November 22, 2022 monsters theory wolves

Limited Monsters

At the outset of Wolves, I made the decision to limit myself to only using recurring monsters from Volume 2: Monsters &. Whilst there are the occasional unique creatures, the vast majority of monsters are taken from it.

For those not familiar, V2M& is a rewrite of a select few monsters from OD&D Volume 2: Monsters & Magic - a selection of which can be read using the MMM tag on this blog.

This restriction has added to to the cohesive feeling of Wolves - rather than being able to simply invent creatures, or select a novel one from a larger collection, the use and re-use required me to think deeply about each type of creature. The differences in each instance stem from the situation they are in - these situations being an outcropping of both the setting and the implied history and nature of each creature specifically. Furthermore, the placement of such beings across the world adds to their context, something visible as the writer, as the GM and as the player over recurring encounters. Whilst this method requires more thought in placement and presentation, I think limiting your palette of monsters can have a very positive effect. It’s too easy to have a fantasy game feel like a (more) fucked-up safari when each encounter is with a new creature entirely - and requiring less thought and care than having the unique situation be the interesting element in any given encounter. The world feels richer, each denizen worth investigating and understanding when they are not one in another chain of one-offs’ - and those rarer, unique creatures stand out all the more for bucking the trend.

This deepening effect helps combat the presentation of the inhuman as fair game’ - an empty Other, valid targets for all viciousness to be visited upon. The root of many monsters in V2M& being humans transformed by their own actions also helps with this - and this effect extends to those creatures which are not human in root, whether that be to underline that they have their own existence and motivations or to make their total inhumanity even more startling and uncomfortable.

In future, when developing a campaign setting, consider doing so Monster First’ - and being very deliberate about using something from outside your initial list.

September 29, 2022

Mentorship Applications Open

APPLICATIONS NOW CLOSED

I am now open to submissions for round 4 of the mentorship scheme I’ve been running. This is done free of charge to give back to the wider TTRPG scene.

As outlined here, the mentorship consists of regular calls to discuss techniques as well as taking a critical look at other works in the TTRPG space.

The mentorship prioritises marginalised people, although everyone is welcome to apply.

Those who have applied for previous rounds, I ask you apply again due to the slightly different format.

Scope

I am working with writers to develop adventures and sourcebooks for use with games. I am focused on helping you take a set of ideas and developing that out into a first draft - both in terms of generating quality ideas, but also techniques to help with the writing process. Manuscripts in the early stages of writing are also considered, although projects which have already had a round of crowd-funding are not eligible.

I also help with finding resources for self-publishing, or for finding a publisher. Engagements last for a variable amount of time, although there will be regular check-ins to ensure we’re making good progress and that the mentorship is still right for all parties.

If wanted, all communications can be held with a third party present - just indicate this during the application process.

Applying

To apply, please send an email to .

In the subject line, please put your [Your Name] - Mentorship Application”

In the body, please introduce yourself with any links to prior work (not required, just useful to have). If you consider yourself marginalised, please mention this here (no details are required).

Then provide a pitch of your project as well as a summary of where you are with it.

Finally, if you have any thoughts around self-publishing or being published, that would be useful to know.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for considering applying.

September 13, 2022

Journey to the Underelves

On Wednesday lunchtimes I’ve been running an hour-long session of OD&D megadungeon exploration known as Snackrifice. The game has been running for 23 sessions. This is some small prep.

From their outpost to the south of the Goblin Caverns (2 days by foot, as per the back-tattoo map), the city of Tanoij is 3 days downriver.

At the outpost the Underelves sell some boats to travel:

  • A huge bone formed into a dugout canoe. 500gp.
  • A shimmering, iridescent metal longship. 1000gp.
  • Twelve hollowed-out mushroom heads, roped together. 150gp.

Per 12 hour watch, there is a 2-in-6 chance of a river encounter.

1d8 Encounter
1 d4 Raider craft, each with 2d6 Crew.
2 d8*100 Bats.
3 1d4 Slimy Pike.
4 Flesh Pyramid.
5 2d4 Pink River Dolphins.
6 2d4 Giant Water Spiders.
7 Underelf River Galley.
8 Gra-Ool the White Crocodile.

Raiders

Raiders are 1HD elves wearing light armour, using bows and hatchets. If they have Surprise, they have replaced their eyes with those of Stalkerbugs, able to prowl the riverways without needing light.

2-4 Crew vessels are chains of mushroom-coracles. They mostly want a new boat.
5-8 Crew vessels are rafts of immense, hollowed out shell - crustacean or arthropod. They are after wealth.
10+ Crew vessels are Underelf galleys with a ramming prow. They seek victims for sacrifice or sustenance in their cannibal colonies.

Bats

A flurry of disturbed bats has a 10% chance of extinguishing naked flames per 100 bats. In the resultant darkness, all must Save vs Petrification to avoid falling into the black waters.

Slimy Pike

HD 5 / AC as Chain / Fires spines which cause a Save vs Poison - those failing are subject to horrific muscle cramps, acting only every other turn and drowning in falling into the water.

Flesh Pyramid

HD 20 / AC as Unarmoured / No Attack

From the depths a pyramid of flesh, mind-consumed victims clinging to the rough-textured form, suckling at loathsome tubes for air. Some 30’ tall, it attempts to psionically consume the mind of all nearby. Per Round, all witnessing the Pyramid must Save vs Spells - those failing losing 1 Wisdom. Any reaching 0 are hollowed out and bound to its will.

It has 3d12 current victims, all of whom are 1HD creatures with unarmoured AC. They carry ropes of corded fishgut. The Flesh Pyramid moves slowly, but the victims swim like Olympians, their bones and muscles audibly complaining.

Pink River Dolphins

Pink river dolphin. I hate them so much.
HD3 / AC as Leather
Attempt to grab and drown any near the edge of the boat. Failing this, knock against the edge to either capsize or to incur another encounter. Laugh like children.

Giant Water Spiders

HD 4+4 / AC as Leather+Shield

Giant spiders that walk across the surface of the water. Thankfully, they are not venomous. Unfortunately, they do spin webs across the width of the undeground river to ensnare prey. Victims of the web are ensnared for 8 rounds, reduced by 1 for each point of Strength over 10.

Underelf River Galley

Underelf River Galleys from Tanoij are crewed by 24 1+1HD Underelves wearing their Beetle Plate armour with full-face mandible-masks and conical helms. They wield pole arms and bows. Hostile reaction indicates intention to board and inspect for any illegal products being smuggled to/from Tanoij.

Gra-Ool, the White Crocodile

HD 10 / AC as Plate / 2d6 Damage

An immense white crocodile, burdened with trinkets of stone and gold. Accompanied by 23 Kobolds who worship him as a god and ride upon his back, clad in his shed scales and wielding his cracked teeth. They are not wrong, although he is a petty god indeed. Hunger and malice rule a brain which saw the stars fall and empires crumble. Sacrifice forgoes consumption entire - but bickering as to who is the offering enrages him.

September 7, 2022 gods-pocket scifi

Dagda System

A large snippet from a forthcoming project.

Overview

Chaos reigns in the Dagda system. Heavy industries poisoned the atmosphere of Eriu, leading to a mass migration to its own moon, Airgetlam. This moon is far too small for refugee population, and many live in orbital structures under claustrophobic conditions. The Orbital Commission attempts to retain control over an exploding population, shipping malcontents to penal mines on the edge of the system and without overstepping their control and finding themselves ousted by the sheer weight of the population.

In the outer cold of space, a small democratic colony on Dian tries to build an alternative way of life despite the airless, waterless rock they live upon. They find themselves an unofficial colony of the OC, held captive by their dependence on outside food. A religious sect similarly dwells on Tuireadh, offering sanctuary to those able to escape the penal mines. The OC is not equipped to crack their fortified home, and so bides their time.

Archlight in System

When the Archlight is in system, their cargo-lighters buzz between Eriu and Airgetlam, collecting high-tech salvage and raw materials required to keep the ship running. Huge crowds gather just to catch a glimpse of the Wheelsmen, proffering out their children to be taken aboard. Those in the Academy assemble and present themselves, their families gathering in hope that their sons are picked to serve. Such a ceremony is a wedding and a funeral - a dedication for life, and a guarantee they will never see their child again. The families are given medals representing their sacrifice - the most illustrious have walls of glittering markers, each with a name stamped on the burnished metal.

Eriu

6000mi - Dense, Tainted Atmosphere - 20% Water Coverage - Pop 3452
Eriu, once the capital of Dagda, is now under the stewardship of the Eriu Salvage and Reclamation Corporation, a major power in Dagda politics. Employment with the ESRC is coveted despite the predatory practices and debt accrued in training and transport to Eriu. The managers and administrators live in the single spaceport, Greengate, whilst the workers dwell on-planet. The Salvagers live in mobile bases supporting teams of 20, spread across the planet and paid per ton of useful salvage. The Farmers tend to huge estates growing monocultures of GM crops, worked by multiple generations. These crops contribute to the terrible health of Airgetlam Orbital dwellers, as the plants absorb contaminants from the poisoned air.

Both the Farmers and the Salvagers are indebted to the ESRC, their pay mostly covering the interest. The monopoly of the ESRC Company Catalog - where all tools and luxuries should be purchased - is alleviated by the active smuggling operations on-planet, the wages of many administrators nearly doubled for their ignorance. Many of these smugglers operate bases in the picked-clean ruins, hiding from the Orbital Commission.

Greengate

Once a true starport, able to service the interstellar ships active in the Pocket, Greengate has been gutted and re-purposed to service the heavy haulers transporting goods to Airgetlam. It houses around 500 administrative staff and 250 technical staff dedicated to maintaining the station and any ships using it. Non ESRC ships can be serviced, albeit at eye-watering mark-ups. Access to the planet, outside of tightly-controlled tourist trips, requires the bribery of an official who offers a 30 minute window to enter the atmosphere.

Phuntsok Gonpo,a Wheelsman Broker is stationed here, wearing the traditional all-black uniform. They watch the technical staff closely for potential Wheelsmen, although they entirely ignore those on the planet as unsuitable.

Ivan Boysen heads up the security force on station - and therefore over the entire planet. His small cadre of 50 marines, 4 orbital fighters and 2 troop transports are woefully insufficient. Even more corrupt than most of the ESRC, none of his security service see any action beyond breaking up drunken brawls - when they aren’t starting them.

Salvage Team 897b - Drop Dead Crew”

Set up within a standard tracked-type Mobile Operations Centre, the Drop Dead Crew are typical Salvagers - stressed, underpaid and with a terrible track record for accidents owing to poor-quality equipment. They are currently stationed by a beach, using pocket-submarines to lift sunken wrecks. Apollonia Sweetness’ Elia, the forewoman, checks and re-checks the pocket submarines - she has lost crew to them before. If they succeed in lifting the current wreck, they will find its hold full of gold bullion - enough for them all to retire, if they can get it off-planet and avoid ESRC scrutiny. If they turned it in, the finders-fee would be about a month’s paycheck.

Alexandru Curly’ Stratan has been scanning the horizon - he knows they are close to a particularly secretive smuggler base, belonging to the Lyon gang. Within the ruined hulk of a hospital, they operate an illegal medical facility and drug-lab. There are 20 members present, their ship currently off-world shipping supplies to the Penal Mines. If they become suspicious, they will attempt intimidation. If that doesn’t work, they are not above killing the crew and staging an industrial accident, destroying all evidence.

Beck Ranch

Five generations of Becks have lived and died on this nutrient-poor soil. Shambling nu-cows strip the earth, whilst the Sandwheat fields sway in the winds. For four of these generations, they have feuded with the Kallu family - Old Man Beck raided their farm when a blight wiped out his own fields and the ESRC threatened termination if quotas were not met.

Felix Beck, the youngest of the family, watches the estate through a high-powered scope attached to a rifle handed down the generations. The labouring families, their names absent from the ranch or the share-listings, toil down below. Theodore Clarkson deals with the passing Salvagers for scrap to keep their machines running and often thinks about joining them off-books - he wouldn’t be the first.

Mallick Hideout

The remains of an orbital-missile silo now house the Bajrapāta, a reconfigured mining ship and now the pride and joy of the Mallick family. They run a smuggling operation but also use their hideout as a safehouse for those fleeing the Orbital Commission. Bansi Mallick runs the family, lavishing his cousins with gifts.

Currently, Harm Dokter is hiding out here. An unlicensed zero-g welder, he is wanted for manslaughter - a botched weld venting a third of an orbital habitat. The administrator of the habitat is not being prosecuted, despite choosing to hire unlicensed staff. Harm has no long-term plan, and his money is running short. He can afford to stay here three more weeks. The Mallicks won’t return him, but will turn him loose on Eriu.

Eriu Generators

Salvager Teams have 1d6+15 members at any given time.

d6 Location Situation Complication
1 Ruined City Dire - injuries, mutiny, catastrophic equipment failure. Friction with nearby Smugglers.
2 Poisoned Forest Bad - low morale, poor returns, equipment breakdown. Mutant wildlife need dealing with.
3 Industrial Run-off Bog Poor - hard working conditions and many shifts left before R&R. Imminent inspection by management.
4 Sludge-locked Ocean Middling - recent good fortune breaks the monotony. Newest member of the team is a Union Representative.
5 Ashen Deserts Good - Success without setbacks, unbroken string of good luck. The team has information on a huge haul - in the middle of a nearby Farm.
6 Lifeless Waste Unusual - Something outside the normal scope of Salvager life. Member of team is an OCIA agent.

Farms have 5d20 resident workers run by a core family of 3d6.

d6 Farm Detail Situation Complication
1 Nu-Cow Ranch. Dire - injuries, mutiny, catastrophic equipment failure. Feud with nearby Farm.
2 Erian Rice Paddies. Bad - low morale, poor returns, equipment breakdowns. Unionisation talks amongst the resident workers.
3 Heritage’ farm under a glass dome. Poor - hard working conditions and widespread disenfranchisement. Inheritor to the Farm wants nothing to do with it.
4 Box-Chickens & F-Corn. Middling - no major incidents to complain of. Imminent inspection by Management.
5 Insect Farm Good - set to have a bountiful harvest. Issues with mutant wildlife damaging crops.
6 0-G Fungus Nursery Unusual - something outside the normal scope of Farm life. Being extorted by smugglers who are paying off management.

Smuggler Groups operate in groups of 4d6, and have access to 1d6-4 (min 1) craft. There is a 30% chance the craft is off-world, leaving only d6 Smugglers at base. There are 1d6 - 1d6 people using their base as a hideout.

d6 Location Situation Complication
1 Dying thicket of trees, filled with parasitic vines. Dire - internal pressure rupturing into violence, OPK/OCIA pressure. Member of the gang has turned informant to protect their family.
2 Disused orbital defence missile silo. Bad - lack of work, recent shipment seized, money lost on speculative venture. Highly dangerous/volatile shipment.
3 Subterranean transit system in a dead city. Middling - a life of pressure outside the law is always a balancing act. Those in the safe-house are planning a violent take-over.
4 A vehicle-graveyard, arranged by Salvagers. Middling - a life of freedom penned in by the powers that be. One of the gang has fallen for a member of the local Farmer family.
5 Within a Farm, at great expense. Good - recent successes and savvy bribes. Nearby Salvagers with a reputation for incorruptibility threaten their hideout.
6 Torn-apart mountains, wounded by mines. Unusual - something outside the normal (wide) scope of Smuggler life. Their ship has broken down, and spare parts must be stolen from Salvagers, orbit or other Smugglers.
d6 Unusual Situations
1 A novel disease lingers within the group, manifesting as suspicion and terror eventually causing death by heart failure.
2 The group is being converted to the creed of Teacher Entjes.
3 The entire group is an OPK/OCIA plant, here to keep an eye on the planet.
4 The group is dying from the poisoned environment - all are too weak to do anything about it.
5 The group has found a motherlode - enough for them all to retire, if they can get it off-planet.
6 The group pool all their wealth and equipment for a break-out attempt on a Penal Mine ship holding a relative.

Airgetlam

2000mi - Thin Atmosphere - 20% Water Coverage - Pop 567 million
This moon is barely visible through a cloud of orbital habitats, each strained and cramped. Millions are packed into windowless spheres, living and dying in aluminium corridors. On the surface, the estates of the rich extend and crowd out prime agricultural land. All of this is nominally under the control of the Orbital Commission - once an arm of the coalition formed to manage the flight from Eriu, they have grown in importance and swallowed all other forms of government. Constitutionally their power on the surface is limited, but their influence leaves them the de-facto government on Airgetlam as well as above it.

Many of the Orbital Habitats are constructed from and around the original ships built to flee Eriu, some approaching 500 years old. Conditions internally vary on a gradient of hellish to bad - each Habitat it’s own knot of vicious power-politics and desperation. Politically, each Hab is a member of the federation headed by the OC, which apportions work and supplies - supposedly by need, but all know this is one of their tools of control. Another is the Orbital Peace Keepers - a paramilitary police force’ kitted in power armour capable of 8 hour vacuum operations. They are some of the most vicious practitioners of a bloody profession, linked to several deliberate explosive decompression events which killed entire sections of troublesome’ Habs.

The OC, despite their authority, is aware that they are a thin veneer atop a huge population - effort is made to remain popular, to keep their repressions quiet and naked violence to a minimum, attempting to act through local intermediaries where possible. When they have overstepped in the past, mass demonstrations have forced them to take corrective action. The OC Accountability Board is dedicated to reducing corruption and abuses of power, but they are small and over-worked. The OC Intelligence Agency actively works to cement itself in all levels of power and insidiously counter any threats to OC domination of the system. Despite this, much power is devolved to the individual Habs.

High Expectations

Once a super-heavy freighter, built before the disaster to service the outer rim mining efforts, High Expectations is now the biggest Orbital Hab, folding outwards like a metallic fungus. It houses the primary shipwright in-system, the old cargo-hold still exposed to the vacuum and filled with the skeletons of half-built craft.

The power of the Shipwright’s Guild is the largest organised threat to OC hegemony in-system, and the High Expectations is their stronghold. Little occurs aboard without their knowledge and cut of the proceeds. They began as a traditional labour union, but long years of calcification and privilege have corroded their solidarity and left them interested only in securing lives for them and theirs.

A significant amount of the OPKs forces are permanently stationed aboard the Habitat - both as a central node for travel and as a challenge to the Guild. A small fleet of interceptor craft are housed here, the crews known for starting fights with those born to the High Expectations.

Erian Wheelsman Academy

Constructed on prime surface real-estate, the Academy generates its own economic system - a sprawl of specialists and service personnel dedicated to the Academy. Of each intake, the administrators have no idea how many will be selected - those left behind are snapped up into the OC or high-end executive roles. Most of the students are scouted by the distributed Brokers throughout the system, although there is a growing number of families bribing administrators to select their children - the benefits of enrolment ensuring continued success.

O-HAB 5277 - Easy Gi-Gi’

A smaller habitat, constructed from the salvage torn from Eriu. The 10,000 inhabitants are communally minded, voting on all internal matters whilst trying to distribute the demands of the OC amongst the entire population. The air filtration algae farms are dying from a shipment of contaminated water sold at bargain value by Mallick family. A small band of youths are considering raiding a nearby Hab (O-HAB 992 - The Lobster Returns’) for a replacement system - formal assistance requests to the OC have become lost in the bureaucracy.

Airgetlam Generators

O-Habs vary hugely in population - the smallest holding hundreds, the largest supporting millions. All have good and bad areas, and offer most services. All are interdependent for specialist expertise - technicians of all sorts, but especially those not directly affiliated with the OC, travel often and freely between them.

d10 Situation Complication Local power
1 Teetering on the edge of total collapse. A saboteur, paid by the OCIA, is active. Council of Elders.
2 Declining standards across the O-Hab. A cell of students of Teacher Entjes plan militant action. Strongman and his gang of cronies.
3 Stagnation and decay. A crew from the Penal Mines broke out and hide here. Small council of richest inhabitants.
4 Stable but poor living conditions. Two major families feud through proxy-conflicts. Single landlord who technically owns the entire O-Hab and leases it to the OC.
5 Stable but poor living conditions. Disaffected youths form gangs armed with pipes and wrenches. OPK direct-rule.
6 Unstable, but currently improving. A small, anti-OC insurrectionary cell operates on-station. Direct democracy enabled through ubiquitous personal computing.
7 Undergoing several major internal changes, the effects yet to be felt. An OPK informant has been relocated here, but thinks those he fingered have found him. Representative parliamentary system.
8 A period of quiet after major internal strife. In d6 days, the power-supply will catastrophically fail and explode. O-Hab divided into autonomous clan’ territories.
9 Improving all the time. In d6 days, the O-Hab will suffer a collision with another. Professional guilds convene as a council.
0 Good - life in relative comfort. Dissatisfaction with the current local power grows louder and more organised. Self-styled Orbital Prince.

Dian

8000mi - No Atmosphere - Pop 781
A huge, airless rock, Dian now hosts a break-away colony. Sick of the OC and slow death in orbit, a group calling themselves the Free Erian League hijacked an Orbital Habitat, restored the engines of the original ship and broke free of Airgetlam’s orbit. Those who were unwilling to join them on this journey were allowed time to leave, although this led to significant bleed-off as many volunteers deserted. In the 100 years since, those dwelling in Good Hope, the single settlement of Dian, have found out the cost of their liberty. Unable to grow their own sustenance, they are in effect a mining colony of the OC with nominal independence and voting rights over internal matters. Each generation has fiery radicals who wish to break free such fetters - and some have come close to creating controlled, self-sustaining eco-systems. The OC has several spies on the colony who ensure such efforts fail. Currently, a secretive band of Dian scientists are close once again to establishing the first steps to food independence. The OC Intelligence Agency has been unable to get close enough to ruin their progress and is considering hiring outside assets to do so.

Tuireadh

8000mi - No Atmosphere - Pop 892
The nameless monastery-settlement upon Tuireadh has stood for a century, founded by the most dedicated adherents of Teacher Entjes. The core of the sect is a dedication to good works and dedicated resistance to stifling forces through non-violence. In the early days the OC was happy to allow the Entjians to shoulder some of the burden, but this quickly led the to accumulation of power and the enactment of their other tenets, leading to several general strikes from the more faithful Habs. Pressure was applied and a smear campaign enacted, enabled by some who used the faith for personal gain and abused followers. This eventually led to settlement of Tuireadh. They now survive entirely on donations - many of those moving to the monastery forgo all material wealth. Entjian recruiters are active on Arigetlam, especially amongst the rebellious children of the wealthy - several fortunes have been gained this way. The Circle of Abbots view this as a necessary evil - they must ensure their own survival before they can continue their great work of spiritual liberation. In the mean time, they accept any escapees from the Penal Mines - an easy way to swell rank, albeit attracting some uncomfortable attention from the OCIA.

Penal Mines

The outer edges of the Dagda system buzz with activity. Mining ships, their systems locked to allow navigation only between allotted work zones and The Cells - the central control, refuelling and ore processing station which enables the entire operation. The OC sells this brutal system as providing prisoners usable skills by which they can get a good start upon release. Between industrial accidents and long sentencing, less than 20% of prisoners return able to utilise their experience.
The work-gangs the Wardens like are given the easier tasks - using powerful mining lasers from functional ships. The rest are left the gruelling work of guiding ore into the huge furnaces, prospecting amongst unstable-orbit asteroid complexes, and blasting hard rock for buried rare minerals where a mining laser might cause too much damage.

There are 90 mining ships in the Penal Fleet, varying from 40-berth long-haul to single-pilot tugs - all crewed by half-trained convicts’ dragged to the very edges of their solar system.

August 19, 2022 violence

The Inhuman Violence

Impossible beings respond differently to violence.

To Hit

Any modifiers to attempts to shoot the Inhuman.

Shooting

A target number the Inhuman uses for ranged attacks, and modifiers to roll to determine if those hit are Down.

Melee

The dice the Inhuman rolls.

Endurance

How many Injuries and Down results may be ignored before they accumulate normally.

Black Hound

A face shredded like a bouquet of flowers, wrapped in black plastic and left by the side of the road. Behind this disaster a long body of taut flesh over many-knuckled bones, flexing and moving independently. There are too many legs.

From ridges and tears in the real the hounds emerge, silent, ignoring any gravity or terrain. The unfortunate notice that each leg terminates in a human hand, some with rings.

They hunt those who survived initial breach events, marked for death. They are left as dust, all moisture driven from them. Electronic devices cannot perceive them, although they trigger moisture-sensitive systems.

To Hit -4 (Speed)
Shooting N/A
Melee 2d8. Always causes 1 Injury regardless of result.
Endurance 2/1

2d6 Appearing. If killed, bodies rapidly liquefy, leaving only purified water.

The Ogre

(Of course, this also works for fantasy creatures)

To Hit +2 (Size)
Shooting 18+ / +5 (Thrown Stone)
Melee 3d6. All Injuries inflicted count as Down.
Endurance 5/3

August 12, 2022

Wolves Upon the Coast Grand Retrospective

It’s been a little less than year since I started selling Wolves Upon the Coast Grand Campaign on itch. Rather than finishing the entire (huge) hexcrawl, I decided to experiment with a different model - the price increasing as I finished more and more of the writing. Additionally, it features no art nor layout - using pandoc formatting only. The one exception here is now it has nice maps - the originals were hand-drawn and photographed. Finally, its all self-published.

This is obviously a major diversion from how things are normally done for me, and largely came from frustrations with default’ approaches to how game books should look and be sold.

Accountants Upon the Coast

Data taken 12/08/22.

Calculating exact performance is slightly tricky due to the bundles combining Wolves with Volume 2: Monsters & and &&&&&&&&& Treasure - I’ve tried to account for these, but only in very crude ways.

  • Total Purchases: 170.
  • Total Income: $2992.

This being a digital-only release, I’m pretty happy with this so far. Eventually, once the entire project is finished, I’ll be looking to do some sort of print release where I expect to see higher returns. I get it, I’m not wild about PDFs either.

The much more pertinent measure here is how sales have changed as the price point has increased - a $30 pdf isn’t common outside of big traditional publishers.

Breaking it down:

  • 65 Sales @ $5 minimum over 44 days.
  • 25 Sales @ $15 minimum over 64 days.
  • 42 Sales @ $20 minimum over 122 days.
  • 27 Sales @ $30 minimum over 79 days.
  • 11 Sales @ $35 minimum over 14 days.

(These include the bundles which will be at higher prices, as well as people who kindly over-paid, hence the minimums being specified.)

I suspect the $5 starting point was too low, although there is a side-advantage here: more people talking about the game. This is huge - it’s rare that someone posts or talks about Wolves without me getting at least one sale - especially the recent review by Sam Sorenson. You can see some of this in the most recent 11 sales over 14 days, although this might be purely that the purchases are front-loaded around release days.

I tried advertising in an indie RPG newsletter - which was cheap, and paid for itself with one sale. I’ve not looked further into advertising because I run adblock, and I don’t think a PDF-only release is likely to see much return.

So the big question - does this work?

Maybe. The big thing I can’t really quantify here is the fact I’m the one writing it. Unfortunately, I’ve become a known quantity - people will have read something else I’ve done or heard of my other works, and so more likely to take a punt on what is quite an expensive PDF. I’d extremely leery to suggest others try this for fear it’s not replicable.

I don’t doubt a KS campaign would’ve had higher income. It also would have been many times more stressful, and not really feasible until around this point, with 2-3 areas left to write. I also think the no-layout would’ve chafed much more - KS seems to have a much higher expectation of a polished, slick product - which Wolves, in my mind, is not.

Another factor that helped is using the itch.io function of having a demo - including the first region as a free download. Whilst I don’t have any reports to confirm it, having a free offering (downloaded 481 times) like that suggests confidence and lets people be sure they want it. The latter aspect is important to me since the presentation of Wolves is very stark and at-odds with… most game books. If anyone did read the demo and then decided to buy in as a result, I’d love to hear about that.

Whilst I track my writing time day-by-day, I don’t associate with any project in particular. What I do know is that I’ve probably spent several months of writing time on Wolves, albeit spread out. This has benefited it, giving me more time to read, research and get inspired, but I don’t know that it works out favourably in a cost-time ratio. That said, if I was worried about that I’d probably write 5e.

Gearings Upon the Coast

I’ve fucking loved writing Wolves. Having a constant background project between other projects to escape into has been a blast. It’s also, I think, a pretty firm statement around my beliefs that content trumps everything else. The rules are tiny and vestigial - the largest section, magic, is really just more content. Taking on something so sweeping and intricate has been a blast, as has doing the supplemental Volume 2: Monsters & and &&&&&&&&& Treasure. Hexcrawls have always been one of my favourite tools of play, and getting to do one on this scale is a delight. I’ve felt myself improve as a writer working on this project, with a number of people saying the most recent update is their favourite so far. Moving away from the style of something like Gradient Descent and instead just trying to write good memorable prose has been rewarding - you can see some similar efforts in The Isle, which was mostly written before Wolves but shares a lot of sensibilities.

A more challenging element is having to go back and change prior releases to ensure things are smoothed other - early Ruislip releases referred to a single unified tongue of Albann, rather than the multiple languages of Pictish, Brythonic etc. Having a digital-only release makes this a snap, and removes a lot of stress about needing to plan it all out ahead of time - you can just write, and adjust the previous text as required.

Money aside, please write your big unreasonable project. You will enjoy it if no-one else does, and you might be surprised at who else wants to come along for the ride.

The Yearing of the Gearing continues. If you see Luke Gearing in the street…


On Twitter, @vagrantdwarf asked:

How did you land on the name? How has the project impacted your designs as a whole?”

Names are weird for me. It’s almost always just the first one I think of that gets stuck - although I also have a section in my notebook for any phrases which feel powerful’ which sometimes become names or dungeon rooms or whatever. In this case the name came to me wholecloth - I couldn’t tell you where from.

In terms of impact its made me want to do more prose-heavy work, as well as bigger more ambitious projects. Its changed my perspective on size as well - now I just see opportunity rather than being intimidated by the scope.


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