Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Monte Cook vs. the Conventional Wisdom

Mr. Cook just can't get out of RPGs. But then, why should he? Even after announcing that he's getting out of professional work in the hobby, and the imminent release of D&D 4.0, his unofficial 3.75 "Book of Experimental Might" is doing very well:

I can tell you that Book of Experimental Might is not only our top seller for this year so far, but it is one of our best sellers ever as far as pdfs go, in regard to its first week or month of sales. Which is particularly gratifying because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which tells us that it's a terrible idea to release a 3rd edition related rules supplement just months before 4th edition comes out. And I LOOOOVE to go against conventional wisdom. Particularly in the cynical, overly-conservative game industry.

He also has news of Ptolus, another product deemed doomed from the get-go by the Conventional Wisdom.

But enough about Mr. Cook. What about you? What about your gem of DMing wisdom you're polishing up to unleash up on the unsuspecting hobby? Monte has something to say about that as well:

But what I'm surprised by the most is how many people out there who are putting up pdf products for sale that feel like the result of some late-night conversation along the lines of "here's a topic no one's done a sourcebook about..." It's as if people are trying to guess what customers want and what hasn't been done before and fill that need. I realize that might be what conventional wisdom says you should do, but I don't think that's what's going to sell pdfs. Just because there hasn't been a whole sourcebook about sand doesn't mean we need a book of sand-related prestige classes, feats, and monsters. That kind of thinking fuels larger publishers, but I think a micro-publisher's got to approach things differently. Don't think like a publisher. Think like a DM.

I have to agree. There are a few things I'd like to have every now and then, but my favorite purchases have always been adventures. No, let me correct myself. My favorite purchases have always been modules, setting and theme-vague bits of adventure I can steal from or drop wholesale into the middle of my campaign. That was, after all, the original genius of Dungeon Magazine, a regular collection of full-fledged adventures and adventure bits you could peruse and plunder at need. I get more good for my games from old copies of National Geographic than most of the sourcebooks put out these days, which probably explains why I'm more likely to buy old fantasy novels or books on mythology at the used book store than I am a new supplement, splatbook, or hardback.

But then, I'm weird. I have all the rules and crunch I need. What I'm really looking for are touchstones to spark my imagination and give me ideas for cool things I can throw at my PCs, new quirks I can give to the culture of my swamp orcs or a bit of atmosphere for the crypt of the Sun Kings of Pha. And that sort of thing is hard to bottle.


Anonymous said...

Would you pay for those kinds of things? If I packaged together little modules, starter ideas and mini advetures, would people pay $2, $5, $8 for PDFs?

I'm seriously asking.

I love writing stuff like that. The tedium of gathering a huge arc is overwhelming - I'm working on my Ultima series rewrite and I'm so bogged down in the minutia right now - but I have all these other ideas that I jot down and think "I should write this...".

But I never do.

But if I can make a few pennies here and there... I would. The question is, would you (and others) pay for it?

trollsmyth said...

Hell yes.

Here's the deal, though. You gotta offer me something interesting. If you're going to give me the ruins of a dwarven outpost, build it in such a way that only the dwarves could have made it. If we're doing an undersea adventure, give me some hint how the undersea folk overcome their inability to forge iron with fire. And frankly, I'd shell out the real money for an honest-to-God, balls-to-the-wall grim and gritty drow city, something that lived up to the promise of "Vault of the Drow" that just oozes all the evil and wickedness, debauchery and depravity such a city should embody. I want the Sin City treatment.

But I'm harder to please than most, I'll bet. I don't play 3.x. If you do, and you understand the rules well enough to keep everything "honest", you could probably sell a tidy sum of modules for that system. The hard part will be letting people know what you have, but giving free copies to folks who will post reviews on some of the more popular blogs would probably go a long way to helping.

Regardless, though, you're talking about pennies. $5 or $8 for a module is probably about right. If you've got a regular game going, your best bet is to take the adventures your players have enjoyed, type them up and get them proof-read for typos and what-not, and then convert them into a PDF. I suspect that The Evil DM has probably sold a handful-hundred copies of Broadsword, and he's something a celebrity. You'll make enough to buy a few PDFs of your own, but I wouldn't quit the day job. ;)

- Brian

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm not looking to quit my day job, but if I ever poke the lottery-fairy hard enough...

That's kinda what I was getting at - I see this a lot with the maps and dungeon tiles for the miniatures folks. I never thought about doing it for the DM.

The thing is, I'd like it to be usable for all editions - the old school as well as the 3.5 and beyond. Some places, like the Drow City, should be edition-agnostic, or have enough info for the DM to generate the actual stats of baddies.

And I'm not looking for riches, but I always have these ideas kicking around. I watch BSG and think "Wow, I could so fsck up some characters days if a bunch of doppelgangers who had been created by idiot mages decided that it was time for them to rule the world..."


Thanks for the suggestion. Now I'm going to kick it around. My first thought was a "Folio of Crime Scenes..." - nothing like a crime to hook players into really complex plots...

trollsmyth said...

Crime scenes would be awesome, especially if you found ways to maintain or even deepen the mystery if players use the typical divination magics that tend to ruin that sort of thing.

- Brian