Mob United Media and Æternal Legends join IPR -- and Design/Dev Notes . . . (long)

Mob United Media has joined Indie Press Revolution to distribute and sell games.

Mob United Media is ENnie Award winning author Malcolm Sheppard's game design house, but it's not just about him; it features refined designs, owned by their creators. We're beginning our relationship with IPR selling Stew Wilson's game, Æternal Legends. IPR is the only place where you can get the game's PDF (available separately here) FREE when you purchase the print edition.

Here's the blurb:

Magic seethes beneath everyday affairs. Turn a ways, and wander into a Pocket Kingdom where witches and alchemists sell their wares right under the noses of a mundane population. But one person in 20 is Aware, part of the secret lands of magic. Of those, a special few are Legends: epic heroes who fight evil with strength, cunning and raw idealism.

Elf, dwarf, gnome and human Legends use the mystic Spheres to defend their beliefs. Their quests turn them into avatars of magic or send their swords against Da'ath, Lord of the Abyss. Idealism is more than just a buzzword—it's the source of magic. The old traditions of classic fantasy, from the Dark Lord to a hero's quests, burn with new life, bound to the Legend's spiritual journey. Every Legend has a path to enlightenment—and glory. His beliefs (in the form of actual game traits) give him power, whether he honors or betrays them. He moves through secret, strange lands in a modern supernatural setting whose protagonists don't skulk in alleys, but rule entire cities and Ministries of mystic power.

Æternal Legends is a 158 page, complete modern-era RPG. Two or more players need nothing more than a handful of six-sided dice, pencils and paper to play. Combat's quick, but doesn't sacrifice tactical choices for ease of use. Freeform magic and simple spells combine into one flexible, quickly resolved sorcery system. Your character's supernatural Clade combines with her archetypal Spheres to grant distinct superhuman abilities. The game's Ready 2 Run system emphasizes fast character creation, detailed action and enough discretionary "wiggle room" to suit a wide range of campaigns.

Created, written and designed (and importantly, owned) by Stewart Wilson. Core system design and development by Malcolm Sheppard.


There are *lots* of previews, here.

Comments

  • Now, getting past the blurb for a second, I'd like to talk about where the game comes from. The Ready 2 Run system that's the core of the game is about three years old. I originally developed it for my personal games. I wanted a game where:

    * I could make pregens very, very fast.

    * It would take very little time to describe how the system works. In its current build (the 4th since I started working with it), I've found that the only unusual feature for most people is the injury system, which is derived from spending a long time designing around limited health levels/boxes for my own games and professionally.

    * I could have cool action scenes with some crunchy tactics, but not in a way that restricts descriptions. One of R2R's features is that *you* build your actions and attach the label you want instead of being fed a list.

    * (Later) Powerful tools for scaling from the smallest to the biggest things around. This isn't a feature in Æternal Legends -- well, it's more accurate to say that the game doesn't need it because there aren't any massive starships or anything. That'll be in the *next* creator-owned game to use the system, Chris Challice's KotHS. When you see that aspect, it should plug into Æternal Legends easily, if you need it for some reason.

    It's been through extensive personal playtesting and has also been run by two other groups, and seems to fit the bill. Stew came into the picture because I've know him for a while and he submitted an earlier version of Æternal Legends for the first build of the system. I liked it a lot, so when I started publishing games I contacted him and asked him to do a polished version of the thing. It's his world, my core system, and his themes, my development. A lot of my work with Stew involved identifying intriguing and fun things and asking for more, as well as keeping him focused on the objectives he laid out for himself.

    What were those objectives? We've both done WoD work and know where the structure does good work . . . and where the cliches are particularly heavy. Between the original outline, design and development, the game coalesced into something with these aims:

    * Traditional fantasy in the modern world. We wanted elves, dwarves and magic swords. We wanted the challenge of *making* these cool through our own efforts, instead of just lettin the motifs do the heavy lifting. In the game, we don't go, "So here are some elves." They get full splat-style treatment just as if they're the new Clan/Tribe/Kith/Whatever you're seeing for the first time. Instead of revisionism for the sake of revisionism, we asked what we could uncover by *celebrating* what these things mean.

    * Similarly, we wanted to introduce a certain degree of innocence and idealism. We decided that the kinds of guys we've written about before, the supernatural politicos compromising with their morals, would be the *bad* guys. That's why Stew added Beliefs and why they're where magic comes from, not in the Mage-paradigm sense, but in the right-and-wrong sense. After that, the basic conflicts in the game fell into place and gave us a way to reexamine traditional fantasy heroics as something with moral and (in the setting) cosmic import, in a sort of, "When you meet the Buddha on the road, he sends you to fight a dragon," way. Character classes were subsumed into the quasi-Kaballistic Spheres, where the characters explore the faces of heroism on the way up to Lord Da'ath.

    * Finally, we wanted to just admit that the secret-supernatural convention is a ruse, not a simulation. It's a way to have shotgun and sword coolness. We wanted the scope you see in Harry Potter instead of warehouses and penthouse suites. We wanted streets where gnomes sell songs that clean you car. We wanted tax forms for dungeon loot. We wanted you to be able to meet a wizard in a bar to send you on a quest and have it make perfect sense because you're a hero, there are wizards and everybody bloody well knows it. I art-directed a picture for the game that featured a sorcerer giving a kid the power to fly as something representative of everyday wonders -- of a society of wonders.

    What we didn't do was aim to be different for the sake of being different. We wanted to find distinctive, fun things in the stuff people have passed over in 30+ years of fantasy gaming. And the funny thing? We did find some things that ended up being kind of different, organically. I think this RPGNet post is a good third party description, especially the last bit.
  • I've only really had a chance to flip through the PDF in the course of getting the products set up on IPR, but it looked pretty fun at first blush. And as a fan of AGON, I'm pleased to see another wide/landscape formatted book. I wish I could comment more on the system and the text (what you describe of it here sounds pretty interesting) but I haven't had the time to give it that kind of a look yet. The few copies you sent seem to be selling pretty briskly, though!
  • Posted By: iagoI've only really had a chance to flip through the PDF in the course of getting the products set up on IPR, but it looked pretty fun at first blush. And as a fan of AGON, I'm pleased to see another wide/landscape formatted book. I wish I could comment more on the system and the text (what you describe of it here sounds pretty interesting) but I haven't had the time to give it that kind of a look yet. The few copies you sent seem to be selling pretty briskly, though!
    I think it's an amazing format. It just feels good in your hands. Hats off for John Harper for using it and showing how well it works.
  • Congrats Malcolm, I saw this and thought: "Hey, that's a smart match."
  • Heya Malcolm:

    Can you talk a bit about your role as publisher compared to Stew's role as author? How did you divvy up the publishing process?
  • (God damn; giant post was eaten. Starting again . . .)

    I developed the Ready 2 Run system as the result of a evolutionary process that started with the need for a system for an episodic SF cycle. Parts were ripped from unpublished Mage material that was rejected for altering the system too radically (the current version doesn't resemble it much) and other elements can claim a memetic inheritance from concepts found in Over the Edge, Exalted and BESM/Tristat. I've already discussed what it's optimized for elsewhere.

    I threw version 1 up on my LJ. Stew wrote a fantasy game riffing on it. Time passed, I started a company and I asked him if he'd like to flesh it out. This was going to supplement a R2R core but midway through I decided against that; the core that was briefly up for sale was too primitive and featured elements that didn't apply to his game.

    Stew fleshed out his vision on the scaffold I provided, inventing entirely new systems to support the spirit and play style of the game. This included Ethos and Beliefs, Spheres, Clades, the magic system and even nice touches like the chase rules. But system aside, he described the world and premise with the competence I knew he had. I edited and developed this material, integrating it into the core rules to make a complete game while redlining for style, game considerations and things in the draft I thought were so cool they needed to be expanded. We went back and forth with this. I performed a final edit and did a little bit of supplementary writing, then sent it to him for approval.

    If you want a sense of how redlining works, ask Eric Boyd, since I did a quick and dirty version of it for him on the Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries. With Stew I was much more detailed and focused, since I knew he had a sense of how the process worked via his freelancing experience. One big difference between that and this, however, is that with AEL, Stew had the final say on the conceptual aspects of the book, whereas for contracted material, it would be the developer. I suppose I could have not published if I didn't agree, but that was never in the cards. My development role is a positive one; I want to see what people are doing that's cool and make it even cooler.

    Incidentally, in case it isn't clear, Stew owns his work on this game. It isn't work for hire.

    Meanwhile, I hired Leo Lingas (cover) and Chris Huth (interior + design) to provide a good looking visual element to the book. (You should hire them both, BTW.) I art directed the book with a fair degree of detail without (I hope) stifling their creativity and sketched some prototype elements (runes, cover composition). Duties bled into each other a bit. Chris caught some important editing issues and I helped him through some technical parts of the layout -- and provided emotional support when it wouldn't rip properly. To put not too find a point on it, I ponied up the dough. Unfortunately, the last bit of tech angst prevented the game Expo premiere I wanted, but in the end, we got it done.
  • So Malcolm, just to be clear... Technically the only control over the product was whether you chose to publish it or not, right? All changes, edits, alterations and new directions for the game were placed entirely in Stew's hands?

    ----------------------

    From the point at which it was "finished", did you handle printing and publishing? How does that mesh with creator controlled? Did Stew have a say in how big print runs were, whether IPR carried it, etc? Did he care?
  • Posted By: joepubSo Malcolm, just to be clear... Technically the only control over the product was whether you chose to publish it or not, right? All changes, edits, alterations and new directions for the game were placed entirely in Stew's hands?

    ----------------------

    From the point at which it was "finished", did you handle printing and publishing? How does that mesh with creator controlled? Did Stew have a say in how big print runs were, whether IPR carried it, etc? Did he care?
    1) Stew had final approval for the whole text, yes. After I made any proactive additions/changes I sent the draft to him. There was *one* and only *one* exception to this, in the form of late-breaking playtest feedback that I felt needed to be inserted that totaled one paragraph. Even then he got notice, and if he'd objected, I would have acquiesced, though it would have been difficult given that the rule (how Defence worked) *really* needed changing.

    2) I discussed the plan with Stew early on, long before I contacted IPR. He's been in the loop for it all. As we print through Lulu, runs depend on demand, though I may plan a specific run depending on events we have coming up. Additionally, we have a specific setup enabling Stew to sell the game independent of my efforts.

    Currently, you can buy the game through these avenues:

    1) Order from IPR (Print + PDF for free or PDF)
    2) Order from Lulu (Print or PDF)
    3) Order from RPGNow/OBS (PDF)
    4) Order directly from Stew (Print)

    While I can't discuss specifics (It's Stew's business whether or not he wants to say), both of us make money from all of these avenues.

    When it came to the look and format I did have the final say because, well . . . I paid for it. It's also important to consider that Leo and Chris are creator-owners too; I didn't but their art whole hog. The system, a bit of the writing and some graphics I personally designed are mine; everything else belongs to the people to made it.

    That said, there's no way I would come up with anything Stew *didn't* want.
  • "When it came to the look and format I did have the final say because, well . . . I paid for it."

    This is a bit of a tricky sentence for me to digest, because the easy boundaries of "creator-owned" seem to crumble a bit here for me.

    It seems like you're defining Stew's work as creator-owned, and referring to the TEXT. His writing is his property (makes sense). I have it in my head that a creator-owned game means that the creator owns all creative decisions over the END PRODUCT, including look and format.


    While I realize you and Stew were both in this in the spirit of mutualism and support and making decisions both of you were supportive of, I do want to get your opinion on some of these semantics issues. Is the actual physical product owned by Stew? Is only his text and contributions owned by him?

    Do you own the look?


    Do these questions and divisions make sense?
  • Posted By: joepub"When it came to the look and format I did have the final say because, well . . . I paid for it."

    This is a bit of a tricky sentence for me to digest, because the easy boundaries of "creator-owned" seem to crumble a bit here for me.
    It seems like you're defining Stew's work as creator-owned, and referring to the TEXT. His writing is his property (makes sense). I have it in my head that a creator-owned game means that the creator owns all creative decisions over the END PRODUCT, including look and format.

    I'm not using the Forge definition of Indie. The Forge construction of Indie is not the same as creator ownership. Stew owns his text; Chris and Leo own their art. Stew doesn't pretend to be an artist and Leo didn't write any of the game.

    I really don't like the conceit that all contributors are merely instruments of the creator-owner, to the point where they can even hire out game design (see the Heroquest debacle), along with every other significant part of the product and keep that status simply by virtue of having coin in pocket and a checklist of objectives. I suppose I could have gone that route, but I don't like it. Nobody is an instrument of anybody else. Their creative work comes together to make a final result. I facilitate that by suggesting directions I believe will be useful so they come together to make something amazing, and putting down the money when it works.

    If those visions were incompatible, then it just wouldn't get made. I have no interest in putting out anything that contradicts Stew's creative direction. If Leo or Chris couldn't stand behind what they did, I wouldn't use their art. They'd keep their fees and we'd move on.
    While I realize you and Stew were both in this in the spirit of mutualism and support and making decisions both of you were supportive of, I do want to get your opinion on some of these semantics issues. Is the actual physical product owned by Stew? Is only his text and contributions owned by him?

    Do you own the look?
    Stew owns his text and the Aeternal Legends name and concept. He's free to explore other iterations of it, though I do have certain contractual rights. Leo and Chris own their art with the exception of the runes I personally designed. Again, I have certain rights to use their art. I'm not sure what you mean by "The Look."
    Do these questions and divisions make sense?
    I'm not sure. The process we used comes from our collective experience working on games and related projects and not something declared by a school of design. Instead of thinking of that, think of creator ownership in other media -- Dark Horse and Vertigo, for instance.
  • Excuse possible rambling, please. I should be in bed.
    Posted By: joepubDo these questions and divisions make sense?
    The divisions don't make sense to me. Bear in mind that I deliberately avoid Forge-grade specified terminology, because I honestly think that too much effort is spent in semantic wrangling over that terminology.

    I look at Transmetropolitan and I look at Powers, and I see creator-owned comics. I look at Aeternal Legends and see a creator-owned game. I really don't see the difference (save, obviously, that AEL isn't a comic book — I'm not that dumb ;)). It's not like Malcolm could get someone else in to write an Aeternal Legends sourcebook without my say so, much as Marvel couldn't get someone in to write an issue of Powers without Brian Bendis and Mike Oeming's say-so. The world is under my control, and all the creators own what they did. I don't own Malcolm's words just like I don't own Leo's art. That just doesn't make sense to me on an instinctive level.

    I don't own all aspects of the game because I'm not the only creator. I own the world, because I'm the creator there. If Wizards came knocking and asked me to revamp Aeternal Legends as a setting for 4E, then (assuming the cash was right) I'd be able to. But I couldn't take the art, because I don't own it.

    If I had to own everything in order to identify as a creator-owner then surely I could pay someone to write everything, pay someone else for their world, pay someone for the art, pay someone for publishing, et cetera, and then claim that I was creator-owner of a roleplaying game when all I pitched was the title and a two-paragraph high-concept. That's not a definition I'm at all comfortable with.
  • If I had to own everything in order to identify as a creator-owner then surely I could pay someone to write everything, pay someone else for their world, pay someone for the art, pay someone for publishing, et cetera, and then claim that I was creator-owner of a roleplaying game when all I pitched was the title and a two-paragraph high-concept. That's not a definition I'm at all comfortable with.
    Stew, agreed. I think that definitions of indie/creator-owned where the writer owns comissioned artwork or comissioned fiction is a bit... false.
    I really don't like the conceit that all contributors are merely instruments of the creator-owner, to the point where they can even hire out game design (see the Heroquest debacle), along with every other significant part of the product and keep that status simply by virtue of having coin in pocket and a checklist of objectives. I suppose I could have gone that route, but I don't like it. Nobody is an instrument of anybody else. Their creative work comes together to make a final result. I facilitate that by suggesting directions I believe will be useful so they come together to make something amazing, and putting down the money when it works.
    Malcolm, agreed about the instrument bit.
    I'm not sure what you mean by "The Look."
    I was actually referencing what you said, "When it came to the look and format I did have the final say because, well . . . I paid for it."
    I don't exactly know what you meant by the look, either. I'm assuming the form factor and layout and graphic design elements, but I'm not sure.

    I guess my question traces back to my initial puzzlement. Here it is, basically:

    You wrote, in the pitch: "Created, written and designed (and importantly, owned) by Stewart Wilson. Core system design and development by Malcolm Sheppard."
    And my question was whether Stewart owned the end product (Aeternal Legends, the book) as well as the end design (Aeternal Legends, the game).

    I was curious because this is the first time I'd seen a situation like yours - where Stew was owning his work and yet another person was publishing it. I was wondering how "creator-owned" was preserved, even though someone other than the creator was publishing it.

    The answer I seem to have gotten is that Stewart owns the game, but not the physical product. When I'm holding the physical product in my hands, it's actually a composite of several people's owned material. The art is Leo's and Chris's (mostly). The words are Stewarts. Who owns the graphic design/layout/physical product? Is that you, Malcolm?
  • The answer I seem to have gotten is that Stewart owns the game, but not the physical product. When I'm holding the physical product in my hands, it's actually a composite of several people's owned material. The art is Leo's and Chris's (mostly). The words are Stewarts. Who owns the graphic design/layout/physical product? Is that you, Malcolm?
    As I/MUM am the entity that contracted and paid for it all, so I own it -- but my rights are limited by the terms of the agreements I have with other parties. I can't be more clear about it because at that point, it gets into contract specifics, which really aren't up for public discussion. Suffice to say that when you buy it, Stew gets paid as well. I own it it much the same way that Neil Gaiman's publisher owns Coraline.
  • Cool. Thanks, Malcolm!

    Is there going to be a standard set-up for how contracts and publishing will work for all MUM games, or will it be wildly different for each title, based on the authors and creators?


    Note: Re-reading that sentence it sounds like there's a judgment or prejudice there, but I want to assure you there isn't. Just curiousity.
  • It depends on the arrangement. KotHS is built on a very tight creator partnership (other than me) so it will be different, but at this point I have no plans for original concepts that are work for hire.
  • Posted By: joepubIt seems like you're defining Stew's work as creator-owned, and referring to the TEXT. His writing is his property (makes sense). I have it in my head that a creator-owned game means that the creator owns all creative decisions over the END PRODUCT, including look and format.
    That's not how I see it at all -- I'm more on Malcolm's end of the perspective. But there are no clear dividing-lines between his and yours -- it's a continuum, and I think creator ownership could be asserted throughout it (and beyond -- the only purely creator-owned game possible is the one where the creator is also an artist and owns the printing machinery to produce the physical artifact; Kevin Allen Jr's work on Primitive shows it can be done).

    Malcolm's setup sounds at least a little similar to Evil Hat's future intents, where we'll be publishing Chad Underkoffler's Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies and Dan Solis' Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. In each case the authors will be retaining ownership of the intellectual property they're creating -- which is at least the text and in Dan's case very likely the layout, etc. Contractually EHP is leasing the right to publish the material from these guys -- they're the ones holding the cards, there, and that sounds like creator ownership and creator control to me. But in the end, this whole "ownership" thing may be a little too binary of a concept -- X owns Y, and thus Z does not own Y -- when collaboration is really what's going on.

    In my experience -- keeping in mind Spirit of the Century was a collaborative effort -- collaboration blurs things sufficiently that it's hard to say who owns what individually, but very easy to say that collectively the end product is owned by those who created it.

    Not worth getting upset over, any way you look at it. Dudes are being looked out for.
  • Good way of putting it. Aeternal Legends represents what I want to do with MUM. It took time to get here because I wanted it to be a good *business* decision that *also* fits with my beliefs about the primacy of creators' rights, ways to improve work and establishing fair options (reasonable pay, etc.). I want to help bring out great efforts in creators.

    IPR has been a fantastic decision, by the way. After some problems getting reviewers to follow through (I have a glowing review in front of me whose author never sent it out . . . *sigh*) and last minute emergencies around release, IPR has been a real shot in the arm for us.
  • Oh yeah, take a gander at the artists:

    Leo Lingas on Deviantart

    Chris Huth on Deviantart

    Some of the game's LJ entries feature Chis' art -- Leo did the cover. They're both worth your business
  • Leo's great in every way. He donated the cover for the Story Games Name Project and we were lucky to have him.
  • Leo sucks, he totally killed my Dragonblooded in one action last time we played Exalted.

    But he's an awesome artist and an awesome guy.

    He also has had nothing but positive things to say about working with Mob United, and has shown a lot of respect for the way Malcolm handled his contracts and work. So, I can't speak for the author, but the artist that I know felt that his rights and respect as a creator were fully acknowledge, protected, and respected.
  • Glad to hear that secondhand. I was pretty demanding with Leo about how Lydia be posed on the cover. I think we went through four versions of that illustration to get the body mechanics *juuuuust* right. At one point this involved me actually taking the pose myself, which made me very glad were were communicating via email then:-)
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