Friday, 30 July 2021

Kickstarter AAR: The Pamphlet of Pantheons

In February 2021, during Zinequest 3, I Kickstarted a small project called The Pamphlet of Pantheons. This was something that came to me on the spur of the moment in late January when I was reminded that Zinequest was happening. I'd been thinking about the concepts behind it for a long time, and I decided that the resulting project would be a good size for Zinequest. I wanted to try out a Kickstarter before launching a possibly larger one for The Magonium Mine Murders, and the limited scope of Zinequest made it seem like this was a good opportunity. 

In this post, I'm going to go over lessons learned and look at some of the things I did right and wrong. Let's start with what I did right: 

Keep It Simple

This was the first thing I decided when I started planning the Kickstarter. I had no stretch goals, and only two reward tiers: digital and print. I knew that the more complex the project was, the more opportunities there would be for me to make a miscalculation somewhere. 

Do It Yourself

I did everything for this project apart from the cover art, which had both good and bad effects. On the one hand, I think you could call the graphic design and layout "functional," but on the other hand I learned a lot and saved some money. I also did all of the shipping and fulfilment myself, which did wind up costing me extra money and time at a time when I really needed to be focusing on other things. 

Be Lucky

Probably the best thing to happen to the Pamphlet was an offer, out of the blue, from a friend who arranged for my Tim Molloy cover art. In addition to just being a cool cover, this did several things for the project: 
  • It let me have a B&W cover but still look great, saving me some money. 
  • It gave me a great image to use on social media to promote the book. 
  • It added a little buzz and credibility -- cool Old School types recognise Molloy from Knock! 
Appeal to an Existing Audience

I would characterise myself as a "minor gaming community figure." I have about 900 followers on Twitter and a core podcast audience of probably fewer than a thousand people, of whom about 150 back me on Patreon. In absolute terms, that's not a huge number, but it's a lot better than shouting into the void, and it does mean that I have a platform to hawk my wares. It's possible that the Pamphlet would have done as well without Monster Man to promote it, but given the number of my listeners' names I recognised among my backers, I have my doubts. 

Benefit from Community Expertise

There's a growing number of RPG zine makers out there, and a lot of them have been through the bits you're struggling with. I received great advice about paper stock, cover weight, postage, and more. I'm very grateful. 

Of course, not everything went perfectly. Here's the thing I will definitely do better next time: 

Postage, Postage, Postage

Postage was by far the biggest expense of the whole Kickstarter. I did not anticipate how many orders would come from the US (over half of my print backers were in the US), and I calculated the postage a little too low on those orders considering that if you do postage through Kickstarter, it's counted as part of your Kickstarter and therefore Kickstarter takes a slice. I still made a profit on those US backers, but I could have done much better. 

Seriously, postage alone -- exclusive of packing materials -- cost more than everything else put together. 

Next time, I'm working out a separate US print run and getting myself a North American fulfilment partner. It will also save the nice people at the post office a lot of aggravation and I bet it won't be that much more expensive. 

Also, I ordered the wrong size of envelopes at one point, which cost me some money. Anyone want to buy some capacity book mailers? Going cheap!

Pricing

I have a bad habit of selling products at very low prices. This is partly because of, I don't know, low self-esteem or something, partly because I myself am very frugal, and partly because my mental index of what something costs in dollars is fixed at the last time I lived in the US, which was nearly 20 years ago. 

This was a bit of a mixed bag: I do think that there were a lot of people who shelled out for the digital edition of the zine because it was only £2, and since my overhead there was essentially nil, that's a good source of profit for me. But I bet almost all of them would still have backed it at £3 and been happy, and I would have made 50% more. And this low price was much more of a problem for the print edition, where there were real expenses to cut into my profit margin. 

Adding it Up

So here's a rough calculation of how the money went. Some of these expenses are functionally lower -- I'm registered self-employed and do report the income, so I'll be claiming the expenses as deductions. 

Kickstarter (after fees etc.): £1378
Direct and distro sales: £90
Online sales: £270

Total: approximately £1738

Software: £24
Packaging and stationery: £75
Printing: £140
Postage: £385

Total: approximately £624

That leaves me with a profit of about £1114, which is better than a slap in the face but not exactly retirement money. 

Now, the good thing is that at this point a lot of my main expenses are done but there's nothing to stop the book making more money. At present, I'm not promoting it very hard on DTRPG, but I still get a steady little trickle of sales, essentially money that I don't have to do any work for. Same goes for digital sales on Itch. It's also definitely done a lot for my follower count on social media and on Itch. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some of my new Monster Man patrons came to the show via the Pamphlet

Also, while it seemed to me like I never shut up about the project, that doesn't mean that much outside of the communities I belong to. Big boosts to my sales post-KS always came from posting in relevant FB groups or having other people talk about the Pamphlet on social media (one Instagram post in particular got me a pretty substantial sales spike). Do more of that next time. 

So, for next time: 
  • Price more realistically 
  • Work with partners for international shipping 
  • Be as loud about the project as I thought I was this time
  • Explore new avenues for promotion
Overall, not too bad for a first Kickstarter: the backers got their books on time or close to it, I didn't lose money, and I learned a lot. 

Monday, 19 July 2021

More Frugal Gaming: Grimdark Future Challenge, Part II

 In my last post, I introduced a project I'm currently working on: creating a 2,000-point army for Grimdark Future while spending less than £55. To create the core of my Human Inquisition army list, I picked up some Frostgrave and Stargrave sprues, and used them to assemble the Inquisitor's retinue. This is going to include: 

  • four assassins, badass killing machine characters who eat up a lot of points. 
  • three daemonhosts, hapless souls who blast out gouts of demonic energy. 
  • three crusaders, heavily armoured sword-fighters. 
  • three psychics, just this side of being a daemonhost. 
In this post, we'll take a look at some sample models I've built for each of these units. We've already seen the sniper assassin. 


Here he is again, though, just for completeness.


Here's the first psychic. I've decided to go for quite simple paint jobs for this army, but I think they'll look nice anyway. He has a Frostgrave cultist body and arms, with a hand swap from a Stargrave sprue to give him the regulation pistol as well as a melee weapon from the Frostgrave demon sprue. His head is another Stargrave head.

When you think of the Inquisition, you think of red robes, so I want to give all the models in the core retinue some red and off-white (except for the assassins, who of course will be in sinister black). 



The second psychic has the body and arms of a Frostgrave cultist, although I've replaced the blade of his spear with a bead to make it a staff. The head and holstered pistol come from a Stargrave sprue. His pistol is holstered for drawing with the right hand, which is going to be inconvenient if he's got a staff in it, but no one said these guys were military geniuses. I tried a little OSL effect from the staff, but it doesn't look great in the photo -- in real life, the different swirling colours on the orb are more distinguishable. I may touch up the face, but it looks OK at arm's length. 



Next, we have the first daemonhost. The body is another Frostgrave cultist, and I wanted to suggest that this is a former psychic; the other two bodies will be more Crusader-like just because that's what I have. The head is a Stargrave head, the arms are from the cultist sprue, and the tail is from the demon set. I wanted to give the impression that the daemons in these bodies have warped and mutated them but are still restrained by some kind of ward, so I gave him a glowing chain of relics around his neck. The daemonhosts are going to look quite different from one another, but hopefully the unit as a whole will work out. 


This is the first of the Crusader unit. These are heavily-armoured melee fighters equipped with energy swords. I used the body and shield from a Frostgrave demon sprue to give a suitably gothic look -- these are supposed to be very medieval figures -- but added a sci-fi head from a Stargrave sprue to link it in to the rest of the army. I reversed the balance of the white-and-red colour scheme seen on the psychics so that the unit will be easily distinguishable but the army's colours will stay consistent. I think he looks not bad. I wanted to make the armour look weathered and battered partly for thematic reasons but also partly because I worried the bright red would look a little too Space-Marine-y otherwise. 

Thursday, 8 July 2021

More Frugal Gaming: Grimdark Future Challenge

 Over on Facebook, Badger Bodges proposed a challenge: create a 3,000-point army for the sci-fi wargame Grimdark Future while spending only £55. I decided to undertake it. In fact, I'm not even going to spend £55: I'm mainly going to use models already in my collection, but I will keep track of what they cost and not go over £55. 

£55 is the cost of a Start Collecting Astra Militarum box from Games Workshop. Start Collecting boxes are a more affordable way to, er, start collecting Citadel miniatures, and I don't know if Badger picked the Astra Militarum one because it's singularly unimpressive, but in it you get: 

  • 10 Cadian Shock Troops
  • A heavy weapons team
  • A Commissar
  • A Leman Russ
So that's ten regular troops, a character, a heavy weapon, and a tank. Nice variety, but I think we should be able to do rather better than that. 

After looking at the Grimdark Future army lists, I decided to go with a mixed force. My starting point will be the Human Inquisition list. This is a very weird army list full of small, specialist squads and unusual characters. It should provide a core of unique characters to build the army around, which I can then bulk up with some regular infantry squads built using the Human Defense Force and Battle Brothers lists. 

To get things started off, I'm going to buy some sprues online (well, I'm not; I already own them. But for the purposes of this exercise let's assume I am). These will provide the materials for some of our characters, and also help us build up some bits for conversions when we come to cheaper figures later on. One of the challenges I'm dealing with here is working without my bits box: I have a pretty good collection, built up over decades, but I'm trying to do without it here as a way to show that this is possible using only resources available to everyone. 

So here are my starting expenditures, based on eBay prices. These may seem high given our limited overall budget, but I think you'll see that they come in handy throughout the project: 

  • Frostgrave cultist sprue: £6
  • Frostgrave demon sprue: £6.50
  • Stargrave mercenary sprue: £6
  • Stargrave trooper sprue: £6
So that's £24.50 spent so far, but as I hope you'll see, these bits are going to go a long way. We'll also need some bases for this project; I don't know how many just yet, but I'm keeping some room in my budget for them. I'm basing my cost on 3mm MDF bases on eBay, which is what I use for my Stargrave and Dragon Rampant armies. Let's spend £2 for now, which should get us all the bases we need for this phase of the project. 

First things first, let's make some of the characters at the core of the army. Not only will these make a fun visual centrepiece for the project, they'll eat up a hefty chunk of points. Taking a look at the Inquisition army list, a team of assassins seems useful. I'll start out by using the sprues to make a Sniper assassin. This is a mixture of bits from the Frostgrave Trooper and Mercenary Sprues 


I need to think of a good logo for my inquisitors that I can use to mark the plate on the back of the armour. Otherwise this model is good to go once I touch up that splotch on his leg.

Next we're going to add some Battle Brothers. These elite infantry are going to serve two purposes: they're going to give us some versatile armoured troops who can engage enemies at medium range and hold positions for us, and they're going to soak up a big wodge of points in our army list. Actually, three purposes: they're going to provide us with a few spare bits that will help us make our other units down the line. 

For my Battle Brothers, I'm going to be using Space Rangers. These monopose (well, duopose) plastics were released by Grenadier in the early 1990s as an alternative to Space Marines for the budget-conscious gamer. I was a budget-conscious gamer even at that young age, and my brother and I bought a big box of these. These are in fact those self-same models, bought over 25 years ago. However, you can still get them from em-4, a snip at just £2.99 for five models, bringing us to a total of £29.49. We're going to include five to ten in our army eventually, but let's start out with a single test model for now. 


These are nicely massive models. Like the assassin, I'm going to add some inquisitorial heraldry when I figure out how I want to do it. 

Using the sprues, I am now assembling twelve more models: three Daemonhosts, three Crusaders, three Psychics, and the remaining three assassins: Spy, Assault, and Terror. Here's a little look at these models in progress: 


So, we've spent nearly £30 of our £55 budget so far. How are we doing on points? Well, here's the list as it stands: 

Assault Assassin: 180 pts
Spy Assassin: 185 pts
Sniper Assassin: 185 pts
Terror Assassin: 200 pts
Crusaders (3): 70 pts
Daemon Hosts (3): 70 pts
Psychics (3): 95 pts
Battle Brothers (5) w/ Veteran Infantry, Standard, plasma pistol, energy sword, plasma cannon: 260 pts

Total: 1225 pts

Now we need to add a little mobility and some anti-vehicle firepower, together with a few foot troops to defend objectives and widen the range of targets. But as you can see, we're well on the way to 2,000 points, and we're right on budget for now -- plus there's still a lot of good stuff on the sprues that we haven't used yet. 



Saturday, 8 May 2021

The Good Bad Idea: Some speed-painted orks

 The other day I had one of those ideas that comes to you as though in a dream: an idea for how to bulk up my year's painting total, provide a team for anyone who wants to play Stargrave with me but doesn't have models, and test some techniques in the process. It preyed on me all of Monday night, and on Tuesday I got to work. By Saturday morning I had this: 


If you are a British gamer, I think you have some Space Marines. You may never have played Warhammer 40,000 in your life, but you'll have some. I think they grow in cardboard boxes or someone puts them through the letterbox. Only marginally rarer are the multi-part plastic Orks from ... Assault on Black Reach, I think? Anyway, I have a few, plus some other Ork kits, in a big tackle box, and I'm never going to use them because they don't blend well with my Ork army, which is in an older style. So I put some together, with some spare parts from the bits box (mostly Ramshackle Games stuff). This was actually a pretty long process -- about two to three hours. I mounted them on plastic bases from Renedra and textured their bases with acrylic modelling paste from Hobbycraft. 


I primed them with Halford's matt black spray paint and then gave them a zenithal spray with Halford's grey primer. This is a quick and dirty way of creating some shadow and contrast: very important for speed painting. 


Now the actual painting process began. I mainly used cheap craft paints in dark red, brown, ochre, silver, black, yellow, and white. I did use a few actual miniatures paints, which were: 

  • Citadel Mephiston Red. My go to mid-red base colour. 
  • Citadel Evil Sunz Scarlet. My orky bright red. Remember when Citadel reds were just trash?
  • Citadel Warboss Green. This has been in my paint box ever since that lying swine in GW said it was a good match for old Goblin Green, which it is not. 
  • Citadel Ushabti Bone. A pleasing colour for teeth.
  • Your friend and mine, Agarax Earthshade. I actually intended to use Army Painter Strong Tone, but it turns out I haven't got any. 
I flicked brown, black, and white paint at the models with a toothbrush. This might seem like a mad thing to do, but it's really just there to help create a feel of texture and weathering that should show through the coats of paint. It'll save a lot of time, especially on the metallics. This process took about 10 minutes. 


Next I blocked in the base colours using thin layers. I didn't both to make the coverage very even on anything but the skin, and I really just jabbed the silver paint (mixed with a little black) onto the metallics. As you can see, they look rusty and nasty, which is what you want for orks. I did this in a series of steps, each about 10-15 minutes, but the whole process took about an hour and fifty minutes. Counting flecks, that's two hours. 


Here's the whole crew with their base colours hastily applied.

I did a tiny highlight of the skin with a mixture of green and yellow, and then I hit the whole model with that Agarax Earthshade wash -- including the green areas. It looks OK! This took about 15 minutes.


Then I went back and touched up and re-highlighted the skin with that green-yellow mixture. I also dotted in the eyes with ochre and then a little splotch of yellow in the centre. This took about another 15 minutes. 


Finally, I took each model and spent a few minutes doing the individual details -- picking out pouches, straps, fur trim, goggles and so on. I didn't want them to be perfect, and I could have skipped it, but it didn't take that long and I think it helps, particularly on fiddly areas like the captain's goggles. I rehighlighted some of the metals as well and just touched up a missed patch here and there. This was actually one of the longest phases, taking nearly an hour. 

When you add up all of that time, the process took just under three and a half hours. Adding in priming and some other things I'm probably forgetting, I'm happy to round up to four hours, or an average of 24 minutes per model. I think that they're pretty good-looking for that level of investment, and I 

The crew assembled

Captain (Cyborg) and First Mate (Veteran)

Two Sentries and a Commando, or a Trooper, I forget.

Gunner and Burner

Two Recruits

A Runner




Monday, 3 May 2021

Some solo Stargrave

 It's been nearly a year since I updated this blog! Honestly, most of my gaming content is on Twitter or Facebook these days. Still, if I want to tell a story with pictures, this is the place to do it. 

Picture, if you will: Captain Horatius Mortsafe and the brave crew of the Simple Misunderstanding, reluctant to do the law's work but equally reluctant to get thrown into a black hole by the pirate syndicate to whom they owe an alarming amount of money, take a contract to hunt down galactic malefactor Chrysophon Marrs. Weeks of fruitless searching, and then: a lead! The elusive Marrs is getting ready to take ship from a small spaceport on a backwater world. Mortsafe, his first mate Berenice, and their band of space scoundrels are in hot pursuit!

The small spaceport!

But who do our heroes find waiting for them as they arrive at the launch pad? 

Ruffians!

Nogoodniks!

Ne'er-do-wells!

Snipers! Actually, that's quite scary.

And all sorts of general-purpose scum.
Meanwhile, Marrs herself rushes among the different areas of the spaceport, getting her ship ready to make a getaway. The battle commences!

Berenice and her team take up firing positions.



Smokebomb!

Smokebomb!

Berenice gives Yoyo some encouragement to improve his marksmanship.

SMOOOOKEBOOOOMB!

Louise, Perry, Berenice, Clara, and Aron lie in wait for the gang members.

Yoyo hoses down the advancing enemy sentries with bullets, stunning both of them.

Yoyo chortles in self-satisfaction, an unlikeable quality.

Gangsters advancing through the smoke are met with a hail of short-range fire and grenades.

Despite not having even been shot at, Mortsafe activates his Energy Shield, the absolute wiener.

Not bulling ahead like a doofus seems to be working out for the sniper, who is causing all kinds of problems for the crew. 

The enemy sentry on the flank hangs tough, firing back bravely. 

The crew pour fire onto Chrysophon Marrs, whom Berenice has helpfully pointed out. 

The enemy Burner charges through the smoke and straight into a walloping.

Return fire pins the sniper long enough for Captain Mortsafe to climb the ladder to her nest and lock her in combat. When she tries to shank him, he demonstrates that you can in fact hide a cutlass in an overcoat and hacks her down. 

While Brains retrieves the loot, Perry goes for a little climb on the getaway ship.

Now, I will confess that I played the scenario three times because I kept getting walloped in the early rounds, but once I got the hang of it it went pretty well. And I think the crew is looking good, which is nice!

So yeah -- don't expect regular blog updates, but when I have a story to tell, I might try to do one now and again. 


Monday, 18 May 2020

Inquisitor on the cheap: fun with 54mm models

A few months ago, I was chatting with Curtis of Ramshackle Games. I had just been notified that a lot of my classes had been cancelled (I am fine; please don't worry) and I was feeling a bit down. We got chatting about playing games with larger-scale figures for that proper "toy soldier" feel; we also discussed the old GW game Inquisitor, which used 54mm scale models and consequently always felt a bit inaccessible because of the high price point. He mentioned the cheap toy soldiers produced by Russian firm Tehnolog. Browsing eBay, I discovered that I could get a random assortment of 50 models for under £30. 

I have always had a bargain problem. The mental conversation goes something like this: 
Me: Wow, James, 50 models for £30. That's 60p a model. What a bargain!
Also me: It's not a bargain if I don't want 50 models in the first place. 
Me again: But think of the savings!
So that's how I wound up ordering 50 random 54mm models off eBay. It was a nice little treat to get myself in an uncertain time, and as I made the transition to working from home I had the fun of anticipating when my armyman playtoys would arrive. And arrive they did!


As you can see, I got a pretty good mix. There are elves, dwarves, knights, Vikings, samurai, orcs, undead, futuristic soldier types, historical soldier types ... all sorts. A pretty promising start for some future-fantasy conversions. I decided my party would be the crew of a Rogue Trader. These are the flamboyant space pirate crews who act as deniable agents of Imperial interest but often include lots of shady characters. Unlike most groups in the Warhammer 40,000 setting, Rogue Trader crews are highly diverse, and could include robots, aliens, mutants ... whatever! It seemed like a good start for an adventuring party. 

I began with my Rogue Trader himself. I loved the authoritative pose of the Cossack officer figure, but I wasn't wild about the hat. I decided to cut the fancy tricorn-hatted head off one of the figures representing soldiers of the Preobrazhensky regiment. 



I added a few flourishes and we were off. One of the things I learned here was that scale is very much an illusion. The plume and ornament here are from GW models -- nominally 28mm -- but they look fine on the 54mm character. In the heroic sculpting style of GW minis, items that the viewer should focus on, such as weapons, can be very exaggerated in size, meaning that they look much larger when you put them on more realistically scaled models. 


I also gave him some Imperial bling for the back of his cloak. 


As soon as I saw this Joan of Arc type model, I knew she would be a great Sister of Battle. She even has the distinctive bob haircut that you see on a lot of those models. I didn't like the weapon she was carrying, so I cut it off, together with the whole forearm. The replacement right arm is from an old Chaos Warrior, and the sword is a Reaper accessory. I thought the hooded, winged figure looked suitably spiritual.  


And here they are, my Rogue Trader crew! From left to right: 
  • Ron Jambo is an Imperial guard veteran who became a mercenary after his unit was betrayed and left to die on a remote death world. The only conversion I did to this model was to cut off the feathers tucked into his headband, which I felt were a bit much. You can't see it, but he has an Imperial Aquila tattoo on his left shoulder. 
  • Sister Eleutheria is a Battle Sister of the Order of the Sacred Rose (I picked them because I liked their colour scheme: white armour and black robes with scarlet linings). But she's also Captain Mortsafe's cousin, and the family pulled some strings to get her assigned to this mission. Her power sword provides some close-up punch. 
  • Lord-Captain Anaximander Mortsafe is a dandy space pirate with a fancy hat. He is more of an investigator than a fighter, but he can handle himself if he has to, fighting with exotic alien sword and dagger. The reliquary at his neck also houses a force field generator. He is accompanied by his loyal servo-skull, Skully
  • Combat Automaton 80-N35 is an experimental device created by Mortsafe's chief engineer Volund (whose model I plan to get started on any day now). 80-N35 lays down heavy firepower with his shoulder-mounted plasma gun. 
  • Major Kuznetsov commands the detachment of Mortsafe household troops stationed aboard the Lord-Captain's vessel. He's a disciplined and determined officer, often driven to frustration by his employer's reckless curiosity. He bears a hot-shot laspistol as his sidearm. I decided this was a lasweapon despite its bolty barrel because the question of what the magazine was doing right behind the muzzle was driving me nuts. I decided that it was clearly just a battery pack and could therefore attach to the weapon anywhere. 
And that's the crew! Next I need to work on some opposition for them. I'm thinking a Chaos cult -- and, unusually for me, I'm thinking Khorne rather than Nurgle! Time for a little change-up. I'm going to make them as filthy and gore-splattered as these guys are clean and colourful. 



I also sent off selections of models to a couple of other people who created their own warbands. One of those was game designer and publisher Grant Howitt, who has just posted photos of his cool Inquisition party. Check them out here!