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Lo-Fi Publishing

In music the term lo-fi describes production quality where imperfections in the recording or performance can be heard. Sometimes they are organic, giving the piece an authentic, “live” feel. Other times they reflect an aesthetic choice. Lo-fi has been associated with a lot of things, including the DIY ethos of punk, nostalgia for analog recordings, and outsider music.

Daniel “Highmoon” Perez and I have had numerous conversations in the past couple of years over how roleplaying publishers are classified. DriveThruRPG seems to think that any publisher that’s not Wizards of the Coast, Catalyst, Mophideus, or Onyx Path is “small press”. That lumps me, a one-person operation with zero budget, in with Evil Hat, Green Ronin, Pinnacle, and R. Talsorian. No shade to those fine people, I love what they do, but they all have staff and resources that far outstrip mine.

At the same time, “indie” seems to be the realm of the hobbyist. They may or may not have aspirations of doing this full time. Some sell their D&D material through the DM’s Guild, and others distribute through alternative venues like Gumroad or Itch. Because I run Dancing Lights Press as a business, and I’m heading into my 5th year of this being my sole source of income, I don’t necessarily feel kinship with that demographic. Again, fine people doing great things, but not my tribe.

Lo-Fi Publishing

Between Daniel and I we’ve launched the Black Box Movement, talked a lot about remix culture and zines, but we’ve never settled on a name for our niche. I’m proposing lo-fi publishing. What people don’t understand is that I’m not ashamed of having low production value; I’m just happy that I created something. Some folks get bent out of shape over a typo or the lack of art, and I’m celebrating that I’ve found a way to make games and pay the rent.

These are also aesthetic choices, as well as financial ones. In the same way that punk was a reaction to the artifice and over-production of glam-rock, my design choices are a political statement as well. I reject the current assumptions. You don’t need to spend a fortune and follow a formula to create a game. Fun is not defined by the glossiness of the paper stock.

Invariably I get comments along the lines of “I like art” or “but production value is good”, and that’s fine. You do you. No one’s telling you what you can and cannot like. All I’m saying is that’s not the only way. I like old black-and-white movies, self-published novels, and mom-and-pop restaurants. Not having production value doesn’t make them bad. It often makes them special, and gives them a certain charm. They manage to be quite good, in spite of expectations to the contrary.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press publishes creative aids and story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.

2 replies on “Lo-Fi Publishing”

R Talsorian’s first edition of Cyberpunk was pretty lo-fi. It felt like the GDW Traveller Little Black Books (LBBs), and it was marketed underground by word of mouth, because they didn’t have DTRPG or much of an internet back in the day.

It was only when Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. (ahem set in this very year …) came out that Talsorian began pushing glossy quality in their products.

And of course, before the first edition of Cyberpunk, there were those LBBs of GDW’s Traveller. The first handful of books didn’t have any illustrations at all, and their all-black covers with the thin red stripe are still iconic to this day, for all that GDW could hardly even afford a shoestring back when Traveller came out. They certainly didn’t have a budget for a proofreader.

So imo, lo-fi is not only doing your best with what you have, Berin – you’re honouring what is possibly the most traditional form of RPG publication.

I was definitely referring to modern R. Talsorian, with The Witcher license and the 2077 video game and some far more cash flow and clout than I have.

And thanks for getting it. There is definite homage to things like the Traveller “black books” and “white box# OD&D without creepy festishization or an insistence that the old ways are the only ways.

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