Zine Quest – Why Kickstarter?

Previously I wrote about ‘Why ZineQuest‘, but let’s back up a bit and ask why Kickstarter?

In late 2018 I was getting the urge to scale down the freelance writing I was doing, and start working on projects of my own. This led me to start development of a large fantasy RPG: Ashmerl, and a collection of smaller RPGs. I wasn’t sure about what the the best way to sell these games was. Just whack them up online for purchase? Look at fleshing some out for self-publication? There were many potential avenues and I was undecided. Then Patreon announced it was changing it’s fee structure…

In mid 2019 I accelerated my plans, had a logo designed, set up Caradoc Games, and launched my Patreon. I did it because Patreon were changing their fee structure and getting in before that happened meant I could avoid some of those fee changes, having a uniform identity from the start would prevent messiness later on, so I did it all at once. In the months after setting up my Patreon I wrote and released four micro-RPGs, both in basic and expanded versions. The goal was this: To write basic games that people could download for free, and include links in each to my Patreon. On Patreon my patrons would have access to the expanded versions of these games. Simple: drive traffic to Patreon in the hope it would encourage people to sign up as patrons in order to get the expanded games.

It did not happen.

I might have been a relatively successful freelancer (well, busy at least), but I did not have an audience. My email list languished, the views on my site were minimal, on the upside the number of downloads were great, but the next step, getting people to Patreon… it did not happen. This could be related to the audience, it could be related to the quality of the games, it could be that I didn’t or don’t market it well, it could all manner of things. To be honest, I think a lot of games that get downloaded for free don’t end up getting played a whole lot. Read perhaps, but played? Maybe I am thinking too much about the number of games I download vs the number of games I actually manage to get to the table, but it is also a potential reason, so… Obviously this is something I need to spend some time considering. Is it worth going back and rethinking how I am doing my Patreon? Is there something I could be offering or doing that would see a change? I think there is, but that is a subject for another day.

Originally Corsairs was intended to be one of the Patreon games. It would have been a smaller game than it is now, but that was the goal when I first started to develop the idea. Then whispers starter to circulate… ZineQuest was coming back in 2020. In October/November I knew this was something I wanted to take part in, for all the reasons I wrote about in my previous post. Namely: it offered the potential for an audience I lacked, it offered the chance to try Kickstarter with as many elements tilted in my favour as possible, and it challenged me to actually do something different, and learn a whole slew of lessons in the process.

With the methods I had been trialing in the middle of 2019 broadly unsuccessful, here was an opportunity to try something different, during a promotion that I hoped would help provide me with the best opportunity to be successful.

Of course, while the timing seemed ideal to trial running a Kickstarter, crowdfunding offers other benefits. With an upfront injection of capital I would be able to do things that I could not have justified otherwise. It allowed to me to trial printing physical copies, something I would not have considered otherwise. I mean, I could have printed physical copies of course, but what would I do with a couple of hundred copies of my game sitting in a box? Hope to sell them slowly? Set up a webstore to sell them? Sell them through my site? eCommerce additions to WordPress cost money, as they do through any other platform. If it was a book to be sold through Amazon or similar, then I might need to consider getting an ISBN and barcode, which costs more money, and I would have no way of knowing (without an audience remember) whether I would sell even half a dozen copies, let alone more than 100.

Upfront capital also allowed me to commission an artist, in the case of Corsairs: Felicity Haworth. Without the upfront capital I could have commissioned an artist, potentially, but it would be a cost I wasn’t confident I could recoup. Prior to running Corsairs I spent hours and hours drawing all the artwork seen on the Kickstarter page myself. Now, I’m can put together a reasonable drawing, although I am better with a pencil than a stylus, but being able to hire someone who is far more capable than I is going to give Corsairs a quality and life I couldn’t have achieved on my own.

Of course, assuming the risk in the hope of reward is how businesses have run since Glob decided to sell amber beads through Ötzi. But Crowdfunding provides opportunities for small time businesses and indie creators to take risks on their ideas through a safer and more defined pathway. For me, creating an indie game, having a small or next-to-nonexistent audience, and wanting to create something that looked nice and could be physically handled, was going to be cost prohibitive. Kickstarter provided a vehicle through which I could mitigate the financial risks, and have a greater opportunity to grow and connect with an audience.

The process of running a Kickstarter, gaining backers, and getting funded, cuts out many of the uncertainties. I know how many physical copies I need to get printed, I have budgeted for art, I have budgeted for shipping costs. All of these things have been considered and accounted for. Running a Kickstarter has defined what my budget parameters are, and given me the exact number of zines I need to print (plus a margin for error). There may be complications along the way, and Kickstarter is by no means a perfect solution, but it is a very useful one, especially for small time creators trying to share their work with the world at large. Is it also widely used by big companies, you bet, and I can see why, but that’s a different topic.

Corsairs hit Kickstarter as a part of ZineQuest. What was going to be a small PDF-only game released on DriveThruRPG and Itch, as well as to Patreon, has grown to a 32 page Zine. Kickstarter has allowed me create something that will be printed, with high quality art from a professional artist. In the process it has also allowed me to learn about laying a document out, printing processes, commissioning an artist, fulfillment, and perhaps more important than all of the above, gain an audience of over 200 backers. I am pretty happy with this humble beginning…

Why Kickstarter? Well, if you managed to make it this far I hope the answer is clear!

Corsairs – Set to Sail

14 Days. That was the length of the Corsairs Kickstarter Campaign for the ZineQuest. Before launch I had my worries, I had my doubts, I had a cynical and self-deprecating voice in the back of my mind telling me Corsairs would fail. It didn’t.

236 Backers raised over $4000 AUD to help make Corsairs a reality. We hit a funding level of 274% and unlocked three stretch goals. We unlocked a better quality zine, improved art from Felicity Haworth, and two further PDF zines that will expand the Corsairs rules and setting.

I’m not sure how I feel. On one hand I am stunned, shocked, thrilled and excited, and on the other I am daunted by the challenge that lies ahead, and the worry that I can still muck it up. Replacing the concern that no-one would be interested and that the Kickstarter would languish unnoticed and forgotten is the concern that people who get the zine will be largely unimpressed. Such is the journey of anybody who creates content in the hope that others will like it I suppose! I cannot sit in a puddle of idle self-doubt, I have 236 people to thank and a successful Kickstarter campaign to celebrate! So onward!

An early test print.

Over the course of the Kickstarter campaign I wrote 23 updates counting something like 13,000 words all told, I did one interview, tweeted a lot, and gave shout outs in my updates to 23 other Kickstarter ZineQuest campaigns. I got a lot of feedback, a huge amount of support, and was stunned when the campaign funded on the second day, and hit 274% of the funding level by the time it wound to a close.

It’s been a roller coaster. I have learned a lot, and I recognise that I have much yet to do and learn. I am looking forward to the chance to officially commission Felicity to complete the artwork for Corsairs, and excited to see how it will all come together including her wonderful artwork. I have two source-zines to write: Smoke and Oakum, which will expand the rules for sky ships and sailing, and Speed, Strength, and Wits, which will expand the rules for characters. Through both I hope to also expand the setting and lore of the Molten Sea and the famed Floating Islands, as well as layering in as many adventure seeds as I can. All in good time! For now I have some freelance work to complete while I wait for Kickstarter to process the campaign. Once this is done I will be taking time out to finish Corsairs, and make the rules book and the source-zines that follow it as wonderful, and full of value for my backers as I can.

Playtesting was a lot of fun!

All in all Corsairs has me wondering about the viability of running a small zine campaign again later in the year. Yes it would be outside of the ZineQuest promotion, and that I have no doubt would significantly impact visibility, but I had a great time running the Corsairs kickstarter campaign… I got to interact with a wide range of wonderful and supportive people from gamers to designers and fellow zine-questers, and generally had a lot of fun. Then again, maybe I should instead focus my attention on my larger fantasy RPG: Ashmerl… Decisions… we shall see!

Corsairs – Characters

Corsairs will be coming to Kickstarter as a part of the ZineQuest in a few days time. In the lead up I wanted to show a few of the details, and today that means talking about characters!

You can tell a lot about a role playing game from the character sheet, and this is the character sheet for Corsairs:

Characters are built around their statistics: Finesse, Might, and Wits. This dictates the base number of D6 rolled when a character is attempting a task. Each statistic has three linked skills, and these will provide bonus dice a character may roll, and can be improved with experience.

Characters also have Luck points, and these may be used to modify dice, or to add some narrative element or device to the game that aids the character in their hour of need!

As the pirates close in on poor old Edward Evans he stumbles across a small gully, Evan’s player spends a luck point and states that in the gully are some picketed horses… just in the nick of time!

Characters will also have positive and negative relationships with the other characters in the group. In our playtests Del Fuego had a negative relationship with Scarred Pete because Pete’s Monkey nearly pulled out Del Fuego’s infamous moustache.

Relationships provide a benefit or impose a negative effect when the characters are working together and helping each other out.

Characters have gear! Each character will also begin the game with one special item. Scarred Pete had his monkey, Del Fuego had his moustache. Special items provide a bonus to one skill.

At the bottom of each character sheet has a Damage chart, which is where a player tracks how injured a character is. Injuries can mean negative effects for the characters, like the Cursed condition. The Damage chart also shows how difficult the injuries are to heal…

Lastly, most characters will have a role on ship, this will mean certain jobs they are in charge of when a ship is getting ready, plotting a course, sailing, or locked broadside to broadside with an enemy!

Corsairs will launch on February 2nd! Check out the pre-launch page here, and click to get notified when it launches!

Corsairs – Coming Soon to Kickstarter!

The Corsairs Kickstarter preview is up! Check it out here!

Corsairs will go live for Kickstarter’s ZineQuest on February 2nd.


Corsairs is a 32 page RPG zine of sky ships, floating islands, and high adventure! All the expected rules are there: actions, combat, giving a foe a damned good tongue lashing, Corsairs even includes rules for sky-ships and broadsides!

Corsairs does not include a GM chapter, or the usual ‘What is an RPG’ section, but it is choc full of rules, Scoundrels, and background. It also includes a Summary page, a character sheet, and a ship sheet.

Again, you can check it out here!

Zine Quest – Starting Line In Sight…

For the briefest of moments I was going to title this: Finish line in sight… but then I came to my senses. The starting line is in sight, and the kickstarter page for Corsairs is almost ready to be submitted for approval. I need to make some small final adjustments, run over the maths again for the millionth time, and hit submit… it is close!

The bleed has been adjusted (I made an error with the cover that has been fixed), and the finished book will use a light blue cover stock.

A part of all the organisation and planning that has gone into this is sorting out the costs of shipping. Shipping from Australia is expensive, and maybe, just maybe, the currency conversion rates for the weak Australian dollar in comparison to the US dollar, the Euro, or the Pound, will make a difference, but the fact remains: shipping from Australia is expensive. Working out exactly what those incidental costs will be is important. The cost of printing the zine is A, the cost of art, writing, and all those other creative parts B, the cost of shipping is C, and the cost of the shipping materials is D.

The cover is 250gsm stock, while the interior pages are 100gsm. The zine is saddle stitched, and printed in black and white. Again, the printed book will have a light blue cover.

A+B+C+D is what the zine costs me, to send to you, the backer. I have quotes for A, a cost for B, and know what D will be. The cost of C, shipping, is dependent on weight. The weight of the zine, the weight of the packaging, and the added weight of shipping labels and so forth.

To aid in this process, and to make sure everything is ready to roll as it should be, I have had a test book printed. This proof helps me for a number of reasons, one: I can test the actual finished weight of the zine. Two, I can make any adjustments required (already I can see that aspects of the character sheet are too close to the gutter and need to be adjusted), and so on. Plus, it is super nice to hold a physical copy of the zine, and to see what it will look like.

It should be noted that the print proof is not using blue stock for the cover (as the finished zine will), but all the paper weights are correct and accurate, and will give me the information I need to move forward with shipping estimates. I must say that I am rather happy with the finished product. A neat, nice looking little booklet that contains all the rules required to go a-plundering the ships and shipping lanes of the Alderil Empire in a sky ship are present and correct! Very nice!

A sneak peek at the contents – all the rules and background included. Rules for characters and actions, rules for creating characters, rules for ships and ship to ship combat, rules and lists of equipment, scoundrels, a quick reference, and the obligatory character and ship sheets!
Also, my playtesters complained that I didn’t mention all the arson they undertook in the dedication, and to be fair to them, there was a lot of it.

Zine Quest – Shipping from Down Under

I went to a local post office. I figured it was better to speak to someone with expertise rather than noodle around on the Australia Post website for hours to find the same information.

“If I was interested in sending an A5 booklet. This size (I had two samples). What would the cost be to post domestically? Internationally? To the US? The UK? Europe? China? etc…

Before too long the scales held the samples (both), and a price was forthcoming.

“How much?”

Shipping from Australia is expensive. Hell, shipping to Australia is expensive, in the instances when I have purchased games from overseas the shipping has often cost more than the game.

Shipping domestically is fairly well priced, a little over a dollar for something like an A5 Zine, plus the cost of the envelope it is put in.

Shipping internationally, wow.

A5 booklets can be sent as letters in the appropriate packaging, packaging from Australia Post can cost anywhere between $50 for 100 envelopes, through to $90, depending on the quality. In other places, like Office Works or similar stores that specialise in stationary and office supplies, you can find cheaper alternatives.

Postage costs, in the case a zine being sent as a letter, are based on weight. If the total weight (the weight of the booklet and the envelope together) is less than 50g, then the cost to send to most places internationally is $3.20. Between 50g and 125g, and the price jumps to $8.30. If it’s between 125g and 225g, the prices jumps again to $13.50, and beyond that and you’re probably not sending a zine.

So I’m waiting for the printer to get back to me with options and projected weights, and the choice here lies somewhere between getting as low a weight as possible and maintaining a level of quality.

The postage costs are high, which makes them difficult to roll into a backing level in the case of the Zine Quest. If my zine ends up weighing over 50g (envelope included), which is likely, it will mean adding or absorbing $8.30 on top of the cost of printing, and on top of any additional margin for losses, profits, and so on).

What does this mean for the Corsairs Kickstarter? Well, if the weight is over 50g, which is likely, it means that I will likely charge for shipping on top of the cost of the Zine – backing levels will be set at x, shipping at y, and backers who want a physical copy will be required to pay x+y.

If, in the unlikely scenario, that the weight is beneath 50g, then I may be able to increase the cost of the backing level for the physical Zine slightly, and absorb some of the shipping costs. Is the prospect of ‘free shipping’ worth it? What will it bring to the campaign? These are questions I need to ask myself.

On the upside the Australia dollar is fairly weak compared to most major currencies, so my $8.30 (well, $8.30 plus the cost of the envelope) for shipping translates to about $5.70 USD, €5.15 EUR, ₤4.5 GPB, $7.5 CAD, or ¥39.5 CNY. Perhaps that makes it more palatable, perhaps it doesn’t…

All food for thought!