August is RPGaDay month. Yep, a month solid of RPG-related posts, answering these questions:
Today’s question is this:
What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?
This is an interesting question, for someone who returned to the hobby in earnest only in 2015. I feel like the heyday of the RPG Kickstarter project has kind of passed. I mean, there’s still plenty of stuff being crowdfunded, it’s just that I missed out on some pretty amazing ones.
But I have backed a few…
You can see a list of recently-backed projects in my sidebar, under “Games Backed/Ordered.” So far, all I’ve really backed is:
- Storium, which is an online RPGing site I backed but never ended up using much. (Thus it’s not pictured in the sidebar.) Maybe sometime… it seems like a cool system, but I’ve just been busy.
- Infinitas DM – Mobile Cartographer, Lorebook & Battlemap, a digital mapping assistant for tabletop
- Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary edition, because I’m a huge fan of the game
- Vaginas are Magic (The LotFP Free RPG Day 2017 book—which was privately crowdfunded, rather than being done through Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or any of the alternatives)
- The Yellow King RPG
- Simon Stålenhag’s new book The Electric State, which is RPG related because I’m picking up a copy of the much-praised Tales from the Loop RPG as an addon
- Legacy: Life in the Ruins 2nd edition, an Apocalypse-powered science fiction game (which comes with several hacks for running the game in other genres like horror, evolutionary experiment, historical fantasy, divine apocalypse, and more)
And, since I’m posting this ahead of time, I’ll probably also have backed the Stars Without Number 2nd Edition Kickstarter, because I’ve heard a lot of good things about it and figure it’s as good a time as any to pick it up.
Now, all of those are very cool projects, but I know I’ve missed a lot of other cool things. Ah well, I guess I also missed out on a lot of disappointments and uncompleted projects—or so the ranting online leads me to believe—so maybe it all works out.
Maybe a brief word as to why I’m choosing to back projects like this: well, though I’d love to own a vintage copy of a lot of older games I’ve played and loved, I’m actually pretty skeptical about the value of buying up old game products at the insanely inflated prices people want for them on eBay, Amazon.com, and elsewhere. Seriously, people are asking for one or two hundred dollars for stuff that sold for fifteen or twenty bucks decades ago, often despite it being in bad shape, and the creators still get nothing. I honestly feel better about printing off playcopies at some print shop here in Korea and setting the money saved for some in-print project by the same creator, or some other creator working today.
Besides, there’s all kinds of great stuff being made now, and that needs support, plus I’m interested to see what kinds of new systems are popular and catching on. Even if I’m mainly running more traditional sorts of games, I think it’s good to acquaint myself with a wide range of things, and see what sticks. At the very least, I can discover what suits me and what doesn’t, instead of just sticking to what I know and assuming nothing else will.
Anyway, out the few RPG-related crowdfunding efforts I’ve backed, I found a mix of some handled wonderfully, some that didn’t work out so great for me, but overall most were at least reasonable.
Storium worked out fine, I guess: it was one of the first things I backed outside of some fiction book projects, but I haven’t had much chance to play around with it. Maybe this winter, if I have a little time. We’ll see. No complaints. I got what I was promised.
The most frustrating experience—and it really wasn’t that bad at all—was with the Infinitas DM Kickstarter, and really it was just minor disappointment in that case. For some reason, I didn’t notice that codes for iOS had been sent out and were time-limited, so I missed the window for getting the app on iOS. The result was that I only got access to a Steam version of the app, which is fine except I rather expected I’d want to be running the player-facing map on a tablet (like, say, an iPad) if I ever get around to using it at all. Er, okay.
That’s not really the creator’s fault, though: for some reason I missed the announcements, and apparently it’s Apple policy that the guy who launched the app cannot issue new codes for backers who missed out. I don’t blame the campaign-runner—it’s not his fault I was months behind on updating my phone and couldn’t purchase the app until long after the deadline had passed—but it didn’t work out great for me, and personally, I feel like there should be some other solution available. (I am baffled as to why Apple would be so inflexible about people missing code deadlines, but I suppose they have their reasons.)
I have no complaints about the Wraith 20 Kickstarter went okay, though frankly the project is progressing somewhat slowly compared with other games in the line. I mean, the estimated delivery time was November 2015. I’m not one of those people who rants about Kickstarter projects delivering late, of course, but it is taking a while to get done. Probably the famous Wraith Curse is mucking things up, but I’m also trusting Rich Dansky to be giving it all the time he can (outside of his day job and life in general) to make sure it turns out great.
One thing its important to remember is that Kickstarter isn’t a shop: you can’t expect stuff to be ready a few months later with every project, something some people don’t really grasp. (And, of course, it’s easier to lose sight of this if you’ve been ripped off by one or another creator, and start worrying everyone’s ripping you off, but Onyx Path isn’t ripping anyone off: they’ve been communicative about the delays and clear about the timeline and how the process has been going. It’s just been slow, that’s all.)
With The Yellow King RPG, I felt more like the campaign itself was kind of a big event. There were just enough incremental rewards unlocked along the way to get me feeling excited to see what would be unlocked next, and I feel like the media side of things was handled well: I got a sense of what the game was supposed to run like, some of the concepts being introduced, and so on, from appearances by Robin Laws on podcasts as well as on the Pelgrane website. They seem to run a lot of Kickstarters and have it down to being a well-oiled machine.
Likewise, I feel like Fria Ligan (Free League) has mastered the science of running a successful Kickstarter. That means offering really nice bonus rewards and add-ons, being very responsive to requests and questions from backers and potential backers, and I also appreciate that the postage was included in the original backing fee payment. (That speaks to a certain confidence that the project will be on time, beyond eliminating the hassle of dealing with backerkit to pay postage.)
I’m also very excited to be seeing both Electric State and my copy of Tales From the Loop this winter! (Assuming all of us here in Korea don’t get blown up before then…) I have to admit, if I’d had more cash to burn, I’d have added on Stålenhag’s other artbooks as add-ons as well, but since I didn’t I was still happy to add on the GM screen and a nice poster for my wife, to go with the artbook which is mostly for her, though of course I’ll be reading it too.
Vaginas Are Magic was also a positive experience, in that I didn’t think I’d be able to get a copy of the book in Korea and this way I was able to do so. (It did actually end up being available, as there was a Free RPG Day event, but I wasn’t at the LotFP table so I was happy I’d backed it anyway.) It was a reasonable price (including postage) for a great, nutty book that has inspired me to be creative in developing new spells for my own LotFP game, and was worth it, and delivered quickly and in good condition.
Interestingly, James Raggi didn’t have to use any of the major crowdfunding websites: he just ran an independent pledging campaign through his website shop. And people were willing to fund it, knowing that their contribution was funding one copy for themselves and one for the Free RPG Day. (Say what you want about LotFP fandom, that’s decent of them.) And, well… this is the nicest Free RPG Day product I’ve ever seen. It’s a friggin’ hardcover book.
(And for those who worry that the book is somehow sexist, the concept is that it’s all spells castable by female magic-user characters only, as a first exploration of the idea of spells castable by casters who fulfill some specific set of criteria. From the readthrough I gave it, I found it frankly has fewer explicit mentions of lady-bits than your average book of postmodern feminist poetry. If you’d like to see it for yourself, get a Pay-What-You-Want copy at DriveThruRPG, though.)
Legacy: Life in the Ruins 2nd Edition is the crowdfunded RPG project I most recently backed. It’s an independent RPG project, but came with a huge array of neat add-ons available (and I appreciate that you didn’t have to pay for add-ons ahead of time: you can add more later on if you like). I think I was most attracted by the option of adding the print set of the alternate settings, because they look really cool and I was able to get the full set for as much as I’d pay for the few that really grabbed my attention. I also got the sense that James Iles was a decent chap who really, really wanted to make a good product, so I felt good backing it even though I’m not sure I really have a handle on how running Apocalypse-powered games works. (I imagine it can’t be that hard, right?)
Finally, I mentioned that I’m planning to back Kevin Crawford’s 2nd edition of Stars Without Number. I’m attracted for a couple of reasons: first, because the first edition was almost universally positively reviewed. Second, Crawford has a good track record delivering on his campaign promises. Third, because he’s offering purchase codes for a single omnibus edition of all prior supplements for the game in a massive tome (at printing cost!) for those who back the campaign. I’ll probably back it at a lower level, though: I have plenty of game books to look at now, and am happy to put off the purchase price for a while (and bundle in a few other things when I do get around to picking it up).
Oh, I guess there’s one more crowdfunded project I backed: Kenneth Hite’s Tour de Lovecraft: The Destinations. It’s another energetically run, professional campaign with a lot of rewards to unlock, a lot of cool bonuses and upgrades, and it let me get a copy of the revised edition of Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales, a book I was sad not to have gotten while it was in print. I’m sure both books will be great reference material for people running Lovecraftian games. (I may never get around to doing that, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy Hite’s essays on HPL anyway.)
Looking at all the above, I guess I see a few consistent points:
- cool addons are good, and
- bonus rewards are better, but
- delivering a high-quality product on-time probably outweighs all the promised bonuses and cool add-ons in the world, and
- feeling like you’re interacting with decent, reasonably professional but also very passionate folks helps a lot
The lesson, I suppose, being that one should make sure the project is as complete as possible before launching the Kickstarter, and maybe not be too much of a dick in general if one plans on using crowdfunding as a strategy for getting one’s projects realized?
Beyond that, I am eagerly awaiting a few RPG Kickstarters in the future. One of them is the rumored Car Wars 6th edition—the relaunch of the Car Wars franchise, which was postponed to early 2017 but then got postponed further. Though I’ve enjoyed the core version of Outrider I got to play a few weeks ago, I’m still interested in at least seeing what Steve Jackson Games comes up with for what was, for a long time, one of their more important game lines. In a way, I’m glad it’s postponed since maybe I’ll be in a better position to back it later on.
One very cool project, I considered backing (but eventually didn’t) is Spire. The concept of a game built around the idea of an uprising or revolution—and in a fantastical world—appeals to me. I think the reward tiers are a little wonky, but maybe that’s just me; that said, the setting sounds incredible and the book looked like it’ll be gorgeous. I’ll keep tabs on it and maybe get a copy sometime later on.
I missed a few recent Kickstarters that recently, ended, too: the Top Secret/S.I. relaunch just finished, and I was sorely tempted to back it, as it looks like it was modernized and updated a lot. But then, I suspect I’d have just as much fun (or more) with Joseph Browning’s James Bond RPG retroclone Classified, or running Night’s Black Agents (with or without supernatural stuff mixed in).
And really, these days I’m trying to hold off backing too many of these things, not because there’s not a ton of great stuff, but just because my family’s priorities need to lie elsewhere for a while, and for various reasons. Besides, there’s plenty of non-Kickstarter projects I support, too. I buy stuff through regular retail channels, or from the publisher, and I also tend to pick up Bundle of Holding offers when they interest me, with the knowledge that I can easily and affordably get decent black and white softcover copies printed up here in Korea, perfect bound and all, at a very reasonable price. Plus I have lots of RPG stuff already as it is. There’s a limit to how much of it I’ll ever get to play anyway, isn’t there?
But the hunger is real. Probably, it’s worse because I’m making up for lost time—that always intensifies things a little.