On the Cards… A Question of Design

You’ve been called back. Back to the life you thought you had escaped. A foul plot is afoot…

Rascals is an action-adventure science fiction role playing game. It was inspired by such movies as Rogue One, Bourne, The Dirty Dozen, and so on.

Rascals uses traditional playing cards as the core engine for resolving skills tests and challenges. Today I want to talk a little about how this works, and some of the design decisions I made when creating this system.

You can find the pre-launch page to Rascals here, hit Notify to follow the project…

Context

Before I delve into why I made the system this way we need to know how the system actually works.

In Rascals each player will have a hand of cards. When a player undertakes a Challenge, or Reacts to something, they will play a card from their hand into the middle of the table (called the Pot). The GM (called the House), will also play a card according to the Difficulty of the Challenge or React.

  • Easy: The House will draw two cards, will discard the higher card face up, and play the lower card face down into the pot.
  • Average: The House will draw and play a card to the pot.
  • Hard: The House will draw two cards, will discard one face up, and play the other one (note that the House can choose which to play).

Discarding a card face up in an Easy or Hard Challenge will give the player some indication of what they need to succeed. The House may choose the card to play in a Hard challenge, because many adversaries have abilities that can be activated when they play a card of a specific suit. Sure the House may play a card thinking they have a good chance of losing the Challenge, but it might mean that the Adversary gets to do something extra, or special…

Players will redraw cards on Reactions, but not for Challenges they undertake. Cards are the characters inspiration, their drive, and their focus. If they get caught in a series of Challenges – a chase, a complicated engineering problem, heated debate, or firefight, their hand will slowly dwindle. Their options will contract…

Why?

Because in the movies this game is inspired by there is always that dramatic narrative, the heroes are challenged, they are set upon, beat down, they escape and struggle, thrown from one bad situation into another, they are running out of options, out of luck…

Until…

They manage to duck into a cafe and avoid pursuit, find that vet’s clinic and patch themselves up, or lay low in a dive-hotel, giving them a chance to reset, draw breath, plan…

This is the drive behind Rascals, the second act, the false victory leading to despair up to the point where all seems lost, but…

The purpose of this system is to have the characters pushed, to stress their hand and their Hustle (that’s another post), encouraging the players to find ways their characters can break the momentum, change the scene, take control, seize the initiative.

When characters find space in a scene they can use a Second Wind to regain cards or heal some, if they escape a scene they can redraw their hand… it’s about movement and momentum. About changing the ground. It’s about the characters, beat down and hurting, relentlessly pursued, struggling as they roll from one encounter to another, and finally managing to find space, time, to catch their breath, to reform…

This momentum swing – in a narrative arc going from the second to third act and back again – is exactly what the card system in Rascals is designed to reflect. Players should start feeling powerful and in control, slowly feel the pressure mounting as the action builds, then feel the drive to force change – a change of momentum, a change in scene, an escape and reprieve…

Rascals is all about that second act, when things start going sideways for our heroes, when, in the movie theatre, we are on the edge of our seats waiting to see how they’ll escape this one… and the relief and excitement when they do, when they pause the tempo, when they manage to find a way to wrest back control.

Did I mention the prelaunch page? It’s here… go hit Notify!

mockups-design.com

Rascals, in 3, 2, 1…

Rascals is preparing for launch… Find the prelaunch page and follow along here.

Rascals is a science fiction table top role playing game of action and adventure. The game system uses traditional playing cards and poker chips, and is designed to bring the tension, twists of fortune, and calculated gambles of action adventure stories to the fore. Rascals is ideal for 2-5 players, including the GM.

You are Rascals: ex-special forces, spies, or crooks. Hard boiled types who worked together in the hottest zones during the former unpleasantness. You were some of the few who managed to get out, make a new life, but something has changed all that…

Now the old crew is together again, you Rascals who survived the bloody final years of terrible war, have been pulled back. An abominable plot is unfolding in secret… 

From high-tech cityscapes to shattered habitation domes, through the heaving corridors of stations in chaos to empty transfer stations and the broken worlds beyond… Where will your path lead, and what awaits at journey’s end?

At 36 interior pages, with a 4 page cover, Rascals is bigger than my previous game: Corsairs. Inside you will find the rules for character creation and play, as well as rules for vehicles and space ships. A part of the rules includes a system the GM (called the House) can use to generate the problem the characters face, as well as which character or characters is somehow tied to it.

In addition to the physical zine, when Rascals drops after the Kickstarter ends, I will be adding a free DLC to the Table Top Simulator Workshop, which includes cards, chips, editable character sheets, and everything you need to play the game.

A work in progress… And a big shout out to Michael Jamieson who helped put this together!

Rascals is perfect for an action-fueled campaign, follow the prelaunch page to get notified when it launches!

Announcing: Rascals…

Kickstarter has officially announced Zine Quest (you can find the link to the KS announcement on my Zine Quest page here, along with a bunch of links and articles I hope anyone thinking of undertaking Zine Quest will find useful).

My project this year is Rascals. In Rascals you play ex-special forces, intelligence operatives, or crooks who operated as a team during the final years of the civil war that wrought havoc on the Network of Star Systems now administered by the New Government.

You thought you had left that life behind, when the peace accords of Luyten B were signed and the ink had dried. but something has happened to pull you back in…

In Rascals your character will be one of four archetypes: The Brains, The Face, The Muscle, or The Stick, each tied to a suit of cards. Characters have archetype powers and tricks they can use to manipulate the outcomes of the challenges they face.

Game play is built around cards, with the players sharing a deck, and the GM having a deck of their own. Poker chips are also used to measure character health and energy (called Hustle), ammo that can be spent for extra hits, as well as power and damage to vehicles and ships.

Rascals will be a 40 page zine, including rules for character creation, creation of the problem the characters face, rules for actions, combat, space ships and vehicles. A lot is packed into a small zine!

I’ll be writing more about the rules and the setting in upcoming posts, as well as dropping the link to the prelaunch page for the Kickstarter… until then, strap in and get ready for a wild ride!

Locked and Loaded

I was unsure what to do for the 2021 Zine Quest, and I wrote last time how my fantasy RPG, Heralds, was approaching a point where the project was too big to fit comfortably into the Zine Quest format. I could have cut it back, but I like the systems, and I felt it would lose too much if it was cut shorter. I bit the bullet and did what any self-respecting Zine Questee would do, I decided to write a different game.

In fairness I had the core of the system already written up, so I wasn’t coming at it from nothing. I knew the genres and themes I wanted to hit, they were baked into the system I had dusted off. So what did I do?

First, I made a few more notes, and left it at that for a week.

In that week I did three things before really delving into the system, setting, and writing. I worked on finding an artist whose style matched my feel for the setting and game, I looked for fonts that would work in a similar vein, and I started developing the layout and look of the zine.

Normally I tend to get writing first, so this was a departure from the established routine for me. Why did I go this route? To be honest, it was the fact that while I had a feel for the game in terms of what I wanted out of the mechanisms and setting, the setting itself was nebulous, it was feelings and emotion, a pace and rhythm, a soundtrack with no lyrics. I felt that getting a good grip on the visuals of the game would help me ground the the rules and setting, provide inspiration and limitation in equal and needed quantities. I’m glad I did.

I found an artist I am really excited to be working with, I won’t say too much just yet (not until there is something to show alongside), but I will say that I think his work is going to make Rascals look absolutely brilliant.

I started working on the layout. With Corsairs the game was originally envisaged to be more of a old-time worn look, faded leather and the like. With Rascals I wanted to make something stridently black and white, something that would fit within the two-tone rules for Zine Quest, and really sit comfortably within that space. I am really happy with how Rascals is looking at the moment, and I think once the art is dropped in, it will really look amazing.

Lastly I looked at fonts… and well. That’s a whole thing. Finding fonts that fit the style you want, but making sure that they are free for commercial use (or that you can get hold of a license for them), is not as easy as it could be. A lot of the fonts that come with Word or whatever program you happen to use might be free for personal use, but not for commercial use. I looked through a whole slew of fonts before settling on two I really liked. One will be used for all the headings, and the other for the body text. The 3D and gradient overlay effects for the title and contents pages were all done in Affinity, and fit the theme and game perfectly in my opinion.

So, a little update on where I am at in the lead up to Zine Quest 2021. I will be back with more on the subject, and back with some reflections on the year past (and hopes for the year ahead) in another post.

Where-ever you are, I hope you and yours had a lovely Christmas/Holiday period (if you celebrate such things), and a smashing new year (again…).


This article is a part of a series about running a Kickstarter campaign for Zine Quest, you can find the other articles in this series here.

In a bind…

I’m in a bind. With Zine Quest 3 unofficially officially announced through a number of email responses from Kickstarter posted on Twitter I find myself in the middle of writing and laying out my next project: Heralds.

Heralds is a fantasy role playing game, and it emphasizes home and exploration. A big part of the game is the collective creation of the Enclave (settlement) the characters belong to. This process includes some map making, some populating the Enclave with people, and some generation for the Enclaves network of nearby settlements. Characters are created through a light life-path system, and the creation of the Enclave and the characters happens at the same time. These systems work together to create varied characters, who are uniquely tied to their home, in short, it gives the characters a context. In my various play tests of this system there have always been multiple hooks generated through the creation process, meaning that the first game, games, or even campaign is seeded in the characters and the setting the play group collectively builds. I like how it all works.

I’m in a bind though…

I like how it all works, but the game is going to be bigger than Corsairs, my RPG for the 2020 Zine Quest. Where Corsairs sat at 36 pages front to back cover, I estimate that Heralds will sit closer to 60, and could easily be longer. Yes, it still works as a Zine, and it could work for Zine Quest. However, at that page count it will push the cost of shipping internationally from $8.30 AUD to $13.50. This is not an insignificant jump, and will likely mean that the cost of shipping will be greater than the cost of the game itself (something we who live in Australia are all too familiar with).

Is this too high? I’ll admit that I thought the cost of shipping would push people to opt for the PDF only Backer Level for Corsairs, and you can read here how my expectations on that front were wrong. But is it too much? Am I better off creating a smaller game (I have a few nearly written), and running that game for Zine Quest instead, saving Heralds for a Kickstarter later in 2021, where it wouldn’t be released as a part of the Zine Quest, and would therefore have a little more flexibility in how it could be put together (perfect binding anyone?).

What to do, what to do… I just don’t know where I will go with it right now. Part of me wants to push on with Heralds because I am loving it right now, and part of me wants to take a step back and tell myself to hold off and make it a bigger and better beast that can be released on it’s own two feet later in 2021.

I am at a loss, and yet a decision needs to be made sooner than later so I can focus my attention on getting the Zine Quest project (whatever it is) Zine Quest ready… Hmm…


This article is a part of a series about running a Kickstarter campaign for Zine Quest, you can find the other articles in this series here.

Done and in the Works…

Speed, Strength, and Wits is complete! Download codes sent to Backers… and with that everything achieved for the Corsairs Kickstarter has been completed and sent.

Corsairs is the core rules book, and includes all the rules for play, character creation, equipment, scoundrels to face off against, and also includes rules for sky ships and sailing.

Smoke and Oakum is the first supplement for Corsairs, and delves into the world of Sky Ships. It includes rules for weather, heights, managing a crew, upgrading a ship, and much more.

Speed, Strength, and Wits is the second supplement for Corsairs, and expands on the rules for characters. Providing 54 new Abilities characters can learn, more nuanced rules for relationships, new conditions, rules for building a refuge, and much more.

All three books are now available to buy, you can find them in the Caradoc Games shop, and also over on DriveThruRPG and Itch.io.

Physical copies of Corsairs are still available, and you can get those through the Caradoc Games shop…

All three of these books together represents something around 100 pages of content. It started with a Kickstarter during the ZineQuest promotion in February of this year, with the physical copies of the core book having shipped out in August, and the two supplements unlocked as stretch goals have since been released.

The big question for me in regards to Corsairs is where to next? I have a bunch of notes ideas, but I am keen to see what others would like to see from the line. I’m not only interested in seeing what you would like to see released next for Corsairs, but also what format you would like that to take. To that end I have created a survey you can find below…

What else is coming from Caradoc Games?

I have been working on the next game, and at the moment the plan is to launch it via Kickstarter during ZineQuest in 2021. The rules are nearly finished, as is the setting. I just need to start pulling things into a more cohesive whole. I am really excited about this one, and I think it will be a lot of fun. I won’t say more yet, as much as I am itching to do so…

I am also starting to pull some of my shorter games into a different format. I started with Brigands of Sherwood. A silly one-shot about being robbers in Sherwood forest who legitimately want to get rich, but who have to keep giving their loot away thanks to Robin ‘bloody’ Hood. Instead of the A4 layout it’s currently in, I am working on putting it into a brochure format… it’s been fun to play around with Affinity Publisher as I am doing so. I think I will do the same sort of format for Freedom or Toaster, and The Hoppy Pops.

I am hoping that 2021 will be a productive year for Caradoc Games, with lots planned and around the corner, I am quietly excited to see what comes…

Updates! Get your Updates here…

Keep your backers engaged. That was the advice I got from several people who had experience running Kickstarters: Keep your backers engaged…

The most obvious vehicle for keeping your audience engaged is through updates. Updates require content, and take time to create. In December and January, well prior to the February launch of the Corsairs Kickstarter, I made a list of ideas I could write updates about. Updates about the progress of the campaign, naturally. Any milestones crossed, like being funded, reaching stretch goals, these were obvious, and I wrote last time about my planning for Stretch Goals. But what else could I write updates about?

The main page for the Kickstarter already contained an overview of the game system, and with a 36 page role playing game, if I expounded too much further on the specifics of the rules I may as well copy paste the rules book to the Kickstarter Page. I decided to take a mixed approach, keeping those ‘in-between the highlights posts’ about the setting of the game and some of the rules that I thought were neat aspects of the Corsairs system. With the mantra of ‘keep your backers engaged’ echoing in my head, I also decided that for the two weeks the Kickstarter was running, I would post one update every day.

Yes. One update every day. Over the course of the Kickstarter, from launch to two weeks later which marked the end of the project funding period, I wrote 22 updates. More than one a day, and more, by a long way, that I think I should have. It was tiring, of course, but I also wonder now whether the constant barrage of updates could have been off-putting to some prospective backers. This is a question and quandary that I don’t have an answer to, unfortunately.

Updates is one vehicle for keeping backers engaged, but there are other options. I decided, given that the Stretch Goals I had settled on mostly involved more content for the game, that I would run a poll for every stretch goal. These polls would ascertain which of the expansion zines would ‘make the cut’. I started using Survey Monkey, but found it didn’t suit my purposes quite as well as I had hoped. I soon switched to Google Forms, and found that a much more flexible and easy to use platform.

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If you don’t have a copy of Corsairs you can fix that by heading to DriveThruRPG or Itch.io. If you missed the Kickstarter and are interested in a physical copy of the zine, there are still some physical copies left, contact me at caradocgames@gmail.com for details.

The supplement, Smoke and Oakum, is also available at DriveThruRPG and Itch.io now!

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One other thing I decided to do during the Kickstarter was to include a shout out to at least one other ZineQuest zine every update. There was such a huge array of awesome looking zines, I thought it would be good to highlight as many other creations as I could. I do have to admit that I was worried I might lose some backers, who might choose a highlighted zine over Corsairs, but I also thought that some of those highlighted zines would end up leading more potential backers to the Corsairs page as well – swings and roundabouts. In end I decided that to hell with whether I would get a loss or boost out of highlighting other products, ZineQuest had a very excited and communal feeling to it, and a part of that was a slew of creators sharing each others stuff – something I was very glad to take part in.

So… 22 updates over the course of the Kickstarter, that ended up being around 12,500 words all told. I ran four polls, and across those polls tallied some 220 odd votes. In those updates I highlighted 23 other zines that took part in the Zine Quest. What did I learn?

39 updates to date…

I think next time I will try and tone down the frenetic pace of updates. So many updates hitting the inboxes of my backers was possibly, in retrospect, annoying. Being excited about something is one thing, sharing details and sneak peaks is one thing, but do it too much… I don’t know if any of the backers found it annoying, if you were one, perhaps comment below with your thoughts, but I think toning down the number of updates will not hurt. Don’t get me wrong, a Kickstarter needs updates! But I don’t think it needs quite so many.

Polls were great fun. I liked using the polls, and I really liked watching the results roll in. It gave me a sense of the number of backers engaging with the project in real time, and helped me work out which stretch goals the backers wanted to see most. Corsairs, with a majority of its stretch goals being for additional PDF content, was well suited to the use of polls. In another project, it might not be so well suited or relevant, but for this ZineQuest Kickstarter it was good fun.

Highlighting other zines was something I was very glad I did. The jury is out on whether I lost backers through it, or gained any, but it was just a good thing to do. I truly hope that some of the projects I highlighted gained backers off those updates. If I was running a Kickstarter outside of ZineQuest I would consider doing this, though not as often. Perhaps focusing on friends who were running Kickstarters in the same space as my own, or to projects or creators I admire. As a part of the ZineQuest though I felt it was something that fit really well. ZineQuest was a time of buzzing interactions, lots of liking, sharing, and resharing of links and posts between creators. With the general mood of this year’s ZineQuest being one of excitement I felt that it was fundamentally a good thing to do, and something that played into the spirit of the ZineQuest in general.

This article is a part of a series about running a Kickstarter campaign for ZineQuest, you can find the other articles in this series here.

Stretch Goals

Should I, or shouldn’t I?

That was the first question I asked when thinking about running my Kickstarter. The answer seemed obvious: of course I should! What Kickstarter goes live with no stretch goals? What even is a Kickstarter with no stretch goals? Stretch goals are such a pervasive and common aspect to almost every Kickstarter I really felt that I couldn’t run the Corsairs Kickstarter without them.

Now I’m not so convinced, but more on that later.

Ok, so Corsairs was going to have stretch goals… for what, exactly? What would they be? I started, conversely, with what they shouldn’t be:

  • I didn’t want to add any weight to the zine. So no extra pages of content, no hard cover option, no extras that would go in the envelope…
  • I didn’t want to break the ‘rules’ of ZineQuest. So no colour cover, no colour art.
  • I didn’t want to be ordering things from multiple companies. So no bookmarks (I assumed these wouldn’t add a significant amount to the weight, so waived that consideration), and no stickers (see previous), because Mixam didn’t do either.

Ok, so now we have a start, a list of things I didn’t want to do. But why didn’t I want to do them? Simplicity. As this was my first Kickstarter, my first time printing anything, my first time fulfilling anything, I wanted to keep the process as simple as possible. Keep it simple, keep it straight forward, keep it within the cost parameters I had already worked out.

The last point there is really the most significant, I wrote about shipping in a previous post, and on backer levels, in both I had already costed out the options. Shipping particularly is an issue. From Australia to overseas shipping was going to cost $8.30 per zine, if I added anything to the zine (like extra pages, postcards, etc) and the weight tipped over the magical line of 125g it would cost me, even with the backers paying for a set amount of shipping. If it tipped over the 125g line shipping would jump to $13.50, and that would mean I would be inadvertently be absorbing and extra $5.20 per zine. That’s a significant amount.

So we have the why I didn’t want to do those stretch goals… what could they be instead?

Art by Felicity…

The first was always going to be art. My art was… ok. But professional art by a professional art doer was always going to be better. I had been in talks with a number of artists, and settle on Felicity Haworth. I loved her style, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to work with her. She has given flesh and bone to Corsairs in a way I could never have hoped to achieve on my own.

I settled on the idea of PDF supplements. This is not an uncommon thing in RPG Kickstarters – get to a certain level and the supplement on the ‘acid spitting borer beetles on Zargon XII’ becomes a reality! Ok, so this was a tested path for RPGs, Corsairs could do the same. It would serve three key purposes: it would provide stretch goal material, it would allow me to expand the Corsairs line, and, just as importantly, it would allow me a vehicle through which I could engage the backers. Yes! Do you want to see ‘Acid Spitting Borer Beetles of Zargon XII’ as the next supplement, or ‘Knife Wielding Voracious Voles of Seragon IX’? Vote here! Sounds like I am not taking it seriously, and that’s not the tone at all. I thought it would be a great way of involving what I hoped would be a growing community around the Kickstarter in decisions and choices – what did they want to see next? What aspects of this little zine about Sky Ships and piratical adventures would people like expanded upon? It would also help me create content for the game that people actually wanted. Was it background material? Was it a campaign to play through? Was it more rules on area X, Y, or Z? I wrote down the ideas for about a dozen different potential supplements, and then refined it to six:

Strange Customs

Strange Customs is a Corsairs campaign. A customs and storage company in Teboa has been transferring goods coming into port to storage sheds in the interior of the island. A quartermaster with the Corsair ship ‘The Harlequin’ has noted some discrepancies in the log notations. A number of Corsairs captains want the matter brought before the Council, but some proof is needed to add credibility to the claim. Is the customs house skimming off the top? Or is something deeper unfolding?

Jewel of the Molten Sea 

A background zine to Teboa including details on the island, the main port, trades, piracy, the influence of empires, important people and places, and adventure hooks every step of the way.

The Molten Sea 

A background zine to the Molten Sea including details on the dangers and places, rumours and stories of fouled ships and lost treasures, and an exploration of the people and denizens of the floating islands.

Speed, Strength, and Wits 

Expanded rules for Corsairs with a particular emphasis on character development. It will include advancement tables to extend character development and growth.

Smoke and Oakum

Expanded rules for Ships and Sailing, including modifying ships and special ship abilities.

Batsh*t Crazy 

A Corsairs campaign. The chance discovery of guano smugglers has much bigger implications than anyone could have guessed.


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If you don’t have a copy of Corsairs you can fix that by heading to DriveThruRPG or Itch.io. If you missed the Kickstarter and are interested in a physical copy of the zine, there are still some physical copies left, contact me at caradocgames@gmail.com for details.

The supplement, Smoke and Oakum, is also available at DriveThruRPG and Itch.io now!

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Of course, I had no way of knowing whether we would hit any of these stretch goals. But I knew I wanted each to have it’s own art. To that end I asked Felicity to quote me for art for these supplements, and I included that in the stretch goal ‘price’. Originally I set each stretch goal to open at $1000. This would cover art, as well as the cost of writing, layout, and everything else they entailed. At some point during the Kickstarter I decided I wanted to reach more of them, and dropped the ‘levels’ to $750. In the end we unlocked three stretch goals, new art, and two new PDF supplements.

To decide what those supplements would be I turned to surveys. These I sent to backers via ‘locked’ updates. First I tried Survey Monkey, but this platform just did not work the way I had hoped it would, and I shifted to Google Forms, which worked perfectly well. These surveys maintained a solid engagement, and helped me identify which supplements people wanted. Anyone following Corsairs will know, Smoke and Oakum was the most highly voted for. Once that had been locked in the next clear winner was Speed, Strength, and Wits.

Google Form results for the second supplement…

I had assumed that the campaigns might have been near the top, potentially the background book on the main island in the setting, so it is fair to say I was surprised that both the most highly requested supplements were for expanded rules. I was surprised, but in a good way. Smoke and Oakum has already been released, and Speed, Strength, and Wits is not too far away from being ready for release as well.

So I wrote at the top that I wasn’t convinced about stretch goals. This may be specifically for the ZineQuest, maybe they are more important for a standalone kickstarter… But I am torn. On one hand it has given me the opportunity to add some really neat content to the game. It has also, I hope, added some serious value to the price backers of the Kickstarter got from their pledges. On the other, I wonder: how many of those backers joined (or didn’t leave) thanks to the stretch goals. Maybe some? I’m not convinced that too many would have joined on the basis of the stretch goals. Maybe that is down to marketing, maybe it is down to being a zine format game, and maybe it is down to being a ZineQuest game, and that stretch goals would play a larger or more ‘felt’ role in a standalone kickstarter. Food for thought… I think if there is another ZineQuest, I would take more time to ponder the question I first asked myself: Should I, or shouldn’t I? For the ZineQuest my jury is out. For a stand alone Kickstarter, I still think they are a valuable addition to the campaign.

What did I think of adding supplements as stretch goals? I was paid to write them when the funding goals were met, the amount I was paid was reduced by the Kickstarter fees, and then by the dropped backers, but I was paid, and if I planned well, then I was paid appropriately. Smoke and Oakum released a month ago, and a majority of the audience who might buy it already did – that is both a good thing (providing the stretch goal level was priced well), and needs to be considered when looking at subsequent sales. If I release a further supplement for Corsairs, one that wasn’t a stretch goal, will people buy it? Well, we’ll find out in the future, and maybe I’ll finish this train of thought then…


This article is a part of a series about running a Kickstarter campaign for ZineQuest, you can find the other articles in this series here.

Pixels and Pages

One of the things I assumed when creating the Corsairs RPG Kickstarter, is that the digital (PDF) copies would be a more popular option than the physical copies.

I was wrong.

Nevermind that I was wrong for now… why did I think digital copies would outsell physical copies?

Shipping. In the simplest of terms, the answer was shipping. Shipping is expensive. Shipping from Australia is especially expensive. A couple of posts ago I wrote about the costs of shipping. Last post I wrote about the different backer levels, and the prices I came to for each of those. But to summarise: I had decided that the backer levels would be set at $10 for a digital only copy of Corsairs, and $15 for a physical copy, with the cost of shipping added after the Kickstarter had funded. Now, these prices are in Australian dollars, and so translate well into the US and UK currencies, which I assumed would be my largest sources of backers. Shipping domestically would add a cost of $2, and internationally would add a cost of $8. Bringing the total for a physical copy domestically to $17 AUD, and internationally to $23 AUD. At the end of the day this is a price that is more than double the cost of the PDF. Based on that I would completely understand, and expect, that a majority of international backers would opt for the digital reward level.

Yes, currencies play a key role, and $23 Australian dollars in US dollars or UK pounds is a better proposition (at the time of the Kickstarter it was around $16 USD for the shipping and the physical copy combined). Compared to the cost of the digital backer level, it was more than double. Based on this, I assumed that the digital version would receive more backers than the physical.


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If you don’t have a copy of Corsairs you can fix that by heading to DriveThruRPG or Itch.io. If you missed the Kickstarter and are interested in a physical copy of the zine, there are still some physical copies left, contact me at caradocgames@gmail.com for details.

The supplement, Smoke and Oakum, is also available at DriveThruRPG and Itch.io now!

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As I wrote above, I was wrong. At the end of the Kickstarter Corsairs had 236 backers, funding at 274% of it’s goal. Of these, 80 backers opted for the digital only level, while 148 opted for the physical level. 63% of backers opted for the physical level, representing 79% of the funding for the project. Compared, only 34% opted for the digital only level, representing 20% of the money raised. With the final percent coming from the few lovely people who backed but opted for no reward.

Interestingly, and annoyingly, the Kickstarter Fulfillment tab gives you the number of backers by country, but no option to filter that by backer level. So I had 236 overall backers, and 148 backers for the physical copy, and the fulfillment tab tells me that 149 of those were in the US (that’s obviously 149 of the 236, not the physical copy). But it’s interesting data nonetheless. Counting by country I had the following:

  • US – 149 backers
  • Australia – 28 backers.
  • UK – 18 backers
  • Germany – 10 backers
  • And a whole bunch of other countries with 1 or 2 copies, from Spain to the Philippines, from Norway to Puerto Rico.

So… why did people opt for the physical game?

I have no idea. I think the most likely answer is that many people, when they can afford to, prefer to have a physical thing, a manifestation of their pledge, and a book to thumb through. I know personally that I like to have physical copies of the RPGs I own where possible. I can’t explain why, but I prefer reading a physical copy than a digital one, and there is a visceral element that plays a key role as well.

Ok, so what does this mean?

Well, on one hand it’s nothing more than an observation. On the other, I think I would be very hesitant to run a Kickstarter that offered no physical copy. It seems that people like their physical books/zines, and that neglecting that would potentially turn away a number of backers. How many of the 148 backers I had, that opted for a physical copy, would have backed for a digital copy I will never know, but some, perhaps a significant number, would have been lost, of that I am sure.

So the next Kickstarter I run, and there will be one, whether for the next ZineQuest (presuming there is one) or independent of it, I will make sure to include a backing level that is for a physical copy…


This article is a part of a series about running a Kickstarter campaign for ZineQuest, you can find the other articles in this series here.

Shipping a game about Ships…

One of the biggest costs for any Kickstarter that is shipping a physical product is… well, shipping. This is especially true when to or from a country like Australia, where ordering a game from overseas can cost more for postage than for the game itself. I was seriously worried about the costs of shipping, seriously worried that if I got the weights or sizes wrong, the parcels I was sending would be bumped into a different category, and therefore end up costing significantly more per zine. As I wrote in my last post, one of the only things I was certain about in the beginning, was that I was uncertain of so many things…

Many Kickstarters absorb some or all of the shipping costs by wrapping them into the backer level prices. I thought I might be able to absorb some of these costs, but that if I tried to absorb too much, the price of backing for the physical zine would balloon to a point where it was ridiculous. I decided, after much uncertainty, to add shipping as a cost after the Kickstarter. Kickstarter allows you to set an amount for shipping, and I set one for domestic shipping, and one for international shipping. I could have used a service like Backerkit, which would have allowed me to collect pledges after the campaign was over. But these have fees, and I thought the cost of doing so would not be much different than doing it through Kickstarter.

It’s important to note, and it may be obvious, but Kickstarter has fees – usually a bit more than 10% of the money raised. Shipping is included in this amount, so whatever you charge through Kickstarter for shipping, will be included in the money raised before Kickstarter takes it’s 10%. I said this may be obvious, but when you are setting backer levels you may easily remember that 10% will be taken as fees. But when you are setting the shipping costs you need to remember this 10% (approximately) applies to them as well.

Before I go too much further there are three key things I was trying to work out at this point. How much would a backer pay for a physical copy, what would I put for the shipping costs (domestic and international), and how much would the funding goal be? Getting one of these right doesn’t necessarily mean the others are correct, and setting either the backer level or funding goal too high would turn off potential backers. The backer level needed to be priced in order that the money gained from a backer would cover the costs of producing the game for that backer. Of course, the economy of scale is at work here (the more zines I print the cheaper per zine they are), and I needed to be able to price out a range of things before I could settle on a solid figure for either. I wrote in my last post that I decided to set the funding goal around a print run of 200 copies, with the idea that if we got more than 200 backers who wanted the physical zine, the excess of funding would cover the next step up in the printing. I also decided to base my backer level costings around the idea that I might only print 50 copies, in which case the cost per zine would be higher. I feel these were conservative choices, and they were partly driven by the idea that more international backers would go for the digital only rewards than the physical rewards (spoiler: I was wrong).

Not the most beautiful tests, but they were a beginning…

Setting a funding goal meant I had to be able to make a good estimate for what it would all cost – if I printed 200 copies, and included a little of the shipping, envelopes, everything else required, a safety buffer, and the Kickstarter fees – how much money would I need to be able to hit print? So what were the costs?

More research was called for. The biggest hurdle was postage… What was the size of the finished package going to be? What was the weight? These things impact the cost of shipping significantly. I printed test copies off to see what the weight might be – but the tests were not the right gsm, not the right cover card, the envelope I added wasn’t the same as the ones I would use in the end, but these tests gave me a good idea.

Shipping from Australia Post is based around the size and weight of a package (surprising, I know). For a zine, I could get away with sending them as letters. Given the size of the envelope I had the following costs…

Domestic shipping through economy post, using a large letter (which would be the size of envelope), would cost me:

  • $2.20 if it was up to 125g.
  • $3.30 if it was more than 125g and less than 250g.

Internationally sending a large letter through economy post would be:

  • $3.20 if it was less than 50g.
  • $8.30 if it was between 50g and 125g.
  • $13.50 if it was between 125g and 250g.

I did not think it would be more than 250g, but it could easily have been more than 125g, the envelope counts too of course. While the difference between 124g and 126g in costs for shipping domestically is small, it jumps by more than $5 internationally, which is not an insignificant leap. Especially when I did not have an exact idea of how much the zine, envelope, etc would weigh, just a rough estimate.

Once I had settled on Mixam as the printer, they were kind enough to send me estimates of the weight of a single book, I also bought a few envelopes and used the heaviest for my calculations. Despite all the tests and estimates I still wasn’t 100% sure what the prices were going to be until I actually walked into the post office and was relieved to find I was right – it is within this size of 260mm x 360mm x 20mm, and less than 125g? Well, I’m not 100% because I haven’t had them printed yet, but I estimate that is the correct sizing and weight to be…

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If you don’t have a copy of Corsairs you can fix that by heading to DriveThruRPG or Itch.io. If you missed the Kickstarter and are interested in a physical copy of the zine, there are still some physical copies left, contact me at caradocgames@gmail.com for details.

The supplement, Smoke and Oakum, is also available at DriveThruRPG and Itch.io now!

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With the tests made and weighed, adding in a heavier envelope of the correct size for good measure, I made the judgement that the zine would, in fact, weigh less than 125g, but more than 50g. This would mean that shipping domestically *should* cost $2.20 per zine, and internationally *should* cost $8.30 per zine.

Getting ready to pack the printed zines ready for shipping…

When I looked for envelopes I found plenty of options, but the ones I found early were quite expensive, at about $90 for 200, including shipping I rounded to $100, and that meant $0.50 per zine. Shipping labels I found for $30 (I could have gone cheaper, but wanted to be able to print them out – more on this in another post).

So what were the costs looking like given the ideal plan of shipping 200 copies?

  • Printing ($400 for 200 copies)
  • Envelopes ($100 for 200)
  • Shipping Labels ($30)
  • Shipping Domestic ($2.20 per zine)
  • Shipping International ($8.30 per zine)
  • Margin for screw ups (5-10%)
  • Kickstarter and processing fees (10% ish)
All packed up and lots of places to go…

I decided to absorb a small portion of the shipping costs by rounding the cents down to the dollars, $2.20 and $8.30 became $2 and $8. Ahh! But… Kickstarter collects that shipping as a part of the funding total and then applies it’s fees… so 10% (roughly) of each of those values was taken by Kickstarter… a point I initially (and stupidly) overlooked. Luckily I had built a margin for screw ups.

Of course, if I got 200 backers all of this would work out perfectly… which is why I based my final choices for the backer levels and funding goal on the more conservative estimation based on printing only 50 copies, where the costs would be defrayed over far fewer backers, meaning less profit margin on each zine. More on that in the next post though…

In the end, after all was done and dusted, Corsairs ended with 149 Backers wanting a physical copy. I posted those out a few weeks ago, and it cost a little over $1100 to do so. Meaning, of course, that a bit less than a third of the money raised by the Kickstarter when into postage.

This article is a part of a series about running a Kickstarter campaign for ZineQuest, you can find the other articles in this series here.