Friday, August 25, 2017

#RPGaday2017, Day 25: What is the best way to thank your GM?

Part of an ongoing series, occasionally updated in real-time!

Aiming Orbital Blog Cannon...

Aquiring Target...


#RPGaday2017, Day 25: What is the best way to thank your GM?

I'm going to have to echo the always-insightful Mr. Rob Donoghue on this one - convey your appreciation outside of the context of the game. One of my GMs likes to solicit feedback immediately following a game, and while she certainly appreciates hearing what worked right then, it's not really comparable to seeing her face light up when we talk about how awesome things are in the middle of the week. 

Speaking for myself, I'm usually such a disheveled wreck after a long session, that I can't really take much criticism, and I don't really process the praise. But hit me later on when I have a clear head, and there's a ton of impact. Game of Thrones is the current hot "water cooler" show; people will casually talk about it at work or social outings. When your game has the same kind of impact on folks, it can feel really meaningful.

Past that? Anything you can do to reduce the stress load of the GM. If that means handling logistics, giving people rides and such, it can go a long way. I know a lot of people stress out a lot over game prep, and if the GM has to arrange location, transportation, food, schedules, and act as host and MC for the evening, that cuts into the amount of processes they can dedicate to the game proper.

So it's worth spending some time thinking about, even if you're just being selfish. :D

Be excellent to each other.

The Biggest Mistake Indie Artists Keep Making

How's that for a clickbait title? Completing the series discussed here, and really hammering home something that made my life harder than it had to be in my old career.

You’re a smart artist. You’re savvy to social media, promotional techniques, and how to carry yourself like a star. Most importantly, your craft is on point; people want to see you perform, promoters want to book you, and everybody wants to buy your merch.


How hard are you making it for them?

Full-Contact Promotion

Let’s say that I’m a concert promoter, and I want to book you for a show. How do I get in contact with you? DMs on Twitter? Facebook Messenger? Leaving a comment on your Instagram?

Because if that’s the answer, you’re missing out. Friend of the Blog1 Jonathan Killstring had this to say:

“Back when I was a concert promoter, I was the crazy young kid, because I’d actually talk to people through MySpace, which was the big platform at the time. Even then, I preferred to do everything in email. Booking agents, other promoters, tour managers – everybody used email. Back then we had Blackberries, today it’s smartphones, but it’s the same thing; a contact email for the band — one that people actually check — is what people in the business are looking for.”

If you’re not making it easy for people to contact you, you’re making it hard.

Don’t make it hard.


Make an email address. One Email Address. YouOfficial at Gmail dot com is probably available, so stop reading and go register the address. We’ll wait.

You back? Awesome.

Once you’ve established your primary contact email, use it for everything. Talking to a promoter? Official address. Ordering Merch? Official address. Setting up an interview with a college newspaper? Ordering CDs? Purchasing online promotion?

You get the idea.

Make it Easy

Using your primary email for everything means that it’ll be in your contacts’ address books, making it easier for them to reach out to you in the future. Still, there’s no substitute for making that easy in the first place.

Plaster this thing. Your website, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube – if someone’s looking at a site affiliated with your band, they should be able to find your contact info. Don’t hide it under paragraphs about your influences – put that ish right up top.

People trying to contact acts aren’t looking to waste time checking messages across platforms, and if it’s not easy to get a hold of you, they’ll find someone who makes it easy. Basically,  the more effort someone has to go through to contact you, the more likely it is you’re missing out on gigs, press coverage, and other opportunities. Heck, you’re probably missing out on concert attendance and album sales.

Don’t make it complicated. Have a dedicated “contact us” section with your email.

The Ball’s in Your Court — Don’t Drop It

This should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway; if someone gets in contact with you, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t leave them hanging. Get back to people within 24 hours, even if it’s just to say “I’m thinking about it.”

Make life easy for industry professionals, and they'll happily return the favor. Make life harder for them, and they'll be more likely to find someone who won't. 

* * *

1 - At this point, I was pretty sure they weren't going to pay me, and it was starting to show. It is possible that I am no longer a friend of the blog. /kanyeshrug 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

#RPGaDay2017 day 24: Share a PWYW publisher who should be... better known?

Part of an ongoing series, occasionally updated in real-time!

IT'S BLOG O' CLOCK, homies.

#RPGaDay2017 day 24: Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more?

Nah fam, that's a pretty asinine premise for a question. PWYW is a pretty sweet business model, and I'mma just disregard the fundamental assumption that it's devaluing a product here. And if you're stuck on that, research by Kim (20091), Gneezy (20102), and many, many more that I'm not going to list3, shows pretty conclusively that that's simply not the case.

Sure, sometimes people make less than they might have otherwise done - as it turns out, setting price points is a tricky thing in any model - but sometimes they make more. A lot more.

Sorry, fam; but if you wanna drop that wack pseudo-science not-marketing, you'd best come correct.

Having said that, here's some of my favorite PWYW stuff.

Fate Core, Toolkit, and Worlds

Check out Evil Hat's Drive-Thru selection. I mean, damn. If you like narrative-focused RPGs4, there's enough here to keep you playing for a long, long time. Plus, their art is lovely, the books are smartly laid out, and the Worlds of Adventure explore a wide variety of different themes. You can probably find something  you like there.

Also, apparently the excellent War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus is PWYW now! I bought it at retail, and regret that not for a single second; but if you haven't checked out Sophie Lagace's adaptation of this Grimsical game, you might want to consider doing so now.
It's really good!
Big ups to Evil Hat, and its Patrons on Patreon that have made all this super rad stuff available.


A solitaire RPG, Quill is simple: roll dice, write letters, rinse and repeat. Fun and different!

Nothing much to add; you're either hyped to write
letters, or you're moving on. As is just.


"But Killstring," you ask...

Dude, that's not how we format questions here

Oh, for the love of...

Don't create a format and then not use it! You'll confuse people!

Fine. Go ahead.

...Maybe I don't want to anymore.


Kidding! Anyway. But Killstring, I ask, I thought you didn't like OSR?

Who ever said that I have to enjoy something myself to see merit in it? Listen friends, I literally have a degree in evaluating media, and I'm excited to use it5! Besides, there's not nearly enough of this sentiment in Geek subculture; we get strangely tribal about our sub-fandom, to the point of being hostile.

Ain't got time for that ish.

So yeah, I'm not a big fan of OSR games, but these two make me wish I was. They're incredibly stylish, flavorful, and well put-together. 
Lookin' Fly
First, White Star.

If you're looking for something that goes after the feel of classic Space Opera, hard, then you could do a heck of a lot worse than White Star. Based off the Swords & Wizardry White Box (which I'm not linking, 'cause I have no idea if it's any good or not. OSR homies tend to like S&W, but I bounced off it pretty hard), this game unabashedly gives you rules to play Not-Star-Wars, as well as Not-Other-Classic-Sci-Fi.

It's fun! I think it's fun.

But after that, we're gonna break the category a little bit; this next game is free; there's a Pay-What-We-Want version available too, should it catch your eye. The game in question?

Stars Without Number

Hell yeah.
This is the game that made me desperately wish I liked OSR. It's so, so good. Hell, even if you (like me) cringe at the sight of STR, DEX, CON, etc., there is so much good material here, that it's worth picking up as a resource for your Space Opera games, even if you're allergic to d20s. It's got a wealth of amazing supplements, piles and piles of useful tables, and is just smartly put together. 

So, so fresh. 

There's a free version that I mentioned, but in looking for images, I discovered that there's a Kickstarter going on for a new edition. Six days left as of publishing this, and it too looks super fresh. Check this art: 

The new edition will have a free version too, and it looks to have considerable polish. I don't usually hype projects that I'm:
  1. Not involved in
  2. Not interested in playing
  3. Not done by anyone I know
but if you dig OSR stuff, this seems like a worthwhile use of your time and/or money.

And hey, since we busted the format anyway, here's my all-time favorite PWYW product:

How come I end up where I started?
Though it's since gone traditional, this gorgeous album launched PWYW models into the public consciousness, and I, for one, think we're better off for it.


* * *

1 - Ju-Young Kim, Martin Natter, Martin Spann (2009) Pay What You Want: A New Participative Pricing Mechanism. Journal of Marketing: January 2009, Vol. 73, No. 1, pp. 44-58.

2 - Gneezy, A., Gneezy, U., Nelson, L. D., & Brown, A. (2010). Shared social responsibility: A field experiment in pay-what-you-want pricing and charitable giving. Science329(5989), 325-327.

3 - This is, after all, not a scholarly article, and I'll be citing all damn night if I want to make this point properly.

4 - I do! :)

5 - Not that this really counts as objective critical review, nor am I really trying to do so. But when I can work in an "I used my degree today" joke, I do so. You've been warned.

Getting Sponsorship for Indie Musicians

The penultimate entry in the series discussed here

Sponsorships. Nothing says big-time like an endorsement deal. It's for the big-time, established acts, so obviously, independent musicians shouldn’t even bother. Right?

Wrong. Very, very wrong.

“We’d get sponsorships for our bands all the time, even the ones who weren’t signed” says former concert promoter/artist manager Jonathan Killstring1. “Sometimes, it wasn’t even a specific thing; we happened to know somebody at an energy drink company, or people from a soda company just liked rock music, and told us to figure something out.”

Sponsorships are out there; it’s just a matter of asking.

If you’re interested in reading more on the topic, Simon Tam’s book “How to Get Sponsorships & Endorsements” has some good, common-sense advice2, and the Kindle version usually goes for about $4. For now, here’s the basics you’ll want for getting started.

Your Packet

If you want a sponsorship, you’ll want to speak your target’s language. That means putting together a packet; a nice digital file (usually .pdf), and a high-quality print version. It doesn’t matter how great you are – if they only take physical packets, your email’s not getting you anywhere.

To that end, here’s the format you’ll want to use.

1: The Cover

It should look distinctive; not too busy. Your band logo’s probably all the art you need, but consider tailoring it for each company you send it to; something like “2017 [Band Name] [Company Name] Sponsorship Proposal” should do it. Give them the opportunity to think about working with you.

2: Your “One Sheet”

If they only see one page, this is it. A dramatic, pro photo, major stats/accomplishments, press coverage,  or the big winner: testimonials from existing sponsors. You’re answering the question “what can this artist do for us?” Make sure that they read the answer as "expand our brand awareness, making us fat stacks of cash."

3: Partnership

Here’s where you go into more detail on how the sponsor benefits from working with you. Why are you a good fit? Remember, this entire thing is meant to make someone else's job easier; you're taking some of their advertising burden off of their to-do list.

4. Fact Sheet

What, exactly, are they sponsoring? A tour? You in general? One event?

Make sure they’ve got the details. Be specific: who/what/where/when/why – don’t leave them in the dark. You’re here to get them exposure, which will turn into profits; spell out exactly how that happens, and what you expect them to do on their side.

5: Key Marketing Information

This builds on the last category. As an artist, you represent a niche market; demographics that your sponsor is going to want to reach. Know your audience, and be really clear on how your branding works; if you’re a horrorcore rapper, you’re not going to rep their product in a family-friendly way.

Then again, death metal babies need diapers too, so you can always give it a shot. Everybody wants to go viral, so marketers are much more willing to try unorthodox solutions than they were in years past3.

6: Co-Branding Opportunities

3-5 pitches on how this could work in practice. Illustrate how this could work; let them see how working with you can expand their reach to your demographic. This will make you stand out from the crowd; marketing departments are always trying to get at hard-to-reach demographics; you represent that opportunity. Let’m know.

7: Benefit List

This should mostly be a recap; by now, you should have shown why they benefit from sponsoring you.

Spell it out anyway.

Focus on the custom benefits — go beyond simple logo placement — but cover everything. This is basically your formal offer; be clear on what they get for their expense.

8: The Sponsorship Agreement

Make it easy to fill out and return. If physical, including a SASE, and printing the agreement on carbonless copy paper — so they can tear off a copy for themselves, and send one to you — makes a nice touch, as does a QR code for the digital version. Can't stress this enough; make this part as easy as you can manage.

It’s Within Reach

Musicians represent a unique opportunity for marketers; don’t sell yourself short! There’s room for you in the sponsorship game, so step up and claim it!

* * *

1 - Man, this guy was such a quotable source! Can you tell that I'd gotten a little punchy by this point?

2 - It's a little outdated, but provides a nice outline. Probably worth four bucks if you're interested in the subject, though it's nothing you couldn't find online with some searching.

3 - Obnoxiously so. "We need a viral video" is like saying "we need a hit song," only with far less likelihood that prior success is an indicator of future behavior. Still, mention that you've got "viral potential," and watch eyes light up. Don't overdo it, but plant the seed.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

#RPGaday2017, Day 23: What RPG has the most Jaw-Dropping Layout?

Continuing the series. That's right, homies; it's Blog O' Clock.

#RPGaday2017, Day 23: What RPG has the most Jaw-Dropping Layout?

Lots of good answers here. For my money, a good layout isn't just pretty, but helps convey information cleanly and effectively. Call it the communication scholar in me1, but if something is gorgeous, but the layout isn't helping to communicate information, then my jaw is decidedly safe from falling damage.

So naturally, Shadowrun 5 is right out.

I love it, but this book is actively harmful
to understanding how to play the damn game.

Looks aren't everything, but they're sure important. So to that end, here's a few thoughts.


Like all good little designers, I love me some Saul Bass. If you're going for dynamic text that conveys a wealth of information with minimal noise, you could do much worse. And if you're going for a neo-noir vibe with a "heist" or "caper" feel, I dare you to do better.

Fiasco, a narrative game2 of unchecked ambition and poor impulse control, has steered into this aesthetic hard, and I love it. Check out this playmat:

Bassian AF.
Now if that doesn't make you want to play some Fiasco, I'm not sure what it'd take; it's probably not for you in that case. 

But it is for me. 

Very, very much for me.

After my first Fiasco game, I commented to the group that I'd gotten more of what I want out of gaming from this three-hour session, than I tend to experience across the entirety of many traditional RPG campaigns. It's incredibly easy to get started with, and I credit the layout for a lot of that. It not only communicates how to play the game, but promises a certain feel, and tone, while looking absolutely gorgeous.

Star Trek Adventures

Insert boilerplate disclaimer: yes, I do write for Modiphius, but no, I haven't written anything for this book. I'm a fan, a gamer, and I bought my .pdf like anybody else. 

Having said that, look at this hotness.

Above: said hotness.
Sure, on the surface it's a two-column layout with occasional sidebars. And yes, it's just replicating an already established design, and gets a long way on nostalgia. But I dare you to load this .pdf up on a tablet, and not feel like you're there. It really establishes the tone, and I'm a fan of the underlying practices, going back through Infinity and Conan, all the way back to Mutant Chronicles 3rd.

Lay it out for me

There are a ton more games worthy of inclusion; Fate Core, Nova Praxis - especially the enhanced edition, good gods - as well as Blades in the Dark, and I'd even go back to Fred Hicks' layout for HERO system 6th edition, which took a super-obtuse game, and went a long way towards making it less daunting... the list goes on and on.

Doubtless I've missed something truly classic, and will feel like a doof the moment I hit "publish" here; feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments.

Be excellent to one another

* * *

1 - Or the Graphic Designer, if you prefer. Hey, minors count! I've designed real graphics, I'll have you know; for actual clients who were almost certainly human, thanks kindly.

2 - I've probably been under-citing Fiasco in this series, not because I don't love it - I really do - but because I'm not sure what to call it, exactly. It is certainly a game about Role Playing, in a way that many RPGs never truly are, but that term has come to mean many things. I'm certainly not one for gatekeeping, but it's also a very different value proposition than your traditional RPG - it's meant to be played in one session, for instance - so I don't think there's any disparagement in wanting to distinguish between an improv game intended to be born and die in the span of a few hours, and a lengthy, procedural experience meant to last months, if not years, of real-time. 

They're both lovely things, and welcome, and "real gaming." But definitions are useful. /$0.02

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

#RPGaday2017 day 22 - What RPG is easiest for you to run?

Continuing the series. Let's blog, homies.

#RPGaday2017, Day 22: What RPG is easiest for you to run?

So, here's another tricky one. I'd say The Gehenna Engine, but it's impossible for me to know if that's because I designed the damn thing, or because I succeeded, and it's easy to run1.

If I didn't like it, then it'd be a very different sort of game.

But that feels like cheating.

So let's do something else.

Rather than go with a straight ranking, here's some RPGs that I like to run, and why I find that easy.

Fantasy Flight Star Wars

Full of lovely bits that I
recommend ignoring.
Now, let's be clear. There's a bunch of edge cases, subsystems, and other stuff that makes Edge of the Empire and its counterparts actually pretty tricky to run.

So yeah. I ignore all that stuff.

But the core mechanic of those games, with the Narrative Dice, is actually pretty simple. IMO, the rest of the work is gilding a perfectly gorgeous lily. Set a difficulty, add in some setback dice for environmental stuff, get on with your life. 

And those dice, my goodness. 

This system does a remarkable job of modeling situations. They're luck dice, basically, which I like - it's not a question of whether or not the characters are "good enough" - of course they are. It's a question of whether or not circumstances are getting in the way.

This was also helped by probably the best beginner's box I've ever seen. It really does a good job of introducing the system.

Savage Worlds

So, I haven't actually run much SW - my experience is limited to a couple one-offs, and some playtesting for a (sadly unreleased) Nova Praxis adventure2, to make sure I got the balance and feel right.

But in my limited experience, if you're looking for Grids & Violence combat-focused gameplay, there's been nothing that comes close to being as easy and fast, and that's really allowed me to focus on the things that make running combat fun.

I'm dubious that anybody that I play with would find its character representation and advancement systems satisfying for a long-term game. I myself rather dislike how swingy it is. But when it comes to combat-focused RPGs, I found it easy and smooth for the amount of tactical options it offered.

And damn, is it fast.

Other games

I've got a couple more custom systems that I find terribly easy - EGADS  most notable among them - but a lot of that is familiarity. I can find something like Pathfinder much easier than it might otherwise be, and that's got to be a factor in my own works, no doubt. And easy = / = satisfying; I really enjoy running Infinity and other 2d20 games, but there's a lot of bits to keep track of. I wouldn't say that it's easy for me - not yet anyway - but I find it enjoying to engage with nonetheless. 


But when it comes to ease of use, it's gotta be those three, in about that order.

* * *

1 - I do have a friend running the game in it's pre-alpha state for someone else. I'm not the GM, not a player; it's terrifying to me, but early returns are promising. 

I can't wait to get this game out of development, and into a more public Beta, so that you all can tell me what a bad lead designer I am ;)

2 - Still some of my proudest work. Eventually, I hope for Hatchet Job to see release. Hell, if I can get someone to run it for me, I'd be ecstatic.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Maximizing Profits for Musicians

Continuing the series discussed here

Time was, it wasn’t cool for musical artists to talk about business. In fact, “business” was seen as a universal evil, synonymous with selling out, a lack of talent and street cred, and a whole other slew of negative traits nobody wanted associated with their act.

Hip-Hop changed all that.

From P. Diddy to Jay-Z, 50 Cent to Drake, the hip-hop artist-as-mogul is an enviable image; a symbol of power, independence, and savvy. But even if you’re not in the hip-hop scene, remaining willfully ignorant of how your music makes money doesn’t make you a rebel; it just makes you ignorant.

With that in mind, here are some tips to make sure the business side of your artistic career is holding up its end of the bargain.

Make it Easy to Pay You

Not just for your merch table, but for promoters, venues, etc. Take cash, sure. But if you’ve got a smartphone or tablet (I’m assuming you do), getting a card reader of some kind (Square, Paypal, etc.) is super-affordable, and stupidly easy. And that’s not even getting into online pay options, like Paypal1.

On that note; Venmo

Whether it stays hot or not, Venmo is blowing up right now; probably because it’s super-easy to send money with.  On the west coast, it’s fast becoming a verb; “Venmo me" is in common parlance. Makes sense; once you're set up, sending funds is basically as easy as sending a text. Not only is this a great way to get paid for merch, gigs, etc., but if you let people know that you accept tips via Venmo, you’d be surprised how much extra cash shows up after each concert.

Up Your Merch Game

Really? This again?


If it seems like we talk a lot about merch here, it’s because it’s the least-understood revenue stream for indie artists, and one of the most potentially profitable2. According to merch inventory/POS tracking platform AtVenu, for 500-1,000 capacity venues, the average merch dollar per-head is $3.65. And while those numbers don’t scale perfectly, if you’ve got 100 people at your show, and you’re not making at least $365, you’ve probably got room for improvement.

Have a big, well-lit, attractive display; Christmas lights are great for this. Have someone at your booth as often as possible – not just after your show. Take care of your merch, and it’ll take care of you.

Live Streaming

Not just for concerts; consider live-streaming the occasional rehearsal. In 2016, Brent Morgan was making over $10k/month streaming acoustic performances from his bedroom.

Streaming is a big thing now. YouTube, Twitch, Facebook; pick a format, and get in on it. If nothing else, it's a great way to reach out to your fans, and make new ones.

Above All, Stay in the Game

For those of us in the business, music isn’t just something we do; it’s a massive part of who we are. It’s not a hobby, or a “creative outlet” – it’s our heart and soul, shared with other people. Nothing stings like seeing another talented artist get out of the game because they’re not making any money.

Spend the time to get your business aspects right, and ironically, you’ll have more time and energy to focus on making music.

Which was always the point.

* * *

1 - This also leaves a legal paper trail, which is more important than people realize. Not only can you show "yeah, this is our usual take from a show," but it makes it harder for the other side to try and pull a fast one. "Of course we paid them their full guarantee, I don't know what they're talking about!" Call people on their BS with evidence.

2 - If I could go back in time, this is what I'd be shoving down my bands' throats. The ones I was in, the ones that I managed; it was absolutely neglected by pretty much all my clients.