*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
November 13, 2019, 10:35:30 AM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 96 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
Pages: [1] 2
Print
Author Topic: Of the history of Crimson... err Cursed Empire!  (Read 6907 times)
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« on: December 07, 2006, 12:32:18 PM »

Dear members,

Here is what I hope will be an interested story of how Cursed Empire came to be and to share my own personal experiences of indie game publishing and promotion.

Cursed Empire first started as F.A.T.E. (Feu, Air, Terre, Eau) when I lived in France and started designing my own RPG as so many of you have. The old working title stood for the four elemental cults of Fire, Air, Earth and Water of which I will talk about in another post. I first wrote it in French (I am English but went to school in France from the age of 12, year I bought my red D&D box!).

It all started some years later ( I was 16) and was the reaction to all the things that I did not like about D&D and in particular AD&D and the damn Arcana tome of "crap play" that really ruined a lot of my scenarios. This was due to rules lawers taking over and players breaking the system. Monster manuals got bashed to pieces by power hungry bad roleplayers...

I started by beefing up all the creatures and giving them 1d10 hit die per level, which then became 10 HP per level. I also found a great set of optional dragon rules in a mag that turned their puny breath weapons in deadly attacks with huge damage. Dragon bashing and dragon bashers were dead...

I mention this as more than 20 years ago that was where I was at with my games. I was keen for creatures to get their own back again in my campaign. I remember playing a character that feared combat with goblins as my first ever scenario (Keep of the Borderlands) and wanted my home game players to feel the same way about their encounters years after.

CE (I will call my game like this for simplicity's sake as a generic term) was founded on fantasy and my old campaign which was a huge favourite amongst friends. As a child I always enjoyed exciting stories of adventure, peril and self sacrifice. These themes started to flow into the game I was writing. I was trying a few new things then like Rolemaster and MERP in particular and remember the excellent Uruk Hai encounter provided for in the nice purple starter box...they really were nasty and players feared losing their newly and painstakingly detailed character to the brutal warrior-creatures.

As for mechanics, I was really enjoying using the d100 and loved Runequest and Stormbringer, just as I was discovering the written works of HP Lovecraft and another gem of a game...that game actually had girlie players coming to my gaming table for the first time. All of this coincided with certain physical changes that most 16 year olds are going through...

So imagine a rebellion against AD&D, a passion for ancient and medieval history, a will to give creatures of myth their own back and the inclusion of the very pleasant female gaming element, d100 and dangerous combat and you are starting to see something form.

But we are far from being there quite yet. I wish to take you through the whole process I have gone through and hopefully learn from my experiences and mistakes.

I wrote a 200 or so page document and with some pals we set about laying it out on a MAC SE. One of my pals in particular was a very talented artist and he started bringing my concepts to life (they can be seen in the 1st ed of CE). We spent a 4-month solid summer period working every night on this book.

The key concepts/mechanics at that time were (in no particular order):

d100 based skill system
Called shots option for combat
Pain thresholds
Banished deities
Sanity points
Customisable armour
Regional availability for weapons and armour
Rarety of armour
Rarety of creatures and deadly skills
Spell creation and grammar
Glory and self sacrifice
Heroic roleplaying
Complex Geopolitics
Physcological Traits
Background depth

I will detail these in a future post.

The following posts will take you through the publishing adventure I have been through and the resulting promotion and pitfallls.

Chris
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2006, 02:32:23 PM »

Ok, here we go for part 2:

so having collated a series of rules, system mechanics, setting and artwork we playtested the system for 4 years. The plan was to get the game published so we went to a few game publishers in France...

They offered (not all, in fact only 1) 8% of cover sales. I was very new to all this stuff and had no idea how to go about this. I refused to sign up for that rate and ended up shelving the game for 10 years.

We continued to play with other gaming groups and I went to France's largest RPG event in the South of France. In Toulon we ran a load of demos and were asked to sell the players copies of the game...I only had one copy so I collected over 40 gamers details and...lost the sheet of paper a year or two later with all their details on. What had been clear was that people were prepared to buy the game. I learnt that demos sell but also that sales leads have to kept in an orderly manner or they end up never getting followed up.

Real life took over once again and the whole game just collected dust...

Then I moved to northern France where I founded a gaming club at the business school. We restarted a campaign over 2 years with all new gamers and more importantly mature partipants. Whe I revisted the game after so long, some parts of it really look dated. Some mechanics did seem to be a mixture of all the games we had played so I decided to playtest new rules. Whatsmore the plots and geopolitics had moved on, something to do with growing up and having a girlfriend...

My pals at the club insisted that I must get the game published. They were really enjoying their gaming experience and I was enjoying tunning my campaign. To this day the main campaign story arc is the same that had proven a success with them.

Once again real life: studies and girls, got pleasantly in the way. I had decided that if ever I was going to publish the game, it was going to be self-published. I wished to retain the artistic license and control over the way the world was going to grow. To do so however, it was crucial to get people I could rely on onboard.

once again 3 years went by for my studies...then I got a job!

I stopped playing RPG's for 4 years and focused on real life.

Then along came a new girl on the scene. I talked to her about this old game I had designed and had always wanted to publish. She said "why don't you go for it?", if only she had known the consequences of her words!

On to part 3...


Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2006, 02:54:31 PM »

Part 3: self publication

A) layout:

I started using Pagemaker 5 (I had already used this before on my master copy in French PM v3.00) to lay out Crimson Empire 1st Ed. This is great package or was as I now use InDesign and Qwark occasionally.

I wanted to create an accessible book with a broad scope. The problem when introducing a brand new game system and setting is that you may get carried away. In my case I set myself a very difficult and with hindsight the wrong objective.

I was going to include the following sections to my book:

1. Intro including intro to RPG's in general
2. Character Generation
3. Combat and Movement
4. Magic
5. Religion
6. Mental Health
7. Creatures
8. Master of Tales (MT = GM) section including 2 scenarios
9. Background
10. Character sheets and extra stuff

Now the whole 1st Ed book came in at 320 pages which was a hefty tome for a 1st publication.

B) Impressions:

Positives (based on personal opinion and many others):

Useful index and TOC
Easy to read and navigate: I had a nice black band running to the edge of the page for each chapter which really helped to find a section fast.
Starter Scenarios of different difficulty levels
Good Cover art: this should never be underestimated. 60% of my art budget went into the cover.
Strong Combat and Magic mechanics
Inclusion of Mental Health in the setting
Setting

Negatives

Weak interior art: after the pleasant reaction to the cover gamers went from a wow factor to a woh factor upon opening the book. The fan line art was a huge contrast with the cover.
Confusing chargen section and a nightmare to navigate
No back cover text, just pretty pictures but no description: disaster when distributors shrink wrapped the book and no one knew what the hell was in the game!!!
The book basically tried to do too much and ended up doing everything and nothing as properly as it should have done.
No Flavour text: gamers who came to demos bought the book, went home to their gaming groups and chucked the book at their group and said: " here you are, have a read and gen a character. Then we can start a game". The problem was that no one could tell exactly what the game ambiance was like from the book on its own through lack of short stories etc.
No ISBN number: impossible to track and get on bookstore sites etc.

I did a digital print run of 500 copies which have all been numbered 1-500. I have just over 30 copies left and it took over 15 events and 2.5 years to sell.

C) Printing I chose digital for financial reasons. I could not afford traditional print runs. I live very near to the printer of 1st Ed so it was great to be able to go and see proofs and progress very often, If you can manage this I highly recommend it.

On to part 4...
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2006, 03:05:58 PM »

Part 4: Printing and Printers 1st Ed

Damn, where do I start? Well this is a nightmare area which I am sure has been covered on many forums, but here is my story of choices, mistakes etc.

As I said Crimson Empire 1st Ed was printed as 500 B&W copies with a Matt laminated colour cover, I chose the best quality paper the printer had for the job and an excellent binding. This all cost around 20% more but was a sound investment. Gamers can see quality straight away and the books have survived very well even if some of them have been used as weapons at cons!

I was lucky enough to create a good working relationship with the printers where one of the guys there would go the extra mile and adjust things for me without charging every change. Please be warned that printers can charge you a heck of a lot of cash for changes if you are not careful.

I had nightmares with generating pdfs etc in the right output so once again the printers really hepled me there. I got proofs and went over them a hundred times. I also handed proofs to other people to cast a fresh eye on. The problem is when you have been so absorbed by your work you often miss the obvious.

Why 500? It was a nice number and I could not afford any more. The business model required me to sell over 50% of the books direct so this was going to be tough.

Storage: well they all ended up at home...for too long!

on to part 5...
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2006, 11:49:48 PM »

Part 5: printing continued 1st Ed

Well I will outline later on my changes in printing strategy for 2nd Ed. In the meantime we shall continue with 1st Ed. I released 3 more books in a similar format as the main book. These were a Core Classbook (Darkun) and two scenario modules (Evil and Loyalist). It was critical for me to get enough books out to demonstrate to the small but growing CE gaming community that I was planning on being around for some time and that the range was going to grow. It also formed another strategy: to demonstrate to distributors that the range may be worth picking up as there was going to be continuity.

Once again the printing had to be of the highest standard, as did the cover art and interior art. Here I got Rob Larson, the guy who did my covers and Rik Martin (yes he did loads of White Wolf and original Warhammer art) to start doing my interior art.
I will cover art in the next post.

Digital printing at this level is a good compromise in my opinion. Getting a certain quantity done gives you some volume discount. It also gives you an incentive to travel the convention circuit and demo hard. I have been to over 25 conventions in 4 countries. CE would never have sold the way it has. I will cover promotion in a future post. I agree with the either of POD, but it can also be a case of a medium size corebook digital print run followed by POD for the supplements. They always sell less but as we shall see below there are ways to sell more. Also by having that extra few hundred, you can actually have a go at some distribution as there will be just enough margin to make that channel viable, not great but viable. Distribution will help raise the profile of your game. I will cover all that in the promotion post.

I will get in to some of the more detailed situations on printing when I cover the 2nd Ed book.

on to post 6...
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2006, 11:54:50 PM »

Remark: sorry guys, I must have made some of the posts too late or too early. There are a few typos out there...
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2006, 02:14:00 AM »

Post 6: art in 1st Ed

Intro: Art is a critical part in defining a game. As an independent I feel that it is crucial that the art be strong and very much identifiable. I felt that I needed to stand out and create a brand and style. All CE books have a black and red theme, immediately associated with CE even at a distance. Gamers recognise the style straight away and easily identify with the game. I also tried to go for bold and strong themes reinforcing the dark ambiance of the game.

One of my largest budgets has been the art and I prefer to have less but of a very high standard. This helps an indie publisher stand out and create their own style. 1st Ed had a nice strong cover, but the interior art let it down. Nevertheless people still picked the game up but mainly through demos. The game would not have sold many at all in my opinion based upon the interior art alone. Although the cover art was defining the dark and brutal aspect of the game it also misled some gamers to think that the game was a vampire themed game. This was reinforced by Crimson Empire as a game name.

I had a great deal of support from those who contributed for the art. Don't get me wrong, I am not belittling their work or support as without them CE 1st Ed would be nowhere, but one has to be ready to take criticism on this. It was not always easy to hear people say: "wow what a cover, then oh but the interior is err not so great...". As a publisher I found it critical to understand that gamers have lots of pretty pictures to dazzle them at a con and there you are with your labour of love trying to get them to part with hard earned cash. What are they going to go for? The latest D& Something adventure module to run at home, or some obscure obviously home made little game squeezed between a colour hardback range of sexy products and some gorgeous hand painted miniature sets...

Here is my simplified formula:

basic/weak art = no buy* unless quality demo. Take home demo to friends weak art, uptake poor because theme is not well defined through the general feel of the book, unless good GM.

*hallelujah for indie game collectors who do buy.

If the art is weak and there is no time to demo, then there is a high chance that gamers will buy something else. Only the energy and enthusiasm of the creator can save the day (see promotion post).

I will cover art in more detail under the 2nd Ed story.

on to post 7...
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #7 on: December 09, 2006, 03:03:20 AM »

Post 7: promotion

Here we are at last. Here we get into the main course, the do or die of indie game publishing. I have burnt the midnight oil, having attended over 25 cons in the US, UK, France and Germany. I have demoed until my fingers are dark red bloody little stumps and my pregens are worthy of a medieval scripture parchment collection... I have demoed CE to over 1,000 gamers in the last nigh on 4 years and got demo squads to help me with this.

Key considerations:

Find good GM's: passionate about the game but also open minded and keen to get more players to play your game. Over enthusiastic "I know it alls" will destroy your demos and scare off new gamers... They must also be reliable. If a slot starts at a certain time, make sure you can rely on them to turn up. No use in having someone who "talks the talk", then turns up scratching their head 2 hours late saying: "he he, we had a great night, got totally braindead on cheap cider and played silly card games until 6 am!!!". Experience has it that people who have signed up for a game are not too impressed by this display...

Design demos that really show the uniqueness of the game. This may seem like teaching people to suck eggs, but it is critical that demos cover enough scope of the game to really give players an enlightened choice as to whether they wish to buy or not. I have traditionally run 3 hour demos with an average 7 players. My conversion rate is 70%, but more recently I am changing the way I do things. At best 5 players every 3 hours may buy based on the demo alone. Other publishers have gone for a 20 minute demo, which I tend to think now is the best way to go. The throughput is far higher and even at 1 gamer buying for every demo, that is 9 in three hours.

Booth/stand staff: I make sure that we are on our feet sharing the enthusiasm of the game and really drawing people in. Having someone sitting on their derriere reading the convention program does not sell anything, it only promotes the fact that you really don't care. Corporate t-shirts etc. are great and are a must in my opinion.

Bundles! Ah I love these! These give gamers a chance to get extra value for money by getting some discounted product or even a free book or miniature or something. They help sales and get more products out there. In my opinion CE's value is through the range not any one single book. I have endeavoured with every book to add new layers of background, scenarios and optional rules that are there to enrich and sometimes reinvent the game.

Artwork and posters: go for it! Spend money on quality banners and posters. I have used mine many times and regularly refresh them. they draw people in and can be seen a mile off if they are huge. At Gencon Indy this year i have a 20ft banner which was a beast of a promotional item. Gamers said that they had seen if from the end of the aisle. Let's not forget, as gamers we are often like kids in a sweetshop. We see lots of pretty pictures, run to a stand and spend 3 days budget in one go. Make yourself seen!

Stand/booth: think about the flow of people, take a look at your stand from all angles and from a distance. Make sure that your products are also displayed vertically so that they can be seen from a distance. Don't just sit behind the stand. It would have been called a "sit" if you were damn well supposed to sit behind it! (see staff above)

Anyway, that is it for the mo...

post 8 coming up...
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2006, 09:35:59 AM »

Post 8: the name of the game...

So what the hell is all this Crimson Empire being renamed to Cursed Empire stuff?

Well when CE came out it appeared under the banner of Crimson Empire. I was happily promoting the game over a year when we did our first US con: Origins 2004. I guess we must have appeared on someones scope as I received an email from lucasfilm a few months later. I have to say that I was extremely excited when this came through but when I read the email properly I realised that if was from the Antipiracy Dept!!! I was horrified and had to read the email 3 times over for it to sink in... I was basically being told to cease and desist or further legal action would be taken.

I had just had the 2nd Edition printed with 2,000 copies in hardback and just launched in the US!!! This nearly killed the game and I was so gutted. However I got in contact with Lucasfilm and we had a fair amount of correspondance. We managed to sort things out and I had to rename things. I was keen to keep CE as the initials of the game and most gamers would say "I'm gonna run a game of CE...". After a fair amount of brainstorming Cursed Empire was chosen. All Crimson Empire books will never be printed again making them a strangely collectable thing for some...

Oh yeah I hear you asking about why? Well Dark Horse Comics released a range of comics called CRIMSON EMPIRE some 7-8 years ago, relating to the Emperor's Guard: the red guys you see in Return of the Jedi...

Word of advice, double check all brands names etc. In my case Crimson Empire was not actually a published registered name but still the books were out there...

on to post 9...
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #9 on: December 11, 2006, 12:41:44 PM »

Any questions before I go on to post 9?
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #10 on: December 11, 2006, 03:12:43 PM »

Hi Chris,

I'm reading with interest and actually racking up quite a few questions, but was intending to respond after it was all done.

For me, the transition between your post 2 and 3 skipped quickly through some decisions that I'm interested in. Apparently, you chose to remain with self-publishing, although a number of years had gone by since you'd discovered the (laughable) financial scheme offered by RPG publishers. At this point, did you have any dialogues with anyone about "publishing" vs. "being published?" Did you investigate how other games had been published and by whom?

Speaking only of this particular phase (after the two years in the gaming club and after the "new girl on the scene's" encouragement), what steps did you take, if any, to learn about how role-playing games were published?

Best, Ron
Logged
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #11 on: December 11, 2006, 11:42:59 PM »

Hi Chris,

I'm reading with interest and actually racking up quite a few questions, but was intending to respond after it was all done.

For me, the transition between your post 2 and 3 skipped quickly through some decisions that I'm interested in. Apparently, you chose to remain with self-publishing, although a number of years had gone by since you'd discovered the (laughable) financial scheme offered by RPG publishers. At this point, did you have any dialogues with anyone about "publishing" vs. "being published?" Did you investigate how other games had been published and by whom?

Speaking only of this particular phase (after the two years in the gaming club and after the "new girl on the scene's" encouragement), what steps did you take, if any, to learn about how role-playing games were published?

Best, Ron

Hi Ron,

I am glad that you brought this up. Firstly the time lapse between finding out that having the game published through a publisher was not the way to go and actual self publication was due to having enough funds to finance the print run. As a student, like most students, I was skint or only had a enough money for a few pints of beer... I could only actually do this when I had a full time job and enough money coming in to pay for publishing and a minimum amount of promotion. I did not want my weekly food shop to be dependent on CE sales! This is my golden rule even 4 years down the line: only risk what you can afford to lose. I invest in a book or two, sell enough to cover my costs then reinvest in the next book. The net result is that you only have the cost of one book outstanding and that in the long run you end up with a range that is yours and that has been paid for (art, layout, printing etc.).

I have to say that there was a big interval of time where I was pretty disconnected with the whole gaming scene and did not really know where to start or who to turn to. There was nothing to my knowledge like The Forge where a potential indie publisher could meet other individuals and gain from their own experiences. I just felt my way in the dark so probably have stumbled across more obstacles and made more mistakes than other more "enlightened" individuals. On the upside, I have certainly learnt the hard way, especially in terms of promotion, printing and attention to detail.

With hindsight, I would have got over the initial obstacles quicker and certainly benefitted from more interaction with other indie publishers/publishers. I am not too sure though how many there were about 4 years ago, or is that just another indication of my lack of contact with other like-minded individuals at the time? In any case there are certainly a hell of a lot more to interact with now which has got to be a good thing for all of us.

Best

Chris
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
daMoose_Neo
Member

Posts: 890


WWW
« Reply #12 on: December 12, 2006, 07:39:52 AM »

According to the site, just here in Publishing many of the oldest threads I saw date back to April of 2001, and I know the Forge was the result of discussion and interaction on other sites. I also recall running into Multiverser at least once or twice back in High School, so that was at least six years ago. I think the Forge has done a lot to encourage folks to enter the field who may have been content to play with their pals otherwise, but it looks like there were several folks around at that time. Know the feeling though- I had just gotten my first game off to the printers after six years of work when I found the Forge, and man what time and money that would have saved...
Awesome thread though, always good to see a start-to-finish recap on a title ^_^ Also kinda funny in that I went through a LOT of the same (including the name change, though thankfully it was caught before print and C&D's were involved). Look forward to seeing the rest.
Logged

Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #13 on: December 12, 2006, 10:51:36 PM »

According to the site, just here in Publishing many of the oldest threads I saw date back to April of 2001, and I know the Forge was the result of discussion and interaction on other sites. I also recall running into Multiverser at least once or twice back in High School, so that was at least six years ago. I think the Forge has done a lot to encourage folks to enter the field who may have been content to play with their pals otherwise, but it looks like there were several folks around at that time. Know the feeling though- I had just gotten my first game off to the printers after six years of work when I found the Forge, and man what time and money that would have saved...
Awesome thread though, always good to see a start-to-finish recap on a title ^_^ Also kinda funny in that I went through a LOT of the same (including the name change, though thankfully it was caught before print and C&D's were involved). Look forward to seeing the rest.

Good day Nate, glad you are enjoying the post, there is a heck of a lot more to come.

Your post confirms that there was more of an indie community at the time I was launching CE than I had thought. In any case all the more the reason for me to try and contribute something to the now large and growing indie publishing community. I would have indeed really benefitted from this as I said earlier and as you have also pointed out in your post. Time saved? Costs? You bet! I can imagine a few things that I went through that I would not have done had I been better informed...

Best

Chris
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
leonidas300
Member

Posts: 39


« Reply #14 on: December 12, 2006, 11:11:19 PM »

Post 9: Cursed Empire 2nd Ed (Crimson Empire on cover at time of printing): why a 2nd Ed?

CE 1st Ed was not only running low from a stock point of view (less than 100 at the time) but there were other motivations for my first launch in the US to have a new book:

- cover art: 1st Ed had a very effective cover and is still a big favourite with a lot of people but there was some nudity on the front and a pretty brutal theme. I had to get a new cover done which would not be a barrier to entry into all retailers in the US and Canada.

- flavour text: there was no or hardly any flavour text in 1st Ed. 2nd Ed really needed this to reinforce the themes of the game and in particular make it more accessible to newbies who would pick it up in a store then take it home to their gaming group.

- character generation: there was some criticism levied against 1st Ed about the fact that characters were generated randomly. I then put in place optional rules for points based character generation.

- art: the art needed a total face lift. I got artists known for their work on the original Warhammer and Vampire books as well as some talented newbies.

- editing: improved editing was also needed for 2nd Ed.

- new mechanics: for example critical fumble effect tables for projectile weapons, improved tables for melee weapons, the Points of Renown (PR) system and the Rune Deck (tm) rules for Mages.

- new character sheet

- basically gamer feedback: I implemented over 20 gamer comment items in 2nd Ed that I felt did indeed improve the game.

As a thank you to those who invested in 1st Ed, they were offered (at conventions) a discount for 2nd Ed and the creature section of 1st Ed remained far more comprehensive than 2nd Ed. Basically 1st Ed has become an unofficial "Monster Compendium" very easy to use for 2nd Ed.

Finally the main driver of 2nd Ed was that I planned to tackle distribution in particular into the US and Canada. I needed higher production quality, higher volumes and a tome that could hold its own on a bookshelf and even win a few sales over the big boys without me standing next to it to sell it.

on to post 10...
Logged

Author and Creator of Cursed Empire FRPG
Pages: [1] 2
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.11 | SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!