Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Have You Ever?

You know that feeling when you get inspired to write/create/forge something? You get all amped up, and start to put ideas on paper, float things amongst your friends, and even step into a bookstore (or comparable online locale) and you feel that inspiration swell to near overwhelming heights…

And then you start to thumb through works comparable to your own vision… it could be a set of RPGs, or a novel section, or magazines racks, or comics collections, or whatever. And then it hits you. You’ll never be this productive; you’ll never be this good; what you want to do has already been done, and probably been done better than you can do it. You’ve had a reality check. Welcome to my world.

Let me tell you about the three ideas that keep pulling at me, and the ‘reality checks’ that keep kicking me in the gut.

As for fantasy gaming, this is where my heart is. It’s the thing I end up thinking about all the time; it’s where I want to spend my imaginary time the most. It encompasses the worlds that I feel most drawn to. It’s what got me into gaming, and it’s what keeps bringing me back. However, there are several reality checks here. In fact, there are probably dozens of them. Here are the two big ones: many great games have already been written and (even more damaging) there is a TON of FREE content that is as good as my best stuff. As I look at what’s being published just among the OSR group, I find the depth and quality of content staggering. As a fantasy gamer with a game I like, I can’t imagine anything that would propel me to change game systems now. There are virtually no new people coming into the hobby, and almost everyone has their fantasy game of choice already; new games that come into the market and are competitive have a license and production values that bring a market (Lord of the Rings, Dragon Age). I cannot challenge either of these.

Supers gaming is probably second; I like it (and sometimes love it), but I end up feeling like the genre itself is too limited, and ultimately becomes self-referential. I know it doesn’t have to, but it feels stale to me. Maybe that’s because I haven’t followed comics seriously since 1993, so I don’t have many fresh ideas about it. There are fewer systems that have nailed supers gaming, although (as with fantasy gaming) most supers gamers now have their go-to system. I was struck particularly last year when I released Resolute Supers 2E within 8 weeks of Icons, BASH Ultimate Edition, and another 2-3 systems that, although different from my game, endeavored to do the same thing: give you a rules-lite, fast and intuitive system for supers gaming. I felt behind the eight ball from the outset. I still feel that way: what can Resolute offer that ICONS cannot? I don’t know… I haven’t actually read ICONS (yeah, bad on me I guess), but the vibe I get from the game and its supplements is a similar vibe to what I was going for with Resolute Supers… so, what to do about that?

Army Ants has always run in third place. Even though I’ve re-invented Army Ants gaming and comics several times over the last 20 years, I’ve never followed through with support for the game. However, Army Ants doesn’t have the reality checks in terms of other systems and games; no one is producing something quite like Army Ants, especially done right. Honestly, I’ve never even done it right; it’s never found the perfect fit of system with setting with writing. The comics have a certain vibe about them that I haven’t quite been able to replicate in a game system; the most recent incarnation (although lightly structured) is closer. It really needs a full treatment.

Sales numbers don’t help me at all. Both Resolute supers systems sold over 100 copies, whereas nothing Army Ants has ever sold more than 30 copies, and most fantasy stuff I released sells in the neighborhood of 30 to 70 copies; however, that’s for core rules. Once I look at supplements, regardless of the system, I rarely sell more than 15 copies of anything that’s a sourcebook or adventure.

I’ll stew on this for a while, but next time I’ll get into some of my thoughts on more of the reasons why…