I didn't mean to publish The Knack Hack

edited March 2017 in Directed Promotion
This post is as much shameless promotion as it is a self-examination of the barriers (or lack thereof) in front of me, keeping me from actually publishing (my own stuff, rather than helping other people publish stuff) for so long.




The Knack Hack is a supplement for the very cool, very elegant OSR game, The Black Hack.

It offers three different skill systems for The Black Hack:

KNACKS are things you're good at. Like, "I might be strong, but I'm really good at lifting things." Or, "I might not be that dextrous, but I'm particularly good at picking locks."

SKILLS are the traditional skill system. They give you a small bonus to various things you want to do better, like Tracking or Climbing or Knowing Arcana.

BACKGROUNDS are a borrow from the 13th Age RPG. A background is a little backstory sentence, and any kind of skills or knacks that could possibly go with it. "I was a lieutenant in the Black Guard, an organized crime group in The City of Brass, so I should be good at intimidating people."

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Comments

  • I didn't mean to publish The Knack Hack.

    I mean, I did, but not at first. I have been working to publish game materials for a long time, and I've had no success in getting it done.

    Sure, I published a pretty cool article in Dragon Magazine a couple years ago, I helped get some third-party D&D 4e products out the door, edited a couple third-party supplements for 13th Age, and I've edited some pretty amazing story games. But I haven't published my own stuff.

    I've meant to. I've started, over and over. I've written stuff, then thrown it away. It wasn't the right stuff. It wasn't commercial enough. The market changed underneath me as I was working on it.

    A big barrier was all the crap you have to do before you publish the first thing.

    25 years ago, publishing any game material meant working with an actual dead-tree printing company and finding somewhere to peddle your hard copies, probably through a distribution channel if you actually wanted people to find your game and read it. Ron Edwards and a bunch of other people knocked those barriers down and showed the world that if you had access to the Internet, you could publish games and even make a little money off it. And not mortgage your house.

    So "barriers" are kind of a lame excuse.

    But there are still some barriers.


    1. DriveThruRPG

    If you want to sell RPGs with a minimum of hassle, you probably will do it through a company like DriveThruRPG. They have a huge customer base who go there and poke around till they find games they want to buy in PDF format.

    So you need to set up a publisher account on DriveThruRPG. That takes like five minutes to set up, it turns out. Of course, then it took me hours and hours to set it up correctly.


    2. Business Name

    You can do what I did and just pick a name you like. I love the color viridian, so I picked Viridian Press. It turns out, lots of other companies (even game companies) have "Viridian" in their name. My lawyer (ahem, Steph) chided me for not doing research and insisted I change the name.

    So I changed it to Viridiand Games. With a D, because no one had that word in their company name. Turns out, that doesn't protect you from trademark infringement, either. My lawyer (ahem) told me to change it.

    Being the wonderful person she is, she also helped me brainstorm ideas for an hour, and I checked each possibility for conflicts and open domain names, and we finally settled on Verdigris Press. Turns out, no one really uses that name.

    Bought the domain name. Emailed the patient DTRPG guy, Chuck, and he changed my name (twice). Got a gmail account for it.


    3. Layout, Art, Editing, etc.

    I expect I will make very little money on my first product. That's okay! I'm learning stuff. But that means I cannot pay for help.

    My first product (The Knack Hack) was a DIY operation. I did all the writing, layout, and "art" myself. I'm a decent writer and editor, but editing your own stuff is a bad idea, but I'm good enough to get away with it. However, I also have wonderful friends like Miles and John who read and critiqued my first draft for free. I'll have to buy them beer or something.

    I did the layout myself in MS Word. I'm pretty clever with Word so I can handle two-column layouts and stuff. I think it looks pretty decent, though if I had to do it again, I'd increase the margins and widen up the line spacing. And my cover sucks, but it looks like the other "Black Hack" hacks in terms of trade dress. Public domain clip art. Good enough.


    4. PDF Generation

    MS Word doesn't generate the best PDFs. I'm hoping no one notices.

    I had to learn a trick to generate a cover with full bleed to the edges, without that annoying white print margin. I think I got the cover page numbered as page "i" and not page 1, so that the actual rules start with page 1, like DTRPG asks you to do. I'm pretty sure Word mangled the PDF metadata.

    Acrobat Pro DC would be better but it's $15/month and I won't make that much. Once I am making $15/month on my products, then I'll let myself buy it. Unless DTRPG yells at me before then.


    5. A Worthy and Practical Idea

    I have tons of ideas. I think most of them are great. They're worthy. I'd love to publish some of my City of Brass stuff, or my three Traveller RPG settings, or my Towerlands fantasy setting.
    But those ideas are big. They'll take a while to get something ready.

    The Knack Hack was one of those "huh, I have an idea" moments. I was reading The Black Hack and realized it had no skill system. Mind you, it's an OSR game ("rulings, not rules," "player skill, not character abilities") so it doesn't NEED a skill system. But I love skill systems and I had at least THREE ideas for how to add one to The Black Hack. So I wrote it up.

    Took like two hours.

    I could have published that, as is, but it wasn't great yet. As I started doing the layout in Word, I also ended up rewriting it and making it better. I thought it was pretty good, but then I let John and Miles read it, and they told me how to make it better. So I edited it one more time and that's the version out there on DTRPG.

    It's not perfect. I'll probably even put up a revision at some point. But it's done. It's out there. I published something.


    6. Approval

    So new publishers on DriveThruRPG have to go through an approval process. It takes 1-4 days. I put my initial PDF up on Tuesday, uploaded a new version a couple days later. It's Friday and I just got approval for both my publisher account and the product today.

    After a couple months and a couple products, they'll remove the manual approval step and let me put stuff up instantly.

    I also crave approval from gamers. I want people to buy my stuff and read it and like it and play it. Most of all play it.

    I realize that The Knack Hack probably isn't the product that most gamers need. I'm cool with that.


    Moving Forward

    I'm not stopping with The Knack Hack. I'll be working on D&D 5e stuff and Traveller stuff, for sure.

    I have overcome a half dozen barriers and now putting new stuff up for sale is only a matter of creating new content. I can write something, lay it out, and put it up -- a few days later (eventually, immediately), people can pay a dollar or two and download it.

    Some people will read it and file it away, maybe even delete it. I'm okay with that. But, hopefully, some folks will actually take my game stuff and PLAY IT.

    That's the coolest thing ever.
  • I didn't mean to publish The Knack Hack.

    3. Layout, Art, Editing, etc.

    I expect I will make very little money on my first product. That's okay! I'm learning stuff. But that means I cannot pay for help.

    My first product (The Knack Hack) was a DIY operation. I did all the writing, layout, and "art" myself. I'm a decent writer and editor, but editing your own stuff is a bad idea, but I'm good enough to get away with it. However, I also have wonderful friends like Miles and John who read and critiqued my first draft for free. I'll have to buy them beer or something.

    I did the layout myself in MS Word. I'm pretty clever with Word so I can handle two-column layouts and stuff. I think it looks pretty decent, though if I had to do it again, I'd increase the margins and widen up the line spacing. And my cover sucks, but it looks like the other "Black Hack" hacks in terms of trade dress. Public domain clip art. Good enough.

    4. PDF Generation

    MS Word doesn't generate the best PDFs. I'm hoping no one notices.

    5. A Worthy and Practical Idea

    I have tons of ideas. I think most of them are great. They're worthy. I'd love to publish some of my City of Brass stuff, or my three Traveller RPG settings, or my Towerlands fantasy setting.

    Welcome to the club!

    Though I WAS professionally published way back in the 1980's, this century it's been all about self publishing for me.

    That's the great thing about "Hack" products, they're easy to produce. The format means you're not held back by lack of art. (My real problem). And your cover looks fine.

    I threw together the first version of "The Super Hack" overnight just because I could. (My other stuff takes MUCH longer).

    I use MS word exclusively on a range of outlets and for a wide range of products and and no one's complained yet. I have had a few weird experiences - the first proof of TSH came back with pages upside down and in reverse order. But nothing that's made me feel I have to invest in upskilling to DTP packages.

    I use TBH and your product actually sounds interesting and useful. Most "Hack" stuff is very weak. I'll be taking a look.

    If you stick to small size - trade paperback - you don't need as much interior art and can get away with white space and decent layout/graphics. Hence the "Hack" books. But the poster boy for the format is classic Traveller. I don't think the first edition had ANY art but it looked so much more professional than the first D&D books whose art was execrable. And the cover style is well within your capabilities. (A red stripe goes a long way.) I'd go Traveller next if I were you.

    If you go beyond that, though, you next expense HAS to be covers. People buy books by their covers. When I produce a product the first thing I pay for is a decent cover. A good art package that lets you manipulate art to turn it into a cover, back cover, wraparound cover (for some printers) is also useful. Stock art is OK for inside the book but you need your cover.

    I've had to launch a Kickstarter to buy art for my next product. Wish me well.

    If you want to spread your profile, you can sell your books via (eg) Amazon. There are a couple of extra hoops (ISBN etc) but nothing hard. You only earn beans - other people in the chain make more from your books than you do - but it's good for the ego and the profile. (Just don't tell anyone that you're 567,212th on their best seller list. Doesn't sound good.) I use "Lulu" for this but if you're American you can use Amazon's own Createspace company. (I've never come across such a Xenophobic company. Never.)

    The Black Hack isn't on Amazon. The Super Hack is. I had to take the page count up by about 50% to meet the minimum requirements. I did this by taking a hint from The Cthulhu Hack and reformatting to single column. Then I added a few examples and explanations. Both of these go a bit against "The Hack" template but were worth it IMHO.

    So, well done. And don't stop now. Get that Traveller stuff sorted.

    Welcome to the club.
  • I've just looked.

    What? No print version?

    Go on. Try it. Push the boat out. It isn't THAT hard. And well worth it, if only for the moment when you hold your book in your hands for the first time.
  • This particular product is not likely to sell many in print. When I have a product that makes sense for that medium, I'll definitely do it.

    Good luck with TSH. It looks great!
  • I love the detail and thoughtfulness in your posts lately, Adam. Cool stuff!
  • I also crave approval from gamers. I want people to buy my stuff and read it and like it and play it. Most of all play it.

    I realize that The Knack Hack probably isn't the product that most gamers need. I'm cool with that.

    OOC, how much did your choice of pricing weigh in your thinking about this part?

    The only real reason I've ever been even tempted to publish was because of what you've just said. I want people to like stuff I come up with and use it in play!

    And it seems like putting a $ on the stuff sometimes encourages this.

    Yet, picking a price can also be weird.

    Apparently you can actually price something too low, and it seems to have the opposite effect.

    Does anyone know if there's some sort of sweet spot in pricing for smaller products, or stuff you're really interested in just sharing ( but where hopefully selling will act as a form of advertising)?
  • Does anyone know if there's some sort of sweet spot in pricing for smaller products, or stuff you're really interested in just sharing ( but where hopefully selling will act as a form of advertising)?
    My theory is that the "sweet spot", as you call it, is in putting the real thing out for free, while selling something with a high profile. People sometimes tap this dynamic by publishing e.g. an art-less version of their game for free, while selling a heavily prettied-up version.

    The idea in this strategy is, of course, that by having that sweetcake product available for a real price you convince people into thinking that it has value; when they encounter the free version, they're more likely to be interested, because they're already convinced that this is something with value. You get both the low entry threshold and the high perceived value this way.

    There's lots of ways to have both a free thing and a pricey thing on the market at the same time, of course. For example, you could publish a comic book for money while the game text is free, or vice versa.
  • edited March 2017
    I priced to maximize profit. I am also running a business here, or trying.

    People will pay $1 for what I wrote. It's priced similarly to other Black Hack supplements. The Black Hack itself is priced at just $2!

    I've sold 20 copies in about 48 hours. My costs are $0 to make the book, plus 35% of my gross to DriveThruRPG.

    I spent $10 on a "Facebook Boost" of my FB post stretched over 7 days, reaching potentially tens of thousands of U.S. men and women, aged 13-65, who list "role-playing games" or "Dungeons & Dragons" among their interests. I've reached 40 people so far, with a 10% click-through rate to my DriveThruRPG product page.

    Now that I've overcome a basic barrier of having published, everything is a little easier. I am trying to figure out my strategy going forward. I'd like to start a City of Brass product line (which needs a new name because there are at least two other RPG products out there with that name). City of Brass will support both miserable squatter gaming AND high adventure gaming, though not at the same time.

    I'll likely put together:

    * a "how to run miserable squatter games" book, with way better marketing than that
    * a setting guide for the City of Brass with bare-bones chargen info
    * race splat books for the cool, variant CoB races
    * a free City of Brass player's guide
    * short (non-squatter) adventures set in the City of Brass
    * cheap sets of "problems" for squatter games

    Probably for D&D 5e first. That's the sweet spot it was designed for. It would not be hard for me to release a Pathfinder version. I'll have to think about how to do an OSR version.
  • I love the detail and thoughtfulness in your posts lately, Adam. Cool stuff!
    Thank you! Are you reading Clinton Dreisbach's Prismatic Word Spray newsletter? He does a great job of talking about the thing, but then also talking about his feelings about the thing, and it's the personal touch that makes the difference. I've been emulating him in that, as much as I can.

  • Never heard of it, but, based on that pitch, I will go check it out!

    How does "high adventure gaming" work in City of Brass? On the surface, it sounds like it would... take the wind out of the premise.
  • City of Brass is both the setting and the tools I've designed to run a particular type of game (The Commune).

    High adventure gaming is possible in that setting, in the city itself. Does it take the sails out of the squatters premise? For sure. But can it be hella fun? You bet.

    I suspect that the Commune game doesn't work for the average gamer group playing games in the DM's basement. Or it works for 3-5 sessions and then the group slips back into traditional D&D play.

    The squatters premise probably only works over the long term for open table play, for which I designed it. In that environment, there's little continuity in terms of WHO is at the table, so everyone is always starting over at 1st level. No one ever accretes enough wealth to escape poverty.

    Even in my games at Dreamation, a bold group can steal their way out of poverty (though not without consequences that, if applied forcefully, will likely get characters killed).

    Also, "escape" is hard in the City of Brass, without the right traveling papers and stuff. Still, they could move into a cheap apartment in a better neighborhood with even a moderate haul from a good burglary run, and then it's no longer the Commune game.

    As a commercial product, I consider City of Brass a "campaign kickstarter" for 1st and 2nd level. The problems in the Commune can definitely grow with higher level characters, but those more powerful PCs will likely be able to stay out of poverty pretty easily. That means that the characters can continue to try to help Commune members in a sort of traditional D&D city game without being poor themselves.
  • "Keep the characters poor forever, no matter what they do" is NOT a core tenant of running the City of Brass.

    Certainly, don't let them get out of poverty easily. Every coin has to be earned.

    However, once they're no longer poor, let them enjoy their wealth and turn the game into something else. The techniques for problems and whatnot still work great as a kind of campaign framework. The layers of power in the City of Brass still work great as a structure for social consequence.
  • Gotcha!

    The rules of D&D mean that you can't really avoid this outcome, unless you kill off every character before they can level up...

    So it makes sense to plan for it, too.
  • Somehow, currently #17 on DriveThruRPG's "Most Popular Under $5" list.

  • I'm not stopping with The Knack Hack. I'll be working on D&D 5e stuff and Traveller stuff, for sure.
    Curious what sorts of Traveller stuff you envision?

    Frank

  • I attended TravellerCon the past few years and ran non-canon settings every time.

    I have a sort of not-too-far-future Nova Roma universe with a scenario that is a bit Apocalypse Now.

    I have a far future version of that universe with AIs sending travelers back in time to undo events (written before the Timeless tv series, I swear).

    I have a close-to-canon adventure called Merchants of Dennis involving the micromanagement of everything leading up to owning your own freighter.

    I'm tinkering with a new idea about playing noir cops enforcing law in a single star system. I realize there's a similar "stop the pirates" thing someone's doing right now, but this would be much different. More like The Expanse, for sure.
  • edited March 2017
    A few quick thoughts:

    - I am excited that Adam is putting his RPG work out there in consumable form!

    - I couldn't remember what verdigris is. At first I thought maybe it was whale vomit. Oops, nope, that's ambergris. So I looked it up. Greenish oxidation on copper or brass. Much cooler.

    - The Verdigris Press Facebook page doesn't mention Adam Dray in its About section! I initially didn't Like it, until I came here to check and confirm. Now I will.
  • I'll add my name on the FB page. I'm still getting business stuff set up, like a real business web landing page.

    I'm excited that other people are excited!
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