I’ve been told that a human being shrivels up and starts hallucinating after 100 hours of no sleep, after which death soon follows. Last night I got to 40 hours before getting finally going to sleep. That’s how #!%?”! busy I was getting the Solar System finished.
The entire booklet clocked in at about 52 000 words. I wrote it during three months, essentially; totally insane for a game design, but then, this was no game design: I was just writing down my own practice with a game Clinton already designed. This differs from the usual course of rpgs as primarily literary achievements.
Actually, I could say a few words about an insight related to this booklet and why I made it the way it is: roleplayers tend to be very product-oriented in their roleplaying endeavours. This is not just game publishers (you can kinda understand that; after all, their business is publishing books), but also game critics and us small indie designers. Unlimited effort is invested in issues such as art, layout, nice writing, book design and so on. It is not at all exceptional to have a game reviewer spend his first three paragraphs describing the margin-art of a roleplaying book. Furthermore, designers are totally committed to the idea of game-as-artifact as well: our basic dictum is to only publish perfect work, which is not a bad idea when the alternative is presented as taking money at false pretenses.
The Solar System booklet follows a bit different model, different philosophy here: it’s made as cheap as can be, and while the layout, typography and so on aren’t bad, they’re certainly not works of art, either. Even more significant is the content of the text: I am not trying to offer a definitive word on what is “Solar System” and how it absolutely must work. Rather, I think of the booklet more as a state-of-the-hobby report: this is how I play the Solar System in year 2008. Such a report is written in a pretty relaxed style, it does not try to be literary art… it’s essentially a hyper-extended blog post, insofar as editorial processes are concerned.
This is a huge separation from the traditional book publishing ethos that also rules roleplaying publishing. The basic notion of book creation (I can say, after having made around a dozen books myself) is that you are setting flowing gold in stone. Every word needs to be calculated and considered. Your editing will be judged heavenly or shitty based on that one letter, and the editing will determine the “production values” of the entire product. This is unavoidable because of what book publishing is: books are expensive handmade luxury products, sold to the small elite of the early industrial society, who consider each purchase for weeks or months before having their book dealer wrap the product in leather for travel.
Or, that’s how it used to be. RPG publishing, as marginal hobby publishing, perhaps has more of this attitude today than your average softcover novel business, but even then we’re still pretty far from complete realism on the topic. Solar System, being written and edited in a work flow more resembling a magazine than a book, will certainly be an interesting piece for game critics used to evaluating games as artifacts you preserve on your bookself for 20 years. The game is excellent, but that’s the game, not necessarily the physical artifact with immutable letters printed upon it. And I don’t own the game, it’s out there, somewhere. Freeroaming the gaming tables and the Internet discussions.
Publishing the thing
OK, so I’m not at all nervous about how people will receive my booklet. I’m defending myself from imaginary critique, above, for no reason. Yep, not nervous at all.
That aside, check out the cover page, it explains the booklet pretty well. As you can see, I’m licencing the game text with Creative Commons; pretty unnecessary when the text is just rules and such, but it’s a gesture, regardless. I’ll probably not get around to putting up the text in the Internet for a while yet, but after the Fall projects go away, I’ll try to do it before Christmas. Perhaps somebody will do it for me soon after Gencon, so I don’t have to.
Meanwhile we’ll try to cover some of the expenses by selling the booklet at Gencon, and from IPR afterwards. My target price point has for a long while been $5, but the art costs got a bit heavy at the end, so we’re thinking of upping the price a bit. I won’t say for sure, yet, but it seems that our hard expenses on this are clearly over 30% of that $5 cover price, which is half over anything I’d be happy about. The booklet would compete nicely at $10 for its paper weight (and when did roleplayers stop taking paper weight as the gauge for price point…), so we certainly have room for price hiking. One plan I like is to sell the booklet for $5 at Gencon and hike the price several dollars afterwards. Don’t know, have to ask people experienced with the American market for opinions at some point.
One factor in pricing this thing is that my plan has from the start been to offer a pretty substantial discount for buying several copies. The first and primary reason for making the booklet cheaply was in the first place that I’d like to see people giving them away to their friends. It’s just a booklet, after all, you should be able to afford it. So selling 5-copy packs for the price of 4 might encourage a game master -type to just buy a bunch and give one to each of the players, thus ensuring that everybody is on board with the rules.
Another reason for doing the booklet so cheaply concerns The Shadow of Yesterday, the original setting and campaign sourcebook for the Solar System. I want to do a nice and colorful remix book of that as well during the winter, and when I get it done, I’ll want to give a copy of the Solar System with each copy of TSoY we sell. This should be both easier for the end-user as well as cheaper for everybody concerned, as the rules-text (that most players won’t need to be within the same covers as the setting stuff) is available in print at such a low price point. We’ll see whether anybody likes that plan.
Hmm… I wasn’t feeling it when I was producing the game, but now that it’s at the printer, I’m nervous about its prospects in the market-place. I’m the sort of madman who prints 1,000 copies of the booklet, so it’ll be exciting to see if we can sell even a fraction of that. The monetary outlay isn’t that ruinous, but it would certainly annoy me if I still had hundreds of the booklet in stock after a couple of years.
Where can you get it?
I was, justifiably, asked where the thing can actually be bought. I’m going to depend heavily on IPR as far as the American market is concerned; simply don’t have the presence to take care of it myself.
For the European market, though, I’ll probably take a hundred copies or so of the booklet back with me after Gencon. I got a new domain (www.arkenstonepublishing.net) registered a couple of days ago for the purpose, so I’ll just put in some ordering information for any Euros who want to get the game. Not that you couldn’t order from IPR, but those postage expenses are rather ridiculous from America. I’ll try to have the site up before I leave for Gencon, and deliver the product after I return. Before the end of August seems doable.
Of course, if you don’t feel like ordering a low-cost booklet by mail, we’ll probably get the game text into Clinton’s wiki or some other electronic medium soon enough. Before Christmas anyway.
Next I’m going to do a small boardgame layout job for an employer. After that we’ll be finishing Zombie Cinema. After that I’m finishing an article I promised for Efemeros in June. Then it’s time for planning the convention combo of Ropecon/Gencon in terms of demonstrations and other programming. After that, conventions and then I’m probably dead from exhaustion. Good times.