Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What a Tabletop RPG Needs To Be Now: Part 3

In the last year we finally got a proven formula for indie author success when Nick Cole and Jason Anspach hit big with their SF series Galaxy's Edge. They aren't shy about sharing how they made it work, and they do talk about it in places where you don't need to pay a toll to get the knowledge. This was a big part of a recent Geek Gab appearance.

You own it to yourself to get up to speed on how Cole & Anspach hit big with this series, and what they learned bout how people deal with fiction. Most of it, in business terms, applies to tabletop RPGs- especially the point where readers follow genres, not authors. (Some doesn't, of course, but that's for another post.)

The point here is that you, being not one of the dinosaurs still slaved to a pre-Internet business paradigm, are in a good position to take full advantage of what Amazon offers you as a seller. You don't need retail shelf space. You can run everything on a skeleton crew (or just yourself), operate on a shoestring, and compete favorably against those behemoths because your will be leaner, meaner, and therefore faster to react to changing circumstances. Furthermore, there is no difference between you and the big players online; a site is a site, a blog is a blog, and a Twitch channel is a Twitch channel. It's all on your ability to hustle.

We'll get into the hustle some more later this week. Right now, take away the knowledge that there is a proven method for you to put out product on your own with sweet fuck-all for financial capital and no need for the publisher or retail chain (and thus the entire print-centered paradign). All you need to do is learn how to apply it.

Which means that we're looking at what sort of thing you want to sell.

It needs to have these qualities:

  1. Few, Simple Mechanics: The strength of tabletop RPGs is how they exploit and leverage liminality to achieve results that videogames require massive mountains of spaeghetti code to accomplish half as well. I've written about this previously so I refer you to those posts for more details. You need just enough rules and mechanics to give the Game Master a rubric for rulings, such as the Basic D&D editions, and let the rest fall upon the interaction of players and the Game Master. A mechanically-simple game is easier to learn, easier to master, runs faster, has looser tolerances so it can handle a wider variety of gameplay experiences by a new user, and avoids the now-known pitfalls of Mech Piloting.
  2. Clean Art Carefully Chosen: Writing rules and mechanics is technical writing. You won't need much in the way of art, but what you do need must be crystal-clear due to its utility in explaining how things work to the user. You have to choose carefully, and you better not cheap out if you commission work done. Black & White will be fine for mechanics illustrations; save the color for your playable content.
  3. Average Five Year Old: Take a page from the Evil Overlord list. If your writing can't be clearly comprehended by average Elementary school students, then you're doing it wrong; cut it out and rewrite it until you get there. Gygaxian verbosity is not good for technical writing aimed at ordinary people. Related: Glossaries Are Your Friends. While you ought to keep the jargon to the barest possible minimum, you will need some terms, so collect them into a glossary. Link liberally to it when putting the manuscript together.
  4. Shorter Is Better: Tomes are a turnoff. You want to keep what you're writing down to a minimum; this plays into the point on the game being fast to learn, play, and master. Only D&D ever got away with a multi-rulebook core product line, and that was an accident of history. You're not D&D. One master document, kept to the minimum necessary, is more than sufficient for actual needs.

And now comes the question of "What is content?" in terms of tabletop RPGs. Tomorrow.

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