Solar System in print

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.

What next?

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.

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14 Responses to “Solar System in print”

  1. brennenreece Says:

    Hey Eero,

    How can those of us who aren’t going to GenCon get a copy of the booklet (or the pdf of the booklet)?

  2. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Good stuff, Eero. Can’t wait to pick up a copy or 5.

  3. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    That’s a good point, Brennen; so good that I’ll add a few words in there…

  4. Harald Wagener Says:

    Eero: If you pass me the file, I’ll htmlize it for you.

    Everyone else: I’m aiming at a parallel release of the german translation of Solar System. Ambitious, I know, but the layout is mainly finished and the translation is 25% done.

  5. Christoph Says:

    Moi!
    I’ll sure be checking out that new website of yours, I find this booklet very exciting for the very reasons you describe in your post (especially the “this in not art” and “give some to your friends” aspects).
    Nice to see you got art from Pyry. This is an authentic product of Sonkajärvi! You could apply for some grants at the tourist board of Upper Savo 🙂

    BTW, while paying $10 for a game that costs that at most is ridiculous, I’ve never had to pay taxes from games imported from the US, while I’ve had to pay taxes on books ordered from Amazon France or Germany. That’s because I don’t live in the European Union though.

  6. The Tweaker Says:

    I think you are worrying too much, Eero. I am pretty sure your work will be well received by all the fans of the system. Expect my order as soon as the arkenstone publishing site is up. I don’t wish to wait until Christmas to read your book 🙂

  7. VinceL Says:

    Eero,

    Will you have a booth at GenCon? Looking forward to meeting you!

    Vince

  8. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    I’ll be at the Forge booth. I couldn’t tell you its number at this point, though; perhaps I’ll find it out at some point.

  9. Paikoillanne, valmiit… « Efemeros Says:

    […] ja Gencon-valmisteluja. Hän osasi kuitenkin viitata Eeron suuntaan, joka oli juuri saanut sekä Solar Systemin että Zombie Cineman painokuntoisiksi. Näin taittajan etunimi vaihtui. Onneksi […]

  10. Harald Wagener Says:

    Rough German translation is finished, needs serious editing. Email me at info at tsoy dot de for a copy.

    Release will commence soon.

  11. brennenreece Says:

    I went to IPR, all ready to spend $5 on a pdf that I could download and read on my laptop. I find that there aren’t even any printed books left.

    I’d love to give you my $5 in exchange for a pdf.

  12. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    They do have print copies, several hundred of them. Apparently they’ve just misplaced them somewhere.

    As for a PDF, I guess it wouldn’t be an impossibility, but my primary plan is to get the text inputted in some web-friendly form (wiki or such) somewhere when I have the time. At this time I recommend getting the booklet if you can’t stand to wait until the vaguely defined date of “before Christmas” when I have the time to tease the text out of the layout program and into something web-usable.

  13. T. Kurt Bond Says:

    Hello. I got a copy of Solar System from IPR. It looks good, although I haven’t finished reading it yet. I like all the advice for customizing it. I do have one suggestion: it needs a heavy cardstock cover to help protect the pages. With just plain ordinary-weight paper for a cover it’s going to get damaged pretty easy.

  14. Eero Tuovinen Says:

    I guess heavier covers would be nice, but it wasn’t in the concept this time: not having covers allowed me to make the booklet cheap, and I like how it’s a transitional object that is not supposed to last for an insanely long time. If the booklet suffers a lot in use one might consider getting a new one or just using an electronic version of the rules. (Of which I should say that popular demand directs me to put up a for-pay pdf version at some point when I get a moment to make one; after that I’ll put up a free version, too. I’d expect that both of these will happen during the next month, can’t imagine how I could manage to postpone them any further.)

    If I do a second printing at some point, I’ll probably make a point of providing a more expensive version with more robust covers to serve those who want it. Perhaps something POD-printed.


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