Two Years of Legacy

It’s been two years today since I released Legacy 2nd Edition to the general public on DriveThruRPG. As a distraction from the pandemic spreading in real life, I thought it might be worth looking back at this game of hope and community after the end. What went right, and what went wrong? What unexpected joys did we encounter, and what do we plan for the future?

Facts and Figures

So, we started making Legacy’s 2nd edition sometime in the Autumn of 2016. At that point Douglas and I were considering it as a revised edition of Legacy, but as the scale of the changes grew and grew we realised it could be something much bigger. Over the course of 2017 we developed the game, eventually bringing it to Kickstarter in July 2017. The response was amazing – within a day we had blown past our modest £8,000 goal, and eventually closed out the campaign with £62,258 from 1,713 backers.

What did they all pledge for?

A graph of how many people pledged for each kickstarter reward (non-exclusive)
A graph of how many people pledged for each kickstarter reward (non-exclusive).

With the addition of a post-campaign pledge manager, my final budget for the project was £91,700. What did all that get used for? Well, as a result of the campaign we were able to make:

As you can likely tell, we had our work set out for ourselves even with the generosity of our backers bouying us up, and definitely got carried away promising extra bits and pieces. How did it all shake out? Let’s look at Legacy 2e itself.

Final costs: Legacy 2e

You’re likely noticing that writing costs aren’t up there. When this kickstarter launched, I was in full-time work and wanted to put profits from Legacy 2e back into the business. Meanwhile, Douglas was (and still is) paid an agreed amount per book sold. These days, I think I’d budget a fixed amount of wages for myself, and a lump sum for Douglas – this would have made accounting a lot easier down the line.

  • Art: £2224 (14 commissioned pieces, 52 stock art pieces, all from Tithi Luadthong).
  • Layout: £1000 (by the wonderful Oli Jeffrey, who very kindly showed me the ropes for RPG layout).
  • Editing: £1383 (approx. 60k words).
  • Printing: £6000 (2000 copies, 250 of which were deluxe copies bound in faux leather and presented in a durable slipcase).

With all costs combined, the first printing run of Legacy 2e cost £18,380. This was well within my kickstarter budget!

End Results


This project was a significant success that helped put UFO Press on the map worldwide. After paying all costs and fulfilling all backer orders, I had £22,500 remaining to fund future development and pay my own salary. And the long tail of sales has been a real boon! Post-kickstarter sales have resulted in profits of approximately £25k over the last two years, providing a stable source of income for myself and allowing for a second print run of the Legacy corebook.

Of that wide range of additions above, most have turned a healthy profit. Even the Worlds of Legacy books, which have seen slow sales compared to the corebook, have each individually turned a profit and lead to regular royalties for the authors who opted for that arrangement.


The main misstep I made was the Handout Sheets. Printing a deck of full-colour dry-erase A5 cards at this volume proved very expensive and I misjudged how many of these I’d sell after the kickstarter, with the result that this part of the project was a loss of about £6,000. If you want to ease this loss a bit, you can pick up your own set here 😉

When I made a similar set for the Next World Kickstarter, I learned from this by using a cheaper, UK-based manufacturer and ordering a much lower number of units, with the effect that the Next World Handouts have been profitable.

My other takeaway is that I undervalued the books during the original kickstarter. Selling the 320-page full colour hardback for £30 was below market rates, and the 60+ page Worlds of Legacy supplements struggled to make a strong profit selling for £10 each – or £6 each in the book bundle! No doubt this helped me get so many backers, but there’s a tradeoff there. The great majority of backers bought the book bundle, and so I could have significantly reduced costs by combining the supplements into a single product.

This would have helped get more eyes on the more underappreciated books of the set. Laurence Phillip’s wonderfully weird Primal Pathways and Katherine’s Cross politically-insightful Worldfall have both found it hard to stand out, but I believe deserve just as much appreciation as Godsend or Generation Ship.

Personal Impact

The Legacy 2e campaign made a significant change to my life. Previous projects had brought in enough money to make the book with some spare cash left over, but this was enough to make UFO Press my full-time source of income. That’s been invaluable as I’ve navigated the shoals of my personal life in the last few years, and I’ll never stop being thankful for it. Plus, I’ve been able to take Legacy 2e to a lot of conventions – Dragonmeet, Nine Worlds (RIP), the UK Games Expo, Big Bad Con and more. Having a cool product to sell meant I could fund those trips, see the world, and make some really good friends.

The UK Indie RPG League stall at Dragonmeet 2018
At Dragonmeet 2018 with the UK Indie RPG League.

It hasn’t all been wine and roses. With this unexpected success, I have to fight down the hope every time I launch a campaign that maybe this one could do Legacy 2e numbers too. This led to disappointment, and made it tough for me to appreciate the successes of the Next World project, Mysthea, or Voidheart Symphony. But, that’s a good problem to have.

My distribution agreement with Modiphius also taught me I really appreciate having control of my product’s distribution and presentation. I’m very grateful to them for the marketing and distribution assistance they provided with Legacy, but as of the start of this year I’ve taken those elements in-house. So far, that’s felt like a good move – financially, psychologically and creatively.

The Ages Turn

With two years of Legacy under my belt, I’m very happy with what our creative team achieved here:

  • A gold bestseller on DriveThruRPG , in the top 2.4% of products.
  • Finalist for Best Rules and Best Interior Art in the 2019 Ennies, and for Game of the Year in the 2019 Indie Groundbreaker Awards.
  • A follow-on kickstarter for Legacy: The Next World, funding three supplement books.
  • A Bundle of Holding sale that sold over 1000 bundles and raised $2,121.75 for Mermaids UK.

At this point, I’m happy moving on to other things. The Worlds of Legacy SRD is now live, letting others make their own games based on this system. End Game and The Engine of Life are moving into US distribution, and will hopefully find an audience among the Legacy players there. And Mysthea: Legends of the Borderlands and Voidheart Symphony are getting closer to completion every day. And who knows – as the seasons change and the ages turn, maybe we’ll find our way to making Legacy 3e someday!

Thanks for reading,


2018 in Review

The great wheel turns, champagne corks are popped, fireworks explode, and we lay 2018 to rest.

Welcome to 2019!

I’m very happy with what we got up to in 2018. Here are the highlights:

Legacy Arrives

2018 was the year we fulfilled the Legacy: Life Among the Ruins 2nd Edition Kickstarter. After the crowdfunding campaign was a runaway success beyond our wildest predictions, we found ourselves with a lot to do – 6 books to complete, a bunch of accessories to make including card decks, acrylic tokens and posters, and a huge backer base to keep happy!

We ran into a few issues on the way: American shipping was a lot more of a headache than expected, we over-promised on free add-ons like posters and postcards, and a few of our authors had to duck out or drop back thanks to health or other commitments. I’m happy to say that the game and all stretch goals are now done, and we’ve already sold out of the first printing of 2000 books. The second printing, with a few fixed typos, should be arriving at the warehouse in a week.

We also released six other books for Legacy: the Wasteland Almanac, and the five Worlds of Legacy. I’m really excited with the opportunity these five books gave us to broaden the voice of the line, and give new authors their chance to get their work published.

New Ventures

2018 was also the year I started working for UFO Press full-time. As such, we stepped up the rate of our releases. The UFO Press Patreon produced 9 one-page RPGs, ranging from forgotten gods and the one child who can still hear them to OAPs revealing the occult secrets of their past.

One of the games written for this Patreon went far beyond one page, and was kickstarted as Harder They Fall – a 20-page game of world-shaking battles, played using dominoes. This campaign was in part a test of the limits of kickstarter – could I successfully kickstart a small game, in a limited time frame, with a low financial goal? The answer to that was a definite yes, but I still managed to stumble in fulfilment. Isn’t that always the way?

In particular, the decision to provide dominoes and playing cards as addons was rather foolish, and presented major logistical headaches. Indeed, the game is yet to go out to backers, which I view as a major failure for a campaign that was sold as quick and simple. If you were a backer, my apologies – and I hope it’s some comfort that I’ve learned many lessons from this in the future.

Near the end of the year, we also kickstarted Legacy: The Next World. This campaign funded three hardback books, including two expansions for Legacy – End Game and The Engine of Life – and Free From the Yoke, a standalone hack of Legacy to convert it to Game of Thrones-style political fantasy. This campaign was also remarkably successful, and the games are very close to completion – I expect Kickstarter fulfilment to be finished by May, and the games should go on sale at that time.

The Failed Guardians

It’s been particularly pleasing to see how these books have grown as backers at the higher tiers have contributed their own ideas. Thanks to the ingenuity of our backers, the playbook selection has been rounded out with:

  • The Foundling, raised among monsters.
  • The Martyr, who draws power from injury.
  • The Aerie, which attracts a legendary beast to live among you.
  • The Failed Guardians, security forces who failed to prevent the apocalypse, now waging a shadow war against the force that brought the Fall).
  • And many more!

A League of our Own

Just over a year ago I founded the UK Indie RPG League alongside Rowan Rook and Decard, Certain Death and Black Armada. Our goal was to help UK indie game publishers get a collective presence at conventions and to help us network and form useful connections. This was remarkably successful: at the UK Games Expo and Dragonmeet we had record sales, and had a booth presence comparable with industry giants like Chaosium and Cubicle 7!

Going into the next year we’re considering going international and bringing a UKIRPGL presence to non-UK cons like Essen and GenCon – keep your eyes open for news!

New Projects

Finally, looking out at 2019, what’s exciting for UFO Press?

We’re launching a kickstarter for the Mysthea RPG in March. This game draws on the wonderful world created by Tabula Games – a world of singing crystals, telekinetic magic, and strange, mutated monsters. Douglas Santana Mota is taking the lead on this project, and is rewriting the core Legacy system to fit the demands of this setting and premise. Look out over the next few weeks for more about why Mysthea should excite you!

Embrace darkness with Voidheart Symphony. For me, Rhapsody of Blood was an incredibly enjoyable game to design, and I’ve been looking for opportunities to return to that system. While that game was mainly inspired by Castlevania, eagle-eyed readers can probably guess I drew a lot of inspiration for the game’s look from Atlus’ Persona 5. That game – a story of modern-day students moonlighting as psychonaut thieves and butting heads against the forces corrupting their city – was one of my favourite games of the past decade, and was a natural fit for a modernn-day sequel to Rhapsody. I’ve already put together a draft of its core mechanics and a few playbooks; check out its page to take a look, and join our mailing list to be the first to hear more news!

That’ll do for me. What were you happy about in 2018? What are you looking forward to in the year to come?

Godsend in depth

Over the last few days, we’ve survived the space trip from hell, founded a new colony, and watched new species grow from sentience’s first glimmers to reality-manipulating powerhouses.

Today we find absolute power facing its doom in Godsend, written by Khelren, and illustrated by Jess Taylor and Tithi Luadthong.

It’s the end of days. The signs are everywhere, even if fearful mortals ignore them. The desperate, the lost, the downtrodden call out for aid. And you are the Divinities who will save – or damn – them.

You decide what domain your god represents. Maybe the gentle peace of Death, the balanced scales of Justice, the deep lore of Knowledge?

You describe how your god chooses to appear; the rites and laws and worshippers of their cult; the wonders, shrines and threats that mark the landscape; and the epithet and sub-domain that add nuance to your god.

You also decide your place in the pantheon. Maybe one deity killed you, and that’s something you hold over them. Maybe another deity is your spouse and so that you’re equal in the pantheon. The leaders of the pantheon can command their lessers but must also heed their calls for aid.

You now have a world of wonders and perils, and a pantheon of deities ruling over it. But the power of a deity is subtle and ephemeral: they can see the strands of destiny and whisper into the minds of their followers, but the oncoming apocalypse needs a more overt intervention.

That’s where Avatars come in. Each player also creates a mortal who somehow caught the attention of another player’s deity – or stole power from them. Avatars are defined by their Calling: the glorious and destroying Angel, the compassionate Martyr, the rebellious Prometheus, or one of the 5 others.

Alongside the powers granted you by your Calling, you pick a role in your Divinity’s faith – Zealot, Heretic, Lost, Hierophant, Sybarite, and so on. Whatever you pick it says something about the faith, your place in it, and what you’re hoping to achieve.

Finally, you pick your stats. Avatars have four: Charisma, Valour, Will and Wisdom. But here’s where Godsend differs from standard PbtA games: you never roll dice with these stats. Those who wield divine power are not bound by the whims of fate.

Instead, when you trigger a Move, you make your mark on the world. Then pick a number of extra benefits up to your rating in one stat, and a number of calamities to avoid up to another stat’s rating. The calamities you didn’t pick are left to the GM to use as they desire.

An example move.

What this means is that as an Avatar you’re constantly making world-changing decisions, and telling grand stories of deities and demigods. As you protect cities and drown armies, as you steal the sun and seduce the moon, as you die and are reborn, your Deity must try to guide you

Even gods struggle to oppose the tides of destiny. By the efforts of their Avatar, they can shift their fate towards the world’s Salvation – or its Ruin. And when a god’s cult becomes strong enough, they can move the world to its next age – one step closer to the apocalypse.

Each time the age turns gods reshape the map, adding cities and monsters and plagues and wonders according to their current fate and their Domain. Maybe their avatars survived the turning of ages and return to the god’s service, or maybe the god must choose a new representative?

And avatars can fall, make no mistake. You’ll face scheming factions, giant monsters, even Titans that a group of Avatars may struggle to bring down. Or if the story needs a mortal perspective, you can see what it’s like to play a god’s Apostle fighting in the Avatar’s shadow.
Godsend has a firmer division between layers of play than Legacy, as you don’t control your god’s avatar. That distance adds more negotiation to play, and serves the game’s theme: do you trust your god to bend fate in your favour? Will their blessings be cherished or spurned?

And as ages pass and the world comes closer to the End of Days, will you make the sacrifices your god demands? Will you help them damn the world if they so desire? Or will you reject divine authority and make your own decisions about the world’s fate?

So that’s Godsend: a diceless, philosophical, standalone rpg about devotion, faith and power. Please do check it out, if only for the fantastic art!

Tomorrow, I’ll take you from the high-level, cosmic-scale stories of Godsend to its opposite: the life-and-death struggles of a handful of mortal heroes, fighting back a corrosive supernatural force from outside reality. The blood moon is rising and the castle is calling…

Legacy 2e Handout Sheets spreads

AprilTTRPGMaker: a month of interesting questions!

In the run-up to April, Kira Magrann (one of our authors for Legacy: End Game!) posted the image above – 30 questions for RPG designers to provoke thoughts and get us talking about our design process. I posted my answers on my twitter and G+ pages over the month; now that the month is over, I’m compiling the answers here. Enjoy!

1. Who are you?

Hello! I’m James, a research scientist in my late 20s living in Oxford, UK. I’ve been designing RPGs for just over 10 years now, starting with the 40-person, term-long parlour larps my uni society put on and branching out into pen and paper rpgs about 5 years ago with Legacy: Life Among the Ruins. Since then, under the UFO Press banner, I’ve released a few storytelling card games, a monthly stream of micro-RPGs on Patreon, and the Game Chef finalist Weave.
I try to draw inspiration from a wide range of sources: my training in disease ecology and evolution, a lifelong passion for reading sci-fi and fantasy, interesting mechanics from video games and board games, and so on. I’m helped in this by my wife Liz, my co-designer on most of my games (though she disdains social media). Our son Jasper is less helpful, but to be fair he’s only just got the hang of walking!

2. Where ya at?

I’m based in Oxford, UK – it’s my university town, and I’ve been living here for more than 10 years now. The University RPG group – – was hugely influential in getting me to where I am today. Before coming to Uni, I’d never played a tabletop RPG; within a year of joining, I’d played a dozen different games and had started running my own larp with a group of five friends. Its wiki is still up at – I was behind the magic system and project system, which are embarrassingly clunky and over-engineered now I look back at them! One big thing they do I haven’t seen anywhere else is the Society Game – a new freeform larp system written every year, often by people who haven’t written one before but drawing on the society’s expertise, that’ll run for 1-3 terms. In structure, I guess it’s closest to Mind’s Eye Theatre, with weekly meetings and wiki-submitted downtimes between them, but in my time there they’ve covered generation ships, superhero politics, post-apocalyptic rebuilding, steampunk victoriana, a Stargate/Norse Ragnarok mashup, and more, each with its own bespoke system. I’m particularly fond of Education ( and Reunion (, my homages to Harry Potter and Lost/The Lost Room respectively.

But really the biggest thing the society did for me was present an incredibly welcome, inclusive and challenging environment that helped me really get over my conservative evangelical upbringing, embrace my own sexuality, and forge lifelong friendships and relationships. In addition, the culture of constant design, improvement and improvisation really helped me find my design feet. I don’t attend society events much these days – too many excitable teenagers to really be comfortable there! – but I’m always happy to see them doing well and trying new things.

3. Why did you start making games?

Pretty much the same reason I started GMing – it was the only way I’d get to experience the games I wanted to experience.

As I discussed yesterday, I got my start writing systems for freeform LARPs. There was something in writing magic systems for them that really called to me – thematic, punchy abilities that expressed the setting and game characters a clear sense of their abilities in a way that numerically-rated skills didn’t. Looking back, there’s a lot of the groundwork for my PbtA design work there.

My first tabletop design work was probably making custom player options – charms for Exalted, legacies in Mage, a few Dungeon World playbooks, that sort of thing. It was a PbtA design contest in September 2013 that gave me the impetus to make something standalone and original, and within a month Legacy v1 was complete. The £20 gift certificate I got for coming second in that bought me some drivethrurpg stock art, and the rest is history…

4. Describe Your Work

I try to make games that take you to new worlds. Unique worlds, really – I don’t enjoy writing setting material, so I try to give each game strong worldbuilding tools so that each group has a bespoke world to play in that they have a strong personal attachment to.
I want to provide experiences that are, let’s say, under-served in the TTRPG space. Games about rebuilding and community, games about identity and personhood, games about high society and farce. Games that are welcoming and inclusive, not just by displaying the whole range of humanity in the art but in making it possible to tell stories that have nothing to do with the use of violence and the accumulation of power.
Plus, well, I like games that make the players feel cool and creative. If someone can walk away feeling that they were responsible for something awesome that happened, that’s perfect for me.

5. Favourite game you’ve worked on?

If I had to limit it to specifically Tabletop games (aka no LARPs), it’d probably be Weave. In my experience, it never fails to tell interesting stories, and gets across its message really nicely. Plus I’m very proud of the layout I did for it – it’s nothing complex, but it really helps drive the embroidery/tailoring theme.

6. Favourite Game Mechanic

Eeesh, this one’s tough. From my own work, the one that gives me most consistent joy is the way family creation and world creation are weaved together in Legacy, so that your group’s character gen decisions shape the world in an almost subconscious way.
As for best game mechanic anywhere, it has to be AW’s moves. They’re such a clear, potent way of making your game evoke the themes you wanted. It was a revelation to see that can just write ‘when [genre-appropriate thing] happens, it has [genre-appropriate result]’ as your system.

7. Your Workspace

Mostly? In a cafe, or on the train to or from work. 3 hours commuting each way leaves a lot of time for writing!

8. Your routine

Kinda chaotic? As I described above, my most intensive design work is done on the train. When I’ve got something particularly lighting a fire in my brain, I’ll also write in the evening watching TV, in the weekends, late at night, etc

9. Your Process

An idea has several stages in its life cycle:
1) Paper: scraps jotted down in a notebook.
2) Notes: small text files on my phone or in Scrivener.
3) Layout: fleshed out with graphics etc
4) Playtesting: seeing if it all works!
[GOTO 3]

10. Best game to relax with

When I’m just looking to unwind, I like something fulfilling and repetitive – at the moment, that’s Into the Breach. When running games, my comfort food is games I can run with zero prep – Psi*Run is perfect.

11. What’s yer brand?

I’m sure many people are feeling discomfort at this question, but it’s worth considering. I think I try to seem socially-conscious, self-effacing and enthusiastic about the stories my games can help people tell, no idea how well I do! 😅

12. How do you get your work out there?

1) Drafts go out on my Patreon
2) Small games are released on the Patreon for free.
3) Big games get funding and buzz from Kickstarter and are then sold on DriveThruRPG or at my website:
I try to make my games as an ongoing conversation – here, on twitter, and on the UFO Press discord ( I feel like the sooner you have a game-shaped thing you can put in front of people, the quicker you’ll be able to see the heart of the fun, so I aim for rapid, playable prototyping.

13. Your Influences!

@GregStolze ‘s Unknown Armies was my gateway drug away from D&D – specifically, Jailbreak. Play it! Following that, @Burning_Luke‘s Burning Wheel was eye-opening. That lead me to @lumpleygames‘ thoughtful RPG theories, and then @dreamaskew showed me beautiful ways to put it all into practice My day-to-day design’s inspired by a whole mess of things, but those 4 are foundational.

14. What are your dreams and plans?

My dream is to become a world-renowned and famous RPG designer. As that isn’t really a vocation that exists, I’ll settle for being able to make RPGs as my full time job. Plan to get there? Keep putting in the work, and try to improve as I go.

15. Do you design in public or in private?

Definitely public! I send drafts out and talk about my ideas from the first point that something’s playable to basically just before sending a book to press. I’ve tried to cultivate a good group of people to discuss design with on my patreon and discord, and their feedback has made my games a lot better than they would be otherwise.

16. Any design partners?

I have two main ones – +Elizabeth Iles, my partner in everything, who’s an invaluable sounding board and has a really great eye for genre emulation, and +Douglas Santana, whose tireless energy and hustle has been a real propulsive force keeping Legacy (and UFO Press in general) moving forwards.

17. Favourite form of feedback?

Playtest reports! Saying ‘we did this, this worked great, this didn’t’ is really valuable. The best is AP of my games, though that can be incredibly painful to listen to when you can just hear the game going awry because you worded a rule poorly!

18. Current Inspiration?

Probably Persona 5, but given I’m about to start a deep dive into Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer that is almost certainly going to change.

19. Game most essential to your design?

Not going to beat around the bush – it’s Apocalypse World, of course. Next!

20. Favourite design tools?

Let’s see… anydice for checking dice mechanics, InDesign for writing/layout, an A5 Lechturmm notebook for taking notes, Scrivener or Ulysses for compiling and organising these notes.

21. How many playtests?

I’ll playtest as much as I feel a system has emergent properties or complex rules. The thing with fiction-first rules writing is that there’s little that can go wrong in the old sense of numbers not adding up, but there’s still the question of whether it’s fun. So everything you’re going to charge money for, you should play at least a couple of times. If you’re charging a lot for it, or it’s more than a few thousand words long, you should also try to get someone else to run it too.

22. How do you document ideas?

As above – a sturdy notebook in my bag, iAWriter on my phone, Ulysses and Scrivener on my iPad/laptop, not to mention blogs, G+ and discord.

23. People who’ve helped you?

The SomethingAwful Tabletop Games forum was where I cut my teeth on tabletop games design, and has consistently had my back on crowdfunding. The folks at Oxford Uni RPGSoc have been supportive and mind-expanding. I’ve been really thankful to +Jason D’Angelo for his insights in PbtA tech, +Lowell Francis for running Legacy way back when and getting me interested in The Gauntlet, +Brie Sheldon for giving me space to talk about games on their site, and +Douglas Santana for giving me the drive to keep working on and perfecting Legacy. There’s many more!

24. Most notable achievement?

Mercantile – getting Legacy 1 to Platinum on DriveThruRPG and raising >£90k in crowdfunding for Legacy 2.
Design – getting to the finals of Game Chef 2017.
Personal – being a father to a lovely, inquisitive and kind 18-month old.

25. Being a TTRPG designer means?

Always looking at whatever piece of media you’re into at the moment and wondering ‘is this a story I can bring to people’s tables?’

26. Blogs, streams, podcasts?

Mainly non-RPG, but Shut Up and Sit Down is great for all 3. For RPG AP, there’s the Gauntlet of course – Pocket Sized Play and We Hunt the Keepers are amazing. I’m also a regular listener to Friends at the Table and The Adventure Zone. For blogs, I enjoy,, and

27. Feature an RPG designer.

At the moment I’m really enjoying the designs of +Erika Chappell – she has a really cool perspective on combining high-crunch play and PbtA, combined with that sort of deep interest with plane mechanics that draws you in so that you can’t help but share in the fascination even if you know nothing about the subject!

28. Favourite Interview?

Probably the one I did with +Richard Rogers on +1 Forward: I’m really proud of the love letter I made for it, and we really got to the heart of what I loved about designing Legacy.

29. Your community.

I have a few! First up, my real-life community of Oxford roleplayers – +Elizabeth Iles, +Peter Morgan, +Ellie Williams, +James Grover, +Chris Longhurst and more. Really, absolutely foundational to getting me started in RPGs. Then I have SomethingAwful’s Traditional Games subforum. The rest of the site is, well, awful, but the community there – +Paul Ettin, +Jacob Randolph, +Erika Chappell and more – are really insightful, entertaining and devoted to the history and craft of RPGs. Then there’s G+. Thanks to the circle-sharing efforts of +Sage LaTorra in the early days I got plugged into a wide-ranging network of RPGers, and made connections I’ve maintained to this day. Finally, there’s the Gauntlet. I first got turned onto them when they posted AP of Legacy, and the things they liked (and didn’t like) about it spurred me to make 2e. Now that I’m a paid-up Patreon supporter with access to their Slack, it’s a hub of great conversation about games, far more Actual Play than I could ever consume, and a truthfully caring and welcoming arena. I’m very thankful to all these communities for the support they’ve provided!

30. Top Tips and Advice

Here’s what’s at the top of my brain: Nobody ever runs a game as written. The game documents are a tool, a way of preparing and inspiring a group so that the story they tell is entertaining and in line with what you as a designer wanted to happen. But this means that you must write your game expecting it to be refracted, distorted, emulated by each individual play group. And it also means that every choice a GM makes, every decision a player makes, is them drifting your game, making their own little design decisions, and telling the story they want to tell. You don’t own the stories they tell, no more than a parent owns their children.

So that was 2017. How did we do?

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.

Our stall at UKGE!

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: BordersYarnEchoSmoke, 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!

Happy new year,

James Iles

We went to Nine Worlds Fanfest, and so should you

This weekend we went to Nine Worlds Fanfest in London. Here’s my thoughts immediately following, as a fan and as a creator:

As an attendee:

The entrance to the con

This con really demonstrated the best sides of fandom – people experiencing earnest joy in whatever their fandom means to them, while being mature enough in their perspective to have conversations about how it could fall short. Plus, everyone was just so respectful and interested in what other people had to say. They really promoted a feeling of equality: even when writers/creators were on a panel, it didn’t have that feeling of superiors and supplicants you can get at other cons; instead, you felt like these were peers of yours who were worth listening to due to their experience in the subject.


  • Seb Atay‘s talk on the implied narrator/implied author in games was an interesting application of literary criticism to computer games in a way I hadn’t considered.
  • Grant Howitt running Dr. Magnethands for a big room of increasingly drunk superheroes and villains. I got to play Postman Pat in deep cover on the moon, and what more can you really ask for?
  • The costumes were amazing! I think my own Jesse Custer was a bit too subtle to be recognisable, but I was happy to give over my costume chips (also a very cool idea) in recognition of a hand-knitted dalek dress, a superbly-executed WicDiv Lucifer, and an ambulatory bowl of petunias.
  • Getting recommendations for stuff outside my experience and comfort zone, both on the Chinese SF panel and the comics recommendation panel.
  • Nine World’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Gender-neutral bathrooms, quite spaces, badge labelling for pronouns and willingness for interaction, and a constant awareness of the accommodations they may need to make to ensure all sorts of people fully enjoy the con. Really a glimpse of a better way of being.

Lowlights… pretty few, to be honest. The hotel’s food was overpriced and a bit poor, and it was a shame the final quiz filled up 15 minutes before it started and they had to turn people away – we were really looking forward to it and it meant our con basically fizzled out. Apart from that it was wonderful and we’re strongly considering coming back next year.

As an exhibitor:

Our table at the start of the expo on Saturday
Our table at the start of the expo on Saturday.

It was our first con to sell at, and there were big lessons to take forward.


We should have printed more stuff! We ran out of physical copies of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins and Ultranormal Encounters, and I’m sure we would’ve sold out of Echoes of the Fall if there were copies of the core book to sell with it. We got some good advice that it’s perfectly fine to overproduce: that way you need to do less work next con.

Book Ratios

Nobody wants to buy expansions without the core. Obvious in hindsight, right? We brought equal numbers of the core book and Echoes, and that was a mistake. For future cons, I think we’ll bring half again as many copies of Legacy as we do Echoes (and Mirrors I suppose).

PDFs: Great for physical stores

Selling PDFs worked really well. We had a sheet of labels with a DriveThruRPG discount code on them, and stuck those to UFO Press business cards (or inside books if people bought the book+PDF combo). Of our customers that bought a book, about 40% topped it up with PDFs, and 1/3rd of our sales were PDF-only.

Representation matters

It really reinforced my commitment to attractive and diverse art. I’d printed out a set of Legacy playbooks and laid them out on the table, and they were often the first thing someone looked at when they came up to our table. There were some very kind words about the diversity of the art, and I’m reminded of something Keiron Gillen said at the Dragons and Diversity panel: diversity isn’t an obligation for creators, but an opportunity. People’s reactions to seeing themselves as heroes in my game’s art where they had been ignored by other games made it completely worthwhile, and was legit one of my highlights of the con.

What are people looking for?

A lot of people reacted better to being pitched a group storytelling game than a dice-and-GM roleplaying game. Similarly, I got many comments that it was nice to have a post-apocalyptic game with more of a positive slant. A lot of this is due to the particular demographic at the con, I bet, but it’s got me thinking how to reach out to people outside of standard RPG venues who might have been put off by bulky rulebooks and grimdark settings. Cons, I guess, are a big part of that, but I’d be interested to hear about other suggestions.

Kickstarter backers are real people you can talk to

London has a lot of Legacy Kickstarter backers! Quite a few people came up to the booth after recognising Legacy as a game they’d backed, and it was great to reconnect with them and hear their stories of playing the game (or discussing how hard it is to get through a pile of Kickstarter rewards). Plus I got to hear about a London Indie RPG meet up that sounds fun and I’ll try and check out.

Selling as a supplement to the con experience

I don’t think I’d want to sell for the whole con; even if that got me 3x the sales it wouldn’t be enough to break even when the hotel fee, vendor fee and book printing are factored in. As a thing to do as part of a con I was already planning on attending, though, it let me jump between the creator and fan sides of the con and see what it’s like on either side of the line, get the word out about UFO Press and our games, and pay for the book printing and con tickets with a bit of money to spare. I can’t see us turning a profit on cons we go to for quite a while, so we’ll likely still only go to cons that have stuff we’re interested in going to and experiencing, but if you’re in a similar position I can’t recommend Nine Worlds highly enough.