’s no easy answer to this question. When I decided to pursue a creative career, I had the option of going back to school for an MFA in creative writing or getting a business degree. I went with the latter. When I’m not working on the next book for Dancing Lights Press, I’m reading books on marketing. A lot of my time is spent researching the social media keywords and SEO.  I analyze what types of products sell well, and spend a lot of time on finding the best titles. Over the years, through trial and error, I’ve also worked what the best days to release products on Drive Thru are, and even what time of day will bring the most attention.

How Do You Promote Your Games?

The simplest answer I can offer comes down to two things: build a mailing list and release new products regularly. You can’t write one book, drop it, and wait for something to happen. DriveThru allows you to email customers. They need to have purchased something from you, and they need to opt it, but the feature is there. Let people who bought the first book know about the second.  And the third. And the hundredth. If you’re making good stuff, you develop a fan base that will turn up and buy your new thing consistently. It takes time, but that’s how I did it.

 


About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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[Hippogryph] Using Elements in Play

hippogryph system

Using Elements in Play

The following is an abridged excerpt from the Hippogryph Codex on how to use elements in play. References to page ## will of course direct you to actual page numbers in the completed book. 

There are two major things that you can do with an element. Invoke allows you to leverage an element that you control or are free to use. Compel lets you take advantage of another character’s element, or one that’s not already open for your use.

Invoke

To invoke an element, spend a hero point before making a die roll. You can also invoke elements for free, if you have a free invoke from you or an ally creating an advantage you can use (see Advantages on page ##). In short, an advantage allows you to either take a +2 bonus to your roll, or to re-roll a failed result.

With an invoke you may also add an important or unlikely detail to the story based on an element in play. Don’t spend a hero point when the element has already been established as true. Pay when it’s a stretch or when there’s no relevant element already in play.

Most of the time an element is invoked, it’s a character element or a situation element. Sometimes you’ll invoke an opposing character’s elements against them. This is called a hostile invocation, and it works just like invoking any other element. There’s one small difference—when you make a hostile invocation, you give the hero point to the enemy. They don’t get to use the hero point until after the scene is over. This only applies when a hero point is actually spent on a hostile invocation. Free invokes do not require the exchange of hero point.

Examples of Invoking: Using Elements in Play

  • Manuel’s background is that he grew up in this city. He wants to invoke that to establish that he knows a merchant who sells the thing the group needs. He spends a hero point and it becomes true.
  • Havel knows that his opponent has children. He wants to invoke that to gain an advantage as he tries to persuade the opponent to surrender peacefully. He give the opponent a hero point and gains a bonus to his Charisma roll.
  • Kira wants to use their low-light vision to read the runes painted on the cave wall. Since their ability to see well in dim torchlight is an established fact, no invoke is necessary.

Compel

Elements can be compelled to complicate the situation and earn hero points. To compel an element, the guide or a player offers a hero point to the player whose character is being compelled. You must tell them why an element is making things more difficult or complicated. To refuse a compel, you must spend a hero point and describe how your character avoids the complication. If you don’t have any hero points, you can’t refuse a compel.

When offering a compel, make sure that the complication is a course of action or major change in circumstance, not a denial of options.

Examples of Compelling: Using Elements in Play

  • Antonella knows that Mathu’s problem element is stuttering. During a difficult social interaction, they decide that Mathu would be nervous and this problem would manifest itself. They offer a hero point to Mathu, who accepts the compel. The interaction is more difficult because Mathu has to try to deal with their stutter.
  • Peyton knows that there is a thunderstorm raging outside. They offer a hero point to the guide, wishing to compel the villain to be distracted by the flashes of lightning. The guide accepts and the villain is distracted, making it harder for them to notice Peyton sneaking past.
  • Devorah is being chased by their opponent, and has a choice of two paths. The opponent is far enough behind that they can’t see which path Devorah takes. Using a compel, Devorah spends a hero point and asks the guide to make the opponent choose the wrong path. The guide accepts the compel, and Devorah gets away.

Events and Decisions

There are two general kinds of compels: events and decisions. An event compel is something that happens to a character because of an external force. That external force connects with the element in some way, resulting in an unfortunate complication. A decision compel is internal, where the character’s flaws or competing values get in the way of better judgment. The element guides the character to make a particular choice, and the fallout of that choice creates a complication for them. In either case, a resulting complication is key. Without the creation of a complication, there is no compel.

Guidelines for Compelling

There are a few additional guidelines for using compel:

  •  Any element can be compelled. It doesn’t matter if it’s a character element, situation element, or complication but it must be something that affects the character being compelled.
  • Anyone can offer a compel. The player proposing the compel must spend a hero point, but their character does not have to be involved in the scene. The guide then runs the compel.
  • A compel can be retroactive. If a player finds they have roleplayed themself into a complication, they can ask the guide if that counts as a self-compel.
  • A compel can be withdrawn. If the group agrees that a proposed compel wasn’t appropriate, it should be withdrawn at no hero point cost to the compelled character.

Hostile Invocation versus Compel

Don’t confuse hostile invocations and compels. Though they are similar in that they give a character an immediate problem in exchange for a hero point, they work differently.

A compel creates a narrative change. The decision to compel is the guide or player proposing a change to the story. The effect can be broad, but the target gets the hero point immediately if they accept the compel, and can choose to refuse the compel.

A hostile invocation is a mechanical effect. The target doesn’t get a chance to refuse the invocation. While they do get a hero point, they don’t get to use it in the current scene. As with any invocation, you will need to explain how that element makes sense to invoke.

Earning Hero Points

If it’s not already clear, you can earn hero points by allowing your character’s elements be compelled. This serves to complicate the situation or make your life harder, but you gain points that can be used later at crucial moments in the adventure. You may also get a hero point if someone uses your element against you in a hostile invoke or when you concede (page ##).

Remember, each session you start with a minimum of 3 Hero Points, or the amount left over at the end of the last session. If you were compelled more than you invoked in the prior session, you’ll show up at the next session with more hero points banked.

Using Elements in Play

Watch for more excerpts from the Hippogryph Codex later this week.


About the Hippogryph System

Hippogryph is a d20-based, story-driven tabletop fantasy roleplaying system. It is the collision of the D20 System and Fate RPG, but like the legendary creature it is more than the sum of its parts. This isn’t off-brand D&D with Fate aspects stapled on, nor is it a collection of feats, spells, and class abilities translated into Fate terms. Hippogryph is a unique system that blends established legacy fundamentals with flexible, DIY story game ideals. Info Page ¦ DriveThruRPG ¦ Our Shop


About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Is the Lack of Art a Disadvantage?

black box movement

Today I want to answer a question sent in by a reader. Is the lack of art in Dancing Lights Press books a disadvantage?

“I wrote a few small books in a fantasy world, and like yours, they have little to no graphic art to accompany it to reduce the cost of production. How do you go about to mitigate, if not outright nullify, that disadvantage?”

Barriers to Entry

First, stop calling it a disadvantage. It isn’t. As you stated in your question, it reduces the cost of production. This allows creators with limited resources to overcome that barrier to entry. It also reduces the price point for cash-strapped players. In spite of everything else going on, 2020 is going to be the best year so far for Dancing Lights Press. A lot of that is because people who can’t afford to back a $50+ fully-illustrated hardcover on Kickstarter right now can afford something like the DoubleZero Core Book, a complete system priced at $4.99 for the PDF.

Know Your Audience

Second, you need to understand who you’re creating for. There are people that collect, and people that create. I’m not saying there’s no overlap, but collectors want pretty books to put on their shelves. They like a lot of art, full-color interiors, all of the glitzy production value. Those aren’t our customers. Creators just want the information they can use to build characters, worlds, and adventures. They want to make their own stuff, rather than lean on pre-generated material.

Be Useful

Third, and this builds on both of the above points, there’s the matter of utility. How much art is actually useful, let alone essential, to a roleplaying manual? Maps can helpful, as are illustrations of unusual monsters, unique weapons, and strange magic items. Beyond that, though, how does the fully-painted picture of a woman casting a spell on page XX help me to run my campaign? In what way does the 364th illustration of a guy drawing a sword help me to create a better player character? How does line drawing of a tavern keeper improve the mechanics?  I’d rather have a book filled with material I can use.

Is the Lack of Art a Disadvantage?

The only place where having a lack of art is a disadvantage is when facing certain expectations within the hobby. There is a perception that because things have always been done a certain way, that’s the correct and only way to do them. It’s fine if your personal preference is to have a pretty book with a lot of art. To say that no one will buy your stuff if it doesn’t have art in it is demonstrably false. Dancing Lights Press have over 150 best selling titles on DriveTHruRPG, the majority of which have no art. I’m in my fifth year of doing this for a living full time. I’m creating the things I want to create, the way that I want to create them. I don’t feel that I’m at any disadvantage whatsover.

 


About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.