Designer Diary #16: Free eBook + RPG design—Asking the Tough Questions


Happy Thanksgiving to my US friends! Happy Sunday to the rest of you! I’ve got good news and possibly not so good news (depends on your point of view). First the good news! We’ve got some free fiction to give away! I’ll tell you how shortly, but now the bad news (which isn’t bad at all if you like what we’re doing). This post is Part 4 of a series (but you don’t have to read the other parts if you don’t want to. I just happen to think gamers will find them very interesting).

Either some of you guys and gals are trying to keep me from becoming too proud by not rushing out to get a FREE ebook of Arcane Synthesis, a very cool blended-genre anthology based on my Cosmoverse Campaign Setting, or you already own it, or maybe you just haven’t noticed my blog till now in the vast sea of blogs. (Btw, you can read an excerpt of my book and see art from the stories at the link above!)

This blog is about both fiction and gaming. Specifically, it’s about my Cosmoverse Campaign Setting (and the stories I write about what goes on in the Cosmoverse—the cultures, creatures, myths, magic, etc.) and my Cosmothea Blended-Genre Roleplaying Game (the pen ‘n paper/pencil and paper variety). But you don’t need to know anything about setting or even about roleplaying games to enjoy the ebook. You just need to like fantasy and science fiction!

This promotion runs until the end of November. (See Designer Diary #13 for the simple rules —mostly don’t be a spammer!) But as we’re running out of time, I thought I’d make it even easier for you to get your hands on a free ebook (I know, Cosmothea and the Cosmoverse are one of the oldest rpgs and settings you’ve never heard of! But now’s your chance. Don’t let this simple opportunity slip away!) Here’s what I’m going to do:

THE NEXT TWO PEOPLE who post a legitimate comment on my blog (on any of my posts) not just “Like” the blog (though that’s appreciated), prior to December 1, 2015, will get a free ebook of Arcane Synthesis just for participating! (Again, be sure to see Designer Diary #13 for basic rules.) Once I’ve given away 2 books, if there’s still time left in the month and people are commenting, I’ll randomly give away an ebook for every three qualified comments! Pretty nifty, huh?!

Why am I doing this promotion?
I’m pretty sure you’ll get a kick out of the Cosmoverse and the cool stories we’ve put together, not to mention others we have in the works, so it’s an easy and fun way for you to find out about us!

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled program . . .

Continuing my series on asking the tough questions about roleplaying game design (See the earlier parts of the series for more Q&A!), here’s the last unanswered question from my earlier blog post. Ready? Here goes:

Did you ever ask yourself if we even need another RPG or setting?
That’s actually a bigger question than you might realize. During a Chatroom interview last year I was asked that question. (The interview was basically an open Q&A at the RPGnet Chatroom—they’re a great bunch of guys and gals—special thanks to my good friend Dan Davenport!) Dan invited me to talk about Cosmothea and the Cosmoverse. It was very early on in Cosmothea 5.0 and many things have changed since that time.

The person who chimed in and asked the question picked the wrong venue for it, since it pertained to the industry as a whole, not to QT Games specifically. Further, I began designing my rpg and setting long before most others. There were hardly any games and settings on the market when I started. (See earlier in this series for more on that.) But the question itself is still a very good one, and I’ve thought much on it over the years (long before that person asked the question).

We certainly don’t need another mediocre rpg or setting, that’s for sure. There’s plenty of those, and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve spent so many years working on Cosmothea and the Cosmoverse. There’s some pretty good and a few great games and settings out there, so I’m not bashing. But just like ice cream, no one rpg or setting will ever be everyone’s favorite—and that’s okay. There’s plenty of room for another great rpg and certainly another great campaign setting!

That said, there are a finite number of gamers out there. That’s the bigger issue. You can only slice up the pie so many ways. I’ve backed competitor Kickstarters because I want to help others succeed, even if it hurts my odds. I mean, my bottom line is to have great games and settings on the market, but as a company, I want mine to be in that lineup. The more I help others, the more it hurts me in a way, but the more it helps the industry as a whole become strong. We all win if we can get more gamers in the mix and the level of quality higher on every game coming out.

A gamer can only play so much and the industry can only handle so many games before the number of gamers per game gets so diluted that it’s nearly impossible to make any money worth mentioning on your game unless you’ve both got the hottest two or three products out there and also have a decent sized group of gamers that actually know about your products and are willing to risk their time on them.

As it stands, very few game designers make enough money to bother mentioning—some don’t even break even, because there are so few gamers playing, fewer buying (since you can often play a game that someone else owns and there are pirated versions floating around too, sadly), and many of those gamers who do buy don’t want to spend much money (never mind the fact that you’ll get way, way more hours of fun out of a decent rpg than you ever will out of an XBox or PlayStation game, but hey, money is limited these days, and they likely already sank a bundle on games they already own).

Those that are making money selling their rpg material will tell you it wasn’t remotely easy and wasn’t much money. We game designers do it because we love it. I’m just saying the deck is stacked against indie developers and against innovation, since if a lot of things don’t go our way, those of us developers in a position to do truly cool stuff, can’t always do it, for lack of money. But some of the big boys like WotC do not enjoy the freedom indie developers have to put out a truly great product, because there are fewer suits calling the shots, and an upset fan base to please. Even Paizo, another huge player in the field has to be careful not to kill off sacred cows and upset the apple cart, though not as bad as WotC, makers of D&D.

We also don’t have their overhead, so our decisions can be based on making a better game instead of pleasing our bosses and previous fan base. I’ve put in more brainstorming than most game designers, which has given me an advantage (not that it means I’m any better than they are or that my game material is any better, but I’ve been around the block more than a few times). But because it’s so hard to find the money, time and get everything just right, I think more designers ought to be teaming up to put out a better product than what they can design on their own.

When I was working on Cosmothea 4.0, I brought on board other designers and authors and listened to them. I’ve talked about teaming up before, so I won’t rehash the advantages and disadvantages here.  So far, I’ve been doing Cosmothea 5.0 mostly on my own, since I have so little money these days, and I still think it’s a much better game, but for different reasons—my vision has been improved since then for one, and I will build a team again before I finish it, to make it the best it can be.

Making great rpgs and great settings is quite expensive. Personally, I think there are way too many designers out there who might have had a stronger, better product if they had teamed up with another designer or two. I think we need fewer, but better games. It’s very achievable. Some are already doing it, but we’re also seeing a lot of games that have one or two cool ideas and the rest is lacking and could have been better if they combined visions and images into a better, unified whole.

Now, if we introduce more people to games and insist on higher quality games, not just allow ourselves to go with the flow and buy whatever WotC puts out no matter how good or bad that version of D&D might be, we all win. If we automatically just assume theirs is the best, but encourage and support indie designers and encourage superior game design, and take the time to discover if there are in fact better games out there, again, we all win. That would force even WotC to put out better products.

Fortunately, there’s some brave gamers out there, and they often get to enjoy a better gaming experience, finding obscure games with potential (and in some cases, a not so great experience—that’s how gambling works. Sometimes you win really big, and other times you lose. Now, I’m not advocating gambling, but in this industry you can try things out without getting hurt. There’s usually a playtest or demo you can try, for example!

Funneling the vast majority of the gamer money base into a small handful of games by companies actually hurts the industry, stifling creative game designers who see the abysmal return rates for their hard efforts and are often driven to other industries or to support D&D or Pathfinder products, even if they are inferior products, rather than support game designers like myself, who risk much by chasing something off the beaten path, at the cost of making some money in the industry early on.

I could make a Savage Worlds or Fate version of the Cosmoverse, and maybe I will one day, but no game system will better support the exciting gaming experiences you can get in the Cosmoverse than with Cosmothea, since it was built for it, and I don’t think that advantage is wise to ignore. It means less money in my pockets, but the chance for a better gaming experience for you, so I’m still doing it.

There’s nothing wrong with supporting existing games instead of what I’m doing (hey you gotta eat), but if we don’t support indie designers doing their own creative projects too, it’s more than likely that some really terrific products will never get onto the market, which means we all lose.

Now, it’s important to have games like D&D out there—and I don’t think it’s a horrible game, and WotC does help breath life into the industry, by bringing in more gamers, but like Walmart, it can kill off the mom and pops that innovate and help make the industry great—or at least could, if given the chance. A great rpg or setting done by an indie press helps raise the bar on quality across the board, if it can gain attention (that’s where you come in!) So, to summarize, we don’t need new products unless they are great.

Cosmothea could be the best rpg out there and still have next to no one playing it, which would be a shame, just as it already likely is for some other good, but unknown games out there. Quality and consumer base don’t really match up well in this industry where D&D is a household name and people grow up playing it not even realizing there are other, better games out there.

To some degree, it’s kind of like the deal with PC’s, some grew up using them, and therefore assume they must be better than Macs by default. I’m not saying Macs are better, but you just don’t know what’s good until you give it a reasonable chance, and many games are not given that.

People bash or ignore things all the time that they’ve never really taken the time to discover the truth about (God being perhaps the best example), but then some are introduced to a game in a very poor manner, as not every gaming group or GM is worth spending time with (I’m sure you, just like me have met gamers before that have gone off the deep end, are arrogant, etc. just as you’ve met Christians who have as well, but neither God, nor a game should be blamed for the failings of those who follow it.) Many gamers don’t take the time to learn other games to find out what’s good or better. Further, game designers tend to be their own worst enemies, but I’ll tackle that in a future post.

Further, once you’ve spent a good chunk of change to play D&D (it’s not cheap, unless people loan you their books), you aren’t keen on spending money again on something else. That’s natural. You already know how to play one game so you tell yourself you don’t need to learn another, but every game plays and feels different (except for some D&D clones).

Even though D&D is arguably far from the best game on the market, it does have good promotion and marketing, it has above average quality art and editing. It has inspired many games and does many things right. But yeah, there’s other even better games out there.

I think what I’m doing with Cosmothea is better, but so are many games. Of course Cosmothea isn’t even the same genre as D&D per se—I just mentioned D&D since I figured you’ve heard of it. D&D is fantasy. Cosmothea is a blend of fantasy, science fiction, superheroes and horror. It’s a much bigger, more ambitious game. Therefore it has a different target audience, though some of the gamers will be the same, of course—maybe many of the gamers. After all, you can play Cosmothea as pure fantasy if you want to, ignoring the other elements.

As for the setting, the Cosmoverse supports way more than anything D&D has ever offered, but again, it’s not a fair comparison, because D&D is only offering fantasy (though they’ve dipped into scifi a little, just barely—mostly others have rewritten it to fit). The Cosmoverse doesn’t focus on a single world. We have loads of worlds and a lot of cool opportunities. So, it could simulate the sorts of experiences you could have in a number of existing settings, though we go our own way, not wanting to copy others (actually, we did many things first, but I’m not boasting—how can I? We never put anything on the market until 2014). The Cosmoverse isn’t generic, but it’s not small, like most settings (again, see earlier posts for more on that).

To personalize this more, do we need Cosmothea?
No, we don’t, but then we don’t need the big pile of games we have, including D&D, Pathfinder, Fate, Savage Worlds, the Hero System, GURPS, etc. We don’t need lots of games and lots of settings. We only need the one or ones we want to play. Me, I do NOT like playing multiple game systems (or multiple settings for that matter) just to fulfill the needs of a story I want to tell or play, but that’s what I’d have to do with most games out there (or spend tons of hours putting together house rules and hope for the best). Nor do I want to play an uber crunch game, like most of the games out there that can handle the blended-genre experience I’m going for. And while there are uber lite games out there, except for doing PlaybyPost online, which has unique limitations and advantages that I’ve adapted versions of Cosmothea for, around the tabletop I’m not interested in the watered down systems either. There’s nothing wrong with either type, but I (and I’m betting many of you) are looking for something else.

We don’t always realize there’s something better suited to scratch our gaming itch if we don’t try other games and settings. It’s more a matter of what sort of gaming experience you are interested in. That’s the question you have to answer, and it’s not always easy to discover. If you never ate cake, you would be hard pressed to accurately determine if you liked it. Some things you know right off the bat. I hate what falling down feels like and I can reasonably expect that falling down from a cliff would hurt more than I need to experience to find out. But for many other things, some experience is necessary.

By default, many started playing D&D for fantasy, Traveller for science fiction and/or Champions or Mutants and Masterminds for superheroes but there are loads of games out there, some of them arguably better. I’m not putting them down, there’s something each of them does fairly well. Likewise, most gamers turn to the settings they’ve heard a lot about without trying others that are just as good, if not better. Now, to some degree, great games and great settings tend to bubble to the surface, but this isn’t always the case—not by a long shot.

Not all of us have piles of money to produce glitzy books, advertise, etc. though we hope to get fan bases large enough to support Kickstarter campaigns in order to do just that. Gamers are often gun-shy about trying new things, just like the rest of the world. That’s why it’s always a struggle for small companies, new authors, etc. to gain a foothold.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and having played plenty of games, researched others, studied the market and spent as many years as I have revising and improving Cosmothea and loving the gameplay and concepts, I’d say yes—yes we need Cosmothea as much as we need the games already out there. And in some cases, we need it more—for those that love blended-genre action without the uber clutter and awkward mechanics most current games include (or the watered down approach you find in others).

I think Cosmothea has much potential and sports a pretty powerful engine under the hood, and once I get the timing adjusted—finish up this latest iteration, I do indeed think many would enjoy it very much. Whether it will ever take off or not remains to be seen. There are many games out there after all, and not every gamer is brave enough to try something new—well, new to them.

Do we really need the Cosmoverse?
Again, no, we don’t need anything. We don’t need the piles of settings that are out there, but yes, Cosmothea is very special and offers more than most settings offer (well, that’s not really true. By that as I prefaced in an earlier blog post, I’m talking about if the Cosmoverse were actually on the market—what it actually offers as a product line, not sitting on my home computer, of course!) And it provides its own experience. That experience can in part be experienced in other settings ·and the same thing can be said of many settings—most, if not all, have combat, taverns, boats, sky, swamps, etc.), but the whole of it is something I think has huge potential and would be enjoyed by a great many people if they gave it a chance, whether in the form of fiction or roleplaying. I’m hoping they will love it, which is why I’ve invested most of my life in it, and a great way to start is by reading our fiction! Arcane Synthesis just scratches the surface of what we’re offering, but it will give you a taste, and it’s a lot of fun!

We’re doing some things with the game and setting nobody else is doing. Our own special blend and concepts—like our unusual magic system and Threshold system, but yeah, some concepts are already out there (and of course some of them we did first, but we’ve been horribly slow to the market, lacking significant money to move forward. I’ve designed dozens of games and have written piles of stories, yet I keep returning to Cosmothea and the Cosmoverse, so for me—and I’m betting for many of you, these are just what the doctor ordered. But I’ll leave that for you to decide!

Forgot to mention earlier, but during the holidays, I’m only going to do about one post every 2 weeks. Hopefully starting January, I’ll go to one blog per week. We’ll figure that out when the day comes. Starting my next blog post, I’ll ask some more tough questions I haven’t mentioned yet. Then I’ll jump back to delving behind the scenes and talking more about upcoming fiction and games. Sound good? Let me hear from you in the Comments. Thanks!

[Okay, that post was crazy long. Really sorry about that, folks. Please don’t hate me! This post covered a ton of factors that go into that one question, and also dips perhaps a bit further than I should have into related bits. I promise my next will be way shorter!]


About Bob Whitely/QT Games

Welcome to QT Games! Mission Never publish junk or waste people's time. Publish only high-quality fiction and games. 'Nuff said. Company Overview QT Games LLC was created to publish blended-genre (fantasy blended with sci-fi, etc.) fiction, board, card and roleplaying games for a discerning gaming community. Unlike most small press, we have very strict standards: Only pro writing, pro editing and pro art. That means that if we can't get it right, we find someone who can. We pay well for what we don't do in-house. We don't cut corners on quality. This means we stand to make less money than other small publishers, but that's okay with us. We value your time and money, so we're willing to take the bullet. We've designed a large number of games and written a pile of stories. Now we're polishing some of them and getting them out the door. 'Bout time, we know. Good stuff ahead!
This entry was posted in anthology, Arcane Synthesis, author, blended-genre, Campaign Setting, Cosmothea, Cosmoverse, eBook, Fiction, free, Game Design, games, novel, Play-by-Post, publishing, QT Games, Roleplaying, RPG, transparency and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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