Parsec Revised

I’m thinking of revising Parsec and re-releasing it as a PDF. Probably with the same wonderful art; hopefully with similar layout and graphic design, just wrapped around the new and updated text. I’m thinking of this for three reasons:

Errata from the Original

Because I was the designer, writer, and primary editor of the original, there were a number of mistakes. I’m proud of the work, but at the same time it could have been better, and in a way should be better. The game deserves an edition that I can look to and say “That’s pretty much what I wanted it to be.”

I’ve Learned In the Last 12 Years

When I started writing Parsec, it was the second half of 2007. The game design landscape was significantly different then, and in the 12 years since then I have learned more about writing, editing and game design. I can make a better game today than I could then.

Parsec is also now entirely mine. The rights to the property, as it were, have reverted back to me entirely. A few years ago, actually. I got great advice, and had it written into my contract as we negotiated that the rights would revert to me if the game was out of print for a couple of years. It has been out of print for a while now. This means that, for better or worse, I can write and design exactly the game I want to. I can update the setting, add elements that interest me, etc.

Therapeutic Use Through the Bodhana Group

Parsec could be really useful for therapeutic gaming. If nothing else, name a hard sci-fi roleplaying game. Even 12 years since I wrote Parsec, there aren’t that many out there. Parsec still does things that no other game out there does, and includes some elements like player-defined goals and obstacles, secrets and scars, that have obvious, powerful therapeutic applications. I’d like to revise Parsec with input from Bodhana this time around, not as Therapy: the Game, but to perhaps include more elements they would like to see that makes it a better therapeutic tool.

An Update, in Lieu of Content

I’m not sure what to do with this blog right now, but I don’t want it to die, and I thought I’d post a little update on what I’m doing. Parsec is done (at last!) after a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and I’m proud of the end result. I have heard from some groups that are playing it, and I’m glad to hear it, and I hope many more are that I’m not hearing about.

I still find time to listen to podcasts, mostly when I am relaxing and playing Oblivion (I finished Skyrim first and then went backwards to Oblivion). The ones that I’m most excited to find in my feed are:

Aldasaga (Tolkien and Old Norse) is a special kind of awesome, and started relatively recently. The focus of the podcast is the works of JRR Tolkien and how they draw from Norse myth. In short, they draw from Norse myth more than I’d thought, and so far the podcast is fascinating.

Freakanomics is the only way I can tolerate listening to things about economics. I know I should understand it to be a participant in society and so on, but it’s just so…dismal. Freakanomics focuses on the surprising or counter-intuitive aspects of economics, including how the President of the US has almost no impact on the US economy. The topics are presented in a way that is likely to inform and entertain actual human beings.

This American Life is possibly the best podcast, period. It is Ira Glass going through amazing stories that follow a different them for each show. If you want to be moved and amazed, give them an hour and it’s almost guaranteed.

WNYC’s Radiolab is like This American Life’s little brother. Jad and Robert, the hosts, take a theme, but their themes are often related to science, technology and a little bit of philosophy. They approach these topics through stories much the way that TAM does, and like TAM they are consistently excellent.

Writing Excuses is the best podcast on the art, craft and business of writing, period. Each episode is only 15 minutes and they are currently in season 7. If you are a writer, or are interested in writers, then this should be a number one listening priority.

On the other hand, I’m doing a lot of writing, which feels good. Well, I’m doing as much as I can, given that I’m also a stay-at-home dad most days. I have continued to work on Never Pray Again with my Two Friars and a Fool collaborators, though I have taken a break from that. I wrote a ton on it for a few months, and sort of burned myself out until I can see more from Aric and Nick that I can respond to and be inspired by.  I am also collaborating on a number of projects: some supplements for Parsec focusing on Mars and the Asteroid Belt, a Victorian Gothic horror game called Clockwork, and a more-than-an-ebook adventure for bySwarm’s Dark Golden Age setting. Lastly, Reckoning, our horror rpg, is limping along, mostly neglected because of all of these other things going on.

In addition, I always have a few projects on my many back burners. I’ve been working on a poetry portfolio, theoretically as part of a possible Master’s in Fine Arts program application, and I’ve been learning that I am terrible at territory. I also have a few games percolating, including Fivefold Qi and still poking around with Heroes of Karia. I am also trying my hand at some fiction: a long-form story called Dragonblade and two short stories, one about a person who hires assassins to kill himself and the other about a superhero sidekick who turns villain. These are for a thematic anthology on sidekicks, and I may not finish them in time but they still interest me to see through.

Is that a lot of writing? Hell yes. And it’s awesome, and I want to keep writing as much as I can for as long as I can.

More Kickstarter Talk to Come

Our Parsec Kickstarter is kicking ass.  We have gone beyond 300% and there is chance we could see 400%! This is beyond crazy. What I would like to do, when I have a little time, is to look at and talk about the whole experience overall, as well as look at how our pledges worked out, using the information that Kickstarter gives us about where backers are coming from, the graph of the project’s progress, and so on.

This is just a reminder, though, and/or foreshadowing, because currently I am beyond swamped with other things to do, not to mention the coming task of organizing rewards for well over 300 backers, many of whom are not in the US.  It’ll be interesting!

If anyone reading this would like to talk Kickstarter, I am no expert, but our project did pretty well, and I think I have figured out some of the reasons why it did so.  Feel free to contact me through Google+ or my email, Facebook, whatever, and I’ll be happy to talk and trade ideas.

Until I can dig myself out from under some of this work – if you haven’t backed us yet, what are you waiting for?

Learning From Kickstarter

My RPG, Parsec, is currently up on Kickstarter.  So far things are going great – we’ve over 100% funded and still going strong.  I’ve found that I have preposterously generous friends and family, and that somehow my project got onto a French BBS which resulted in hundreds of dollars of support from people I’ll probably never meet.

In this whole process, I have learned a few things, and I thought I’d share them here for anyone who might want to put up their own Kickstarter project.  I am by no means an expert on any of this – this is my first project, and I have just gotten lucky in a lot of ways thus far.  However, if you haven’t put anything up on Kickstarter before, or maybe if you have but it wasn’t successful, something here might be helpful.  If you want to add anything you have learned, please comment.

Kickstarter is awesome

I know this isn’t really advice, but Kickstarter is truly awesome.  There is already a built-in community of generous people, it is only becoming more popular as time goes on, and the software you use to set your project up is easy to use and understand.

Enthusiasm is infectious

If you love your project, and you should if you want others to love it, don’t hold back in talking about it.  Talk about how it came about, where the ideas came from, why you think it’s awesome, and so on.  I have proven to be a terrible salesman previously in my life, but because I was excited about this project, I think I was able to communicate that enthusiasm.

Do your homework

Spend plenty of time looking at successful and unsuccessful projects in your own caregory, and look at what they do.  How often do they post updates?  What kinds of rewards are they using?  What does their video look like, and what other images are they using on their site?  Do they seem available to backers for conversation through comments?

In my case, I looked through many projects in the Games category – not just other tabletop RPGs, but also video games, board games and card games.  I looked carefully at what they did, and how, and what the result was.  I think that this homework prepared me to put together a pretty good project page at first, and that may have been part of how I got early momentum for Parsec.

Structure rewards carefully

One of the cool things the Kickstarter site gives you to track your progress is the Dashboard – basically, it is a breakdown of your backers.  How many do you have, what is the average contribution, how are they finding the project, and which rewards account for the largest percentage of your overall support.

I can already see some mistakes that I made.  My rewards should, ideally I think, fall into something like a nice bell-curve.  My curve is vaguely bell-like, but quite bumpy.  I have many times more $5 backers than I have $10 backers, and looking at the rewards I can see why.  I under-priced the PDF of the game at $5 and didn’t make $10 distinctly cool enough.  (That being said, I also might have more PDFs total out there as a result of under-pricing them, which puts my game into more hands, which might be an advantage later on.)

My goal in building the rewards was to keep in mind what it would cost to produce each reward – if you spend all of your support on rewards, you won’t have enough left over for the actual project.  One thing I didn’t take into account was the cost of shipping internationally.  Honestly, I just didn’t imagine that I would have a lot of international backers, but I later learned that on a Kickstarter project, often as much as a third of your support (as an American) comes from non-US sources.  I’d say this is the case for me as well, and I had to do some re-assessing of  how I would handle shipping costs.

Keeping an eye on cost, I did try to make each level as cool as possible.  I tried to cram them with rewards, including ones that cost us little or nothing, like thanking people by name in the final book when it is printed, or signing books before we send them out.

For each level, think “Would I read this and think it was cool?  That it was worth my money?”

Visual presentation is king

Even for a project like Parsec, which is a book, visual elements were key.  I got a friend who is skilled with video editing to put together a video using artwork from the book.  If you have art, put it all over your project page, even for a work that is not primarily visual at all.  Visuals are catchy, and can communicate a great deal very quickly, even at a glance.  If possible, team up with people for the project who are artists.  Split some of the proceeds with them in exchange for some artwork up front.  I can’t over-state how important the visual elements seem to be.

It’s a huge help to be known already

Whatever creative community you are part of, it is a huge advantage to be known already, to have a name and a reputation that people know and respect.  I didn’t have this advantage, and had to weight other things in my favor as a result.  No one knows who I am, and I don’t expect them to.

For those who are known in their given community, though, the sky is the limit.  Well-known writers and game designers continually leverage the recognition they have on Kickstarter to get new projects off the ground.  Most of the advice that I got was that the most powerful element of a successful Kickstarter project is to already have a community that supports you.  In my case, that community turned out to be my family and friends – but I know many of them are probably tapped out at this point, meaning I cannot depend on that next time.

Don’t spam, but promote the crap out of it

Go on forums and boards, join groups, send emails and Twitter messages, post Facebook updates, contact friends and family, talk to people who are working in your creative field, and make sure people with an audience are aware of your project – bloggers, writers, social media types, podcasters and so on can be incredibly valuable, and a lot of them are awesome people who will help you out for nothing, or maybe just a promise to help them out sometime in the future.

That’s one more thing I am continually learning – creativity and generosity often go hand-in-hand.

Parsec Again

I just got a copy of the full PDF of Parsec, complete with most of the layout and a lot of the artwork.  It’s really cool to have it to go through – I find places where I’m proud of what I wrote, as well as places where I’m thinking “Oh crap, this is going to be published?”

The upside is seeing a project I worked so hard on develop further.  The downside is that I have 120 or so pages to go through and re-proofread and re-edit on top of everything else.

Still a labor of love, though.