Designer Diary #10: Fiction and gaming…Moving Forward (Part 2)

Time flies whether you are having fun or not! Welcome back for another post on fiction and gaming. If you missed Part 1, be sure to check that out. I had to cut this blog post in half in order to get it posted sooner, so it will be 3 parts total. (I had so many things to tell you and want to write a bit more before I post about the card games—yes, we’re hard at work at QT Games!) So here’s the deal . . .

Today’s post will focus on fiction and then I’ll finish my discussion on card games (+RPG design and game mechanics) in Part 3. Apparently uber short blog posts aren’t in the cards very often, but I’ll try to make short ones here and there, especially if I use an idea I came up with the other day. Time will tell. Onward to fiction . . . sound good? Here goes!

Back in 2014, I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for our first book: Arcane Synthesis: A Blended-Genre Anthology. Part of that campaign included a cool mini book—the Cosmoverse World Tour (It used to be called something else, but I’ve expanded and beefed it up and now it’s cooler than ever).

The purpose of this series is to shed light on the Cosmoverse. The main character, a young mage serving a powerful master who is a champion duelist, finds himself in dangerous situations, and encounters exotic creatures while traveling to various worlds and learning more about how magic works (very different than you’ll find elsewhere, I’m sure). Magic is our specialty here at QT Games—it’s quite off the beaten path and we’re very excited about it. These books will be primarily fantasy, but from time to time high technology and aliens will be part of the story (it is the Cosmoverse, after all).

Cosmoverse World Tour is a series. Because the first book leads up to a big turning point for the main character, I’m setting it off as #0. We’ll put them out in between some of our novels and anthologies, continuing the adventures of the young mage and his story as we explore the Cosmoverse.

Each book is set up in journal format, but also includes sections that go into more detail on the story in the journal. Sections will include monsters, magic, vehicles and locations. These are mini books with a good amount of art (mostly color art) and you should find a few examples from each of those four sections. We might mix it up at times, and since I’m telling a story, not just tossing in random stuff, if a story includes more monsters and less magic, then that’s what you’ll get. I might even add or subtract a section in time, but there will always be a variety.

I won’t be including game stats for the monsters, vehicles, etc. at least not in the near future. I might go back later and expand on these and include stats. We’ll have to wait and see, but they should be a lot of fun and be good material GM’s can mine for adventures, not to mention being fun to read. Eventually, I’m hoping GM’s will start running adventures in the Cosmoverse as we provide more and more books to shed light on this huge campaign setting (and of course we have setting books planned as well).

Unless you’re new to my blog, you probably already know that the first setting material we’re releasing is fiction, so you can get a good feel for the setting (and because I love writing fiction). QT Games’ first, best example would therefore be Arcane Synthesis, which takes place on several worlds and gives a slice of the huge setting. We’ll give you more in the days ahead.

We’re much more interested in providing you high-quality books to sink your teeth into and inspire you, than we are at publishing. So, we’ll take our time to do each book right and ensure they are creative, well written and edited, with cool art, before releasing them into the wild. Check out our website and forums for more on the Cosmoverse, or read Arcane Synthesis! (You can read an excerpt before you buy!) ‘Nuff said for today.

If all goes well, Cosmoverse World Tour will be out later this year. Have a great rest of the week and I’ll do my best to get Part 3 (about Cosmoverse-inspired card games) finished in the next few days and post it. Feedback? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Cheers!

Posted in author, Campaign Setting, Cosmothea, Cosmoverse, Fiction, games, Kickstarter, publishing, Roleplaying, RPG | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Designer Diary #9: Gaming and Fiction (Part 1)

Since there was no significant response to my post on publishing, I’ll skip Part 2 for now and give you a QT Games update and talk a bit about game design, Cosmothea and the Cosmoverse. My goal is to post once a week, but shorter posts (the length of the posts is one of the big reasons I haven’t posted much recently). So, a big update and then I’m going to do short bursts (hopefully). That way I can put them out faster, and you can read ’em faster, without hurting my bottom line (moving forward with QT Games).

Ready? Here we go!

What’s up with Cosmothea?
The Cosmothea Blended-Genre Roleplaying Game is still being played and 5.0 is still under development (things have slowed down quite a bit as I focus on the campaign setting, a card game based on the very cool, very unusual Cosmothea magic system, and writing fiction about the Cosmoverse), but I’m always making tweaks to improve it here and there and if we get the fan base we need, we’ll definitely move Cosmothea higher on the release schedule.

Revamping Cosmothea:
As some of you know, I’m on the fifth major revamp of Cosmothea (not counting some uber rules-lite versions). It’s a game with science fiction, fantasy, superheroes and horror elements and takes place across hundreds of worlds, so there’s a lot of variety and degrees of blending. This isn’t a new rpg, just a new version. We’ve been around since the early days of roleplaying, but I never moved toward publishing until more recently and now we’re focusing more on the campaign setting for awhile).

All the heavy lifting is done, but I’m revisiting a few areas, such as one of the resolution mechanics (there are four in the game, so you can pick and choose and even hot swap between them on the fly). You can fairly easily make just about any sort of character you can imagine though it’s not a generic game. While I decided to continue using classes, they are just a guide, a framework, and you can make your own theme as desired. I also use the concept of level as it has numerous advantages, and is easier for younger roleplayers to wrap their minds around, but again, you won’t see the kind of severe limitations in Cosmothea that you see in some of the other games that have been around for as long or longer.

I’m not saying it’s the best game on the planet—I’ll let you decide if you ever play it, but I’ve had a lot of time to revise it and give it some solid mechanics over the years. If you are designing an rpg, I encourage you to playtest the heck out of your game, and even step away from it for awhile and then come back (that’s a trick authors have learned to improve their work—it can be a real eye opener and ensure the game is much better in the end).

Mostly, I just haven’t had a lot of time to work on it, aside from some brainstorming and stealing moments to jot down rules. Like I said, it’s well on its way—it’s playable and is looking really good, but there’s still quite a bit of work left to do and a few minor things to finalize mechanics-wise. It’s not a heavy crunch game like GURPS or HERO, but it’s not as light as Savage Worlds either. When the time comes, I’ll likely form a team to help finish it as I’ve had a lot of luck building teams in the past, and that way it will get done faster.

What about the Cosmoverse?
It’s at the top of my list. The reason that I’m focusing more on the Cosmoverse Campaign Setting right now is that I need to grow the fan base for what we do before I can worry about financing the game (rpg’s are expensive to put on the market—art and editing alone can break your bank). And of course because I love the Cosmoverse!

Right now, we’re focusing on revealing this vast campaign setting via fiction. Arcane Synthesis turned out great (I think!) and is available in print and ebooks. I really need to start contacting reviewers (If you have a review blog or post on Goodreads and are a fiction reviewer, contact me at: info [at]!) I’ve been very busy as some of you know, and am working on another book at the moment.

I’ll be launching on Amazon before long. The book is already up for sale at three stores and it is selling, but of course Amazon is the big dog and reviews help drive sales. It is currently available in trade paperback, hardcover, pdf, ePub and Mobi for Kindle. Read the excerpt and check out the art!

That’s all for today. Let me hear from you, either here or at! Don’t forget we’ve got a monthly newsletter going behind the scenes! Well, have an awesome week my friends!

Posted in author, Cosmothea, Cosmoverse, crowdfunding, Fiction, Game Design, games, Kickstarter, publishing, Roleplaying, RPG | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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, and (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]

[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 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!

Posted in Fiction, Game Design, games, Kickstarter, publishing, Roleplaying | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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