Thursday, August 31, 2006

Design Journal: Getting Going on The Fifth World

It's been a while since I've touched this project. Last year, I decided to finish Mortal Coil, the game closest to completion at the time. I did finish it, and now it's out and ready for sale. Ever since I got it off to the printer back in June, I've been meaning to pick up on The Fifth World again, my project for next year. All summer long, that hasn't happened.

Yesterday, I took a long look at the project and tried to see what was hanging me up. I had decided to use Clinton Nixon's The Shadow of Yesterday as the core rules for the game, and elaborate from there. Some of my issues stemmed from attempting to repurpose those rules, because copying and altering the existing rules turned out to be pretty boring for me.

I was looking at the introductory paragraph of The Fifth World when inspiration hit. The opening paragraph is a brief sketch of a story about how the First People came into the Fifth World. It struck me that since the inspiration for the game was Native American folklore, that is the form the final version of the game should take. I had just read The Dictionary of Mu by Judd Karlman, and his setting takes the form of encyclopedia-style entries that gradually flesh out a fantasy world. I decided to present The Fifth World as a series of stories, told around the fire in a kiva, that gradually introduce the setting elements and various other aspects of the game. The rules would be in the form of asides in the margins, and appendices in the back of the book.

This is probably going to be a difficult way to present the material, but the goal is to make the rules clear while at the same time evoking setting in the strongest possible way. To do this, I am going to need to pare down the rules considerably, and the final result may not resemble The Shadow of Yesterday hardly at all. Part of my problem was me limiting myself to the TSoY rules, so this is freeing my creative juices a lot. I think it will end up being "inspired by" TSoY, rather than a full TSoY mod.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

GenCon: My Take on the Whole Thing

For some, GenCon started on August 10 and was over on August 13. For me, GenCon started months ago, and was over yesterday. The amount of planning that has to go into a major convention like this is daunting, and started way back in January of this year, for me. This all led up to the con, and then afterwards, I had lots of bookkeeping, inventory management, and backed up web orders to deal with. As of Sunday, August 27, all of this was officially done.

So, whew! I have three hats I was wearing there, the IPR hat, the Galileo Games hat, and the Brennan Taylor hat. I'll break out my impressions in three parts, based on this.

IPR went in with Luke Crane, Ron Edwards, Vincent Baker, and Tim Kleinert as a primary sponsor of the booth. I don't really know what this entailed for the others, but for me it meant that I paid for a full 10x10 portion of the booth (not quite 1/4 of the total cost, actually, the number was negotiated with Luke directly). In exchange for a 10% fee, I would handle all money/sales transactions, and I would process credit cards for the booth. Last year, they really didn't have this capability, and based on the sales this year, I'd say that hurt. A lot.

Based on the booth sales from last year (roughly $20,000), I calculated that if the booth did that well, I would break even. Well, the booth did over $33,000 in sales, so I did more than break even. That makes GenCon a much more successful con for IPR than Origins was. At Origins, I broke even, but made no extra money.

I brought Alexander Newman along, like I had at Origins, and he is a fantastic helper. Together, we run a tight ship, and a lot of problems I anticipated never materialized. Overall, I felt the booth ran quite smoothly, and it was extremely successful. We sold things hand over fist for most of the con. I can remember only a few short periods of time where the cash register was not busy.

Things that went not so well:
1) The booth space for shopping was too small. I knew this was going to be tight, and boy, was it. Three browsers crowded up our booth, and since there was often a line at the register, shoppers were blocking the shelves most of the time. I'm not sure how to solve this, a few ideas have been floated for layout next year, and we shall see.
2) People don't come to the Forge booth to buy d20 stuff. I sold a few titles from the d20 publishers I carry, but for the most part, no one was interested. These books are all big, 8-1/2 x 11 inches, and they took up a lot of shelf space. For items that weren't moving, they sucked up some serious real estate. I want to support these publishers just like I support all of the non-d20 indie publishers I carry, but our space at GenCon didn't cut it for this. I am not sure what to do about this issue next year, and I will be discussing it with these publishers as we plan.
3) There wasn't any storage space at the booth. We had a lot of boxes full of stock that wouldn't fit on the shelf. We stuck these in the Wicked Dead section of the booth, and stored some more at another booth not affiliated with the Forge thanks to the generosity of the person running that booth. This was definitely not ideal. We sold lots of books, as mentioned above, and restocking was confusing and time consuming, and at least once, a book ran out and no one could find the backstock for an hour or two. We've got to have some sort of solution for this next year, perhaps a stockroom made up of temporary walls like Jason at Key20 uses.
4) Booth helpers weren't organized. Alexander did some organizing starting Friday regarding staffing and helpers, but this should have been done earlier. Some planning needs to happen before the con, and there needs to be a written schedule so everyone knows when they are supposed to be at the booth. This didn't turn out to be a big problem, but it had the potential to be far worse than it was, and I want to keep that from happening.

In conclusion, IPR had a great con overall. There were some big, serious problems I'd like to work on next year, but these were far outweighed by the good things that happened at the con.

Galileo Games
I came to GenCon as a Galileo Games representative to sell Mortal Coil, and it sold well. It was no mistake that I released this game at Origins, and then toured it to DexCon. There was some good pre-con buzz, and a lot of people came to the Forge booth with Mortal Coil already on their shopping list.

I didn't run demos early, but when I started, I sold an average of one game a demo. Total sales for Mortal Coil at the con were 60 copies. I was super thrilled at this number, and it put me in the top 10 for the booth.

I only had one Mortal Coil game on the schedule, and unfortunately, the listing failed to mention the system, only the scenario title. That kind of sucked, but I had four players at a Friday morning 8 a.m session, so that wasn't so bad. One was Shawn de Arment, who had played MC at DexCon. Another was a player who had been in a Bulldogs! game I ran at GenCon 2 years ago and was familiar with my work, and had e-mailed me before the con to ask if the session was Mortal Coil. Lastly, a British couple who thought it might be a D&D game, but were pleasantly surprised that it wasn't (not that they had anything against D&D, they were just playing mostly that the rest of the weekend and thought something different would be refreshing). They came to the booth later and bought two copies!

So, nothing bad to report here. For Galileo Games, GenCon was a blockbuster success. I had anticipated almost exactly what happened, and was not disappointed.

As a participant, the con was not bad for me. I got some shopping done, and picked up gifts for the whole family. Krista got a V for Vendetta mask, Crispin got a Dragonology board game, and Lilith got a Fruits Basket card game and A Fairy's Tale RPG. I got Qin: Warring States, Bacchanal, a set of Bacchanal dice, Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men, House of Horiku, Cat, and Thirty. I also got a whole passel of games for free to review for inclusion at IPR. I plan on reporting on all of these as I read through them.

I got to play a couple of really good games after hours, also. I ran two sessions of Mortal Coil, one based in 1960s London where magic was surreal psychodelia accessed through drug use, and the other in the punk scene of the 1970s where music was magic, stolen from the Devil at the crossroads by Robert Johnson. Loads of fun, like Mortal Coil always is for me.

I also playtested a new game from Ben Lehman called Drifter's Escape, which was a really interesting experience. I'll probably talk about this some more in a seperate post.

On a fanboy note, I ate dinner one evening with John Wick, creator of Legend of the Five Rings, which I have played and enjoyed for years. I was excited to meet him, because he was something of a celebrity to me. Of course, familiarity breeds contempt (I don't really have contempt for you, John), and by the end of the con, I viewed him as a peer, just like all of the other really awesome game designers I get to hang out with there.

Also, I drank a lot with some crazy Scotsmen. They bring lots of fun with them to GenCon, and man, were there a lot of them this time out!

There wasn't a lot of time at the con for me to personally enjoy myself, but I really enjoyed the few moments I had away from the exhibit hall.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

[IPR] Most Influential

Indie Press Revolution won the 2006 Ogre's Choice Award for Most Influential Company! The Ogre's Choice Awards is run by, an RPG news and podcasting site. See the details here:

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