Kickstopper: Unknown Armies 3rd Edition

It makes sense that many of Greg Stolze’s recent projects have had Kickstarters associated with them, seeing how Greg was doing crowdfunding well before Kickstarter became a significant platform for RPG publication. Back when he was self-publishing REIGN, Greg pioneered the use of crowdfunding in RPG publication by his so-called “ransom model” – he’d write a product, set a “ransom” for it, and then release it to the world for free once the ransom had been paid.

The ransom model was a good way for Greg to ensure he wasn’t putting out too much stuff which nobody actually wanted, and to get a reasonably predictable level of recompense for his writing time; if a product struggled to hit the ransom, he’d know that the market was less hot for it than a product which hit ransom quickly. At the same time, the ransom model rewards freeloaders and doesn’t offer anything extra to people who chip in beyond the satisfaction of knowing you contributed to the product being released. If you were confident that a particular thing that Greg had written was popular and would hit its ransom anyway, then there was little reason for you yourself to pay any of the ransom – and that factor, perversely, gets stronger the more apparently-popular the product is.

Kickstarter, by comparison, avoids this issue. Some Kickstarters are a back-this-or-miss-out affair, where if you weren’t in on the crowdfunding campaign, you won’t get the product, but the majority of them still make their fruits available to the general public eventually (should the products in question actually get made at all, that is); this means that if people genuinely can’t afford to throw money in during the funding period they don’t necessarily miss out completely. At the same time, Kickstarter allows project creators to appropriately reward people who do pitch in, ensuring that their contribution is valued and creating a reason to want to get in during the funding period when you could just hold onto your money and wait.

It’s appropriate, then, that when Atlas Games decided that it was the right time to bring out a new edition of Unknown Armies, they used Kickstarter to do it. And where there’s a Kickstarter, there’s scope for a Kickstopper…

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Kickstopper: Friends, Romans, Great Old Ones!

One of the recurring strengths of Call of Cthulhu is that it’s very easily adapted to other time periods. Tweak the skill list to remove anachronistic skills, introduce skills appropriate to the time period, and update the baseline skill values appropriately – people are likely to have a generally higher level of computer skill in a present-day game than one set in the 1970s, where computer use is likely to be a highly specialised skill, for instance. Once you’ve done that, you’ve done 90% of the work; do an equipment list and a career list and you’re basically there.

Cthulhu Invictus is a game line which takes this principle to heart by adapting Call of Cthulhu to ancient Rome. It’s also not a game line which Chaosium themselves are interested in directly managing these days – though they did put out material for it for 6th Edition Call of Cthulhu, and did include some conversion guidelines in Cthulhu Through the Ages.

Instead, in 2017 they gave Golden Goblin Press, a third party publisher, a 3-year licence to handle the line, beginning with The 7th Edition Guide to Cthulhu Invictus – a new core book, updated to the 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu rules. What happens when that three years up, I rather suspect, depends on how well Golden Goblin do as custodians of Cthulhu Invictus. How’s the line’s flagship product, as produced via this Kickstarter? Let’s have a see…

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Kickstopper: Divinity Lost, Quality Found?

Once upon a time there was a game called Kult, whose original Swedish-language release came out a few months before Vampire: the Masquerade‘s original English-language release. Despite being penned in different languages and presented for different markets, both of them managed to tap into the zeitgeist in a broadly similar way; each of them stepped away from the fantasy worlds, science fiction galaxies, historical settings or superhero milieus that had dominated tabletop RPGs to date in favour of setting themselves in a dark take on the real world, with supernatural horror lurking just out of sight of ordinary life. Both games had a distinctively edgy aesthetic drawing on goth and industrial influences freely. Both games tackled the subject of sexuality directly, rather than tiptoeing around it or pretending that sexual or romantic stories had no place in tabletop RPGs.

And as a result of all of that, both games ended up both making a splash in their respective RPG scenes – Vampire is famous for successfully getting people into RPGs who wouldn’t have previously given them a second look – and sparking cultural controversy. Vampire got tenuously connected to some murders in the USA, but Satanic Panic conspiracy theorists’ interest in tabletop RPGs had largely already waxed and waned by the time that Vampire emerged, and it rather got lost in a mass of a whole other range of stuff to get outraged over like DOOM and Marilyn Manson. Conversely, Kult was at the centre of a firestorm of controversy in Sweden, effectively becoming the hub of its version of the RPG-related Satanic Panic just as Dungeons & Dragons had in the Anglosphere.

Kult‘s English-language versions, however… those have had a bit more of a patchy record. The first English edition made a bit of a polite splash but I felt it was let down a little by a mixed bag of supporting supplements and adventures – with, in particular, some issues arising as a result of a mixture of Swedish 1st and 2nd edition materials being used, giving rise to contradictions between some materials.

There were also issues with the system being poorly received in the English market, being regarded as a bit clunky and uninspiring. This would have been less of an issue in the Swedish market, since Kult followed what was then the in-vogue style of system design, which largely consisted of ripping off Basic Roleplaying, since that was the first system which made it big in the Swedish market. What was then the norm in Sweden had become clearly a bit old-fashioned and behind the curve in English-speaking markets, especially compared to Vampire which (along with Shadowrun and Star Wars) did a lot to popularise the “dice pool” school of RPG design. Subsequent English editions failed to make much of an impact at all, with the third edition being quite badly botched – right down to the printing of the actual physical book.

When Swedish publishers Helmgast landed the rights to Kult, they decided to do right by the old beast – putting a new system under the hood to better support the themes of the game, and producing the English-language and Swedish versions of the new edition in conjunction with each other so that no more would the English version be out of step with the Swedish. And the grand plan to fund all of this? Why, a Kickstarter!

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Kickstopper: Is This The Way To Do It?

Arc Dream Publishing have a string of Kickstarters to their name. Perhaps their biggest and most successful relate to Delta Green, which Arc Dream has inherited the publication of (along with most other Pagan Publishing-related properties), and at some point I’ll put out some (probably quite epic-length) Kickstopper articles breaking those down in the future. But they’re big projects with lots of associated stretch goals and it’ll be a little while before all of those are wrapped up, and even longer before I’m able to read all of them.

A smaller project, however, which has completely wrapped up is their new release of Puppetland, a John Tynes project of past decades which remains an influential example of truly experimental RPG design.

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Kickstopper: The Wurm Has Turned

Würm was originally published as an amateur game on the Francophone RPG website La Cour d’Obéron in 2007, and gathered enough interest that eventually Editions Icare gave it a professional release in 2011. Now, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign by Nocturnal Media, the cream of Würm content is now available in English. Was it worth the wait? Time for a Kickstopper investigation…

Usual Note On Methodology

Just in case this is the first Kickstopper article you’ve read, there’s a few things I should establish first. As always, different backers on a Kickstarter will often have very different experiences and I make no guarantee that my experience with this Kickstarter is representative of everyone else’s. In particular, I’m only able to review these things based on the tier I actually backed at, and I can’t review rewards I didn’t actually receive.

The format of a Kickstopper goes like this: first, I talk about the crowdfunding campaign period itself, then I note what level I backed at and give the lowdown on how the actual delivery process went. Then, I review what I’ve received as a result of the Kickstarter and see if I like what my money has enabled. Lots of Kickstarters present a list of backers as part of the final product; where this is the case, the “Name, DNA and Fingerprints” section notes whether I’m embarrassed by my association with the product.

Towards the end of the review, I’ll be giving a judgement based on my personal rating system for Kickstarters. Higher means that I wish I’d bid at a higher reward level, a sign that I loved more or less everything I got from the campaign and regret not getting more stuff. Lower means that whilst I did get stuff that I liked out of the campaign, I would have probably been satisfied with one of the lower reward levels. Just Right means I feel that I backed at just the right level to get everything I wanted, whilst Just Wrong means that I regret being entangled in this mess and wish I’d never backed the project in the first place. After that, I give my judgement on whether I’d back another project run by the same parties involved, and give final thoughts on the whole deal.

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Kickstopper: Alas, Wallis – A Story of Bad Memories, Bad Luck & Bad Blood (Part 3)

The story so far: James Wallis, old hand in the British RPG industry, takes to Kickstarter to fund his return to RPG design. His campaign is very successful, based largely on his good reputation among gamers; he then pisses away that reputation on a massively delayed delivery process which involved multiple broken promises, several long stretches of total silence and non-interaction with backers, and an honest-to-goodness tie-in with Far West.

Eventually, some products crept out of the darkness, and in this part of the saga I am going to take a look at them and then offer some final thoughts.

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Kickstopper: Alas, Wallis – A Story of Bad Memories, Bad Luck & Bad Blood (Part 2)

The story so far: James Wallis, former head honcho of Hogshead Publishing and a bit of a RPG design celebrity*, runs his Alas Vegas Kickstarter to fund his new indie RPG – his return to game design after a long break. Asking for a humble £3000, he came away with just over £24,000. That’s not a huge budget, but hey, apparently the core text was mostly finished, so the production process would mostly be a matter of waiting for third party stretch goal contributions and the artwork to come in, doing the editing, proofing, and layout, and sorting out the process of printing. All these tasks are the bread and butter of an experienced publisher like Wallis, so there was no reason to expect any great difficulty. And yet…

* That said, his reputation is mostly built on his role in publishing the works of others – WFRPNobilisDragon Warriors – but he also is reasonably well-known for Once Upon a Time – a game he designed with a group of collaborators – and The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which as I’ve outlined in my review of it is actually kind of a riff on Once Upon a Time‘s design ideas.

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