Another Kickstarter I'm Backing: Alas for the Awful Sea

I heard about this Kickstarting system pretty much how I hear about all the systems I end up backing: through an online friend's recommendation. Occasionally I find out about a system through a blog review or pitch, but it's usually friends. So far, it's been working out for me: I've gotten what I've backed and my backlog is quite long. There's always more to play (and read, and write) than time.

The system in question for this post is Alas for the Awful Sea, which is finishing off its Kickstarter on Feb. 22nd (at 7am). It's make its goal multiple times over again, so backing it definitely means putting money down on the table. To quote the pitch:

Alas is a story-focused tabletop roleplaying game about a ship’s crew navigating the remote British Isles. There, they face a world consumed with suspicion, sadness, and desperation. Struggles for power have deadly consequences; mysterious disappearances plague the region; and those who seem human may not all be so. Amidst all this, the sea sends forth strange messages. Will you be the one to listen?

It draws on the history of fishing villages and folklore of 1800s Scottish Hebrides. So it should fill more of the disempowered fantasy section of my roleplaying games library, while using the supernatural to keep it from being too crushing. Since it uses the Apocalypse World system for the core, I should be able to pick up the mechanics faster than a system with totally unfamiliar mechanics. Which means that I, personally, am more likely to play. I mentioned that backlog of new systems to play, right?

The artwork shown so far in the Kickstarter looks gorgeous. It fits my current desire for narrative and character arc focused games, but looks like it will have enough plot focus that I will have a structure to work with, in order to play my character — I like having goals to move towards, it means I know something to do with a character. And the setting is an area I haven't explored much in gaming or my personal reading.

So all in all, a good mix of familiar and desired things along with ways to stretch myself as a consumer of media and a role-player. I'm looking forward to the finished project.

Go check out the Kickstarter, see if it's a game for you too.

Kickstarters I Have Backed

Since 2012, I have, through my account (not my partner's) backed 13 Kickstarters:

  • Singularity & Co.
  • a smart thermometer 
  • wipebook
  • a card game about using funny voices for new characters (Noisy Person Cards)
  • a board game about political movement building
  • the Baby Beastiary, vol. 2 & vol. 1 reprint
  • 7 role-playing games
    • Unknown Armies
    • Red Markets
    • Ki Khanga
    • Dialect
    • Monsterhearts (2nd edition)
    • City of Mist
    • Harlem Unbound

Honestly, I think I've got some weird tastes. Either that or I tend to think if the project will eventually be available through some mainstream sources I'll just buy it that way instead of backing the kickstarter. Or both. It could be both.

So far, Singularity & Co. did what they said they were going to (keep a bookstore open and publish some sci-fi), the thermometer and wipebook were delivered to us, and I've picked up the Baby Beastiary at Gen Con 2016. Partner and I still use the thermometer. We tried the wipebook (notebook make of dry erase pages essentially) and found that while we liked the idea, it didn't fit with how we used notebooks. Not the fault of the product, just wasn't for us. And the Baby Beastiary is directly responsible for my Monsters and Other Childish Things character. Besides just being, you know, really fun to read. So, I feel like we've gotten our money's worth out of those.

Noisy Person Cards has slipped their planned released date but were good about keeping the backers up-to-date on what was going on, where they messed up, and what was happening now. All of the rest aren't even estimated to be coming out until sometime in 2017. Heck, Harlem Unbound finished its Kickstarter this morning. All of which is going to make for an interesting 2017 if even half these projects hit their projected release dates:
March — Ki Khanga: The Sword and Soul Roleplaying Game
April — Rise Up (political movement building board game) and Unknown Armies
June — Monsterhearts 2
July — Dialect (birth and death of a language)
Aug — City of Mist (Noir Superheroes)
and of course the one I'm working on, Red Markets, slated for Dec. 2017

I've been lucky so far. None of the projects I've backed yet has crashed and burned, flaming out in a wreck of not-finishing or putting out a product. If that continues to hold, I will have a lot of new games I can review here :D

On Deciding to Back an RPG Kickstarter or Not

Partner popped up with an RPG Kickstarter today called Harlem Unbound and did I want to back? RPG stuff is one of those things we try to both agree on before buying since we both like the hobby and would prefer to share. Partially that's because RPG books can be expensive and partially because any game is a bit of a time commitment, so only one of us being interested in any particular RPG is a great way to either not play together or one of us have an un-fun time. Besides, if it appeals to both of us, there's a better chance it'll be good, ya?

So, what do I look for when deciding if I want to back an RPG Kickstarter? Figured I'd walk y'all through my thought process.

Well, first thing I check (and this might be way too obvious) is the title. Is it evocative? Does it give me a sense of what the project is going for? In this case, I find 'Harlem Unbound' to be pithy, evocative, and I'm already thinking I'm inclined to give this thing a chance.

Alright, next, is it a new system or supplementary material for a system already in use? In this case, we've got a supplement, here called a sourcebook, to Call of Cthulhu or Gumshoe. I like playing in the mythos setting, have had good experiences with Call of Cthulhu, and am interested in learning Gumshoe (even if I haven't gotten around to it yet). So far so good. 1920s Harlem — a time and place I only know as the briefest of sketches that would expand the world I could play  in those systems? I'm interested.

Next watch the pitch video. Looks like the creator put time and effort into making it look professional and evokes the time period in question. Cute framing device (creator's three or four year old daughter interviewing her dad) that also evokes the 1920s. Creator name checks a couple names I'm at least aware of from the era as part of the research he's done. Clean description of what the project is. Still interested.

Check the creator's track record: already backed 52 other projects on Kickstarter and this is their first project on Kickstarter. Says to me they likely have seen what works and what doesn't on Kickstarter, so will only promise what they can deliver. Successful previous projects on Kickstarter would be nice, but everyone has to start somewhere and this doesn't look like a heartbreaker project, so consciously choosing not to penalize for not already being successful.

Goal: modest and already surpassed three times over with three weeks left to go. So definitely will fund. Hm, extra swag/add-ons of the physical stuff variety (dice and a sweatshirt). That's not great — many a Kickstarter has been sunk by physical stuff costs...  Let's check the stretch goals next.

Let's see, already funded are two extra scenarios, a keeper's screen, more art, a longer history section, printing in color, and extra creatures. Left to be unlocked are another character class, a scenario, and printing a hardback book. I like the stretches, they are focused on making the core product better. I'm a little worried the creator isn't asking for enough money for each stretch goal, but I haven't done the research on printing an RPG book and they look similar to what I recall from the Red Markets Kickstarter. So. Still good so far.

Okay, I'm pretty sure I'd like to back this, so let's look at the pledge levels. 

Hm. There's a 5$, 25$, 40$, and 50$ pledge level (actually, there are higher levels too, I just know my limits). The 5$ just gets Partner and I in the acknowledgements page — that's no good, I want to use the product. 25$ gets me a digital copy but none of the stretch goals. I assume that would be the additional scenarios but the creator isn't making two books, one with the longer history section and one without. That's an assumption but it sounds like a waste of time to me... Any rate, I personally may not care about getting a GM's screen, but I do want those additional scenarios. 40$ gets me that digital copy with the stretch goals while 50$ gets all that plus a hardcover copy. Well, Partner and I already have a lot of RPG books, both digital and physical. I'm alright keeping this digital only, especially since I don't actually own a physical copy of either base system. 

I would have loved to have seen the digital only, no stretch goals at 15$ with a softcover + digital (maybe no stretch goals?) at 25$ or 30$. But again, I haven't run the numbers from the creator's side and the pledge levels are in no way egregiously different than other projects I've seen, so I really just have to trust that they're selling it at the fairest price they can while paying everyone working on the project a fair wage. 

40$ pledge level it is.

Annnd backed.

So that's more or less how Partner and I choose RPG Kickstarter projects to back. Is it in a genre we like to play? If not, is in an area of RPGs that we're looking to stretch into? Are the creators people we feel we should back and support in order to bring new ideas or new perspectives into the hobby? Does it look like it's going to meet minimum viability? Does it look the creators have an idea of what they're doing? Do they have a plan (as evidenced by the stretch goals)?

And finally, can we afford the price they're asking right now?

Last push on the Red Markets Kickstarter

So by the time this goes up, the project I've been editing in all of my spare time since late May, the Red Markets Kickstarter, will have less than two days before it wraps up. As of this writing, the 60K stretch goal has been unlocked so we're going to get the Gaming the System Guide – Caleb’s part design analysis, part advice document on how to make the Profit system drive other settings.

Now, this being my Monday post which is my writing day, I know y'all are mostly here for that side of things, but please do check out the Kickstarter. Even if you've never played a role-playing game, I think this is a good system to check out the hobby with. And it's a great system for exploring a variety of stories in an economically scarce setting.

As I've said, I’m the editor on this project. And, as much as this makes my health-economics trained partner despair, a solid chunk of my reasoning behind signing onto the project was “ooooh, I’ll get to see the rules sooner.” Yup, unabashed nerd. Which is honestly how I got this job.

So Caleb Stokes, the author, offered up a previous version of the rules for play testing to the Role Playing Public Radio community last summer. I'd heard discussions about the system and the setting and so rather wanted to play. Buuuut, I didn't have a group I thought I could talk into playing just then (or meet regularly enough to provide decent play testing notes). But I really wanted to at least read the rules. Maybe I could provide feedback from just reading the rules? That wouldn't really help with how things got played, which was (presumably) what Caleb really needed. Oh, I know! I'll copy edit the whole thing!!

And somehow, it never occurred to me to stop that project when I found out the beta rules version was 250+ pages (in Microsoft Word). Nor when I found an online gaming group who wanted to play Red Markets.

So yeah, I copy edited 250+ pages. Because I thought that was a fair trade for getting to read Caleb's intellectual property for free. So I emailed that off. And a week or so later, I got an email back.

"Would you be interested in some paid work on the next draft?"


And that's how I got on my first RPG editing job. :D


Quick note, the interview I was part of with Technical Difficulties of Caleb of Hebanon Games on his game Red Markets is now live! Go check it out on our website.

Little bit of a funny story about the ad at the beginning of that interview. Being in the US and having a holiday weekend, partner and I were traveling when Aaron (who does the audio engineering for TD) texted us, asking if partner could record an ad to throw up at the beginning of the interview. Having just realized that would be a good idea. Being at our friend's house for the Memorial weekend yearly get together we didn't have the microphone we use with us. So, maybe when we got home Monday evening and the interview could go up late? But wait, several of our friend are part of No Nostalgia Filter, maybe someone hasn't started the drive yet and could bring a microphone with them. Oh, you've all already started driving? Okay. Wait what? Angelo, why do you always carry your professional grade microphone with you...? No, never mind, not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

So yeah, that ad was recorded with a better quality microphone than we usually have access to, partner learned a new technique for recording multiple takes, and there was much rejoicing. 

On the personal writing news level, I have finished transcribing The Night Clerk! My next writing project (which I have no plans to try and push forward while editing Red Markets) is going to be a novelization of that scenario from Role Playing Public Radio. It's going to be my first foray into horror which is going to be fun. Specifically atmospheric and mental horror, so lots of opportunity to focus on and work on my descriptive writing. I'm looking forward to this.

I have a several-step process to prepare for novelizing an actual play of an RPG session:
1.  Transcribe the audio
    Transcribing gets me to listen to the episode again, in a very intent way, really concentrating on what happened and who does what. But, more importantly, it creates a record I can text search if I need to refresh my memory. Instead of trying to find the proper time code for the specific issue I have a question about. This is the part that takes the longest; depending on many factors, I can transcribe 1.5-3 minutes of audio in 15-20 minutes. This particular audio was ranging on the high end (2.5-3 minutes in 15) because there were only three folks talking and they were pretty good about not talking over each other. Let me tell you, I am very, very familiar with these folks' verbal tics...
2.  Research points
     Next I reread the transcription and note all the points I think I need to research. These can be things I think I need more historical background on so I'll write it properly, technical details I want to double check, and things that just sound interesting and would like to know more about.
3.  Outline
     I build an outline of what happened in the audio. This is partially to have a timeline and partially to start breaking things down into 'scenes,' which is how I organize things in Scrivener.
     3a. Writing Outline
           If I notice plot holes or things that make sense for a gaming session but not a written story, I'll create a second outline that rearranges scenes. This is to smooth out timeline issues and/or improve the movement between scenes.
     Please note that I am completely willing to rearrange scenes after they're written.
4.  Do the research
     DO THE BLOODY RESEARCH. This step is NOT skippable. This is where I'll pull together reference material into Scrivener's Research section and maybe build a relevant Pinterest board.
5.  Character Bible
     A document where I pull together everything that seems relevant about the main characters and any minor characters who show up for more than one scene.

And once all that is done, then I get started writing.

Red Markets Kickstarter is Live!

I am super excited, the Kickstarter to publish Red Markets is live today! I've loved listening to the RPPR play-test campaign, loved getting to play this myself through the open play-test, and am looking forward to more games struggling against the apocalypse, in order to pay rent.

This game, written by Caleb Stokes, really dives into an aspect of role-playing games I haven't seen before – being on the sharp end of Capitalism's stick. The rules are as simple or crunchy as you want to play, the system keeps the prep weight off the GM's shoulders, and the players have a lot of say in the world. But you know, don't listen to me, Caleb's ad copy is much better. Check out the Kickstarter: 

Red Markets Kickstarter

And, two interviews he's given about the game, one on Roleplaying Exchange and one on Legends of Tabletop