The Red Moon has risen once more, and the castle has returned to the world. The Rome of 1523 is corrupted by its tendrils, and heroes have gathered to fight it back. Fuelled by a desire to find power, restore lost artefacts, or rescue their lover, they kick down its doors and descend into its depths. In the damp, moss-covered marble corridors of the great cathedral, they will face baleful priests, mutilated martyrs and strange purification rituals. And at the centre of the cathedral, the acolyte in charge waits to baptise them into the castle‘s dark religion.
Hosted by James Iles (@jamesciles), with Isidor played by Maria Rivera (@thoobn), Hector played by Jesse Larimer, and Alexandria played by Aaron DeRosa (@OrderedPlace).
With the castle banished for now, we explore the bloodlines each founder created to prepare for its return. When it invades again – in the heart of 1523 Rome – it will be met by a faithful and superstitious lineage of shepherds, devotees of a holy library, mystics hungrily searching for power and half-dead beserkers trying to fight the rage within.
I’m trying to do a lot more of my playtesting online these days. It’s a bit more of a pain to arrange and I prefer running face-to-face, but it gives me a recording – useful for sharing what gameplay is like and helping me spot what isn’t working. And if I have a recording, why not edit it down to an audio format that’s easy for people to listen to?
I thought I’d start with a new series of playtests for Rhapsody of Blood, the Legacy hack I’m making thanks to the 2nd Edition Kickstarter. It’s inspired by Castlevania, Bloodborne and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, casting the players as bloodlines of explorers waging an endless war against an invading eldritch castle from outside reality. If you’d like to try your own game of it, you can download the current playbooks here.
I’m using this to pilot Project Blue Book – a podcast from UFO Press showcasing actual play of our games, interviews with other designers, and audio design diaries. I know audio quality’s a little rough – one of the perils of record from Google Hangouts – but I’m fast at work looking for ways to improve it. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!
It’s been a while since I last posted here, eh? With the Legacy 2e Kickstarter a smashing success (#32 most funded in 2017!) I haven’t had much time to keep this place updated, but I thought it might be nice to post a roundup of the year that’s passing.
January-March: What Ho World fulfilment
We started the year off fulfilling the Kickstarter campaign for What Ho, World! and Wizards Aren’t Gentlemen. This went pretty well, with the caveat that the estimates provided to us by Shipwire didn’t include the £2/order packing charge. Ouch. On top of that, I think I over-estimated how many decks to print. We’ve sold about 6 decks a month, and have about 280 left – of which I’d need to sell 215 to actually break even on this campaign. So, again, ouch. The games have been good earners at cons though, and fundamentally I’ve had a lot of backers talking about their fun experiences with the game, so I’m not full of regret. Just things to learn for the future:
Be more realistic about the post-crowdfunding sales we can expect.
Make absolutely sure how much shipping will cost you!
Don’t splurge on adverts – I spent £700-ish on BoardGameGeek ads, when I should have spent more effort building hype for the game before the Kickstarter, posting actual play, etc. Video of your game being played is far far better than any banner advert!
Around this time I was also getting initial feedback on Ghost Ship that showed I really needed to reassess what players would actually do in the game. I’ve got ideas now, but it’s been a long time coming. Hopefully, I’ll have something neat to show you in the new year.
April-June: Two hundred words and thirty thousand people
April was dominated by the 200 Word RPG challenge. We both put together an entry: I made Parasite Vector, a high-octane action game with a body-horror flavour, and Liz made The Holy Mountain, a meditative game about pilgrims uncovering who their fellow travellers really are. It was really fun working to write games that fit under the word count, even if neither of our entries made it to the final set.
In May, we started getting to work on Legacy 2nd Edition. Douglas began his playtests, while I started preparing art briefs for Tithi Luadthong. I also started my Patreon, making one-page RPGs every month to try and continue on the energy of the 200-word RPG challenge – not to mention test my layout skills. Eight months later, there’s quite a collection of games up there:
I’ve started selling them on postcards – check out the store on this site to get your own copies.
At the beginning of June, we had the UK Game Expo! It was the biggest convention I’ve ever been to – apparently, total footfall was 30,000 visitors – and I was there tucked in the back row alongside Crooked Dice miniatures and All Rolled Up. Getting used to the scale of the place took some doing, but I made some great connections, ran a fun game of Psi*Run for Games on Demand, and sold a bunch of games. Roll on next year, where hopefully I’ll be part of a group stall with people to chat to during the day and shifts allowing me to take in the rest of the convention.
July-September: The Grand Kickstarting
Promotion for Legacy 2 began in earnest at the end of June, and I experimented with broadcasting my playtests. Getting used to OBS and video editing proved to be its own challenge, but the resulting videos were invaluable when it came time to build hype for the Kickstarter. It also highlighted how I’d been designing with the assumption players would have physical playbooks in front of them, and how that could cause problems playing online. The group was lovely, and posting the videos online meant that far more people than just the playtest group could give me feedback on the game. Certainly something I’ll repeat for future games, though I may not put as much effort into the video component. I’m not sure it added anything of value to the audio.
On the 25th of July, the campaign launched… and by the 26th, it was funded. So began a series of smashed expectations that are continuing to this day. Not sure I can offer wise insights yet, with the game yet to be printed or shipped, but I’d point the Kickstarter success to:
Great art. Tithi’s art is incredible and evocative, and supremely eye-catching. I do wish that I’d commissioned pieces for the Kickstarter’s key art, as three other games using the same stock art hit KS at the same time, but following What Ho, World! the budget was tight. There’s a three-way balance between art quality, price, and exclusivity – don’t avoid using stock art, but be aware of the non-financial costs.
Transparency. I had a full text of the game available to play at the start of the campaign, recorded playtests and constant communication. Maybe I went a bit overboard with the updates, but I’d definitely recommend over-communicating over under-communicating.
Quickstart! I put together a 20-page PDF that communicated the key features of Legacy: a fantastical and weird post-apocalypse, multiple scales of play, and the sweep of history. Then I gave it away for free and got it featured as DriveThruRPG’s free product of the week. If you can do something similar, it’s definitely well worth it.
My Customers. I put a lot of effort this time around into hyping up people who had played Legacy 1e. I communicated with previous backers, talked about the game at conventions and on podcasts, and generally got the game lodged in people’s minds as something that was happening.
July was also Game Chef. I’d seen iterations of this competition come and go over the years, and always managed to miss it. I may have been running a Kickstarter, but that was no reason not to write another game! This year, I had a game idea that perfectly fit the competition elements: Borders, Yarn, Echo, Smoke, and Cut. That game was Weave, and ended up a finalist! I’m really happy with this game – the arts and crafts sector of nerdery is criminally under-supported in RPGs, and the game produces gentle stories of travel and culture that emergently get people talking about appropriation, local culture and tourism.
August was Nine Worlds Fanfest. It remains a singular convention – nowhere else I’ve been to has been so friendly, welcoming, accommodating and nerdy. A highlight was definitely the panel I put together on getting into RPGs, which included wisdom from Pelgrane‘s Kat Tobin, Black Armada‘s Joshua Fox and Becky Annison, and Rowan, Rook and Decard‘s Chris Taylor. I ran a stall for a day, which again had pretty good takings – especially Weave, whose small PoD print run arrived just in time for the convention.
September was dedicated to dealing with the aftermath of the Kickstarter. Post-KS funding on PledgeManager allowed us to unlock those last few stretch goals, bringing Katherine Cross on board our writing team alongside Khelren, Laurence Phillips, Fyodor Kasatkin and Aaron Griffin. One thing I could have done better was the diversity of my team: out of the 14 writers, artists, editors and layout pros only five were women, and three of those were brought on thanks to stretch goals pretty late in the project. Something to be aware of at the planning stage for the next project.
October-December: Head down and working
Which takes us up to the present. For the past few months I’ve been writing Rhapsody of Blood, my gothic action hack of Legacy inspired by Castlevania and Bloodborne. It’s now in a playtestable state – grab the main text and the playbooks if you’re interested!
We also began work on The Butler at the Threshold – the cosmic horror take on What Ho, World!‘s light-hearted farce. Liz and I have hashed out how we’d like to change the core mechanics and what sort of abilities we want players to have. Have some card previews, and look forward to full rules soon!
Finally, we celebrated the first birthday of our son. Being a parent changes your view of the world, even just through sleep deprivation, and it’s exciting to imagine where we’ll be at in a year’s time. It’s been a strange year – lots of ups and downs, even ignoring the world outside, but UFO Press is still going strong and poised to do orders of magnitude better than before once Legacy 2e drops. Looking forward to seeing what 2018 brings!
As I’ve been promoting Legacy 2nd Edition basically everywhere it’s made me really think about what sets it apart from Apocalypse World. It’d be easy to say it’s the family mechanics – that’s certainly the big showcase mechanic. But for me it goes deeper.
Essentially, it’s about the philosophy of the game. Most post-apoc fiction is about scarcity: of food, meds, shelter, whatever. Legacy certainly has some of that – Surpluses and Needs define families. But it’s far more about evolution and adaptation.
See, it’s not like the world ended. It just changed. In ecological terms, the old ways have low fitness for this new environment, but there are new niches out there, ready for whoever adapts to exploit them. Or you can spend effort building a niche for yourself.
This means that families gradually become as weird as the world you’ve created – culturally, technologically or biologically. And who’s to say the monsters of the wasteland remain monstrous? A few generations down the line, ghouls might be your best friends.
So, Legacy’s wasteland isn’t dusty and entropic. It’s a verdant, vibrant and chaotic, bursting with bright and deadly colours. But it’s a place life can thrive – the question is whether that includes humanity, or if you’ll move beyond humanity to survive.