OSR: Escape from the Last Serai

Spoiler alert for my players. Stay away.
Last session in the Ultraviolet Grasslands, the PCs botched a secret mission. They didn't know they were on a secret mission, but that's no excuse.

Now they need to flee the Last Serai. What could be more fun than a chaotic shoot-em-up crawl through some mangled Dyson Logos maps?

We'll see how much of this map actually gets used... but it was fun to make. It hasn't been tested, edited, or checked for errors.

PDF (with key).


OSR: Generic Cult Lair + Generic Wizard Tower

The Monster Overhaul will contain a few very basic dungeons. What's a Minotaur without a Labyrinth?

Here are two examples. They're designed to be very generic, but still interesting enough to adapt on the fly.


Maps by Dyson Logos. The first is The second is a cleaned and edited version of the Shattered Tower mixed with The Poisoner's Tower. I couldn't really get the upper levels of the Shattered Tower to work so I adjusted things slightly. The Generic Cult Lair is based on this map.

Get early access to the full entries (hundreds of names, useful associated tables, etc.) on Patreon.


OSR: Ultraviolet Grasslands Session 3 - Always Read The Fine Print

Last session, the PCs reached the Porcelain Citadel, sold off their cat coffee, looted porcelain, and stolen wickerwork golem, paid off their enormous loan, and prepared for a new venture in the Ultraviolet Grasslands.
Note: If you haven't read Ultraviolet Grasslands, most of this writeup will seem like psychedelic heavy metal Mad Libs. Even if you have ready UVG it's going to be a mess. 
The PCs are:

Granville Porter
Cogflower necromancer lawyer. A mutant human thief/necromancer and warlock of Kon-Fabulate. Equipped with starscape skin, a vibrating thumb, a telephone that talks to dead people, and basic legal training.

Bluelander engineer. A human hunter on the run. Member of the Bluelander Liberation Front.

Gormog the Builder
Safarian merchant adventurer. A half-orc barbarian/fighter and warlock of Kon-Fabulate. Gormog is neither pretty nor clever, but knows a good deal when he sees it.

Exiled pirate liberal. A half-elf barbarian chased out of the Red Lands for their radical views, Clovis has a chainsword and a tattooed map to an aerolith fortress.

Wine vampire priest. A dwarf forcebender wizard and warlock of Deel, Orbital Wargoddess. Full of a strange blend of bloodlust and diplomacy.

Sean Andrew Murray
With their debts paid and pockets bulging with porcelain credit chips and metal wafers, the party debated going on a massive binge. Lapis pushed hard for a party, but sober Gormog argued against it. They'd just escaped one debt; drunkenly stumbling into another seemed unwise.
Karl recovered from his Deel-induced madness. Each morning, as the Orbital Wargoddess rose over the horizon, the warlock reported his progress to his patron via a crystal holy symbol. On the first morning of his expedition, She had replied with a personal psi-radio message. Karl would find a great weapon and use it to raze a city. This was foretold. Stand by for future transmissions.

Unable to contain his excitement, the warlock polished the skull of his first war-conquest of the journey. Then he caught malaria. The party, thinking he was just being a wizard, had let the disease run its course for two weeks as the feverish dwarf gibbered and raved. He'd recovered his lucidity, if not his dignity, by the time they reached the Porcelain Citadel.

The group spent the rest of Firstmonth preparing for an expedition to the Last Serai. The first of the season's odd fruits were fresh off the vine. Karl delivered his pearl-gift to Leopard Lithopane 4-dyad and in return received both polite thanks and a commercial offer. The distracted polybody needed 10 backup bodies transported to the Last Serai and delivered to Angel 22-unity. Lithopane 4-dyad would pay the Company €120 per body, provided the group bypassed any Porcelain Prince checkpoints.

"It's not technically slavery," Granville explained to the rest of the party while checking the contracts. "Their souls and brains were scooped out. They're just cargo now. Our client is paying for discretion. Let's be discreet."

Only mildly disgusted by the plastic-wrapped forms in sterile nutri-pouches, the Cat's Meow Trading Company accepted the offer. They filled the rest of their carts with supplies, odd fruits, and a faintly luminous cask of Vavilov-Cherenkov vodka.

They also acquired another dwarf. Frieda, a demon hunter from the Red Lands, had made her way into the Ultraviolet Grasslands to fight the most perfidious demon of all: capitalism.
Note: the player came up with the idea on the spot after rolling for race and background. UVG's background tables are great for that. Nothing is explained but everything evokes.
All lesser demons, ultras, spirits, and ghosts are merely servants or aspects of the system of capital that enslaves millions (or so Frieda believes, and preaches publicly whenever she can). Luckily, demons can be cast out with a Halberd of Polearming (a polymorphic oldtech metal thing on a stick that tries to transform into the optimal weapon type as swung but is often wrong) or some illegal drugs.

Because she'd used some link-disrupting drugs to free Sardio Nesbit 3-body from their polybody bonds (causing a small riot and an Orwellian memory-erasure campaign), Frieda needed to leave the Porcelain Citadel before the law tracked her down. Her experience as a propagandist could be turned to marketing, provided she could swallow her disgust at serving with a trading company. The Cat's Meow Trading Company suited her needs nicely. While planning her escape, she'd also plotted a route to the Last Serai that avoided all known tolls and checkpoints.

The group departed. They spent some of their cash on gear, but didn't have enough to purchase mounts (and Porcelain City Monobody Driving Chits) for everyone. The next leg of their journey would be on foot. Gormog had cause to curse his parsimonious nature when, two days out of the Citadel, he stepped on a jagged porcelain shard. The group still had some of the healing salve doled out to Granville, but Gormog's orcish physiology healed around the splinters. Every step resulted in bone scraping on porcelain. He made the rest of the journey in the back of a wagon.

Apart from mirages and cinnabar dust, the only encounter on the long drudge through the dunes was Romalt and T'salt, incongruous tree-traders. Their lone mule-driven cart carried four perfect evergreens. "Petroleum trees from Lake Wyv," Romlat said, while T'salt clutched his shotgun, "green as life and a thousand times as sturdy. There's a forest of them near the shore."

The bristly plastic tree evoked a memory in Clovis. The half-elf's aerolith map tattoo had appeared during a drunken escapade. Vague memories of the shadowy tattooist fluttered forward. "When you reach the forest of petroleum trees, then..." Then something. Clovis couldn't remember what.

The Ignored Tower marked their path, its electrostatic gleam guiding them to the last outpost of real civilization. The triple domes of the Last Serai, and their fabled harmonium rods, beckoned. After a week on the road, a chance at indoor plumbing, food that didn't taste of cinnabar dust, and distance from their eerie cargo was extremely welcome.

The Harmonium, the second and lesser citadel of the Porcelain Princes, was heavily guarded. Laquer Stone 4-body, a partially disassembled organ-tube prince in a golem shell, inspected all deliveries and visitors with aggressive Vome-scanners and bio-invaders. Gormog swallowed nervously and backed away. The silver Vome-threads running through his arms had faded, but he could hear buzzing in his chest at night and his earwax had gone rusty.

Laquer Stone 4-body inspected the cargo forms, then scanned each spare body with an oversized beeping bioscanner. One of the ten seemed to attract its attention. "Is something wrong?" Granville asked, "because we didn't tamper with these bodies at all. Delivered as received."

"No problems," the polybody buzzed, after a few moments.

"And... our payment?" Granville asked, as the last of the bodies was hauled inside the dome.

"Payment. Correct," the polybody said, inspecting the cargo forms for a second time for some reason. A small wisp of smoke rose from its ceramic fingers as it handed back the sheaf of paper. A different body handed over a case full of porcelain credit discs.
Note: Polybody contracts are written on triangular sheaves of paper so multiple bodies can read and inspect them simultaneously. Unfolded, they're like a wheel of paper. Folded, they're like a small umbrella.
Granville made a note to inspect the contract... then stowed it in his case for later.

Neil Blevins
Meanwhile, Frieda had stumbled into a group of drunk Yellowlander traders and their team of six techno-hounds. Mila Yaga, their leader, was sufficiently drunk to mistake Frieda and her yellow cape for a fellow Yellowlander. The "Songwood Trading Company and Barbershop Quarter" was available for trading from the Rainbowlands to the Last Serai, as well as for parties, weddings, and funerals.

"Funerals," the four singers mournfully intoned. Beneath the paint on their wagon, the words "Barbershop Quintet" were still faintly visible. In any case, the drunken merchants invited Mila to join their drinking binge. She accepted, temporarily abandoning the rest of the group, who set off to find suitable lodgings and sale quarters in the Last Trading House.

The general rule seemed to be that any room not currently occupied and with more than a finger's thickness of dust was free for the taking. The first room the party searched contained crates of potatoes and light-bulbs. The wizards detected something vaguely magical underneath, so half the group set about digging through the desiccated tubes and crunching bulbs.

The next room searched contained six spare polybodies in plastic cases. They seemed fresh, untouched by dust or age. They looked oddly similar to some of the ten bodies the PCs had delivered, but it was difficult to tell. Why would they be stored in a disused room outside of the Polybody citadel?

The potato-room contained another mystery; a cryo-coffin with a bejewelled and serious-looking barbarian king inside. "What a treasure," Karl said. "We could tip him out and use the coffin to transport fruit! In there, it'd keep for weeks! Months! We'd be rich." Some speculative plans for defrosting or concealing their find were proposed but not enacted.

Meanwhile, in the Buried Delicatessen, Frieda enjoyed an expensive (but complimentary) drink of antigravibrandi (and spilled quite a bit up her nose), then sipped on shots of cheap petroleum distillate while pretending to get progressively more tipsy.

Note: Frieda has a Dex of 3 and a Wis of 6. Str 13 and Con 14 though, so once she's untangled herself she can wade into a brawl with the best of them.
The owner of the Buried Delicatessen, Anise of Star, seemed on edge. A nameless tension seemed to pervade the Last Serai. Something was brewing. Everyone was looking for the exits. Some said the Porcelain Princes had stolen a prophecy from the Spectrum Satraps, and the prophecy spoke of the destruction of the Princes. Some said a Vome had infiltrated the highest order of Princes. Others just packed their bags, checked their guns, and waited for the shooting to start.

Frieda checked the prices of local biomancy with Anise (Gormog's foot still hadn't healed), then stumbled back up the stairs to the surface. On the way, she accidentally broke into a room full of chisled poetry. Most of it was rusted, but one deeply engraved verse stood out. "Goodbye my Pyramid Prince," it said, above a <> tetragonal pyramid. Frieda stole the chisel and left.

Meanwhile, the group had finally found an empty room and started selling their wares. Some elected to live like slaves for a week to maximize profit, sleeping on sacks of old potatoes and eating them each morning. Karl and Granville elected to pay a little more to live in a discount hostel room, with "hot or cold running water" and "real horizontal surfaces".

Sales went well. The fruit, still fresh and delicious, sold well. They even found a buyer for their expensive crate of vodka, making a tidy profit in the bargain. Satisfied, happy, and full of potatoes, they settled in for a rest. Gormog healed his foot at the Buried Delicatessen; one foot now looked considerably nicer and softer than the other.

At the end of the week, Granville remembered that strange wisp of smoke from their body-delivery contract. He unfurled and inspected the sheaves of paper. A tiny message had been burned into one. It read, in a mix of porcelain runes and rainbowlander speech:

"Thank you for your commitment to the Unified Future. The Animated Tetrology appreciates your service. Flee immediately."

"Friends! Friends! We have a problem," the lawyer shrieked, leaping off his rented horizontal surface and rummaging for his clothes.

Alexey Egorov
Yes indeed, they do have a problem. Three sessions without too much danger but now they've landed in the thick of it, all thanks to a slightly absent minded necromancer. Who are the Animated Tetrology? What is the Unified Future? Will they ever reach their areolith?

Find out next time.


OSR: Barbarian Stats + 1d100 Barbarians

Here's another 2-page spread from the Monster Overhaul.


The 10 entries in the "People" section all have useful tables. Mercenaries have Missions. Peasants have names, appearance, odours, and items. Townsfolk have slightly fancier names and professions. Adventurers have elaborate D&D-style names, notable features, D&D-ish skills and professions, and specialty tools.

The idea, and this will be explicitly stated in the introduction, is that tables can be mixed and matched. Use one name table instead of another. Roll for random items, unusual professions in town, or strange mercenary skills. Setting-specific name tables will help.

This is especially important when it comes to "us" vs "them" and Barbarians. A Monster Manual without an entry for Barbarians would feel incomplete, but the entire core trope  of D&D barbarians is stereotyped: people from Foreign Parts who do X and don't have the same nice stuff we have Around Here.

As long as everyone's still treated as people, I suspect it'll be fine. It's more interesting that way.


OSR: How To Do Reasonably Well on Kickstarter

This is a companion post to How To Become A Hundredaire On DriveThruRPG and Sharpening the Axe - How I Plan and Write RPG Books.

Note: Physical copies Magical Industrial Revolution are now on sale. Just in time for the holidays! Reviews and notes are in the Megapost.

Part 1: Magical Industrial Revolution retrospective.

'Tis the season for the traditional airing of grievances, but I've got very few grievances to air. This project went pretty well. It was delayed by two months, I nearly lost my mind a few times, but I learned a lot. All books were delivered. All goals were met. I didn't have to compromise or alter my plans significantly. Everyone got paid.


I like being busy. I like balancing a dozen spinning plates on sticks at the same time.

This sort of long-form project, as it turns out, has periods of excitement, but it also has long periods of tedious waiting. It's less balancing plates and more setting them spinning and deliberately walking away. Will the plates still be spinning when you get back? Did you set them spinning at all?

Writing Editing & Layout Art Kickstarter & Distribution
2018 Sept. 22nd First planning post.

Oct. 10th Innovation format set. 

2019 Jan. 14th Bulk of sections designed.

Jan. 31st

Contacted Jonathan.

Feb. 12th

Contacted Luka.

Feb. 25th

Contacted Logan.

Mar. 12th Price list complete.

Mar. 21st Industrial magic complete.

Mar. 25th

Logan round 1 art complete.

June 6th Bulk of sections written.

June 20th
Contacted David with all details.

June 26th
Obtained template files.

June 27th Playtest round 1 complete.
Luka interior art complete.

July 7th

Contacted Jelly Muppet.

Originally, Magical Industrial Revolution wasn't going to be crowdfunded. Like my previous books, the plan was to write it, pay for the art, editing, and layout up front, and then sell it via a Print on Demand service, eventually making my money back. It's my view that RPG books are tools. Print on Demand fits that paradigm. Make it cheap, printable at home, and eminently accessible.  

That was the plan... until mid June. As the scope of the project became clear, Print on Demand became less and less appealing. By late June, I'd decided to fund some sort of print run out of pocket too. I'd scouted a few distributors, including Exalted Funeral, and put together a list of questions and potential plans.

On July 7th, I contacted Zach (Jelly Muppet) of SoulMuppet Publishing for advice and potential collaboration. I can't thank him enough. We didn't end up working together, but his advice ended up writing over my penciled-in answers with indelible pen. How does X work? Oh, like this. Who do you print with? Oh, this company I'd already shortlisted. Brilliant.

If this was late 2017, and I'd just decided to write Kidnap the Archpriest, I'd have signed up with SoulMuppet for sure. But since then I'd made enough contacts and stepped on enough rakes to figure out the basics. Art was sorted, layout was sorted, coordination was sorted, distribution was... well, not sorted, but I figured I could handle it. The timelines for a Kickstarter also didn't quite line up.

Point is, if you've got an idea or a draft of an RPG book but aren't sure what to do next, contact Jelly Muppet. They'll take care of the rest.

Writing Editing & Layout Art Kickstarter & Distribution

July 10th

Contacted Exalted Funeral

July 17th Writing complete. Contacted Fiona regarding editing.

July 20th Playtest round 2 complete.

July 23rd

Public domain whitepointing begins. Contacted David regarding a KS.

By late July, the bulk of the book was complete. I'd set up a preliminary distribution plan with Exalted Funeral and the basic plan of a Kickstarter with David Shugars. I brought David on board at the Kickstarter level for three reasons. First, he'd already run a Kickstarter and knew the process. Second, if something went awry, it'd be good to have a second account ready to step in. Third, Kickstarter is a bit leaky for my tastes.

We ran into a layout snag. I was not very good with Affinity Publisher. I'm still not, but I was worse then. The files I sent to David that I'd hoped would be directly editable turned out to be less than ideal. Lots of artifacts, errors, and strange decisions had crept into the text. He'd need a raw text file to get the book into a suitable format. During that process, the margin size also changed. This didn't affect the bulk of the text but some table entries were designed to precisely fit the page width. Revising those took extra time.

Writing Editing & Layout Art Kickstarter & Distribution

July 25th

Contacted Logan for round 2.

July 26th Raw text file complete. File sent to first-pass editor. Luka cover art complete.

July 29th

Jonathan map complete.

Aug. 3rd
Edits recieved from first-pass editor. Emergency colorist contacted. KS details finalized.

Aug. 6th

Emergency cover art complete.

The project ran into another snag in late August. Luka suffered a family tragedy just after completing the cover art, and wasn't able to provide a second round of edits or colour alterations. I reached out to a local artist (who declined credit), and Logan, in case the local artist ran into difficulties. Luckily, and almost miraculously, everything worked out. The cover was completed just 6 days before the Kickstarter launched.

Writing Editing & Layout Art Kickstarter & Distribution

Aug. 9th

Jonathan interior art complete.

Aug. 12th Pamphlet text complete.

KS goes live.

Aug. 13th

Aug. 15th
Raw text sent to Fiona. Public domain whitepointing complete.

Aug. 17th
Edits recieved from Fiona

Aug. 18th Edits integrated into text.

Aug. 21st

Logan round 2 art complete.

Aug. 24th

KS ends.

Sept 8th Index complete.
Art card complete.

Sept. 13th
Primary book revisions complete. Luka bookplate complete.

Sept. 18th

Print proofs ordered.

Sept. 27th.

First PDF distributed to backers.

The Kickstarter launched on August 12th and ended on August 24th. You can follow the process via the Kickstarter updates.

I finished whitepointing, editing, and in some cases rescanning all the public domain art. Around 100 pieces made it into the book, but the workbook folders contain at least 1,000 images, not counting pieces I considered but didn't download or scan.

Fiona's editing run was less optimal than I'd planned, mostly because we didn't establish a style guide. A large number of "errors" were just differences of opinion, making integration with the main text more difficult than expected. This didn't delay the project, but it did mean a several extra hours of work. Style guides are important.

Writing Editing & Layout Art Kickstarter & Distribution

Oct. 6th
Backer-located errors fixed.

Oct. 9th

Print proofs recieved.

Oct. 11th
Final PDF created.
Books ordered.

Oct. 12th

New pamphlet printer located.

Oct. 15th

Second print proof ordered.

Oct. 24th

Second print proof received.

Oct. 28th

Books arrive at Exalted Funeral.

Nov. 18th

Distribution starts.

Nov. 27th

Distribution complete.

Dec. 4th

Books on sale now.

Another snag; the printer I'd selected wasn't able to complete the pamphlets. Luckily, pamphlet printing is common and fairly cheap. We found a replacement printer without delaying the overall delivery timetable.

A more serious delay occurred during book proof preparation. We'd done an order of 10 copies to check quality and provide a stock of complimentary copies. Despite no margin revisions or significant layout alterations, the printer insisted on sending a second proof.

Still, once those were sorted out, the books were shipped to Exalted Funeral.


Exalted Funeral handled shipping and distribution.

Average US Domestic shipping was $4 per book. We collected $4.50.
Average Canadian shipping was $25 per book. We collected $13.50
Average international shipping was $35 per book. We collected $19.80.

Note: We charged $5, $15, and $22, but because Kickstarter's cut, we only collected ~90% of that value. I should have incorporated that into my initial math when setting up shipping.
If we'd charged shipping at cost, we'd have collected an extra $1,400. Subsidizing international shipping was always the intent, but now I've got data on how much it was subsidized.

Shipping kills Kickstarters. Get as many estimates as you can. Charge up front. People can whine, but it costs what it costs. Alternatively, you can spend hours and hours finding cheaper distributors in different countries. Run the cost-benefit analysis. See what makes sense based on your target audience. And prepare to eat some extra costs anyway.

Actual Profit

I'm not willing to publish all the numbers. I don't want to provide the exact rates artists or editors charged me. Everyone got paid what they asked for, though there was some haggling on a few points. If you want a hyperdetailed analysis of typical up-front costs, check out this post.

Pre-Kickstarter costs includes initial art, editing, and layout. Post-Kickstarter costs include extra payouts and proofs.

Pledge Total $20,500
Kickstarter Payout $18,750

Pre-Kickstarter Costs $1,900
Cost of Books $3,400
Cost of Pamphlets $170
Cost of Stretch Goals $310
Post-KS Costs $500
Packing Fees $3,000
Shipping (US, 219 orders) $880
Shipping (Canada, 26 orders) $660
Shipping (International, 74 orders) $2,400
Total Expenses $13,220

Profit $5,530

A percentage of the profit (plus a flat fee) went to David for running the Kickstarter and generally making the book exist.


Reasonable Human Math

Living wage in the USA, at the time of writing, is $16 per hour. It might be $20 or 3-bottle-caps-and-some-non-irradiated water by the time you're reading this.

I can type 60 words per minute. MIR is around 80,000 words. That's 22 hours of typing. $352 just to type out the words. Hooray, profit. Pretty sure it took more than 22 hours though.

Let's use the industry standard (i.e. poverty-passion wage) of $0.05 per word. I need to make $4,000 for the project to meet the minimum local standard.

And that's just writing. I did the basic layout (which David had to redo from scratch, true, but the choice of words on page, table widths, and facing pages was mine). I edited and whitepointed hundreds of images. I made three videos! Badly, I'll freely admit, but I did it. I found artists, negotiated contracts, did research, ran playtests, etc.

So overall, for a year+ long project, I'd say this book wasn't terrifically profitable. It still beats DriveThruRPG sales though. Not counting David's cut, I made $0.06 per word just on the Kickstarter.

Note 2019/12/29: This article by the creators of After the War covers $0.20 per word math. It's not a cheerful update.
Note 2021/07/28: This article covers Zinequest fulfilment and discusses shipping rates.

Sources of Delay

  • I failed to budget sufficient time for print proofs.
  • There were some editing delays. Sometimes I'd request 10 edits, wait a week, and get back 8 edits plus a new change I hadn't asked for. It's a natural part of the process, and it didn't end up delaying the book significantly, but it was a definite frustration.
  • Art very nearly delayed the project a few times, but we scraped through in the nick of time.
  • Finding a backup printer for the stretch goals could have delayed the project, but it ended up not being an issue.

Part 2: Advice

My post on Sharpening the Axe covers book creation and planning in more detail. It's probably a good idea to read it first. Michael Prescott has a Kickstarter Task List that should also help.

Hire Good People

Find the best people you can and pay them what they want.

I'm not a huge fan of residuals, profit-sharing, or royalties. This industry has very low margins and it's a lot of work to coordinate it all. Given the choice between $200 and 5% of the profit of a Kickstarter, you should probably take the $200. Up front, if possible.

If you commit to long-term profit sharing, you're committing to the Dreaded Mathematics every month or quarter, for an indefinite period, for what could easily be a handful of change. It's a great deal if the product is immensely profitable, but the number of OSR bigwigs who own private islands and a garage full of classic sports cars appears to be zero.

You need to trust the people you work with, but you also need to hold them to deadlines, follow up, reject work, or make hard calls. There are elements of running a project like this that feel distinctly unfriendly. Always aim to be the most professional person in a group, even if everyone else is extremely professional. Be polite. Be efficient. Have a plan to pay everyone you hire.

Advertising Doesn't Work

Spending money on editing, playtesting, and high-level review is more important and more profitable than running ads. They simply don't work. Direct traffic, via a blog or a twitter account, is the way to go for small projects with a targeted audience. If people are excited about your project they will help out, but no amount of advertising can make people care.

For MIR, about 40% of pledges came through Discord, Blogger, and Twitter links. Around 10% came through Kickstarter directly. An i09 aggregate article brought in 9 backers. The rest were a medley of emails, notifications, and other sources.

If you're running a campaign for a product with broader appeal (a 5E module, a board game, dice, etc.), advertising might help. But for targeted or indie games, you'd be better off spending the money on comfortable socks and a chest of caffeinated beverages.

Estimate Kickstarter Backers

I went through about thirty recent OSR-ish kickstarters and looked at their tier numbers: PDF only vs book vs fancy book or book plus extras.

Based on the average, I came up with the following guidelines:
-50% of backers want a PDF, 50% want a physical book
-20% of backers who want a physical book will want a fancy version or stretch goals

So from 100 backers: 50 PDFs, 40 basic books, and 10 fancy books or stretch goals.

Knowing this, I could back-calculate how many backers I'd need to make the Kickstarter profitable. An added complication was the desire to overprint. I didn't want this project to end with the Kickstarter; I'd like the distributor to keep the product in stock until it stops selling. No limited editions here. I'd need to funnel some of my share of the profit into a larger print run.

After some back-and-forth with David, we decided to go with $40 base costs x 100 books for a $4,000 goal. If the KS funded, we'd print at least 100 books, so all costs could be based around that. Most costs decreased as volume increased, so as long as we budgeted around the worst case scenario we'd be OK. PDFs help; they're effectively pure revenue.
Note: Based on eyeballed numbers and other anecdotal evidence, you might be able to estimate the total number of Kickstarter backers by the number of views an average non-exciting blogpost gets in a week.

Estimate Pricing

This is an art more than a science. I wanted to keep the PDF cost low. $10 for the Kickstarter, $15 for sales afterwards. Eyeballed based on other similar products. That was easy.
Note: Once again, Retweeting "pay authors" or "support indie publishers" is free. Don't expect those people to turn up when the hat gets passed around.
Here's a formula for calculating the cost of a print book. It's not the one I used, but it's much nicer.

Let A = Price of Book

A = { [cost to print at minimal volume] + ( [cost of art+editing+layout] / [minimal volume] ) + [A*distributor percentage] + [safety factor] }*(KS cut factor)

Example (using made-up numbers):
  • The minimal volume for this project is 100 copies.
  • At 100 copies, this book costs $10 to print and ship to the distributor.
  • The total cost of art, editing, and layout is $1,000. $1,000/100 is $10, so that's another $10 per book.
  • The distributor percentage is 25% of the MSRP A.
  • Safety factor is $5 
  • Kickstarter, plus its payment processor, takes a 10% cut of all transactions. You'd better factor that in, and increase the price of your book by (1/0.9) = 1.11
A = [$10+$10+[A*0.25]+$5]*(1.11)
A = [$25+[A*0.25]]*1.11

A = $27.78+ 0.278A
A-0.278A = $27.79
A = $38.50

Hooray math. Feel free to add terms for percentage payouts to artists, editors, etc. Increase your safety factor and costs. Make the formula into a spreadsheet. Point out I missed a bracket. Whatever works.

But wait. You did the math for your Kickstarter and came to two conclusions:
1. $1000 for layout, art, and editing is ludicrously low.
2. There's no [term] for profit.

You are correct on both counts. If your fixed costs are a more reasonable $2k, you'll need to charge $54 per book. That might be a bit much, depending on your product. But the equation is still valuable. You can use it to eyeball your worst-case scenario. This is the floor. Every book over the minimum volume, every percentage under the rounded-up percentage, is profit.

Plan For Failure

Examine all moving parts of your project. Figure out what you'll do if one part fails. This is not a particularly nice thing to imagine, but it is necessary. Nobody is under any obligation to stay alive for your benefit. Given the choice between real-life stuff and helping an elfgame exist, most sensible people are going to choose real life. What's your plan?

For this Kickstarter, I had a backups bookmarked (but not, in most cases, specifically contacted) for all roles: layout, editing, interior art, cover art, map, printing, and distribution. As much as possible, I'd priced them out to ensure switching a new person in wouldn't sink the project. With the text complete before the Kickstarter began, it's possible a book would be produced even if I vanished.

Art is always a concern. I'd rated Logan as the artist least likely to have difficulty meeting their deadlines. Luka is normally pretty reliable, but he was working on Ultraviolet Grasslands at the same time. And Jonathan was a relative unknown; I'd never worked with them before and there weren't a lot of industry testimonials floating around. Luckily, aside from one minor issue covered above, everything worked out perfectly.

Plan For Success

Let's say you organize a picnic charity fundraiser. You expect, based on wishful thinking, 100 people to show up. 1,000 people show up instead. 5,000. Way, way too many. The parking lot is full. You're running out of hot dog buns. The portable toilets are apocalyptic. What's your plan?

Success can kill a project faster than failure. Calculations break down when demand rises by 10x. People get ambitious. Instead of running a Kickstarter for a print on demand book, they decide, when they see their total grow and grow, to go full offset print hardcover with extra stretch goals. Then they go bust, or spend all their profit on 2,000 hardover copies for a 200 backer project and have nothing left over to fix errors.

Restrain your expectations. Make sure your calculations work at high volumes. If you set out to use Printer A, stick with printer A. Don't get excited and switch to the unresearched Printer B at the last minute. Don't rely on wishful thinking and best case scenarios.

Let Other People Step On The Rakes

Learn from the failures of others. Don't step on the same rake. Find a new and exciting rake.

Off the top of my head, here are some reasons RPG Kickstarters failed:

  • The layout person: quit / went bonkers / dropped off the face of the earth for three months.
  • The artist: quit / traced all their art / lost the original scans / turned out to be a real asshole.
  • The printer: failed to deliver the books on time / changed rates / folded / shipped the books to Uruguay by slow boat / was chosen at the last minute because they seemed cheaper but weren't able to deliver / don't accept files in the formats we can supply / didn't fill out a customs form so the port authority used the books as fertilizer
  • The distributor: took a large deposit and folded / failed to ship the books / shipped the books in flimsy envelopes. 
  • A collaborator: turned out to be notoriously unreliable / over-promised and under-delivered / changed their scope of work mid project.
  • The main author: spent all the money before expenses were paid / failed to account for unexpected expenses / just didn't do what they said they were going to do.
The last point is critical. It's human nature. Once you've been paid, your motivation to finish the job plummets. "Why hunt mammoth if Thag already have mammoth?" some part of your brain thinks, and decides to futz around on the internet instead of sitting down and working on a project.

That's why I decided to write everything ahead of time. I also decided I'd be the last person to get paid.

Sunk Costs and Stretch Goals

In theory, crowdfunding gives you the cash to complete a project. In practice, if your costs are low, complete as much of the project as possible before crowdfunding. It reduces risk.
I wanted all art complete before the Kickstarter launched. This included stretch goal art. If you check the timeline, I had Logan and Luka working on the stretch goal art before the stretch goals were met or even announced. I'd written the stretch goal pamphlets before the Kickstarter launched. I don't like surprises.
I write RPG books. I don't make buttons, ribbons, elaborate leather carry cases, or fancy dice. I firmly believe people should buy a book based on its merits. There's enough nerd kitsch out there. I don't want to add more, and I definitely don't want to delay a book because a button-making factory has run into difficulties.

I strongly suggest focusing on your core product. Extras are nice as long as you're certain they won't delay or bankrupt your project. Steer clear of posters or bulky items. Shipping costs are ludicrous. Don't go mad over stretch goals. Effectively, you aren't being paid for them. People are backing your book anyway; why do more work for the same money? If you think stretch goals will drive funding, go for it, but the return curves seem similar for all projects.


Once again, thanks to Jonathan Newell, Logan Stahl, Luka Rejec, Fiona Geist, Exalted Funeral, and David Shugars.


If you've got any questions about the process, leave a comment.