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General Forge Forums => Independent Publishing => Topic started by: castus nigh on April 12, 2008, 02:20:44 PM

Title: Publishing an RPG
Post by: castus nigh on April 12, 2008, 02:20:44 PM
This is the second attempt to post, sorry if the first shows up, internet connection problems!

I am in the final stages of play-testing/adjusting my RPG, Medieval, The Experts Roleplaying System, and have decided to first publish the system to the web.  Initially, I decided that I would offer access to everything on this site for a nominal annual fee.  This fee not only allows the person to download any and everything on the site but will allow groups to post their adventures results, have access to a FAQ section and a section to add or adjust material that may or may not be used for the actual system.  They system is fairly extensive (400+ pages with almost a 1000 new spells/magic abilities) along with multiple other game advances unique to the system.  Eventually, when the system takes off, I plan to go to published books, but that may take a few years.  In the meantime this was my plan. 

Fortunately for me, my brother-in-law is a computer engineer and my best friend (Randy Musseau of Shadowline Graphics) is my artist- check him out.  Anyway, is there a better means of publishing the RPG- financial gain is why I am doing this.  I work in healthcare and want out before I get a needlestick and die from it.  I've escaped death twice now and don't want to push my luck!

Castus Nigh

Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on April 12, 2008, 04:15:08 PM
You probably know this, but I'll say it regardless - game design in general is one of the most specialized and competitive jobs in the world, with professionals making huge economical concessions every day because they love their work and are willing to do it at rates that would be unthinkable in other professions. The closest comparison is to something like classical musicians who are also extremely specialized, highly skilled in an ultra-competitive work market and still paradoxically underpaid. RPG design, a subfield of a subfield, is a hundred times worse in those respects. So I dearly hope you're ready to rough it out in healthcare in case your game doesn't turn into big bucks.

That being said, I like your plan - a website with a fee seems like a fun and useful publication model, assuming that the game content supports it and justifies it. Ideally you'll make the website into dense hypertext to make use of the form and to make it a bit less trivial to copy out and piratize your content - it's going to happen regardless if you're successful, but meanwhile every bit of barrier helps. You might also wish to work out some kind of full access try-out model; something like giving out full access for a day in exhange for the interested party's contact information might work well, as that'd allow you to find out how many people are interested in your product as well as give you some marketing contact their way.

As for better ways of publishing... if you're in it for the money, I would actually recommend considering an outside publisher. My reasons for this are three-fold:
1) You're a beginner at game design. If nobody else wants to publish your game, that should tell you something about its prospects. If somebody does, then you're already better than 95% of the wannabe-designers, which means that you can make more games.
2) While your first game might not net you much, it could turn into contacts. If you really want to make money as a game designer, you need to start thinking in terms of project cycling - that one game's not going to be your money maker, your skills as a designer are.
3) Statistically roleplaying games are a really shitty choice for making money in gaming. Letting somebody else publish your game shares the risk and also allows you time to work on other projects. Most game designers do it part-time, I'm told, and I know I certainly do. The "part-timing" could be as innocous as working on some better monetized game design, such as boardgames or even computer games.

Interestingly enough, there are some opposite considerations as well:
- If you don't really see yourself as a designer and if you're really wedded to this one project, then your mind-set is much closer to a publisher's than a designer's, perhaps. (I don't really know, you understand; just hypotheticals at this stage.) If you want to be a publisher and make your game into a game line, then it might be a smart move to start building up the ol' contact network: designers, retailers and others who can help you make it as a publisher. You'll especially want designers and writers to crank up the volume, as that's how they make money in rpgs...
- If your game is directed at a specialty audience which you know, and you have the patience to work at it, you might be able to become an independent publisher who does his own design. Making money at that is difficult because you won't have time to market and design simultaneously, which means that you'll be using similar methods to what most of us here do - passive grassroots marketing combined with a relatively slow turn-around of new titles. That only works to make money if you're one of the absolute best: your game has to have appeal that holds despite zero-budget marketing, it needs to be innovative enough to be relevant for years at end, it needs to be compact enough to publish cheaply and not take a decade to write.

I probably should leave well enough alone, but I need to know: what kind of experience do you have with roleplaying game publishing? What do you know about the rpg industry? How many customers were you thinking your game would get? I'm just going to go oracular and tell you: if your game is the best of the year, you're going to have a thousand customers. Even if you're mister miracle and somehow manage more than that (nigh impossible logistically without putting major dollars in marketing, note), you definitely should not be planning on it. So when you're making your plans for making money in rpgs, remember this - a thousand customers would make you one of the top-selling indie publishers of the year, but the more likely result is a hundred sales. I wouldn't guarantee more than 20 without seeing your product.

Finally: I really love it that your publishing plan requires only minor monetary outlay during the first stage. Anybody can have a webpage if they know how to make one, and it doesn't destroy anybody's finances. If your game is really good, there's plenty of time to go into print later on, when you've established and examined your market. That's just the right way to approach something as hazardous as publishing a new rpg can be.

Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: castus nigh on April 12, 2008, 07:12:29 PM
Thanks for the insight, I did realize that limited scope initially, however I really do expect this product to take off.  During our playtesting stage- two groups have sworn off the major gaming company 3 and 3.5- you know who I am referring to.  They can't believe they ever played that stuff and will never play it again!   Overwhelming response for me actually.  I have gone to an outside publisher (Antediluvian Studios) and I am fearful at this point because they have everything and I can no longer reach them.  All of the responses from them (after 8 months of reviews) were extremely promising then they faded from sight!  They were in the midst of a major company reorganization and their server crashed at least once.  I hope this is the situation again.  The sweet thing about this system is the ability to add to it, as you said, make it a line.  It is very adaptable and has many unique gaming features (ie. a second by second initiative, new weapon and magic attack system that allows you to do everything in but a single roll....).  There are truly too many new features to list and the detail is nothing short of amazing (400+ pages in an 8 font with no artwork yet). 

I do expect piracy, even print is subject to internet piracy.  It the way of the internet world. 

As for publishing experience I have none.  I am a very creative writer and have good people around me that can help me out in many areas.  To be quite honest, when this flies, I would take a buy out!  I have another business starting up here and now.  Keep an eye out for E.D.G.E.  - Extra Dimensional Game Enterprise Limited.  Products coming soon.  That said Medieval has been my life's ambition and love.  It started out as house rules and then went on from there.  I was never satisfied with the games we played, starting from the early 80's.  Not that they weren't great, we enjoyed them immensely, just that there were always 'house rules' to make things work!  To add realism!  That's where I'm at now.  I want to give it a good try, publish it on the web, if it gets totally robbed at least I know it is being enjoyed!

castus nigh 

Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: greyorm on April 12, 2008, 10:21:52 PM
Castus, don't take this the wrong way, but the more you post, the more I fear for you. Publishing an RPG for financial gain (ie: so you can quit your job) is right up there with implausibilities like "I'm quitting my job to be a writer! My friends love my work, so I'll make it big!" (ask writers -- even rich, famous, best-selling novelist writers -- about the sanity of that idea, especially when you'll find many, many absolutely wonderful writers laboring in obscurity with little financial return in comparison to their talent or the devotion of their fans).

Here's why I say that: designing is like writing fiction...but even worse because game design and RPGs are a niche industry. Even big-name designers have other jobs doing other things to pay the bills; thus even if your game is the game of the year, don't quit the day job (or at least find a day job you can stand better because this is not an industry that will financially support you). Also like writing fiction, if you aren't doing it for the love of it -- because you HAVE TO, because you can't imagine NOT doing it, because it BURNS in your BLOOD and you'd be doing it if stranded and starving on a deserted island -- you're going to hate it right quick if financial independence via a publishing is your expected/desired goal.

Importantly, how many different RPGs have you played? How many systems besides versions of D&D and its various children (and which ones)? Why do you think the innovations you describe are...well, never-before-seen innovations in the RPG sphere? I ask because the old publishing hands around here have heard similar statements before many, many, many times...and in nigh-every case the touted innovations are, well, not. In fact, the two you mention above are not new features and can be found in a number of different games.

And being bought out? How much do you expect, exactly, to get from a company to obtain rights to an untested product from an unpublished designer? Enough to live on for a year? A few months? A couple weeks? You need to consider what you'll see as acceptable for handing over all rights to your work -- which means the publisher can then decide to can the project if they decide not to publish at all/publish one print run/change everything and put your name on it/go under and leave you locked out.

None of this is meant to discourage you, but it is meant to serve as a warning about starry-eyed wandering in a minefield. Are you certain you have not developed a heartbreaker ( (follow-up ( That isn't a bad thing, but it is good to know where you stand or don't stand before you take another step or make any big decisions about how to proceed -- examining how others have fared in similar situations and how history tends to play out, informing yourself of the realities of the territory.

Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: guildofblades on April 13, 2008, 07:44:05 AM
Hi Cactus,

I don't want to discourage you from publishing, because I think everyone who has a gaming product they love and wants to publish it, should. However, from reading these posts, it is clear that you have no experience with regards to the hobby game industry or how it works, or even the scale at which it operates. Because of these things, I believe you may have some unrealistic expectations for returns on your effort.

1) D&D clones almost always flop. There have been many hundreds of D&D clones. Those being, games that were designed to have the game play "feel" of D&D, only done "better". And very often "better" by the designers trends on being bigger, with more spells, races, feats, etc, etc. This very much sounds like your game. And yes, there *are* audiences out there who want their D&D gaming experience to be...more than what the base game offers. If this were 1985 and you could publish such a game I feel you might succeed in a major way. However, this is 2008, a full 8 years after the Open Gaming License game to be and versions 3.0 and 3.5 of D&D have seen thousands of OGL and D20 add on products published. This has afforded the core consumer base that would comprise the target demographic that your game would be focused on, the ability to add depth and complexity to their D&D game as much as they could want, in a customized fashion. In other words, I fear your target market segment is very much over saturated already.

2) Because OGL and even the official WOTC books have led D&D 3.5 down a road of monty hallism already, many of the current crop of D&D players have become disillusioned with the very concept of having a larger, more involved, game. That is why the runaway hit of the last half decade, in the role playing field, has been a game called Castles & Crusades, which is basically a D&D clone that massively simplified the game. That is pretty much the exact opposite of the game you have proposed.

3) No one ever "cashes" out in gaming by selling their company. Its a small industry and not one with a lot of money. Which means healthy, growing companies are at the top of their game and tend only to be so because the key persons at those companies run dynamic companies. If those companies are purchases, they simply were never large enough to have a large corporate infrastructure established to let them keep rolling on with operations uninterrupted when the owners leave. The closest thing to that that has ever happened in gaming was the Hasbro buy out of Wizards of the Coast, and even there, Peter stayed on as WOTC CEO for a while. No, companies in gaming only sell after they've gone bust and aren't making any more for the owners anymore and have a heaping pile of debt. They sell their intellectual properties and remaining inventory for cheap to recover money to pay that debt off, if they are lucky.

Its important to have realistic goals.

If you publish a D&D clone online and expect to draw membership fees, your online offering had better be compelling. Its not interactive, so you are talking about membership fees for access to basic table top RPG content. If people don't already know and like your game, I suspect few will pay a membership fee to check it out. I would think you would be way better off offering your game for sale in book format, both as a PDF and as a POD production. That will let you sell the game into the market place and make some money off it in a fairly risk free fashion. As people have noted here, if as an independent game publisher, if you are able to sell a thousand copies of your game in that fashion over a couple years, you'll have a real "success". After achieving that success, or at least a portion thereof, then if you were to offer enough additional and interesting content online for a membership fee, then I suspect you might get some takers. Up to a hundred or two of the folks who had bought your core game and liked it.

All that being said, IT IS POSSIBLE to make a living in the game industry. But I think you may find its a great deal harder to achieve than you initially suspected. Just for an example, it took the partners here at the Guild over 7 years of laboring as a part time company before we found the right approach for our business that would enable us to grow enough to become full time. And that growth would have never been possible with having published just a single game and add on products for it. Instead, it was made possible because we had managed to publish a library of over 50 games, that collectively, enabled us to grow a stable revenue stream. If you can achieve the publication of your current game and get to where you can sell 500 units of the core game every year, plus a few hundred of key expansion products and or hundred or so of adventures and/or accessory type products, then you will have established a nice and vibrant part time company. If you can expand upon that success with a number of equally successful games or game lines, then you may achieve your end goal.

Unless you are bringing a lot of capital to the table to jump start your business, I have to say, the above process will take years. And truth, I rarely advise it as a good idea to bring a lot of capital to invest in your start up gaming company. I know personally that had we started with an extra $50,000 that in all likelihood, we would have wasted that $50K and not gained a great deal from it. Because when we first began, we simply did not understand the industry well enough to be able to use those funds properly. I mean, sure, we might have releases some fancier looking products at the beginning and bought them some more attention with marketing dollars, but at the end of the day, our company infrastructure and the stability would not have benefited long term because back then we lacked the experience to know what we needed to do to achieve that in the first place.

So put a toe into the industry and get your game out there. Get some of that experience you will need for eventual success. But have realistic expectations from these efforts also.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Retail Group -
Guild of Blades Publishing Group -
1483 Online -

Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: castus nigh on April 13, 2008, 12:48:05 PM
Well, thank you all for your various cautions, warnings and general forecastings of impending doom!  Really though, I do appreciate everyone who took the time and effort to give a detailed and comprehensive response to the post, especially from people who have spent time in the dungeons.  Duly noted.  I, like you have all quickly gathered, am inexperienced in the independent RPG field as I have been spoon fed mainstream gaming for twenty years.  However, that said, I do believe that I have developed an epic system that will astonish a lot of people and I do believe that people are ready for a comprehensive system that is well organized and  goes back to the roots of why fantasy gaming became a phenomena.

As you have said, I do plan on getting the game out there.  I am just not sure yet as to how to accomplish that task.  I guess, above all else, that is why I found the Forge.  Slowly, painfully I am reaping the benefits of these postings. 


Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: rafael on April 13, 2008, 03:28:06 PM
I have gone to an outside publisher (Antediluvian Studios) and I am fearful at this point because they have everything and I can no longer reach them.  All of the responses from them (after 8 months of reviews) were extremely promising then they faded from sight!  They were in the midst of a major company reorganization and their server crashed at least once.  I hope this is the situation again.

Hi, Castus,

Can you clarify this for me? It sounds like you sent all of your design documents to a publisher (Antediluvian Studios), and now said publisher is no longer replying to your emails. Is this the case?

-- Rafael

Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: castus nigh on April 13, 2008, 04:41:35 PM
Yes, this is exactly the case.  The last three emails (over the past month) have all been reversed with a delivery status notification.  Gmail attempts to continue to contact the publisher, so in total, 30 emails have been unsuccessful.

Hence, after 8 months of friendly banter and positive feedback, I fear the worst.

Why the curiosity?

Castus Nigh

Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: Luke on April 14, 2008, 06:00:45 PM
Hi Castus, my name's Luke. What's your real name?

Six years ago, I started off on a similar journey to the one you describe: awesome system, roots of fantasy roleplaying, crazy publishing model, etc.

This is going to sound strange, but I assure you that this is meant to be in complete support of your efforts:

In the past six years, I've won numerous awards, culminating in a Best RPG of the Year Origins Award. I've published about 8 books for my "line." I've sold thousands of books. In fact, I probably have one of the best selling underground RPGs in recent memory. It's been an incredible journey. I've made amazing friends and learned a hell of a lot. I wouldn't change a thing.

However, that crazy-awesome-award-winning fantasy game does not pay my rent. It does not pay me a salary. And no one has ever offered to buy the property from me.[/i]

It probably never will support me, but publishing it was worth every ounce of blood, tears and money.

Listen to these guys. They're giving you great advice. Publish your game. Work hard. Be smart. Do it for the love. You never know what will happen. But try to keep your expectations reasonable. The money's never going to come from that game. But it might come from a few years of soul-crushing hard work that gets you recognized as a real talent and perhaps gainfully employed.


Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: castus nigh on April 14, 2008, 08:13:45 PM

Nice to hear you have had success, earned success.  Congrats.  Yeah, I have great expectations and I have to hold on to those expectations.  I will never go broke on the game as I actually have a lucrative career in healthcare, but healthcare, while rewarding in its own way, is not a love.  I have read every post and replied to almost all of them if I felt they needed a reply or wanted one.  I must admit it was a bit shocking to hear the rewards for success, pride in achievement versus cash dollars.  Upon embarking on my journey, the first step was to find out what options were out there, what to expect and how to achieve my goals.  The forge has been a great first step and that is why I am still here, reaping the benefits of those before me.   If healthcare has taught me one thing, it is to listen to people who have gone to war, fought, won and lost.   I never undervalue the opinions/advice of people who have knowledge to share, no matter how they came by that knowledge. 


Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: guildofblades on April 14, 2008, 08:42:25 PM
>>I never undervalue the opinions/advice of people who have knowledge to share, no matter how they came by that knowledge.<<

Words of wisdom.

I published the Guild of Blades' first gaming item (a club zine) back in 1994 and the Guild's first game in 1996. I would say I've been around the block a few times now. But I still frequent many of the small press lists and communities, as new ideas are born all the time, as are new ways of doing business, and there is often great value in discussing these things with others.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Retail Group -
Guild of Blades Publishing Group -
1483 Online -

Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: castus nigh on June 11, 2008, 09:46:33 PM
Well, back into the mix.  As stated in an earlier email, the outside publisher Antediluvian Studios, seemed to have abandoned me.  Turns out that they were being sold to another publisher.  New publisher scrapped all projects, save one - Medieval The Experts Gaming System.  A team has been assigned to review the system- headed up by a member of the previous publisher who I was originally dealing with.  Things are looking up.  I want to thank everyone for the advice and I will continue to check things out here at The Forge, hopefully 'blades crossed' you will soon see Medieval in stores!  Any other advice you have to offer?

I know, I know but I have to keep a positive mental outlook and believe things are going to happen.  I knew the system was sound and playtesting revealed just how good it is.  So, I stand by it and honestly believe that it will go into print!

Castus Nigh

Title: Re: Publishing an RPG
Post by: Jake Richmond on June 12, 2008, 07:43:02 AM
Hi. My name is Jake Richmond. I'm reading what you are saying and it's sounding very familiar to me. I said the same thing a few years ago. I had an epic fantasy system that I  really, really thought was fantastic and revolutionary. All my friends loved it, and so did the complete strangers I showed it to. My friend and I decided to publish it. We put together a few thousand dollars and published a nice looking game that I was convinced was going to be a hit, in at least a modest way. Turns out I was wrong. Over the first year we sold maybe 200 copies. Over the next 4 years we sold another 100. To this day my publishing partner has 1000 copies of the book sitting in his garage. No one wants them.

Here's what I learned. It doesn't matter if your fantasy game is good or bad. There are hundreds of fantasy games on the market. Your game can't stand against them. It will get lost. It will die. Maybe, maybe it will gain a small following and sell a few hundred copies. Selling more then that will require that your game is excellent, will require a good amount of money and will require more sweat and tears then any person should be forced to give. Really.

So here's an alternative. I decided to treat my first game as a learning experience. I decided that I would make another game. My thought process was that if I could create something that was different from anything else that was available, something that filled a need and want not currently filled by any other game, then I would have a unique and sellable product. That was  my first step.

My second step was to not spend any money. Or very little money, anyway. I bought some cheap webspace to set up a site where I could advertise and sell my book. I generated hype for the project by posting here and on several other sites. I took some pre-orders for the book, although not many. I used that money to print a small run of books. I used a POD printer and had about 100 copies printed. My total out of pocket cost for launching my new game and company was about $80. My thought on this was simple. If I don't spend any money, then I can't lose any money.

I sold my game as both a book and PDF on my site. I also offered it through several other outlets, including IPR, key 20,
e23, Arima, RPGNow and Drivethru RPG. I sold copies at every convention I went to. I established relationships with retailers by visiting their stores and calling them. Eventually I started selling the book through regular distribution as well.
I was an aggressive sales man. the initial printing of the book sold out in 5 days. We sold 6oo copies inside 3 months and about 1200 over the first year. The book has been out of print since then. I've been to busy with otehr projects, and I've lost the desire to reprint.

The lesson I learned is simple. You can publish a successful product without spending a lot of money. Anyone here can tell you that. the real lesson is that no one wants your game if it looks like every other game they've ever played. If you have something new, something that your customer has never seen before, they'll line up to give you money.

Here's my advice. I know you want to publish this fantasy game, despite the fact that the market is flooded with fantasy games and every single one of them has a bigger production and advertising budget then you. Nothing we say is going to stop you. So go for it. Test the waters first. Offer the game for free and see if anyone takes it. Build some hype and interest. Offer it as a PDF on one of the big PDF stores and see if anyone buys it. If you can establish a small audience by doing this, then go ahead and print a very small print run or start up the website you were talking about. Be conservative. If people like what you have and are willing to spend money, then expand slowly. If no one bites then do what you can to spread the word without spending money.

Another bit of advice. If you haven't already, take a look through this forum. There's a wealth of real and solid info here. I learned from the mistakes lessons of Luke and a bunch of otehr guys, and you can too. It's all here if you have the time to read it.