Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Inevitable "Talking About Kickstarter" Post

So, I don't talk much about Kickstarter here, or any other thing that seems to only be productive to talk about in a "let's get our hopes up" kind of atmosphere. I'm tend toward the skeptical and downright pessimistic, so I don't buy in to as many Kickstarters as some of my geek friends do, but when I do, it's because I believe that the product actually will get made and not just that its something that I want to get made. We gamers are excellent at wishing and hoping for products to exist and perhaps even better at coming up with products that, we feel, should exist (and you know you, at one point or another, have said "You know, game company X should make...") and so we need to be extra careful when buying in to Kickstarters because we're not actually buying in to anything, we're investing in something. Just like ordinary investors, we gamers can get blinded to the feasibility of a project on Kickstarter by the shiny awesome product that the project creators are promising. We need to be thinking not just about what we want to see produced, but we also need to think of backing the project as exactly what it is: an investment. Think like an investor. Know who you're dealing with. Minimize your risk. Manage your expectations. Make well-thought-out decisions. We gamers are used to more or less instant gratification (yes, even the grognards, no matter how many "uphill in the snow both ways" stories they tell you) so taking the long view with regards to Kickstarter can be tough, but damn is it rewarding.
I got in on the Kickstarter trend fairly late in the game. Apparently, this is a good thing. Many folks have been burned (or perceive themselves to have been burned) by failed or delayed Kickstarters, but that's how things work on Kickstarter. There were a few Kickstarters that I missed out on or didn't think were worth the investment or I couldn't afford at the time and now regret. I wish I'd scraped together the spare cash for Reaper's BONES KS or Frog God's recent S&W Complete. I'm still glad I didn't kick Numenara (sorry, Monte, I don't need your game, that's how I'm already playing). And yes, I am kicking myself for not kicking Spears of Dawn.  All in all, though, I've kicked what I wanted and what I have, as an investor, felt confident in.

This past week, two Kickstarters sent me stuff that I've been chomping at the bit for and that's where this post started. This week, LotFP released the pdf of Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess and Frog God released the Swords & Wizardry version of Razor Coast (insert obligatory statement ragging on Pathfinder here; I just don't have the time and energy for it, just the vitriol) and this post was originally going to be just about those two products. Or, rather, I was going to write one post about what I thought about Razor Coast so far and then another one about LotGP and its associated goofiness and how much I enjoyed it (but I don't do reviews, so I didn't know where to start). Mashing up those two different posts got me here. So, what have I been kicking? Let's take a look.

Well, I cut my Kickstarter teeth with Razor Coast. For Swords & Wizardry, obviously. I know it seemed too rich for a lot of folks' blood, but I didn't think it was too bad if it does everything that it claims to do. And yes, it claimed to do a lot. Yes, I goddamn love pirates. Who doesn't? And yes, there have been a bajillion different pirate rpgs out there, some of which may even be slightly compatible with the games I run these days (quite frankly, I really dug the setting of Skulls & Crossbones, Green Ronin's 3.5e pirate game from the mid '00s, but thought it got more than a little fiddly in an uncomfortably 1e way), but I was hoping for something simpler but well-thought-out. And we got it in Razor Coast. I didn't doubt that a Frog God game would fund or that it would deliver; when have the Frog Gods failed us? Yes, the price tag was high, and thus the apparent risk relatively large, but the reputation of FGG was enough for me to put that kind of cash on the line. And what do I have to show for it today? A very high-quality product that's incredibly well done product that goes so far as to demonstrate to the reader how the S&W version is different from the PF version not only in substance but also in philosophy! This one was a good buy and yes, I'll use it at my gaming table (modified or not... who knows?). Yes, I will be waiting until June or so to get my print copies of the RC Core book and Freebooter's Guide, but there's no way I'd have time to use them until then, either.

My second Kickstarter was one that I was a little shakier on, so I managed my risk better than with Razor Coast: Legendary Realms Terrain -- Themed Dungeon Rooms! Now, I'm not a Dwarven Forge sort of guy, mostly because I'm not independently wealthy. LRT produces high-quality, DF-style terrain pieces for a very reasonable price, especially for the Kickstarter: just $50 for a room worth of terrain pieces. That's pretty good. Initially, I bid at the $35 "Ultimate Accessory Pack" level because I figured that yes, I would gladly pay $35 for the terrain pieces (doors, crates, chests, coin piles and skull piles) being offered. I had hoped to up my pledge to the $150 level to get three rooms' worth of terrain parts, but that wasn't in the finances at the time and so I had to content myself with the initial kick. Here's the thing: this KS shocked me by shipping crazy early (way before I expected it and only shortly after the KS ended) and I got a lot more for my money than I had anticipated. Well done, Legendary Realms, well done. (I should really take pictures of these things and show them off to you guys. I haven't had a chance to use them on my gaming table yet, but I'm really excited for my players to actually have a door to reference when they check it for traps.) This was, again, a very solid Kickstarter to back. 

And then there's FATE Core. You couldn't go anywhere on G+ this last holiday season without seeing something for the FATE Core KS. Honestly, before their KS, I didn't know shit about their system. The KS was the first exposure I had to it and the primary license for it is for a property that I can't stand (perhaps "fucking hate" is an appropriate term; I am, of course, talking about Jim Butcher's -- could there ever be a more appropriately-named mangler of recycled genre trash? -- Dresden Files, the worst genre rehash since Dragonlance), but I bought in at a low level just to get the playtest pdf. If I didn't like it, I could cancel the bid and no harm would have been done. I loved what I saw, though, so I not only kept my pledge, I increased it. Quite frankly, my decision to buy in to this KS was based he son the facts that (a) I liked the system and wanted to see it published, (b) so did a lot of other people and the system was well into stretch goals by the time I kicked it (which was still early in the KS campaign) and (c) the game was already goddamn written! There was no risk here! The work was already done! The KS was just to pay for art assets and physical production! Add to this mix the extensive list of stretch goals and bonus content that got added to just about everyone's pledge (even if just in pdf) and you've got years of gaming and years of new content showing up in my email box periodically even if only half of that stuff ever gets published! Win-win? Yes, I'd say so. Further, Fred Hicks has done a great job of communicating with his backers and I can, with confidence, say that I have a good idea of the state of FATE on a weekly basis thanks to his excellent communication priority. 

And now it's time for a risk that not nearly as many people backed as FATE, but a risk that I felt was worth taking because of the people behind the product. Last year, I started reading all this great stuff not only about the new Marvel Heroic RPG, but also about the cool stuff you could do with the system. Over on Critical Hits.com, the Chatty DM started talking about a fantasy hack of the system, and that got me interested enough in the system that I took a look and liked what I saw. So, when Margaret Weiss Productions started their campaign for their Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide (with the Chatty DM as one of its writers), I jumped on board. I was taking a big risk. The risk was not "will this product get made," but rather "will this product be what I want it to be?" You see, I didn't want it to just be a series of guides to tell me how to, say, take the Cortex Plus Action system of Leverage and turn it into something else (because I'm not interested in Leverage) or the Cortex Plus Drama system of Smallville and turn that into something else (because I'm really not interested in Smallville). Instead, I wanted it to present a coherent rule system within the Hacker's Guide itself, something that was not a stated goal of the project but rather that was a stretch goal. Here, my gamble was not merely that this KS will get produced, but rather that it would hit certain stretch goals along the way. Well, it did, I won, and now my copy of the Hacker's Guide will have rules for both Cortex Plus Action and Plus Drama (the pre-markup versions of these rules are available to backers now, so there's no worry about them not being included in the final product). Yes, MWP is not renewing their Marvel Universe license, but to me, that's no loss as I wasn't likely to use their MHRPG anyway (the shitty character creation rules really make the system unusable as is; I like Green Ronin's M&M better for supers anyway -- and they have the DC license), especially since the announcement that MWP is getting the Firefly license. EMPHATIC MESSAGE TO CAM BANKS: MAKE SURE YOU INCLUDE CHARACTER CREATION (not generation) RULES IN THE FIREFLY RPG. PLAYERS REQUIRE THEM IN ALL RPGS, EVEN IF YOU FALSELY BELIEVE WE WILL HAVE A DESIRE TO PLAY PREGENERATED OR EXISTING CHARACTERS WITHIN A LICENSED UNIVERSE. WE WANT TO MAKE OUR OWN STUFF. THAT IS WHY THE HACKER'S GUIDE FUNDED. LEARN FROM YOUR MARVEL HEROIC MISTAKES! So yes, this project was more of a gamble than the others because I wasn't sure, going into the KS campaign, that what I was kicking was what I wanted it to be. Thanks to stretch goals (and enough other people like me kicking this particularly campaign), my gamble paid off. 

I'm sure that I've talked about my love for Mr. Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy products before. I know I have. These products don't get any play in my main swords & sorcery games due to genre considerations (although The God That Crawls might get a reskin at some point), but I love reading these products and would love to use them in a "genre D&D" game set in the early Enlightenment era, probably using BLUEHOLME rules due to the implied setting therein. Babbling aside, I was really geeked to join LotFP's 2013 Free RPG Day Adventure KS campaign. This particular KS I didn't see as much of a risk, more of a potentially much delayed gratification. Honestly, I completely expect every shred of the promised product to be produced, but I didn't expect it to be ready for quite some time (another month or so at the earliest); I was completely surprised to discover a download link for the first of the several new products offered as pledge rewards in my email this past week. Well done, LotFP. Also, LotFP has been very forthcoming about the status of the project, much like Fred Hicks with FATE. So, here, I'm just planning on patience and getting pleasantly surprised that the LotFP crew is further along that I thought they'd be at this point. 

So, what am I backing now? I've just got two projects on my horizon, so we'll see how they go. First, I'm kicking the Domains At War rules expansion for Adventurer Conqueror King by Autarch. I've come to love ACKS and really want to see the game do well. I've always wanted to play the domain game part of a D&D campaign and to this day never have, but I really enjoy the system ACKS has for it. The concept of a  wargame integrated into the domain management system puts the special tingles down in my geeky parts. The only thing I have to say about this particular KS is that Autarch cannot make the hardcover option for this project available soon enough. I friggin' hate paperbacks.

The other KS I'm currently kicking is Arcana Rising from Bedroom Wall Press. To be completely fair, this is one of the projects that I'm going to chalk up to "complete and total risk." First, I'm only vaguely interested in the project. Second, the art assets demonstrated so far are pretty cruddy. Finally, my only solid point of interest here is that I loved Hulks & Horrors and am hoping that this project is on par with the quality and imagination shown there. So, yeah, total risk. But I understand that. I own that risk. That's what I'm investing. Plus, I'm only risking $20, which is a single minimum bet at the casino during peak hours, so whatever. I can afford to lose it if the project stinks or fails. If it's good, though, Hulks & Horrors good, I'll feel like I made out like a bandit. 

What about you? Do you have a philosophy regarding Kickstarter projects? What are you backing and why? Is there anything you've backed that you've regretted? Anything you've backed that you've been, like me  and Legendary Realms or LotFP, really encouraged and made happy by? I'd love to hear about your experiences (actual experiences, not "I don't KS, never have, never will" because, seriously, that adds nothing to the conversation).