Arcane Synthesis: A Blended-Genre Anthology (Excerpt)

Hi all, I created an author page over at Goodreads and put the book up there. I also made a book page for Arcane Synthesis on our QT Games website (I’ll update the rest of the site one of these days).

Why not drop by Goodreads or our site and check it out?! Add the book to your read list or read more about it. If you’ve read the book already, let us know what you think! Thanks! For your convenience, I’ve included an excerpt right in this very blog post, with a good amount of art to boot! Cool, huh? Well, I think so anyway.

Here’s a taste of Arcane Synthesis:

The book turned out great and I am excited to be moving forward. Seriously folks, how many cool projects QT Games publishes is going to be mostly in your hands—as you stand with us like you did with our Arcane Synthesis Kickstarter, and as you provide feedback, reviews —all that good word of mouth stuff, and as you show interest, we’ll keep pushing forward. We have some really awesome projects in the works, but we can’t do this without you!

The print books are out and lookin’ pretty, with exciting stories throughout, but I’ll let you be the judge! Yeah, I’m feeling a little giddy right now.

I shipped out a pile of books to those due them and set up shop on Drivethrufiction.com, Drivethrurpg.com and RPGNow.com (the stories are all part of my Cosmoverse Campaign Setting and Cosmothea RPG after all, and we still hope to produce setting books as fans show interest—purchase links are on the left side of the excerpt widget).

I’m afraid I have to temporarily set aside the mini book I’ve been working on (Cosmoverse World Tour #0) despite being uber excited about that new series, in order to jump on ebook creation for Arcane Synthesis (not a bad reason, but I’ll look forward to diving back in—I have big plans for that new series).

We’re just getting warmed up. Hm . . . I need to find time to finish designing my latest card game based on Cosmoverse magic. Now where did I leave my Tardis?

Are you a Book Reviewer? Do you have a book review blog?
If you’re a regular fiction reviewer and like multi-genre stories (or as I prefer to call them, blended-genre), then I think you’ll get a kick out of these stories, and I’d love a review—contact me at bob [at] qtgames.com.

[Shoot—this post was supposed to be my Designer Diary #9 – Part 2 on publishing. I promise my next blog post will be Part 2. Slipped my mind with so much on my plate and I had to get this post out of my system!]

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Wait . . . QT Games? Who are you again, and why should I care?

Arcane-Synthesis-QT-Games-blogI thought I’d back up for a moment for those who have never heard of QT Games LLC, or have never visited my personal or new QT Games Google+ page, blog, website, forums, facebook or twitter accounts, etc. [Those of you looking for our regular Designer Diary, I’ll post another shortly—been slammed this week shipping off our first anthology!]

Small Press or Self-Publisher?
QT Games was founded to produce creative, blended-genre products—everything from fiction to RPG, board and card games. We’re not new on the block—we’ve been doing this sort of thing for a very long time now, but we figured it was past time we stepped into the ring and actually began publishing some of our stuff.

Since I (Bob Whitely) am currently the only member at QT Games, some might consider me a self-publisher, and while there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing, the term doesn’t accurately convey what I’m doing with QT Games. Self-publishing may have some similarities, but there are many differences.

QT Games would more properly be called small press. You could also refer to it as an indie publisher (not part of a major publishing house).

Self-publishers only publish their own work. Our first offering, Arcane Synthesis: A Blended-Genre Anthology, was set in our Cosmoverse Campaign Setting and was the work of numerous talented folks, including Darrin Drader, Robert Duran Jr., Allen Farr, Ed Greenwood, Lee Hammock, Steven E. Schend and myself (and a few others, actually).

It wasn’t the first time I’ve assembled teams to work on QT Games projects. Before we even opened our doors officially, I gathered a number of creative individuals to work on one of the iterations of our pen and paper RPG, Cosmothea, as well as on the Cosmoverse. It is my hope to continue working with talented writers and artists, primarily on QT Games IP’s, but if all goes well, on the IP’s of others as well.

Sadly, many self-publishers forgo pro-level editing and cut corners, sometimes without realizing it, and at other times their products are lacking due to financial limitations and other reasons. There are some really great self-published products out there, but there’s also a lot of garbage. I’m also seeing plenty of mistakes and poor execution even in products published by the big name publishers. The worst offenders, however, tend to be self-publishers, and so all self-publishers are lumped together and are sometimes looked down upon. Small press is often looked down upon as well, but they are not the same thing, and there are a few indie publishers putting out some really terrific stuff.

Self-Publishing Myth:
The popular dream of publishing ones work via ebooks on the cheap is real, but putting out quality products—even quality ebooks is Not cheap. Not really (even amazing editors need a good editor—seriously), and a mind-blowing artist still needs time to work for “free”, if you can truly call it that, or the project will take forever to release. And there are many other hats to wear — and other talents required, to be successful in publishing. Not every author or game designer has the talent to own and operate a small press.

I make a living as a commercial artist, doing digital paintings, concept design, branding, etc. and I still hire artists at times to ensure the right art for the right project. Publishing great fiction and wonderful games with high production values is likely much more expensive, more challenging and more time-consuming than most realize.

I rarely balk at the high prices I see on some books and games as I have a good idea as to what went into putting them together and know that distributors and retailers like Amazon take a big cut.

What Consumers Want:
Let’s face it, you and I want great products. We don’t care how much it costs companies to make the products. We just want what we want. Gamers tend to want high production values, but don’t want to pay for them.

Frankly, art means a lot to me. Unless a game has legendary reviews, I might check it out as I like to be up on what other game designers are doing and like to analyze games, but I won’t likely play it if the art isn’t good. I just can’t get into it, but I know that expensive art both jacks up the cost of production and should jack up the cost of the product itself (though I’ll do my best to keep prices down and still provide cool art, but it means I’ll take a hit on royalties and in some cases might not be able to have as much art).

Fiction readers also want cheap books, but books cost serious money to publish. You may think ebooks are free money for the Publishers, but they’re not. Many factors go into the publication and pricing of books and ebooks, and Publishers generally earn very little off each book—especially small press.

Where does that leave QT Games?
We don’t have piles of money laying around, which is why we turned to you and Kickstarter in 2014, and why we will do it again. It is because of the high cost of publishing and our desire to give you more than you pay for, that QT Games has been so slow to enter the fray.

We’re committed to putting out only high-quality products. This means that we aren’t rushing to publish just to get a publishing credit, but are taking the time to do it right (We’ll make some mistakes along the way—already have, but are improving all the time).

While I hope to one day be able to pay the bills working full-time at QT Games, the company’s focus is not on making piles of money, but on publishing something you’ll be proud to have on your book or gaming shelf.

Arcane Synthesis is about to hit the shelves. I think it turned out great, but I’ll let you decide! We’ve edited it to death and it’s lookin’ pretty. We got the books back from the printer and sent them off to the backers. We’re still setting up shop over at Drivethrufiction.com and Amazon, but will launch the book this Summer. We still have some more Kickstarter rewards to finish and send off before diving back into our next book: The Living Train.

The thing is, Kickstarter isn’t a bank. It requires fans standing with us. Our last Kickstarter was a success, but there’s no guarantee our next one will be. Getting funded isn’t easy for indie publishers. We need to keep growing our fan base and we need fans spreading the word if we want to keep putting out cool, blended-genre goodies!

This is where you come in. It doesn’t mean much for us to toot our own horn. We need people spreading the word on the sites that carry our book and on social media, and we need your feedback so we can improve what we’re doing! That way we all win!

We’ve got a lot of very cool projects in the works. If you believe in what we’re doing, please consider writing a review of Arcane Synthesis, spreading the word and standing with us again when we move forward with our next Kickstarter. ‘Nuff said.

I appreciate each one of you who stood with us in 2014 as we launched QT Games and our dream. You guys are awesome! I think you’re going to love Arcane Synthesis and the other goodies we’re cooking up. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Designer Diary #8: What are the Odds of Publishing your Game?

Designer-DiarySeriously, folks: What are the odds of getting your RPG on the market—of getting your game design (RPG, board, card, whatever) not just on the shelves, but selling well? The short answer? Not very good, but don’t give up on your dreams yet! There is hope . . . and many things to consider. This post will be slanted toward RPG’s, but there are plenty of applications for other sorts of games and other industries.

Although I don’t have hard facts to share, I can offer my observations from years of monitoring the game industry as I continue to design RPG material, board and card games, and talk with pros and aspiring designers. And of course from trying to get my foot in the door on occasion with my own projects.

This is a big topic, so I’m going to do it in 2 parts (maybe even 3, but maybe not back to back unless you request it, as many come here to hear about the Cosmoverse, my fiction and my approach to game design—okay, maybe “many” is the wrong term here), but I’m going to just touch on a few things. And then if you have questions, or think I’m nuts, or when I find time to post a bit more on it, we can tackle some other very relevant aspects in future posts and the comment section (please feel free to use the comment section!) Frankly, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic—what’s worked for you and what hasn’t? Let’s roll!

Part 1: What are the Odds?
There are numerous factors that go into sorting out who succeeds at anything. What are the odds I’ll cover them all? Not good! (I’m not trying to write a novel here.)

From what I’ve seen, most game designers who are actually trying to get their work published (many are not), have little success. This is for many reasons. First of all, it’s terribly hard to put out a decent RPG, board or card game. It’s much easier to just do some house rules for an existing game. (If you think it’s not that hard, then chances are that’s what you’ve been doing—house rules. No offense, of course!)

Making a good RPG requires that a designer not only has a solid grasp of what’s already on the market and has played a variety of games, but has invested time in studying game design and the industry itself. There’s a lot to be learned, and so one of the many things I do is semi routinely visit various forums to get a sense for what gamers enjoy and are griping about.

Putting out a good game requires more money than most non-pro designers have. Good art both helps attract attention and keeps a potential consumer around long enough to find out if the product is any good. There’s many products on the market or that were on the  market that I wouldn’t touch with a 10′ pole because of bad art (and I know from talking with others that I’m far from alone). It is for this reason that I’ve spent thousands on art for my projects (and I’m a pro artist myself—but I can’t do everything and there’s always better artists out there). At the very least, you need to be able to pay a good cover artist and allow for a few better than decent interior pics.

You need a good editor—seriously don’t get a decent editor. Get a good one or just skip publishing and play with your friends who might not care about editing as much. Yes, editing is that important! I’m also not alone in quickly setting an RPG down again and not returning to it if it was poorly edited.

All games requires loads of playtesting (I said “of course” because this should be obvious, but I’ve known many designers that think playtesting means having your friends playtest, but proper playtesting goes far, far beyond you and your friends). Bad RPG’s don’t require any of this, but I’m really talking about designers who are actually trying.

Even great roleplaying games don’t have a huge chance of success unless they are attached to a big name in the industry, as the market is littered with RPGs. Yeah, a great many of them are just plain bad games with maybe one or two cool ideas, and/or are simply rip offs of D&D or some other game. While I really think you ought to know how to play the grandfather of all roleplaying games, sometimes D&D can actually be a detriment to good roleplaying design (one because they have done many things sub par, and two because D&D works, whether you like it or not, and once you know how it works, it’s not always easy to think outside of that old, worn box).

The reason I said you should know the industry is because you don’t want to make a game just like games that are already out there, especially in a saturated niche. If you don’t know what games are on the market, and how many games work, you’ll be hard pressed to put out a game that has better odds of success. You might just be reinventing the wheel, or making a game that doesn’t address what gamers are actually looking for.

There’s so much more to putting out a great, RPG than having a great idea, and far more to being successful. You can open a restaurant that serves the best Italian food ever, but if you don’t advertise it effectively, manage it well, present it well, open it at the right time in the right location, with an optimal menu at the right prices, well it just might crash and burn (restaurants in my area struggle to stay open if they aren’t a known chain). Like running a successful restaurant, merely inventing a product and putting it on the market isn’t enough—that’s just Step 1!

With games, you’ve often got this guy with some pretty nifty D&D house rules and he and his friends like ’em and get the notion that they are going to compete and beat D&D at their own game. Very rarely does this amount to much. You are competing not only against the latest version of D&D, but every single version that came out previously. Even WotC is competing for previous fans and grognards. How refreshing it is for us indie game developers who don’t have to worry about pleasing that fan base who will be comparing today’s D&D with yesterday’s!

We can start fresh, try new things, and we don’t have “suits” looking over our shoulder. Of course those suits help provide the finances to get things done too. Traditionally the best games usually come from the guy or gal sitting at their home computer—such work usually isn’t adorned with fancy art and wonderful editing—that comes later, if they get lucky.

The big companies are usually too scared to risk straying off the main path, especially if they are nursing a fan base who isn’t always keen on changing the status quo, so that gives indies a chance to do something great. (You only have to look at the movie makers to know this is true. Hollywood is very fond of remaking movies so they don’t have to risk a new venture. TV show concepts that seem to work well just keep getting recycled to the point of Ad nauseam. Where as some indie film makers are doing some really original stuff (of course there’s a lot of trash too), but as far as games go, some indie designers are the real movers and shakers, breathing fresh air into the hobby, introducing some really cool concepts. We still need the big boys though, as they help bring in new gamers onto the scene.

I’m not just making this stuff up, I’ve chatted with reps from several of the major game publishers out there. It has been a few years, but from my experience, things haven’t really changed much. They openly admitted the best ideas usually come from non-pro aspiring artists, writers, game designers, etc. But since we have less money, time, etc., it’s hard to get stuff done and then get noticed.

But for finances, we’ve got Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, etc.!  Crowdfunding is NOT the cash cow many think it is (I know I’ve said this before, but so many still don’t get it). We can find success in designing games (let’s not forget to have fun along the way—if we made a great game, we can still play it, whether it gets on the market or not!), but we need to proceed with caution, keep our eyes wide open, use common sense, and have realistic expectations (and in some cases, have a very patient spouse!)

So, that’s the long answer. It’s far from exhaustive (though this blog post might be—sorry it’s long!) In the follow-up post, I’ll discuss transparency, NDA’s, building teams, and more on improving your odds. Whether that post comes next or down the road, depends on feedback.

Btw, If you haven’t been following along with my publishing company, QT Games, at my forums or on facebook, check it out! I’ve been meaning to put together a newsletter to help people keep up-to-date, but I’m a month or so off from starting that. So be sure to check out the facebook page! I also use it to announce cool Kickstarters that other creative types are doing (helping people accomplish their dreams is fun!) Cheers!

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Designer Diary #7: But I’m Too Busy To Chase My Dream!

Designer-DiaryHeck, how do I design games when I’m lucky to find time to write a blog post? The sad fact is, some of us are just too crazy busy! We need to take a step back and review our lives, reorganize and reset our priorities. We need to trim the fat and remind ourselves what’s really important!

Me, I already watch almost zero TV—mostly just an occasional movie, and have slimmed down the number of hobbies weighing me down. You can’t do everything, nor can you be great at everything. Most of us can and should cut back on what we’re doing. But what about my dreams? Ah, well, that’s a bit different, but even so, we need to approach them realistically.

With all that I’ve already cut back, I still find it hard to find time to design games, much less play them. That said, I’ve been working long hours all year so far, so I have less time than many, which makes it even more difficult. Thankfully, this big deadline is almost behind me (it was extended a month and a half after already being extended, but supposedly my hours will be cut back quite a bit soon! And since I’m salary, that’s exciting).

If you are like me, you might be second-guessing your dreams about now, especially if you have little money to see them come true! (Don’t feel bad, I have piles of products waiting on funding, and Kickstarter is NOT the financial Easy Button many people thought it was). But all is not lost! There is hope for busy people, but it might mean more trimming, or at least more effective use of our remaining time.

We all need to live balanced lives and have our priorities straight—even if we aren’t revamping a huge RPG, campaign setting, writing books, board and card games or nursing our relationships with spouse and kids, while serving at church! Something has to give, and the last thing you want to do is stress your relationship with your loved ones, neglect God, work, bills, etc. So, in that sense, your dreams do take a back seat. But chances are, you are doing some things that can be trimmed—and should be (few shows on TV are worth your time, seriously, folks), and if you want to be productive, you have to actually sit down and do something.

How do I keep up such a rigorous schedule without sacrificing relationships, etc.? It’s not easy! There are segments of our day that are less important or could be done while doing something else. Multitasking, friends! When I walk my lil Chiweenie I’m brainstorming my next short story, card game, etc. and then summarize my brainstorm before I forget it upon returning home. I keep a clipboard in my truck and while driving and I brainstorm, review, analyze concepts, etc. in between lights and then jot ’em down at stoplights (careful and watch for the light to turn green!) My guess is there are down times (doctor’s office, downtime over your lunch break), etc. in which you could do a bit of work daily on your dream.

Now, sometimes you need to just carve out a solid hour or two to get some of the more complex bits done (you can’t write a novel while driving, though you can flesh out a character’s motivations). Look for holes in your day, but also remember we need to rest too. Live and play in moderation and don’t stress yourself out trying to be productive. Create realistic goals and break down larger projects into manageable chunks!

Cutting out activities can be painful. I’m a bit of a workaholic, but I regularly remind myself what’s really important and weigh my time carefully. I always break large projects down into small ones and rejoice over the little accomplishments (they all add up to big ones in the end after all!) Like I said, it’s not easy, but if you have realistic expectations, a solid battleplan as to how you are going to move forward, fit effective segments of time into your day and your week, you will always be making progress toward your dreams!

Routinely evaluate how you spend your time to make sure you aren’t getting off track, and to make sure you haven’t allowed time-wasters to creep in. Money is nice, but it can’t buy you time. Time is one of your most valuable possessions! Never give up my friends!

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Designer Diary #6: Building and Maintaining a Vast Universe

Designer-DiaryAs promised, I took a break from writing the blog, in part due to working 70 hours a week, but also in part because I went out of the country for half a month and was without internet for most of that time, having gone deep into the jungles of the Philippines (maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime—it wasn’t a leisure trip or a vacation, but it was rather exciting!)

Well, I’m still working long hours, but I expect it to slow down soon so I can get rollin’ in a bigger way on the Cosmoverse and other goodies. ‘Nuff said. I assume you’re here for bigger things—like universe-sized things.

When Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise, they purchased a crazy-big universe and set about trying to trim it down into a more manageable size. I understand better than many why they felt the need to do that and how big the task would be. My own Cosmoverse, while not quite as old as the Star Wars Universe (they got me beat by a couple years or so), is quite vast and is supported by hundreds of stories, including some novel drafts, Arcane Synthesis—of course, and hundreds of RPG adventures, as well as box loads of notes and maps. To George Lucus’ credit, having a huge budget compared to my paltry one, he was able to not just get to market, but being good stuff, making money and in the public’s eyes, resulted in many authors writing for it, while only a few have written about the Cosmoverse other than me. My comparison is simply to give a frame of reference. I know about building and maintaining a big universe as I’ve been doing it for well over three decades. It’s hard to manage something that big.

I felt Disney’s pain of having to tackle something so big and also having to remove parts that people like (and worrying about the repercussions—I didn’t have as many, but I did have long-time friends and family that heard the stories and went off on adventures, and liked the existing histories). Just as it was necessary to prune the Star Wars Universe, it became necessary to prune the Cosmoverse to keep it healthy and future products doable. It was for that same reason that about two years ago I began revising Cosmothean history—very slowly and carefully—deciding painfully what to keep and polish, and what to relegate to mere myth, or toss. It was a little liberating, but it wasn’t really fun, because I like the universe I’ve built. I like it a lot! Still, I saw the need to polish some things and simplify, but didn’t enjoy pruning. I’m still pruning and polishing and likely will for some time to come, as I want it to be approachable and a great product, of course.

When I hired six authors to write stories about the Cosmoverse for Arcane Synthesis back in late 2013 I realized just how challenging it would be to provide them with what they needed to tell accurate tales within such a big universe. I had hired game designers a few years before and taught them what they needed to know to accurately design things for the Cosmoverse, but it wasn’t easy. And this time around, publication was just around the corner and so it got a little scary. Everything had to be accurate.

There’s no changing anything after my products are on the market. Rather, Disney backpedaled on the Star Wars Universe when they bought it, but I didn’t want to have to do that. I wanted only canon material hitting the shelves, and that meant treading carefully. Looking at our first offering—Arcane Synthesis: A Blended-Genre Anthology, I think everything worked out well. But that’s just one product. I still need to finish the huge timeline and maintain it, as more and more worlds, cultures, technology and creatures are revealed. I have a pile of books planned and in the works, and so an accurate, accessible timeline is crucial. Actually, there will be multiple timelines, as before, but they must be accessible.

If you haven’t begun to make a timeline yet for your book or game setting universe, I advise treading very carefully, making a sweeping overview timeline to make sure you have all your dates and events right – something you can look at quickly and take in without breaking a sweat. You can then have one or more, hopefully fairly simple timelines that cover your bases.

If you expect someone to read it all, you can’t just go on forever. You need to be very organized, and keep the entries brief. You can always refer in the timeline to a supplementary document that goes into more detail on a particular person, place or event.

Unlike with the Star Wars Universe, which didn’t even have a defined canon until about 1994, In the very beginning I intentionally laid out a history from the beginning of time to far, far in the future, well beyond where most of the stories I or the other authors have written, take place. I set up a huge framework and knew where it was headed. Of course it was easier for me in the old days as I was working alone and the universe was less detailed. And I’m not bragging. Star Wars is insanely popular and I haven’t even gotten my first book out yet after all these decades (though I’m only weeks away from publishing my first and have others in the works, so there’s hope for me yet!)

Each time I wrote a story, ran an adventure in the RPG or created something else for the campaign setting (a new race, culture, magic item, etc.), I made sure it fit in with what had gone before. My problem was finding a good way to organize so much information. I had this absurdly long timeline and kept rewriting it and making sub sections. It was too long to read and reference and just kept getting bigger as the years rolled by. I know I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: If you are going to design any big project, you need to be uber organized!

Several years ago, I began hiring a team of game designers and writers to assist me in finishing Cosmothea 4.0 (my pen and paper rpg) and had them write a bit about the Cosmoverse as well, under my close supervision. I had a large team and it wasn’t easy monitoring and assisting them all, but it was working, until the American economy collapsed and took my budget with it. It was during that era that I began to experience a bit of what had been happening with the Star Wars Universe.

All said I’m glad I opened the doors wider for others to lend their creativity and help flesh out areas I didn’t have time to finish. Bringing others on board was inevitable, as I’ll never have time to tell but a tiny fraction of all the tales there are to tell during my lifetime about it.

With Cosmothea 5.0, I’m back to managing the Cosmoverse entirely by myself and am glad I decided to revisit the mammoth timelines (yes, there was more than one – several in fact —timelines are helpful to track the lives of the gods, developing technology on not one world, but hundreds—galactic empires, as well as for tracking the history of individual galactic empires and even racial histories and the development of magic). So many timelines was daunting, but it helped fix the problem with having one ginormous timeline and was easier to reference. Even so, they were still very time consuming to make and read. My universe was quickly growing so big that I have never managed to successfully finish all the timelines. Yes, the Cosmoverse really is vast. Not generic, but yes, vast.

Even so, I continue to make progress on my new canon timelines. I’m in no rush to add new things to them, as I want to make sure the puzzle pieces fit well are properly organized and brief. That way I can at least say that everything in my current timelines is accurate. There is some urgency to work on them, however, as I have more books to release and so I continue to move forward, trimming, organizing and polishing. So far, so good!

I had so much more time to work on the Cosmoverse when I was laid off, but that didn’t put food on my table and I have a job now and for a little while longer will be working long hours. It has been slowing down book and game production and pushing back my next Kickstarter for The Living Train, but it’s paying the bills and I work with a great bunch of guys, and that’s a good thing. :)

As for Arcane Synthesis, I should have the latest proof finished and hopefully be able to order books within the next two weeks! The book rocks and I can’t wait to get it into your hands. If you love blended-genre (multi-genre – if you prefer) then chances are you’d get a real kick out of Arcane Synthesis! I’ll let you know when it hits the shelves. Well, that’s all for this week. My next blog post will be way shorter—I promise! I’ll snag some small corner of the Cosmoverse and show you a peek and talk about why it is the way it is. Cheers!

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Designer Diary #5: RPG Races

Designer-DiaryToday I’m going to talk a bit about races in roleplaying games. Now, I have to admit I’m really into races, and I do get excited when a game has a neat offering of races, but I’m not just making Cosmothea for myself. I’m making it for a mainstream audience, so it’s not about just what I want. I do have a detailed, specific vision for the Cosmoverse Campaign Setting, however, so that guides my decisions as well.

I was surprised to learn a few years back that some gamers don’t consider the quality or quantity of races as being a very good selling point for a game. In fact, sometimes they get annoyed hearing about it. “Every game has races. Big deal!” So I have to remind myself that not everyone gets excited like I do when hearing about new races in an RPG. So, I don’t talk about them a lot—I have plenty other selling points, after all, but I do love the races we’re using and they are important to me. My guess is some will fall in love with some of the original races in any RPG that has ’em, and that fact will be one more factor in keeping them playing, so they are important, IMO. Regardless, it’s important for a game designer to carefully consider what races to include, providing a good mix of themes that work well together, and go off the beaten path a little and offer something that is both creative and makes sense.

If there is a setting, the races should feel like they belong, both conceptually and historically. The more you tie them to the setting, the stronger their theme will be, but also the less portable they’ll be to other game systems and settings.

Books have been written on how to make a good race so I won’t go into all the meat here. This is a general overview and like most of my other posts, going behind the scenes a bit into my decisions and what I ultimately chose for QT Games.

As I’ve said many times, I believe in offering something that is familiar, but not too familiar, obscure, but not too obscure. Anyone can come up with a new race no one or almost no one’s ever heard of, but the fact is, many of us have fallen in love with certain classic races. At the same time, we enjoy seeing and playing new ones too.

Because Cosmothea is a mainstream game, I try to put in a nice blend of classic races and races unique to the Cosmoverse Campaign Setting. I love elves, despite the fact that most fantasy games have them, and can’t imagine playing in a setting without dwarves. The omission of either would not prevent me from playing someone’s rpg, but I do enjoy them.

Back in late 70’s and early 80’s I made a number of unique races that I’m still very excited about and have gotten positive feedback on them over the decades. I’ve also written numerous stories featuring them (writing stories helps force you to think about a race’s culture, religions, politics, abilities . . . i.e. it helps you flesh them out and make them more believable, while playtesting helps you spot mechanical and balance issues). The very best of those races I’ve made have been carried into future incarnations of the game and setting.

If you use classic races, it’s a good idea to put a little spin on them so that they remain fresh, but are still the races many gamers have grown to love over the years. One thing you want to be careful about when creating creatures in general . . . if the creature is just a renamed orc, call it an orc. If it operates identical to and looks similar to a dragon, calling it a dragon helps with identification.

You can always have secondary names for them, but don’t dance around the name as if it’s a whole new race just because you call it something different. A name alone doesn’t do anything other than make you look like you are trying to deceive someone. It’s not a huge deal, but why not just call most things what they really are and then make up new, cool stuff?! ‘Nuff said.

You will most likely have a race in your game that someone doesn’t care for (I’ve yet to find a game or setting that doesn’t have some issue people don’t care for). There’s no pleasing everyone, but I think we have a nice balance with our races, covering the sneaky, the resilient, fliers, lil guys, etc. Cosmothea 5.0 includes 12 races in the core rulebook. Further, because the Cosmoverse is a huge setting, I’ve set it up so that you can alter the races considerably as well. Some other games have done that also, so I’m not trying to act like it’s innovative to offer lots of options for races. That’s not even what this blog post is about. I’m just trying to dip into my decision making process, shed a bit of light on what we’re doing and why.

Since there are tons of worlds in the Cosmoverse, Cosmothea includes a guide to quickly making racial variants and new races for other galaxies as well (our giant star map covers the Pantara Galaxy and shows partial maps for both the Omidar and Ruun galaxies). That’s not all there is to the Cosmoverse—not by a longshot, but I’ll never live long enough to explore every corner of what I’m already revealing, so that’s more than enough to worry about.

One of the decisions I made back in Cosmothea 4.0 was to allow players to run most races found in our monster books as well. That means including a large number of monster talents in each book. I think it’s worth it and it should go over rather well for those into that sort of thing. I think it’s best if GM’s monitor the use of monster/alien races and try to stick with races that are mostly humanoid, as it’s easier for players to wrap their brains around creatures that are at least vaguely humanoid. It also makes it easier for them to interact with societies. That said, if they want to do wilder ones, that’s fine too.

I once ran a two-year long mega adventure that was all monster races and it was uber popular, so I want to keep that option open. We’ve also done a bit of time travel a few times and even had adventures in which the players could take the roles of existing, minor gods (which was even more popular). Tons of caution should be taken and there’s lots of other things I could say about that, but we’re gettin’ off track, so I’ll stop there. As for running monsters, I have some elements in place in the setting’s back story which works well for that sort of thing, and will include it in the published game and setting as I know many will enjoy that option.

As we also have superheroes in the setting, there are many races players can pick from (and make new ones) to ensure they can build whatever sort of superhero they want. Other games like GURPS and HERO also allow you to make up your own races and provide rules for it. I like my rules medium crunch, not heavy crunch, but we’ll offer plenty of options. I decided early on to spend the extra time, book space and money to offer plenty of talents for each race (or species if you prefer), but that’s not a decision to be taken lightly. You’ll need a pro editor and every extra page just boosts the cost of putting your game out, so beware. That said, it’s a turn off to me to play a game with only a few core races, so that’s something to consider too. Find your sweet spot!

Ultimately, I removed half a dozen races from our core rulebook in Cosmothea 5.0, due to exactly what I mentioned: space, time and money concerns. We’re still including 12 races and since I decided to include the option and talents to play the aliens and monsters to boot, I think that’s plenty. Actually, it will likely cost me more in the long run, but it shortens up the core rulebook, which was helpful, and I think was a good move. It is going to cost a pretty penny to put out the core rulebook as it is.

Of course as Cosmothea 5.0 is still under heavy construction, anything I post in this blog pre-release is subject to change, but I’m pretty happy with the races at this point (just need to finish ’em up—still lots of work left to do, but so far, so good!)

The current lineup of races in the core rulebook include: axcii (furry lion-like race), dwarves, elves, exotics (includes a huge variety of options under this entry including artificial intelligence, androids, etc.), gnomes, humans, klatuans (a magical, brain-modded race), nehi (very small fey), orynii (boneless lil guys who live in a mech of sorts), sygman (part flesh, part machine), taager (hyper focused, tech-obsessed, brain-modded aliens) and xeelotian (stony, gentle giants). I won’t go into detail on the individual races at this point, but you’ll hear more about them down the road, at our forums, and in actual products, of course, the first being our upcoming anthology: Arcane Synthesis due out this Summer!

Rules are included to build pretty much any race you can imagine. Chances are the race could find a home somewhere in the Cosmoverse, though it isn’t a generic setting. Caution should be taken, as with any game offering heavy customization. It can be a tricky thing to balance the fun/cool factor with what makes sense. A wild or ridiculous race might work in a game as long as you put in place a proper backstory and internal logic and if the game provides a decent set of rules to slow down imbalances. While balance is important, to me, ensuring the race feels like it belongs is even more important. And if it’s a mainstream game, make sure the race’s aren’t too obscure. I’ve got a couple oddballs like the orynii (one of my personal favorites), but I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback and think all the ones I’ve designed or chosen will go over very well with most gamers. And we’ll do tons of playtesting before we release the game.

I wanted players to dig as deep into a race as they want to, so in Cosmothea, you start with a few racial talents and can purchase many more during the life of the character (which represents focusing on developing talents, magical abilities and even rituals unique to a particular race to manifest the race’s historic and even legendary rare or lost abilities.

Well, that’s all for this week! I’m going to post an update on our anthology next week, then take a couple weeks off while our internet is down (long story as to why that is), and then dive back in for more designer diaries. Feedback is welcome! Take care and hope to see you around the blog or our forums!

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Designer Diary #4: RPG Character Creation

Designer-DiaryIn this post, I continue to discuss rpg concepts and what we decided to do for our roleplaying game, Cosmothea, and why. I don’t know about you, but Character Creation in roleplaying games has nearly always been a blast for me. I love coming up with back story, sorting out personality, goals, buying gear, etc. Just sitting there rolling dice is fun (though it can be problematic and even annoying as you roll a 3, a 5 and a 6 and realize you can’t play the character you wanted, while the guy or gal next to you is rolling a 15 and two 18’s, etc.).

Many optional rules have popped up over the years to combat this, but I’ve found most of them unappealing. Even so, rolling is fun. But even more fun—to me, at least— is the creative end. Designing the actual character, and so the dice aren’t really as important as I once thought. I can take ’em or leave ’em as long as I get to create! I mean, at least in some games, I could just sit there and create characters and skip playing (I love playing, mind you—just sayin’). Playing the characters is the icing on the cake! But I’m aware that some players just want to “get on with it” get into the meat of adventure. I totally get that. And there have been times where I as a GM or as a player get to a point where I’m like, “Let’s finish this already. The first hour was fun. Now I want to play! But I still have to pick my spells/buy gear.”

So, when I began developing Cosmothea 1.0, I bore in mind not everyone wants to spend an hour or three making characters. Even so, I couldn’t dodge the bullet and the earlier versions of Cosmothea took a good amount of time to “roll up” just like in most, if not all other games of the day. I made a few rules lite versions along the way that enabled uber fast character creation, but I like a bit more meat on my rules, so ultimately, I kept going back to the “regular” rules.

With Cosmothea 4.0 and now 5.0, I’ve been re-evaluating character creation and now offer both complex and fast-track character creation to meet most preferences (I hope). I’ve only had limited playtesting with the fast-track system, but it seems to work fine. I think I’ve hit the sweet spot, finally, with what we’re offering, and yeah, it’s still a blast to make a character.

One of the problems I’ve encountered in character creation in games is the whole abilities/attributes thing. Back in an early version of D&D (Ad&D 1st edition, I think), depending on what you rolled for your stats, you might be forced to play a fighter or thief and had to get really lucky to play a paladin or monk, much less the optional bard class. Getting psionics usually required cheating or a psionics-obsessed, uber friendly DM to let you squeak in the door, since almost nobody could roll good enough (it required percentile dice – rolling a natual 100 (minus from 1/2 a point—yes, 1/2, to around 3% if you had super high stats—something like that). Most wanted to roll lots of high numbers and were disappointed even before getting on their first adventure if they couldn’t roll exactly what they wanted. Getting high stats required lots of luck and often some fudging for many players, special rules, etc. Some of that nonsense they don’t do anymore, but rolling remains an ingredient. Some games don’t use rolling or stats and gamers still have fun. ‘Nuff said.

So, rolling for stats has been out of the game for decades now. That is, I have rolling in certain areas of the game (and I also have a diceless system for running the whole game, but that’s another topic). You can create exactly what you want and I think most players will appreciate that.

I didn’t want gamers spending precious time fussing over dice rolls and failing to roll what they want, so even the concept of stats has taken a back seat in Cosmothea. While it is still very beneficial to buy stats, you can actually play the game without them or only focus a little on them, saving the bulk of your points to help you in other ways, or to show you are smarter, more agile, stronger, etc. without fussing over stats. And to be clear, this isn’t about comparing D&D to Cosmothea or even bashing D&D. They are very different games. I just like to use D&D as an example because most people have played D&D, if they’ve played any rpg, so I figure most will understand.

And if enough gamers want to roll dice for stats, well, maybe I’ll include that as an option too, but the focus is off stats and instead focuses on other areas of character creation. I have had zero complaints on stats after all these years, so I think I’m probably safe. But we’ll do widespread playtesting when we get further along.

As for the rest of the character creation process, I created several paths to building a character, including the typical (create from scratch), modify existing archetypes to suit your flavor and even made a “Create as you Go” version where you can literally jot down a few of the more crucial details and then start playing, and fill in the details as you play. It has worked even better than I thought it would.

In Cosmothea 1.0-3.0 and now again in 5.0 I included a background system for added flavor and extra goodies related to your upbringing, family, past, etc. I dropped it in 4.0, but missed it and have restructured it. As with all of the creation systems present in the game, you can take it or leave it, but I think it helps players flesh out their ideas and offers them some neat extras. It does take a little longer, however, but it is just one of the systems.

I’ve also revised the gear system considerably since Cosmothea 3.0, enabling faster purchasing and easier recording, with a couple optional methods of tracking the lil bits like bullets, torches and arrows. The system needs widespread playtesting of course (if you’re making an rpg, you’ll want to playtest it to death before releasing it), but so far so good.

With nearly half a dozen creation systems covering a wide range of approaches from easy and fast to thorough and slightly more complex, yep, I’m thinking Cosmothea has hit the sweet spot. To be fair, there is a downside to this approach. I’m not trying to cover every angle, but I am covering several, and that means more development time, more space in the rulebook and a bit more money for editing, etc. That’s definitely something to consider. But knowing that gamers have very different interests, and seeing the great divide between complex games like HERO and GURPS, and simplistic games like Savage Worlds, I figure Cosmothea is right where I want it to be, so we’re staying the course!

My guess is we’ll be massaging the gear tracking rules a bit more and keep looking for ways to improve our character creation systems. That said, I’m always interested in hearing your preferences. So, just how important is . . .
• Rolling for stats (or even having stats) to you?
• Do you enjoy creating characters or would you rather dive into your first adventure as quickly as possible, whether your character is fleshed out or not?
• Do you usually, sometimes or rarely make a backstory or goals for your character?

I’d love to hear from you!

Next week I’ll tackle, um . . . the concept of levels or maybe races. Or something else. Topic suggestions and feedback in general is welcome, of course. Cheers!

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