Thursday, 24 February 2022

I'm Selling Out

This one's scary to post. I expect there'll be backlash. Fuckit.

There's been a lot of talk about the place of D&D in the wider TTRPG industry and artistic medium lately. That its utterly dominant position stifles the creativity to be found within RPGs and drowns out smaller works.

All of this is, for what it's worth, stuff I believe.

However, the fact of the matter is that D&D content sells. Some stuff clearly doesn't need to be shoehorned into D&D 5e (we don't need a D&D interpretation of The Wind In The Willows or The Great God Pan) but if you've got a classic fantasy adventure you want to make, the sort of thing with skelingtons and magic swords, then D&D 5e is by far the best market to shoot for unless your game is doing something really specific.

So, with that preamble, here are some things that are all true:

  1. I do this for a living. I need to make money. Food, rent, HRT and other expenses all chip into what I've got.
  2. I have a classic fantasy adventure - about exploring a place of embers and smog - that has been knocking about the back of my head for a while.
  3. FUCK making anymore OSR content. That scene is toxic, and I've finally been burned by it enough times that I'm not putting my hand on the stove anymore. I'm done with OSR.
  4. Seriously, I need money. I need to make something that will sell.
  5. D&D 5e sells.
With all that in mind, why I'm doing this should make sense.
This isn't a permanent thing. I've got other little arty projects I'm also working on at the same time (in particular In Love And War and Black Lung), but for this project, I'm shooting myself in the foot financially if I don't use 5e. 
I need to put food on the table. I'm fucking poor, and between my being trans and some health issues I'm unlikely to get a 'real' job. So this is just the best move for me.
No doubt there's a bunch of indie kids who are going to act like this is some grand betrayal of my indie principals, that I'm feeding the machine that crushes art, that I'm betraying indie games. And fuck that. If you act like resisting hasbro is more important than getting the money I need to live, you need to take a long hard look at yourself.
And as for why I'm not doing it as an OSR module? Because fuck that. I have self respect. I want nothing to do with that shit anymore. I was, for a while, able to endure its problems, but it got too much and I'm done. Don't lump me in with them. That scene hurt me. That scene's relentless toxicity burned me out on game design in ways I'm still working to deal with. 




But that's enough heavy stuff. What am I making?

Embers & Dust is a module about depression, burnout and dementia. It's about struggling to keep that spark of individuality alive in a world that tries to smother it. It's about staring into the face of a bleak, soul sucking world, and daring to keep moving forward.

On a more practical level, it's another depthcrawl, similar to The Gardens of Ynn, The Stygian Library and Dead Girls In Sarkash Forest. Depthcrawls still fascinate me in the ways you can structure them to do different things. This one's drawing on my experience writing the other ones to do it's own thing, and reinforce it's own themes. 
More specifically, it's an adventure into a pocket of the shadowfell, in doomed pursuit of... something. You go deeper into the shadowfell, and the place changes you, creeping into your bones and wearing you down until you're just another part of its endless, bleak wasteland. The question at the heart of the adventure is not if  you'll reach your destination. It's how much of yourself you lose getting there, and if it's worth it in the end.
Ynn was whimsical, the Library was creepy, and Dead Girls was painful. This one's going to be melencholy.
D&D 5e is a different system to what I'm used to working with. A bit crunchier, perhaps. More expectations of balance, more fighty. I don't want to warp D&D into something unrecognisable, but I want this to feel like me. So encounters aren't necessarily fights, and attrition is slow and grinding.
I'm still getting the hang of 5e's balance and flow. Looking at how to construct a stat block, what you can expect of a party at a given level, that sort of thing. It's a learning experience. It's actually pretty interesting, and kinda a new area of design for me to explore.
I want to play with Inspiration as a mechanic. It's underutilised in 5e, I think. Just a simple Advantage to a dice roll here and there, at the DM's whim. So I'm giving it some weight. It's going to work a bit like WP in WoD games. Sure, you can spend it to boost a dice roll, but you might also be spending it to resist compulsions and urges, to stave off depression. And you might start getting Inspiration from unexpected sources.
I think, with the adventure's thematic focus on losing yourself and hope, Inspiration is an interesting mechanic to play around with.
Other than that, I'm slowly coming up with a few cultures and ecosystems of shadow-dwellers, some big set-piece locations and NPCs that can warp your characters in interesting ways.

It's going to be good, trust me.

And finally, have a mockup of a page. Still pretty rough, but I like where it's going.
(art credit goes to Tithi Luadthong on shutterstock)


41 comments:

  1. It is very nice to see a 5e project that doesn't use default formatting.

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    1. Yes, so little support for nonstandard format (such as in statblock generators).

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    2. I like the idea of using will power as she stated.

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  2. I will eagerly look forward to this just like Ynn and Stygian, because you do great work. System is unimportant. Get paid!

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  3. I hope it sells and sells and sells!

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  4. Hell yeah! You make beautiful content and should be able to live off of it. If that means making content for 5e, then get it! Not like anybody in the OSR scene isn't familiar with modifying content from other games to fit their own :)

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  5. I'm excited to see it, I'm sure it's going to be a killer adventure. I super agree on 5e encounter design being a super interesting practice.

    Now, if you don't mind me asking? In a perfect world where you could guarantee that it would sell well no matter the ruleset, which one would you choose for making it ?

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  6. May it bring you an appreciative audience in addition to a good living.

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  7. Good luck with the new direction. Leaving toxicity behind is a must, and I'd hope any friends or fans support you in that.

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  8. Absolutely no judgment from me on this decision. Do what you gotta do. And the idea for the adventure sounds great!

    Also, while I still prefer old school systems (and have enough privilege that the creeps in the OSR scene don't come after me), I do also enjoy 5E. It's not a bad edition of D&D. It's just turned up to 11.

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    1. What this guy said. Good luck with the new adventure! I never understood all the hate 5E gets anyway.

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  9. There is nothing wrong with making stuff for 5e. Two things can be true at once. Go forth and make a living, it's tough to chase passions when you're hungry.

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  10. Re: OSR, I get it. The indie scene had a similar effect on me after a while; so little joy, so much venom, some good people but an atmosphere that wasn't worth sticking around in.

    As for D&D: "Shakespeare gotta get paid, son."

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  11. Good luck. I am rooting for you.

    A good evocative setting and adventure goes beyond it´s systems. As long as it is yours I am sure it will be interesting even for those who don´t like D&D (I don´t like D&D and plundered lots of D&D material for ideas).

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  12. Depthcrawl - yes!
    Shadowfell - yes!
    Melancholy - yes!
    5e your way - yes!
    Actually using Inspiration for something worthwhile and interesting - yes!

    As I wrote on Twitter: I don't have anything against 5e and I gave everything except the Basic Rules to my son who loves the game. I stopped playing it because it bored me. But considering my many yes! above I'll start dusting off those Basic Rules.

    And we're all selling our souls in one way or another. Why not doing it creatively?

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  13. As men far wiser than me once said:

    Cash rules everything around me. Get the money. Dolla dolla bills, y'all.

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  14. Glad to see it. And I have been using the Stygian library, and Ynn as parts of my 5e campaign world for 3 years it ports perfectly. This new project will be included as soon as I get a copy.

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  15. Depression themes might pair well with exhaustion mechanics. Accruing exhaustion levels is under-utilized as a threat mechanic, and inspiration's advantage boon can act as an offset.

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  16. I love your artistic vision and will support it regardless of the rule system you use.

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  17. I'd be curious to know what about the OSR has pushed you out, but I also understand if you don't want to explain specifics in public.

    I have always liked your work and will continue to support you (despite my disdain for 5e).

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  18. Sounds like a great project! D&D5 isn't my favourite system, but it's not exactly hard to translate most adventures back into B/X, and it makes perfect sense in terms of commercial viability and getting your work to a new audience. I totally understand wanting to step away from the OSR, too. Good luck with everything!

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  19. This sounds incredible, and like an excellent excuse for me to review my old notes on the Sorrowsworn again. The ambient emotional turmoil of them feels just so ripe for non-combat, but very tense monster encounters.

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  20. The content matters more than the system, IMO, and your content has been consistently excellent. Excited to see what comes of this!

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  21. I don't care for 5e, I'm still going to buy this because your stuff rocks, and I'll just use it in my system of choice! Get yourself paid :D

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  22. That is an interesting concept, Inspiration. While I prefer OSR/OSRIC systems, my daughter DMs several 5e games on her campus. Be well and good luck!

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  23. Nothing but support for your work, regardless of system. Eager to know more about the project!

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  24. I'm sorry to hear that you had so many negative experiences with the OSR community. I hope you have better experiences with this!

    The mockup looks really good!

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  25. I'm (selfishly) sad you're done with the OSR cos I love The Gardens of Ynn and like having creative people, like yourself, as part of the scene. I'm also sad that I keep seeing good people disengage with it due to toxicity.

    Anyway, even worry that about selling out or rubbish like that if you have an idea that works well for 5e get it made and get paid.

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  26. Good luck. Looking forward to your 5e stuff, it's hard to get players to play non-5e games so I'm currently working out how to use Stygian Library and Ynn with it.

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  27. Hey!

    Forgive my ignorance. This is the first time I've commented here. I have always only read or bought pdfs.

    I would like to know where a physical version of your work can be bought. Preferably in Europe.

    I'd also like (if you don't mind) for you to follow a path like the author of "Neverland: A Fantasy Role-Playing Setting" - Andrew Kolb. There is some 5E in there but also useful for other systems.

    Forgive my English.
    I wish you all the best!

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  28. You are my favorite creator. Do what you do and get paid. We all have to live. I don't run 5e ( outside of Symbaroum and Shotguns & Sorcery ), but I will still, and always, buy your work. I'll covert what I need to whatever system I am running.

    OSR is toxic in that it has accepted this sort of counter culture underground mentality where anything popular is evil and if it isn't super lethal you are doing role playing wrong and need to stop.

    5e community is toxic in that they are scared of new ideas or anything that isn't RAW. Go against the status quo, or suggest you can't crit on skill checks, and you get crusified by people who have never played a different game.

    The difference is that 5e makes you money. You have to live. Fuck both communities. Be a community unto yourself and do what you like, makes you happy, and helps you financially survive. So much toxicity in gaming these days.

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  29. Good luck with your project

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  30. Good luck, im a filthy 5er who lurks around OSR. Looking forward to your new stuff

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  31. In my 'experiments', I found 5e doesn't sell well compared to OSR (mainly OSE) content, but we are just small fries. I plan to stop putting the effort into it though. Hopefully it works out better for you. As for the OSR toxicity, I simply don't understand the point of it all. Disagreements, different views--that was all set aside when people would sit at the table ready to play a game about a fantasy world--it's the environment in how I grew up anyways, but that seems a rarity on today's internet. It's a shame, and it sucks to keep losing people on whatever side/beliefs/etc. they are on. Variety is the spice of life. Your next project sounds very creative--I wish you success and fun in developing it.

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  32. Emmy---

    Your new project sounds very interesting, and I'll happily keep an eye out for it.

    It also sounds ripe for possible cross-pollination with Delta Green and/or CoC, so if you haven't given thought to that as an alternate implementation of the same structures/designs (a possible alt system), it may be worth considering as a stretch goal if/when you KS this.

    My 2 cp.

    Allan.

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  33. Best of luck to you on the new ventures! I'll gladly pick up your 5e stuff as I have your OSR stuff.

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  34. I ran Library with 5e -- so I'm excited to see what you're going to do with it natively!

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  35. As the only good Artpunk author for the OSR, this is indeed a loss for it. I wish you success in your 5e endaevours.

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  36. I've bought Stygian Library and been planning on running it in 5E ( I also bought Gardens of Ynn). I'd buy Embers and Dust in a hearbeat.

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  37. I wish all the luck with your switch! Whatever system you design for, you're still one of the most interesting rpg creators out there and I hope you get paid for your labor.

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  38. But that's enough heavy stuff. What am I making?

    Embers & Dust is a module about depression, burnout and dementia.


    HAHAHAA.... when your game about depression and dementia is the "light" stuff...lol

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