Nordic Weasel Games

The blog home of Nordic Weasel Games

Topics I do not do

I get questions about whether I will do all kinds of things (Spaceships? Probably! Historical naval battles? Maybe! Giant robots? Probably no...wait I did do that one!)

So I thought i would take a moment to outline some things that I most likely will not do as a game topic.

These are generally things I either have no interest in personally or things that I have spent enough time on in the past to have "done my bit".

Of course never say never but if something is on this list, odds are it is not going to happen. And of course work for hire is a separate thing, at that point you are writing what the employer pays you to write.

Superheroes. 

Colonial warfare.

Insurgency warfare.

Steampunk.

"Weird war". (ww1 or ww2 with fantasy elements).

Most historical periods before circa the American Revolution, with the occasional exception.

Anything related to the OSR.

Anything with Romans.

Any more 40K-adjacent stuff.

Zombies.


Project Marten - the NWG playtest program

NWG playtester program

Traditionally testing has been a pretty ad-hoc affair and has worked differently with each project, as my whims have suggested. This then is me formalising how playtesting will work going forward. 

Essentially I am establishing a group of Martens (if you don’t know what a marten is, it is a weasel-like critter, look them up, they are adorable. Also it is just a fun word).

What does a Marten do?

*You would get access to various projects I am working on. Some will be very early stages (and not yet playable), some are proofs of concept, some will be playable with basic features and some will be close to final development.

*Your activities can include reading feedback (looking for errors, unclear explanations etc.), “vibes” feedback (does this seem fun? Cool? Etc.) and playtest feedback (setting up and playing a game). 

You will then report to me regularly in email (or another) format with your thoughts and findings. 

*The ideal Marten is curious about new games, excited about new ideas and adaptable. 

Some caveats

*There is no guarantee that a project will come to completion.

*I am not looking for “idea guys” and game design is not a voting booth. 

All suggestions will be considered, but in the end, I take the decisions on what goes in the book. In the event you want to contribute actively to writing a particular game, we would discuss that and set up a proper co-author situation with revenue splitting.

*You are not required to provide feedback on everything, though you are required to be active. Obviously this is not a job, but you should be able to spend a couple hours every week or two. 

*You need to be able to work with limited instructions. Unfinished games have many components in place, but you may have to work around missing features such as improvising a stat profile for a figure or creating a simple scenario.

*Even if you do not play a particular style of game (historical, scifi, fantasy) you should be able to at least provide reading feedback. You can playtest things you do not currently have suitable figures for as well.

*Please note that while this will include access to early Parsecs and Leagues material at times, much of the material will not be for those games.

*Most projects can be discussed freely, but some cannot. I will advise for each. 

Final notes

*Martens will be credited by name in any game they contributed feedback for. 

*You may keep all pre-release PDFs provided.

*If you provided feedback on at least 2 playtest games, you receive a complimentary PDF copy of the final game. 

*If you provided feedback in other ways, you receive 50% off the final PDF.  

So what do I do?

If you are interested, please email me at nordicweaselgames@icloud.com 

What RPG writers could learn from miniatures game writing

Often occupying the space between miniatures games and RPGs and as an avid player of both, I think there is a lot the two fields could learn from each other. 

At the risk of oversimplifying a little, I am going to list a few that I think are at least worth considering.

A: Write rules assuming the player will use them.

When faced with a rulebook that is perhaps less than stellar, the answer is often that the GM is expected to modify or even cut portions of the rules during play. I think RPG writing could benefit from a firm stance that the player is expected to use the rules as they were written and in their entirety. Not because this is a better way to play, but because it enforces some discipline on the writer. If the game is too complicated for a group of players to execute in play, then go back and make the changes you need until it can be played comfortably by the expected target group. 

I suspect there are two things at play here. First the presence of a GM to paper over problems has become a bit of a crutch to lean on and secondly a lot of RPG play does not engage the mechanics heavily. In a miniatures game, the mechanics are inescapable and each player must engage with them, which tends to ferret out problems rather quickly.

B: Separate rules and fluff text.

While some wargame books have plenty of purple prose, for the most part the actual rules aspect is clear and straight forward in the text. RPG books are fond of mixing narrative descriptions and mechanics in the same text block, making it hard to actually reference the rule at a glance or, even worse, making it difficult to understand exactly what the rule does.

C: Unique terminology

If a wargame set uses a term like Suppressed, it usually will only refer to a single specific status in the game. Either a unit is Suppressed because a rule has said it is, or it is not Suppressed.

While games with a lot of status effects tend to avoid this trap, it is not uncommon to find games using terminology either in an unclear fashion or using multiple terms to refer to the same thing. Is a wounded, injured and damaged character the same thing? Does a spell that heals injuries also heal wounds? Ideally these things are clear cut because the same term is always used (and is then not used anywhere else).

D: Take distance seriously.

Now I rarely use miniatures in RPGs myself, but when I do I often found the rules are incredibly vague in a way that just would not fly in a miniatures game rulebook. Can my character move through a space covered by another character? What happens if I move through a space occupied by a prone character? Can I move diagonally? Do characters block lines of fire? 

(As a separate note, more RPGs should, in my opinion, at least consider measurement over squares but that is a post for another night). 

I am sure I can think of more (such as having playtesters actually test the mechanics) but this will do for now. In the future, a few things miniatures gamers could learn from RPG players!

Gaming finances. Part 2

People enjoyed the last post I did, so let's talk about a different topic today: The costs that go into a book.

One of the most common questions I get is why I don't put more effort into high quality artwork or get professional layout done.

There are three reasons really, but let's look at the first one: The cost.

The numbers Mason, what do they mean?

Art is expensive. If you can get interior art for 30-40 dollars you are doing quite well and the costs only go up from there, depending on complexity. Let us say you want an illustration every 4 pages (which is sparse by most publishers standards) and are paying 50 dollars per illustration. 

Renegade Scout is 200 pages or so, so we need 50 drawings. That's 2500 dollars out of pocket. And to be clear, this is assuming you get a pretty decent deal on the art and with a more sparsely illustrated book than the industry tends to. The art budget for Five Parsecs From Home (a book almost everyone praised the visuals of) was about 8000 dollars. 

But let us say we are aiming for that: 

We are going to get a drawing every 4 pages and then we'll get a nice piece of cover art, so 3000 dollars in total. 

Next up, we need professional editing and layout. Most editors charge per word and from some posts on rpg.net, in the RPG industry 3-4 cents per word is typical ("real" book editors charge more btw). 

Renegade Scout is about 62000 words. At 4 cents per word thats about another 2500 dollars, so our costs are now at 5500 dollars. 

I am not done however. Editing covers our text and depending on the editor can be simple proofing or include editing for content. But we also need the book laid out to be nice and beautiful. Lets say we get someone to do it for 4 dollars per page. Its a 200 page book, so another 800 dollars gets added. 

At this point we have a nice, glossy and professional looking PDF and we are out 6300 dollars. 

Important

At this point I should note that these rates (editing, layout, illustration) are all below, and sometimes FAR below, what those people would earn in the "real" publishing industry. Tabletop gaming just doesn't have the circulation to pay those rates. They are however rates I have been able to verify either personally or through discussions online. You can luck into a "friendship" rate of course, but my examples should be taken as a bottom level. 

Keep calm and type on

So what do I make from selling a copy of Renegade Scout? Well, it sells for 19.99 and I get 70% of that. So 13 USD and some change. Lets just say 13 since some copies are sold for a reduced amount during sales. 

How many have I sold? Just shy of 900 copies. That makes the book "Gold" on Wargame Vault, a level of sales that less than 5% of all items published on Wargame Vault reach.

In other words, I made about 11700 dollars on Renegade Scout in 6 years or about 2k a year. (Directly. Publishing the book also allowed me to sell supplements for it and brought more attention to other items I had done). Until we can do a new edition, odds are that the sales will continue trailing off so while RS will keep selling, it won't be doing any big numbers by now.

So our glossy book budget would eat half of what I can expect to make on this book. Bear in mind that this was a book with a pretty popular idea, released by someone with some name recognition and a fan base. As I noted, on Wargame Vault, 95% of books sell less than this level. 

Get the gains

But the point of the glossy book is that it will sell better, right? By spending that money, I could sell 5 times as many books and make far more money.

We can examine a pretty clear use case. Five Parsecs From Home. I sold about 3300 copies when it was an indie game and we have sold somewhere above 10.000 through Modiphius. So about triple the sales.

So that looks pretty rosy. Instead of 11k, I could make 35k on a game like Renegade Scout. Subtract our costs and we are looking at 28k or so.

But here are a few things to bear in mind: 

Five Parsecs was lavishly illustrated and laid out and cost a lot more than the examples I have given here. The artwork alone was 8000 dollars. I don't know what the costs for layout and editing were, but they are almost certainly much above the above figure.  It also had a number of advantages: It released at a point when interest in solo gaming was exploding, with an established audience and it was released with the full reach of Modiphius's distribution and customer base. We also hit at a time when "warband" gaming was getting big, but had not yet exploded. In other words, this is very much the best case scenario. 

If we are bit more cautious and say we can double the sales figures (a number people often tell me online), I am taking home about 22000 dollars in 6 years, with an upfront cost of about 6300 dollars. In the end, I come down to about 15-16k. An increase overall certainly, but not the dramatic increase that I am often assured by folks. More importantly, the 6300 dollars is all out of pocket before a single sale has been made.

You will notice that when you look at publishers like Toofatlardies that do quite well (Chain of Command having had multiple thousand copies printed) the books look very nice, but they tend to use miniatures photography instead of artwork, thus dramatically cutting the cost.

Concluding the conclusion conclusively

Now all of this is not to say it boils down this simply. Not everything might be equal investment wise. Perhaps a nice colour cover can increase sales by 25% on its own, whereas interior art may only increase it by 10%.

So if blowing 500 bucks on a great cover might earn me another 250 copies of Renegade Scout sold that might make it well worth it. 

There are also opportunity costs involved. Every person you add to a project means another point of failure and a cost in time dealing with them all. I will talk about that in a future post. 

I hope this meandering post sheds a bit of light on things. None of this means we won't experiment with things in the future, I just wanted to ground the discussion a bit more in actual numbers.

How many copies do games sell?


It's pretty rare for people to talk about how many copies they sell. I suspect that since tabletop games often sell fairly small numbers of copies, people might feel embarrassed. 


I've been around long enough to have had a lot of results, so lets share a couple:

FiveCore skirmish (3rd edition) has sold 1234 copies with another 1164 when we were in the bundle of holding. 

Thats pretty good in the indie sphere. Platinum seller on Wargame Vault, which less than 2% of titles achieve. 

Ballad of the longbow has sold 88 copies. Thats about what I expected for that game. 

And for comparison, Five Parsecs has sold over 10k copies in the current edition and sold about 3300 copies in the indie 2nd edition. 

So what's the upper limit in the "cheap looks and indie production" sphere? Well, I suppose 1k to 3k copies is about it for me, for now. Hopefully we will blow past that in the future. 

What is typical? That is difficult to say. Around 65% of products on Wargame Vault do not sell enough to reach Copper status (which I believe is 50 copies or so). RPGs do a bit better with 60% failing to hit that mark. 

In other words, the majority of items don't really sell anything significant. Of course this may be skewed by the fact that some items are not marketed to be sellers, but made available because the creator wanted to do so or they are so incredibly niche that they just don't really stand a commercial chance. 

What about itch.io?

I left Itch out because I don't use it currently. I have seen some writers say they get a decent amount of revenue from it and others say that it really doesn't account for much. I suspect it may depend on individual circumstances. 

Writing and income streams


How do you make money as a game writer? We've talked a bit about this in the past but today I wanted to talk about the three ways I get paid. Sorry, this isn't going to be that specific in terms of amounts. I make around the average wage in the state I live in (depending on what site you use to find that). 

First there is direct sales of PDFs. This is still all through Wargame Vault / Drivethru RPG and pays royalty per sale. You get a slight increase and a few other benefits if you are exclusive through them, as opposed to selling elsewhere.

I have not seen the benefit to scattering my efforts across additional platforms at this time, though I may in the future. 

This amount obviously fluctuates depending on releases, running a sale etc. Over time this does drop off if nothing is coming out, but most of the "long tail" is here as even a game that "isn't selling" any more will still get the occasional buy.

(If you want to make money writing, you need to establish a back catalogue by the way). 

We do fairly well on there, but for course sales figures can vary tremendously. Some items Ive done never cracked a couple hundred sales and some have accumulated in the low thousands. 

Second there is Patreon. I create stuff for Patreon and people get to take a look at it. This can be done in a number of ways and it is hard to estimate what is typical for game creators. This can be a bit of a hassle because it has its own obligations and you have to pay attention to it. On the other hand, it also allows doing some oddball things that you can't do elsewhere. Patreon I think works well for a bit of an exclusive club vibe, where people can get a look at things ahead of time. 

Patreon income is fairly static for me.

Lastly there is the overlords. I write things for them and they pay me in money. Really a rather convenient arrangement if you think about it. 

Not much to say here I suppose. This amount can vary but our contract sets out conditions for things. 

Are there other potential income streams I could pursue? There are. We are looking into doing some merch stuff, there's the long awaited POD options, there's branching out to more publishers particularly on the historical side and probably a bunch of stuff I can't even think of.

Some creators try to branch out into other media such as podcasts or Youtube. That probably is not in the cards for me but never say never. 

I hope this ramble helps clarify a bit of how you can earn a full time job creating games. Feel free to ask questions. 

Rogue Hammer 1.15

The 1.15 update adds a new scenario to the rules and clarifies bad going a little bit.

History Dad expansion thoughts

I am working on ideas for the first expansion for History Dad, but I am trying to decide which way to go.

The original plan was to focus on a theme, such as a specific unit, campaign or battle and then do some material to fit that such as scenarios, a couple of unique units and so forth.

However I am wondering if maybe it would be better to just do a spread of different things in the expansion instead. (So perhaps there's a bit of Eastern Front and a bit of Normandy and so on). 

The former is more thematic of course and may get people interested in a new topic, but then, it may also discourage people who are not interested in that. With the latter option we can cover a wider range of stuff, but the risk of course is that it will be more thinly spread out.

A middle ground may be to have a smaller theme in the expansion (f.x. a section on Polish vehicles) and then accompany that with a variety of scenarios. 

Decisions decisions.


Laserstorm 2nd edition released


Jason has been busy at work updating LaserStorm to a 2nd edition, similar to the work he did on Clash on the Fringe revised edition. That means not only adding new features like solo tools and air units, but also a full colour rulebook with diagrams and lavish miniatures photography. 

If you are not familiar with LaserStorm, it is a set of combat rules for 6mm (as well as related scales) science fiction ground combat, allowing huge armies to be put on the table. Included are build systems (two of them in fact), a scenario generator, map based campaign rules and a host of ready to play units that can be used as is. 

The rules are available at https://www.wargamevault.com/product/476399/LaserStorm-2nd-edition 


Gothic Horror Skirmish. A taster

One of the projects I have been working on, and which is closing a releasable state, is "Gothic Horror Skirmish". 

This is just a working title and I am not sure what the actual title will be.

You can probably guess what the topic is, though I should clarify that it will be more Edwardian than Victorian (though the weapon selections can work fine for 1880s/1890s settings too). The aim is a pre WW1 vibe with squads consisting of your pick of adventurers, soldiers, criminals and various classic horror monsters.

This will be primarily a squad versus squad game with a collection of scenarios. There will be rules for solo mechanics, but this is not a campaign or adventure type game, at least not at first. Rather this is the sort of thing for people who enjoy building and painting up squads of cool figures. You can still do that solo, but it is also going to be well suited for playing with a friend or in a small club setting where you might already have a bunch of figures sitting around that can be used. 

The plan is for the initial release to feature 6 character types, 8 monster types, 3 types of magic and 6 scenarios. 

I am not sure of the expected page count yet, but the plan is for the game to be on the slimmer side. Not everything has to be a massive tome after all. 

Over time the game will be expanded with more material. The thinking is small (and cheap) expansion packs with new creatures, spells and scenarios so you can have something new to play with every couple of months.