There is only one week left to buy Reference Series titles. I’ve created a reference closeout mega-bundle containing all of the titles that are going away at the end of this month. Individual titles are already marked down to $1 each. The bundle is 20% off, which takes the total to $25.60, rounded to an even $25.
Even though these titles are recent additions to our catalog, the Reference Series books are being discontinued. These include the Medieval, Pirates, and Witchcraft lines. As of 1 October 2021, they will no longer be available through DriveThruRPG.
This month is your last chance to grab some great stuff. To make that easier, I have reduced individual titles to $1 each, with bundle prices adjusted accordingly.
There are several reasons for this decision. As a company, Dancing Lights Press has changed over time. These titles do not always represent our best work. They certainly don’t reflect my vision for the future. Mainly, I want to focus on original works that are more concretely roleplaying-oriented.
Dancing Lights Press | DXP is a tabletop roleplaying company with a lo-fi approach to design and publishing. Utility of content takes precedence over ostentatious production value. Graphic elements should only be used to enhance the message of the text, not merely as filler and eye candy. Physical books need to be compact, portable, and study.
This minimalist aesthetic results in powerful toolkits that are both useful and affordable. After all, tabletop roleplaying isn’t the book. It’s the expression of creativity and heartfelt collaboration that takes place around the tabletop. Our mission is to give you as much as you need, and then get out of your way.
People ask me why I’ve got 3 product lines, with a 4th in development for release next year. After all, I’m a one-person operation. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on one thing and do that? There are two ways to look at this, but both come down to putting all your eggs in one basket.
From a creative standpoint, I can’t imagine working on just one thing. The System-Neutral books give me inspiration for DoubleZero and Hippogryph. How one of those systems handles a specific topic makes me consider how it would work in the other. Both make me think about what the system-neutral version would be. This approach tends to make all of the work, regardless of the product line, stronger.
My eventual goal is to be producing settings. I have a lot of ideas, but they don’t all come down to one genre. Hippogryph exists so I can express the fantasy worlds I’m longing to create. DoubleZero exists because I want to dive more deeply into “real world” inspired gaming. The System-Neutral books give me the tools to work on those projects, to create systemless settings, or to generate material for a third-party game system should I choose.
The second way to look at this is from a business standpoint. If one product line tanks, I can still make money on the others. While there is overlap between lines, each appeals to a different customer base. This diversification serves to make the company more stable over time. The forthcoming settings target a cross-section of both roleplayers and non-roleplayers.
All Your Eggs in One Basket
If you look at the creator community beyond tabletop roleplaying, you will see successful people branching out. YouTubers fear the ever-changing algorithm and demonetization. The US nearly banned TikTok for a minute, which left people worrying about their income. Reliance on one revenue stream, one product, or even one platform, is a gamble. To make a living as a creator of any sort, you need to diversify.
I have more to say about this, and I will — in this week’s Secret Newsletter. It’s already written and scheduled to drop on Sunday. If you have not subscribed already, there’s still time to get in on the action. It’s free!
The First Secret Newsletter is written and scheduled to go out this Sunday. It explains why it’s called The Secret Newsletter and has updates that you won’t find anywhere else. Going forward it will be the first place news and big announcements are posted. And it’s free!
In a previous developer journal entry, I wrote: “Trolls are bad-faith time-wasters and emotional parasites. The only way to win is to not play, which serves to cut you off from nice people, which isn’t a win at all.” Today I want to discuss the importance of acting in good faith, as a game designer, small business owner, and human being.
I want to apologize in advance if this entry is boring. I’m attempting to be informative, rather than entertaining. While it’s easy to assume that people already know these things, as you’ll shortly see some people either don’t know or don’t care.
What is Good Faith?
Good faith means you have a sincere intention to be open, honest, and fair. It’s an important concept in both law and business. When you’re dealing with contracts, you rely on the fact that both parties will act in good faith and follow the terms of said contract. If you don’t, people tend to stop doing business with you.
Social media is rife with people arguing in bad faith. They have no intention of changing their mind and don’t care about the facts. The agenda is never to learn but to “win” either by coercing the other person to agree or getting them to quit. It’s always a Pyrrhic victory, a cheap endorphin hit at best. To quote Mary Wollstonecraft, “Convince a man against his will, He’s of the same opinion still.” (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792.)
An aspiring game designer asked what seemed to be a sincere question on Twitter. DriveThruRPG has a clause in their contract that requires a publisher to charge the same price across all platforms. Aside from sales, which run for a limited time, you can’t charge one price on DriveThru and another on Amazon, Itch, or any other outlet. They wanted to know if this violated laws against establishing monopolies, as it’s effectively a form of price control.
Their argument was that if DriveThru takes 35%, and Itch takes 20%, it would only be fair to allow publishers to charge 15% more on DriveThru to compensate for their cut*. After all, different stores have different prices for the same goods. If you go to Amazon, Walmart, and Target you will find the same items for wildly different prices.
The logic behind DriveThru’s clause is simple. If you charge a lower price somewhere else, customers will be inclined to buy somewhere else. It costs them business. That’s not a monopolistic practice intended to keep you from doing business elsewhere. It falls under numerous precedents for maintaining a competitive marketplace. In fact, it’s the same principle that allows Amazon, Walmart, Target, et.al. to negotiate for those different price points.
For my efforts, I was mocked and called a “DTRPG stan” by the original poster and their friends. When I said I was just trying to provide a straightforward answer to their question, they replied “Ah but you see, I’m not arguing in good faith.” They just wanted to complain. At that point, I deleted my tweets and blocked the people participating in the threat.
Acting in Good Faith
This is where I start to sound like a stuffy old man. I know that this hobby is filled with game designers that have made a lot of money by being edgelords and bad boys. Inevitably they end up getting banned from social media, and no one will carry their products. Then they and their fans complain about “censorship”, I term they understand about as much as they grasp what a monopoly is. Try to act in good faith by introducing facts and logic, and you get harassed out of the conversation.
Acting in good faith is about building trust. You want to attract new customers and retain existing ones. You want to be appealing to business partners, including wholesalers, retailers, banks, accountants, lawyers, and anyone else you may need to rely on in the future. It comes down to professionalism. If you want to earn a living in this publishing niche, you need to behave like a professional. To grow a business beyond your circle of friends, you need to establish yourself a credible. That requires acting in good faith.
People frequently email me to ask questions about publishing, game design, and business in general. Most people are polite and professional about it. I’m happy to answer them as I have time. My days of answering questions posed on Twitter are over, though. I’m done walking into troll traps. It cuts me off from nice people asking in good faith, but I’m not to blame for that.
*Itch taking 20% is meant to be a selling point for publishers; you keep a higher margin. The idea of charging more on DriveThru misses the point. I kept that to myself, along with the issues I have with their contract terms.
Last week I was subtweeted by Rob “co-creator of Fate” Donoghue. I’d be terrible at self-promotion if I didn’t capitalize on the fact that a well-known, award-winning game designer unleashed a whole tweetstorm based on something I wrote. I’ll explain what happened, but the bottom line is that I feel I need to write some sort of manifesto explaining my toolkit approach to tabletop roleplaying design and publishing.
The quote was from the end of the post. What I meant was, “thankfully I can make it all about you, because making it all about me is more than my social anxiety can handle”. As the creator on this side of the supply chain, I’m defining the parasocial aspect of our partnership based on my comfort level. The feedback I received shows most people got that. I actually got a lot of kind feedback from fellow sufferers, thankful that I was open about it.
Anyway, Rob quote-tweeted Daniel without acknowledging the origin of the quote or addressing the context. The way Twitter presents quote Tweets means you need to click extra things to get to the link to my post, and few people are going to do that. Which is fine. Rob wanted to make his points about the toolkit approach.
I like this sentiment a lot, and I support it, but it also niggles at me, so I must append: It is not either or. We can both be creators, if that’s what we both want. We don’t *have* to be, but there are a lot of ways for the partnership to work. https://t.co/1ewkgjLEJ8
I never said that it was either/or. This was specifically about the design choice that I have made for my games, my books, and my publishing company. I abhor “one true way” idealism in tabletop gaming. Play what you want to play, the way you want to play it. DXP creates material for a niche audience within a niche hobby. If you have other preferences, there are other games and publishers out there creating things that better align with your tastes.
Rob goes on to unleash a tweetstorm about what people like, the pros and cons of toolkits, and so on. You can find it by following the linked tweet above if you care to read it. I think it glosses over a few things, like why Fate is popular, why Evil Hat made the creative decisions that it did, and oh, I don’t know, anything about why I take the toolkit approach and how it’s reflected in my games.
Design the Game You Want to Play
I like games that allow me to create my own fiddly bits. That is, give me a nice selection of spells, or guns, or superpowers along with the rules on how to create my own, and get out of my way. Give me so plot hooks to tease out using my own ideas, and let me run wild. Provide enough setting material to give me the feel of things, and allow me to develop the world into what I want it to be.
If you ever read any of my settings, you know that this is the approach I take. In 2022 I’m going to be releasing a ton of settings, and they’re all toolkits. They’re going to have pre-generated characters and a ready-to-play supporting cast. There will be plot hooks and loose ends that you can use, incorporate with your own ideas, or completely ignore. That’s all part of the toolkit.
There Is No Canon
Every time you sit down to play, you are creating your own canon. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a published adventure for a commercially published setting. Your group’s experience with that adventure is going to be different from my group’s. The choices they make aren’t the same ones my crew will make. How the outcome of the adventure affects your campaign will differ from the effects on my campaign. All of that chaos become raw material for future creativity. That happened. Now, what happens next?
If you’re playing in a licensed setting, you already know that your game isn’t canon. You can have fun trying to create adventures so that they don’t contradict that one storyline in The Expanse or that episode of Star Trek. It’s fun to reimagine a whole season of Buffy or ignore the movies starring your least-favorite James Bond actor. Your Forgotten Realms campaign isn’t the canon of the novels. Same concept.
The toolkit approach acknowledges this. One of the reasons I lean into lighter setting material and systems with do-it-yourself options is my frustration with Classic Traveller. I’ve written about how the aesthetic and the simple rules inspired me. The density of the setting is my example of how not to do it. They mapped out every planet in every sector of space, leaving me no room to add in my own ideas. (Yes, I know about Foreven Sector. I’m talking about leaving some room within the official setting to add my own material, not setting aside an empty sector for me to develop entirely from whole cloth).
The Toolkit Approach
This is all part and parcel of the lo-fi publishing aesthetic. Keep rules concise. You don’t need 300 spells, or guns, or superpowers when I can give you a dozen examples and the rules to easily mix. match, and create your own. There’s no need for full-color painted interiors that are only there to make the book shiny and expensive. You only need what’s necessary to play the game. Not creating massive setting books is right in line with my mission to publish affordable books packed with useful content.
This is punk rock. I’m giving you three chords. You bring the attitude.