Sunday 4 October 2020

The Bombing of the Quick Stop Gas Station Bench

One of the ingredients that's coalescing for Bunkers & Billionaires is a completely surreal mission landscape. Rogue intelligence agents and terrorist cells do things that seem to make no sense, until you understand that they're the pawn moves in AI-powered late stage capitalism.

(What is Bunkers & Billionaires? It's the working title for a near future dystopian RPG that doesn't yet exist.)

I think it's easiest to illustrate with an example.

The Bombing of the Quick Stop Gas Station Bench

At 8:32pm, Nov 7, 2035, three self-professed members of "QMove" jump out of an electric van and blow up the graffiti-covered park bench in front of the Quick Stop gas station with a pipe bomb. 

One of the bombers returns to the scene on foot to quietly post live video of the Welland Corner fire department putting out the flaming wreck of the bench.

Later, on the way back to the fire station, the fire truck stalls out, frozen by a remote anti-theft command sent from head office at the request of a numbered corporation, the new owner of the fire truck as of 9:11pm. An argument breaks out between the firefighters and the young man who has turned up to drive the truck away as part of a gig he got ten minutes earlier on Fiverr. The situation is a tense stalemate until the Welland Corner police arrive.

After cuffing, tasing and pepper spraying everyone (in that order), the Welland police check their phones for follow-up instructions. Somewhat confused, they turn the truck over to the half-blind Fiverr guy, who (once he recovers) simply drives it back to the fire station and leaves the keys on the seat, as per his original instructions.

While this is happening, the stock price of Блакитна енергія (a Ukrainian fracking company) briefly dives as sell orders flood the market, but rebounds as they are snapped up by a second numbered corporation. This only takes a few hundred milliseconds, so nobody really notices.

* * *

This kind of thing happens constantly, the result of the collaboration between several forces: Liquidr (and similar asset management-as-a-service operations), freelance schismatics, and the National Commercial Interest Gateway (NCIG).


Liquidr is the category leader in the AMaaS space (Asset Management as a Service, or just "amass"). For a low monthly fee plus a percentage of capital gains, a Liquidr AI will manage individual, corporate or public entity assets. Initially this is simple investing, but it soon expands into automated mergers & acquisitions, initial public offerings and other ownership restructuring—to take full advantage of the rapidly changing regulatory landscape.

Liquidr: add liquidity to anything!

Higher tier Liquidr accounts are advertised as getting more AI time and better market intelligence, but for the most part it's just data mining privileged information from lower-tier Liquidr accounts.

("Are you liquid?" asks the flawless hottie in the ad)

Freelance Schismatics

Also in the mix are former intelligence services propagandists, now freelancing to create dissociant conspiracy theory groups with actionable false belief systems. These come complete with a custom target designation symbology, so they can be weaponized as deniable lone wolves for sale.

QMove is just one of many violent splinter conspiracy groups whose ideology and identity is the deliberate product of manufactured information. (Having no influence over its own destiny whatsoever, QMove doesn't get its own heading.)

Eventually, schismatics realize that control of dissociant groups count as assets, and can be managed as part of AMaaS portfolios, which dramatically shortens the time between radicalization and action.

National Commercial Interest Gateway (NCIG)

The National Commercial Interest Gateway started out as a joint venture between an AMaaS consortium and the US Department of Justice to create an auction system to designate private commercial interests as being of significance to the national interest.

The time to make back room deals with key government contacts was identified as a significant source of friction in the AI age. Why not add liquidity™ and make it a marketplace?

Now, multinationals no longer had to play all that tedious golf to convince their friends in the CIA that there are billions at stake if such-and-such a country gets the wrong election result, or to persuade their DOJ contacts that this or that movement should be classified as a domestic terrorist organization. Just put up a bid on NCIG, and the matter is resolved immediately.

During the kleptocrat-led weakening of federal government institutions, NCIG rapidly became a welcome source of clarity in a time of confusion, despite early criticism that it was simply "Fiverr for spies."

Things Get Weird

After the complete shut-off of federal subsidies in 2024, state, provincial and municipal governments turn to Liquidr out of desperation in an attempt to find creative ways of covering climate reconstruction and refugee management costs.

In 2029, Liquidr acquires Legal Dynamics, a machine learning-powered contract negotiation company. Liquidr starts using this to better exploit municipal asset portfolios, and it starts writing laws solely to create just-in-time opportunities for Liquidr gambits. Things that were once illegal become legal, temporarily legal, or mandatory, all as part of creating pathways to new ownership structures and financial instruments. These changes could be permanent, or last less than a second—just long enough for a complex trade or restructuring to take place.

By 2035, laws are completely indecipherable to people, a stew of machine-generated legalese that grows by terabytes per minute.

The Quick Stop Bench Bombing, Redux

In October 2035, the owner of the Quick Stop Gas Station places ownership of the gas station into her Liquidr portfolio (a Hustle! tier account). Moments later, the bench out front is carved off into a numbered corporation subsidiary, and has an automated initial public offering on the basis of its expertise at natural gas management. The Hustle! AI transfers the entire value of the Quick Stop gas station to the park bench, reverse mortgages it, and uses the proceeds to buy Блакитна енергія stock. This is a bit risky, maybe, but it's part of an A/B test. It could be great!

(The Hustle! tier AI has no idea what a park bench is, only that it technically counts as real estate and—unlike the gas station business, has no employees to complicate its tax situation.)

Meanwhile, a tier 9 Liquidr account checking its notifications sees the gas station's precarious situation and takes immediate action, doing three things simultaneously:

One, it injects a rider into an anti-competition settlement it's negotiating with the Michigan state legislature, making it temporarily illegal for Michigan-based corporations to own financial instruments in the Ukraine if they hold no US real estate. The Michigan state legislature account AI grants this rider cheaply. Michigan doesn't own any such instruments at the moment, and the proposed rider expires in three hours anyways, so no big deal. The rider goes into effect at 8:03pm, becoming law.

Secondly, the tier 9 account places an NCIG bid to have the Welland Corner Fire Department designated as a domestic terrorist organization. WCFD doesn't appear in the NCIG database, but the briefing attached to the bid has solid intel that WCFD has only twelve members (barely a cell) and the required action section is blank, so again, this is inexpensive.

Thirdly, it buys the activation key for a small QMove cell for $820. The control software sends a dynamically generated video to the three members in Welland Corner, alerting them that the park bench outside the Quick Stop Gas Station is the target they've been waiting for. (You can't see it at night in November, the video explains, but it's where Antifa has used graffiti to spread their plan to bring socialism to the gaming consoles in electric vehicles.)

* * *

QMove springs into action at 8:22pm. (The pipe bomb has been sitting ready by the front door for weeks, and they only live around the corner from the gas station, but Alex is so excited that it takes him six minutes to find the keys for the van.)

By 8:44, 720 people have watched QMove's vertical video of the bench fire, enough for a YouTube algorithm to recognize it and tag it as footage of a terrorist incident. The tier 9 updates the NCIG bid with the video, recommending a 50% commission for itself on any resulting asset forfeiture arising from law enforcement action.

Armed with video of destruction of its only US real estate, the tier 9 triggers de-legalization of the bench's holding company. Benchco's assets in the Ukraine are sold in less than a second, with the tier 9's preregistered lowball bids scooping up the shares.

The schismatic control software reports a near certainty that the QMove cell can be reactivated again, later (even for non-bench targets), so the tier 9 sells the activation key back to the schismastic's Liquidr account for 78 cents on the dollar.

By 9:15, it has also sold the fire truck back to Michigan state, exactly offsetting the cost of the legislative rider before it even expires!

Fucking tidy, it thinks.

* * *

By 10:28pm, the gas station's Hustle! tier Liquidr AI has realized that something really bad is up. With no assets, and a fresh invoice from the fire department for putting out a fire of some kind, the account's net worth is suddenly deeply negative. For Hustle! tier customers, this triggers auto-bankruptcy mode, instantly terminating the whole account to prevent the customer from becoming even less profitable by letting them complain to customer support.

Its final action is to list the gas station personnel in an eviction authorization for the property's new owner, the Welland Corner Fire Department, in consideration for 33% of the value of any assets seized from its deadbeat former owner.

Bunkers & Billionaires

As I mentioned, Bunkers & Billionaires doesn't exist, but even nonexistent games must answer the question: who are the PCs and what do they do?

They're the people who are trying to destroy this system so that something better can take its place.

Sunday 30 August 2020

Servants of Memory Kickstarter Ending!

We've just entered the last 48 hours of the Kickstarter campaign for the fourth Trilemma bestiary: Servants of Memory.

This edition stats out the Trilemma Adventures Compendium creatures for the Year Zero Engine, the system underlying for a number of popular hex-crawling/base-building adventure RPGs.

We've blown through most of the stretch goals, including stats for a number of magic items, a spread of terrain-specific encounter tables, and playable kin for Carreg, Dradkin, Heelan and Ricalu. If we're lucky, before we're done we'll hit that last stretch goal and get three final playable kin.

If that sounds like your jam, you only have a few hours left to jump in on the Kickstarter! If you know someone else who is, there's only a short time to let them know!

Ennies Wins!

In other news, Trilemma Adventures did very well at the Ennies! As I posted previously, the compendium got nominated in four categories, and we took home a win in two: Silver for 'Best Adventure' (beat out by Mothership's Pound of Flesh), and Gold in Cartography!

Thank you so much for your support, and for your votes!

Next: Ogre Bridge Adventure

As I've revealed to my Vicious Imp patrons, I'm back at adventure-making! Thanks for all of you who have been bearing with me during this long, Kickstarter-scented detour. The wait will soon be over!

Tuesday 4 August 2020

Live: Servants of Memory Kickstarter!

As previously announced, there will be a fourth Trilemma bestiary, this time adapting the creatures for the Year Zero Engine. It is now live on Kickstarter!

The Servants of Memory is a hardcover/softcover monster book with 117 creatures and kin inside, more than half of which have detailed attack tables. There are classic creatures like wraiths, brass soldiers and dire beasts, but also weird and horrible things to keep your players on their toes like water shades, void gulls, and the spider-infested bears of lurrock. 

The book makes it easy to use Trilemma Adventures with Year Zero Engine games, of course, but it also stands alone as a solid set of monsters for random encounters or for stocking your own adventures.

We're way ahead of schedule compared to my last Kickstarter. We've already received our format test prints! There's work still to do of course, but our aim is to deliver smoothly and as quickly as possible.

Join in and help us hit stretch goals for:
  • Dradkin ritual magic
  • Stats for rarities like the Hell Knight's armaments, Spell Engines, and the White Lances of Deel
  • Encounter tables for a dozen terrain types

Thursday 9 July 2020

Isometric Tutorial #9: Evil Idol in a Niche

I've just posted my ninth isometric dungeon tutorial, this one is an evil idol in a niche.

I haven't posted one of these in a while, so you may not be aware of the rest of the series where I draw an assortment of isometric mapping features.

* * *

As a reminder, there are only three days left to vote in the ENnies! Trilemma Compendium is up for four awards: Best Adventure, Best Layout/Design, Best Cartography, and Product of the Year. I'm sure whoever you vote for can use your support, so vote for what you love before it's too late!

Tuesday 7 July 2020

Year Zero Bestiary Kickstarter!

There will soon be a Trilemma Bestiary for Year Zero Engine fantasy role-playing games. It goes live on Kickstarter on August 4!

The Year Zero Engine is a system reference document released under the OGL, which powers a family of role-playing games in a number of genres: post-apocalyptic, science fiction, and of course, fantasy. A number of people have asked me if we intended to support this system with a bestiary, and the answer is yes!

For some time now, Craig Atkins and friends have been busily converting the Trilemma bestiary creatures to the Year Zero engine, and we're now preparing our Kickstarter campaign.

The Kickstarter launches August 4!
Follow it on Kickstarter

One of the interesting things about Year Zero is the way many creatures are given a table of random moves: interesting things for them to do in a combat situation. Here are three of the entries from the Cave Stitcher:

Cave Stitcher by Russ Nicholson

Craig put his brain against the juicing sieve and has made custom attack tables for more than 75 creatures, and including kin and animals, there will be over 110 creatures in the bestiary. You can of course use these with the adventures from the compendium, but they work just as well to enrich your own setting.

After my compendium Kickstarter last year and putting out three books since, I've learned a bunch of dos and don'ts. This will be a by-the-book, low-risk Kickstarter with a single goal: putting usable monsters in your hands as soon as possible. We will of course have some fun stretch goals, but everything has been carefully selected to fit into a short production schedule.

Friday 3 July 2020

2020 ENnies Award Nominations

A few days ago I learned that Trilemma Adventures Compendium Vol I has been nominated for four ENnie awards!
  • Best Adventure
  • Best Layout and Design
  • Best Cartography
  • Product of the Year
Voting is live now!  There are some very cool things listed. Some of my favorites:
  • Hit the Streets, Defend the Block, by Rich Rogers (Judges' Spotlight Award)
  • Ultraviolet Grasslands, Luka Rejec (Best Cover, Best Interior Art)
  • TTRPG Safety Toolkit, by Kienna Sunrise, Lauren Bryant-Monk (Best Free Game Product)
  • Zombie World, by Brendan G. Conway, Mark Diaz Truman (Best Game, Best Rules, Product of the Year)
There are a few others I'm less familiar with, but by people who are awesome:
  • Visigoths vs Mall Goths, Lucian Kahn (Best Writing)
  • Asians Represent featuring Daniel Kwan, Agatha Cheng (Best Podcast)
  • Electric Bastionland by Chris McDowall (Best Writing)
  • Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, the Adventure Game, by Ben Milton, Jack Caesar (Best Cartography, Best Family Game / Product)
Hats off to BFF! Best Friends Forever for a chart-topping five nominations for a single product! (Best Production Values, Product of the Year, Best Interior Art,  Best Family Game / Product, Best Layout and Design).  BFF is based on Fall of Magic, which I've never played (heard great things), and it looks really fantastic.

Free League looks like a heavyweight this year, with the Mithral-selling Alien RPG and MÖRK BORG duelling for best game, and MB looking very solid in three other categories.

* * *

I'm sure I've missed many great things, I don't get out enough. The point is this: in every ENnie year there's a silent category, Best Marketing. I say this without cynicism, marketing is a real skill that few independent outfits bring to the table, and while round one is judged, the voting phase is essentially powered by product awareness, either the skills + grassroots kind, or the skills + money kind.

At the same time, the network effects of the ambient white guy demographic are undeniable. This is a chance to take something that should have more visibility and lift it up so it can be seen. Many such products weren't chosen by the judges, or were written by people who can't afford to gamble what is effectively a $100-200+ entry fee on a slim chance of winning.

Here's what I recommend:
  1. Read the list of nominees
  2. Vote for what you love, what you think should be more widely seen
  3. Then, go and pick three awesome things that weren't nominated (and perhaps weren't even submitted) and post about them somewhere.
I'll start!

My Highlights:
Your turn!

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Dungeon World Bestiary

The Trilemma Bestiary for Dungeon World is now complete, and live on DTRPG! The PDF option is available now, and a softcover option will be available as soon as my proof copy arrives.

Like the 5e and B/X bestiaries, this contains 112 creatures and scores of illustrations. This book makes it even easier to use the compendium adventures in your Dungeon World game, but it's meant to also stand on its own.

It's packed of illustrated, interesting creatures, which vary and complexity from an incidental challenge in the underworld (like the Cave Drake), to a whole community-threatening mini arc, like the Dream Eater:

I'm doing a happy dance over here because this marks the final stretch goal for the compendium Kickstarter. As of now, the Trilemma Adventures Compendium Kickstarter is 100% complete.

* * *

Dungeon World has attracted some flak recently via the rather appalling actions of one of its authors, Adam Koebel, during an actual play livestream.

Johnstone and I have talked it over, and for the next six months I'll be donating the proceeds from sales of this compendium to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which defends and protects the human rights of Black transgender and gender non-conforming people.

At the time of writing, trans rights are under assault in the United States (as in many places), and racial discrimination compounds the problem significantly for Black transgender people.

Saturday 6 June 2020

B/X Bestiary on DriveThruRPG

The Trilemma Compendium Bestiary for Basic/Export is now live on DriveThruRPG. (This is why I was fussing over treasure types, in case that wasn't obvious!)

Many thanks to Johnstone Metzger for his hard work in doing all these conversions, and for all the backers who made this thing possible in the first place.

There are 112 creatures in total, including crawling ghosts, catalyzing alien Nuss, void gulls, cursed spider-bears, and of course dire pelicans!

Check it out on DriveThruRPG. There's a pay-the-difference bundle options, so if you've picked up the compendium PDF already, you can get the bestiary at a significant discount.

Sunday 31 May 2020

Throwback: Weird on the Waves

As you have probably heard, Kiel Chenier has recently released Weird on the Waves, his sourcebook for old school naval adventures. This project started out small, but has grown into a 224-page tome!

Now it includes tons of material for ships, naval combat, a playable mermaid class, a bestiary of aquatic and piratical fiends, and a whole campaign setting for the Caribbean of 1666.

A couple of years ago while 'Weird' was still taking shape, Kiel and I collaborated on a two-page adventure, the Hounds of Low Tide, which is perfect fodder for Weird on the Waves!

Download the adventure and check out Weird on the Waves!

Tuesday 26 May 2020

B/X Loot vs. Danger

Continuing my investigations into B/X monster treasure, I wanted to understand how dangerous it is to get xp from different types of creatures. There are some well-known outliers - Dwarves have the high-density type G (which is unique to them), kobolds guard a pile of slag, and dragons have the chart-topping hoard "H". But where are goblins, ogres, minotaurs? Read on!

As a simple proxy for how tough a lair is to raid is, I used the creature's xp value, multiplied by the average number appearing in lair. For its lair gp value, I used the average treasure value of its treasure type.

With these numbers in hand, I have a fairly simple way to scatter the monsters across a graph of 'loot' vs. 'danger'.

Scatter plot of B/X monster lair danger vs. loot 
The graph mostly speaks for itself, but there are a few interesting critters.

One, kobolds are the absolute worst. They have substantially less treasure than normal rats! Kobolds carry type P, but this add insult to injury as you now have to go through their pockets to round out the miserable haul.

Moving up the left side of the cluster takes us on a tour of the easiest pickings - giant rats, halflings, carcass crawlers, bandits, dwarfs, troglodytes.

The right hand side of the cluster holds the creatures that make you work for slim pickings. Stirges, thouls, gargoyles, bugbears, ogres, and minotaurs. The minotaur is the toughest non-dragon creature on the graph, but it only has the same treasure as giant rats. That'll teach you to go looting in a prison!

Perhaps worst of all is the basilisk. If this chart is anything to go by, a nest of basilisks will leave you stone dead and dead broke.

Dragons are interesting because they all have type H. Red dragons are substantially tougher than black or (especially) white dragons, but they all have the same hoards.

Monday 25 May 2020

B/X Treasure Types

As I put the finishing touches on Johnstone's stats for the B/X Trilemma Bestiary, I've been asking myself, "Does this creature have too much treasure? Too little?" Follow me down this rabbit hole!

Basic D&D's treasure types are more than a little quirky. They're easy enough to reference in play, but choosing among them is tricky. Is there any rhyme or reason to them?

My starting reference is Necrotic Gnome's excellent Old School Essentials wiki, which lists all 22 treasure types from B/X. Types A through O are "hoards", types P-T are individual coin purses, and U and V are group treasure. The wiki also helpfully lists their average payout values.

Throw a coin to your.. oh nevermind
While poking away at the treasure types, I got interested in weight. Some of the treasure types are made up of large numbers of low-value coins, while others are heavy on the gems. Low-density treasure is a special challenge:  shovelling, bagging and hauling hundreds of pounds of coins is noisy, takes time, and weighs the adventurers down.

Treasure density seemed a really good way to look at treasure types. My average treasure values are slightly different from Gnome's because I put in placeholder values for magical items. Rightly or wrongly, I used these values:

  • Magical item, 50ct, 300gp
  • Magical item (weapons, shield, or armor), 100ct, 300gp
  • Magical item (not armaments), 20ct, 300gp
  • Scrolls 1ct, 100gp
  • Potions 10ct, 100gp
Here's what I found (click to expand):

B/X Treasure Type Avg. Value vs. Weight
Treasure type H, 'dragon hoard' is interesting because it's almost exactly the density of gold. There are gems and magical items, but there's also great mounds of low-value coins to balance it out. If you're choosy, you can probably take quite a lot of value of an H-type hoard without carrying much weight.

Among the hoards, treasure type I stands out for high-density, portable riches: just platinum, gems, and jewellery. Strangely, I can't find any monsters that have it as treasure!

Treasure type J, "kobold slag" so heavy for its value that it's barely worth taking.

Types L, N and O are outliers among the hoards because they're just a bunch of gems, potions and scrolls, respectively.

Individual treasures, P, Q, R, S, and T are just coins of varying value; they form an orderly line up toward type L (gems).

Group treasure type V (favored by bears, great cats and lizards for some reason) is the high-density good stuff. It's almost as valuable as hoard type C, but is nearly 100x more dense.

* * *

Okay, that's useful for comparing treasure types, but what's appropriate for a given monster? How hard does B/X make you work to get treasure from monsters? In the next post, I'll be looking at how much XP worth of monsters you have to defeat (in whatever way) to get that sweet, sweet loot.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Spy Thriller Engagement Roll

Right now our group is playing a game modelled on Night's Black Agents: burned spies fighting a conspiracy of vampires.

I say modelled, because we're using the Ironsworn RPG as the rule set. It's been making the rounds, so we thought we'd give it a try. Ironsworn has great support for solo play, so why not try it as a five-player GMless game?

Well.. I think we're way out of its sweet spot. GMless games need some sort of scene framing rules, or some way to divide up roles at the table. (See The Quiet Year or Microscope for good examples of that.) On the plus side, Ironsworn has tons of handy random tables that help provide answers on the fly for when things go wrong, unexpected plot twists, and so on.

One table that I'm hankering for, however, is a genre-appropriate "engagement roll". Once we've identified a target, this gives us some way of figuring out how the scene starts instead of playing out the whole approach. ("Rolling for surprise" in D&D is the archetypal engagement roll.)

Having an engagement roll lets us repeatedly start in medias res, and helps keep the pace brisk.

For example, when you learn about the warehouse where the deal went bad and the party decides it's their next target as part of this session, just press fast forward, roll 2d6 and find out where the action resumes.

When you've engaged your target, as play begins..
They're compromised. You're on your way in; one of you is already in deep cover
You've made your approach and you're on the way inside
You've been able to assess for some time
You have a short time to assess the situation before it gets dynamic
They've been spooked and/or tipped off
You've been made, and they've prepared for you specifically.
Compromised! Someone on your team, or your whole mission serves them.

Modify to taste - roll with advantage if you have useful intel and/or mission support, and with disadvantage if you've failed to maintain a low profile in some way, or if the target is especially sophisticated or hardened.

5e Bestiary on DriveThruRPG

It's done! The PDF version of the 5e bestiary is now available on DriveThruRPG. If you use Trilemma Adventures to round out your 5e campaign, this will help you adapt them much faster.

The bestiary is:

  • a 182-page PDF
  • containing stats for 112 creatures like the Onddo, Soil Mother, Dradkin, the Nuss, Ghost Selks, Brass Soldiers and tons of others!
  • packed with art, including 23 new illustrations by me and the talented Zé Burnay

A 6x9 softcover will also be available the minute that the pandemic-related logjam at DriveThruRPG's printing clears up.

Next up.. bestiary editions for B/X, Dungeon World, and Fria Ligan's Forbidden Lands!

Be safe!

Saturday 25 April 2020

Bestiary Illustrations

Just a short note to say that I'm still here, scratching away at bestiary illustrations!

This block, above, shows:

  • Dream Eater
  • The God Unmnoving
  • Leádstæf Werewolf
  • Shrine Babies
  • Heilian Gorgon
  • Sand Sprites
  • Whip Scorpion
  • Ghost Selk

I have one last one to complete before I can finalize the PDF and order my test print from DriveThruRPG.

For whatever reason, I found some of these so intimidating to even start that I found myself occasionally blocked. I did find something to help: adding a column to my tracking spreadsheet to represent how much effort I thought each piece would be.

Size is one factor, because of all those little shading lines (particularly if there's a lot of darkness, or light gradients on a stone wall), but humanoid figures (and especially faces) are tricky. This helped me keep going, as I could pick off an "easy" one from my list at times when I didn't feel so on the ball.

What makes me laugh in retrospect is that I was way off on many of them. Once I get going, I sometimes turn a simple concept into something tricky (for me) to execute. The chart-topping "Ghost Selk" was so hard because I wanted both a compelling concept, and I had originally planned to do a close-in portrait.

In hindsight, the toughest one was probably the Sand Sprites, because it does have a portrait, required some perspective fiddling to get the well looking right, and is a full-page illustration with lots of shadow.

I'm about to do that with the Hungry Spirit picture, the last one remaining—I had thought it would be some hazy ghostly outlines, but I have something a bit more ambitious in mind now that I'm right at the finish line!

Friday 3 January 2020

My Kickstarter Task List

I recently made a list of all the tasks that I can remember doing while I ran the Kickstarter. I'm sharing it here in the hopes it helps someone who is thinking of running one themselves.

Please note that this leaves out huge chunks of work—literally everything to do with getting the book made and sent to people. That was substantially more work than this list, which is simply what I did to create, promote and run the Kickstarter in order to sell the book.

Most of these line items are themselves complex tasks that I had to figure out. There was very little about this project that was simple, that didn't explode into ten related sub-tasks as soon as I started it.

Without further ado, here's the list:

  • Learn the basics of how Kickstarter works
    • What options are there to configure on a KS project?
    • Did I realize I can only send one survey? etc.
  • Planning the Kickstarter offering
    • Determine product pricing
    • Determine shipping pricing, where I'm shipping to, and how I'm recouping it (built into the one price, or charging shipping)
    • Build a simple financial model for various hypothetical funding levels
    • Assess my exposure to exchange rate fluctuations (since I'm collecting in CAD)
    • Assess my exposure to shipping price increases
    • Defining reward tiers (e.g. PDF, PDF+book, wholesale FLGS tier, etc.)
    • Pricing my stretch goals, attaching them to funding targets, updating the financial model
    • Figuring out the exact start/end dates of the KS
  • Build the KS page itself
    • Write/revise all the copy, get it proof read
    • Solicit bios from the contributors
    • Produce supporting graphics for all of the headers, the table of rewards
    • Producing alternate versions for many graphics, 'stretch goal met' etc.
    • Product mockups/photos and image cleanup/cropping
    • Enter all of this into KS
  • Produce the KS video
    • Storyboard it
    • Produce all of the supporting graphic assets
    • Hire Mair Perkins (animator extraordinare)
    • Script and record the voiceover
    • Source sound effects
    • Edit it together, render, upload to KS
    • Use Kickstarter's subtitling tool to subtitle it
    • Edit/render/upload alternate versions of the video to YouTube for other marketing contexts, e.g. pre-launch teaser
  • Circulate the preview version of the KS campaign to a smaller audience
    • Replying to questions/comments
    • Incorporate their feedback into the campaign design
  • Pre-launch marketing campaign (huge, huge task)
    • Learn Mailchimp
    • Edit Mailchimp subscription dialog box into my web site
    • Sketch of a marketing plan: who are my 'segments' (enthusiasts, somewhat familiar, total newcomers), where to find them, which ones to pay attention to most and what messaging to use
    • Write/publish all of the 'coming soon' marketing assets: social media pinned posts, links in bio, web site, blog post, blog sidebar, twitter/facebook header images
    • Figure out what image dimensions work for various social media posts and header images
    • Making a diagram of how all these properties and calls to action relate, so I could plan all of the transitions (e.g. "coming soon -> now live -> buy here", "subscribe -> go to the kickstarter")
  • Ads and Analytics
    • Learn how ad campaigns work on Facebook, Twitter, Google
    • Learn how to generate KS referrer codes so I can see which are worth it
    • Make a spreadsheet to keep track referrer codes
    • Set up google analytics w/ e-commerce for my KS campaign
  • Pre-launch prep
    • Pre-write all of my launch day marketing, proof read it
    • Write my launch day task/checklist (adrenaline poisoning is real)
  • Launch day
    • Make the KS page public
    • Publish all of my launch marketing - blog post, social media, etc.
    • Update all of my 'coming soon' stuff to say it's live: blog, site, social media pinned posts, social media bios
  • Answer backer questions
    • Tweak the KS page in response to questions
    • Add questions to the FAQ
  • Sending KS updates
    • Writing all of the updates (I couldn't do this as I had an interactive campaign and random stretch goals; this easily tripled the work of this task)
    • Compulsively refreshing the $ total, checking biggercake, easily 2hrs/day lost to this
    • Monitoring my social goals ("If this gets x retweets, we unlock stretch goal y")
    • Planning when to publish non-milestone KS updates
    • Actually publishing the updates (since you can't schedule them)
    • Sourcing supporting art assets for the updates
  • Mid-campaign marketing nudges
    • Mailchimp, Patreon, blog posts, ad campaigns
    • Monitoring the analytics to see whether/which ads are doing anything
  • KS campaign end
    • Send the "we made it, gang" update
    • Editing the KS page for some new, post-KS call to action (e.g. "pledging late? go here and subscribe for updates / buy it at my online store")
    • Updating all of my other online presence to swap from "KS now live!" to the new call to action
  • Follow-up updates
    • Writing & publishing fulfilment updates ("books are nearly ready!")
    • Answering fulfilment status questions ("When do Europe backers get their things?")
  • Pre-fulfilment surveying ("What's your address?")
    • Writing/editing/double-checking the survey (you only get one, unless you're doing BackerKit)
    • Sending the survey
    • Pre-lock 2-day warning
    • Several rounds of nudging non-respondents
  • Exporting backer data for fulfilment/reporting
    • At least twice, one when the KS ends, and then later once surveys are done, since addresses will have changed
    • Manually adding people who pledged but didn't complete the survey, then provide their details via email/KS messaging
  • Customer support ("I didn't get my thing/it came damaged"), initiating replacement fulfilment orders
This is quite a lot, now that I see it all in one place!

Wednesday 1 January 2020

The Incursion Egg

Three years ago, a Birevian expedition set sail to solve the mystery once and for all: what lies inside the great glass dome of Never Gap? Puila's cog never returned, and the mystery remains.

The Incursion Egg
This adventure started with a purely visual inspiration: a giant dome enclosing an island, far out to sea. What purpose could the dome-makers have had? What's inside?

This adventure has what I think of as 'scuba dive' pacing. The island is meant to be deliberately difficult to explore; only the hardiest of parties will be able to stay inside the dome for long periods of time, at least if you pay attention to sleep and exhaustion. But for those who assess its risks carefully, the rewards are potentially enormous.

As always, a big thanks to my Patrons who have supported making these adventures freely downloadable for everyone.