#TTRPG – Rapid Prototyping – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (AI)

I have continued to wrestle with the implications of AI in my industry (tabletop RPG design) given that AI both threatens art and writing. The technology may not quite be there yet, but with every iteration and update the software gets better at hands and better at checking its own work.

I don’t want artists to be made redundant.

I don’t want my work as a writer and designer to become redundant.

I want to continue to employ artists and writers as well.

Things are further complicated by the various stances of companies such as Paizo, DrivethruRPG and others. There’s a great deal of hostility on both sides of the argument, between the Cult of the Machine on the one hand and the neo-Luddites on the other.

Ultimately, in a business with margins as narrow as the TTRPG industry, AI is always going to be a temptation. I have zero reservations about using AI to produce YouTube thumbnails and other, similar ephemera like live stream backgrounds or blog art, but when it comes to illustrating books things become a bit more complicated.

Other small press companies are using AI to great effect. Before The Red Room were shitcanned by DTRPG they used a mix of art, often a lot of it AI, which enabled them to rapidly produce material and to earn a great deal of money compared to other small companies (according to the public details). In no small part they were able (and are able to) produce content at such a rapid pace because they don’t have to necessarily wait for art. Other small publishers have followed suit.

If I am to compete (in the general rather than the specific sense) I have to follow that path, to at least some extent. If I can turn out product more swiftly and at reduced costs, I can make more money, and more profit, and invest that profit into the products I have a lot of faith in.

Yet I don’t want to go all the way that way either.

So I’ve decided to double-down on the ‘Radical Centrism’ on this topic. I’ll use AI where it makes sense to do so – filler pieces of art, rounding out what I have to add richness and quality to work. I’ll also use AI on projects where I think there’s less potential popularity, less potential profit and where I might not have otherwise been able to make the project viable. These projects, tester projects, will be tagged or in sections called ‘Rapid Prototype’/ If those projects become sufficiently popular, I’ll then return to them and give them the full, proper treatment in a proper edition.

Main works will still be predominantly human-driven.

We’re all struggling with this and figuring out where we want to be with it all, how to integrate it without undermining human creativity. Hopefully this is a step on that path.

#RPG – Diversity Dungeons RELEASED!

Buy it HERE

Diversity Dungeons : Worldbuilding & Game Design in the Safe Space Age
Much digital ink (and blood) has been spilt taking about diversity representation in tabletop gaming and in every other field of geek and nerd endeavour. Usually these conversations are extremely combative and they tend to end poorly for everyone involved. I’ve been involved in these debates and discussions myself, to my detriment. The position I hold being that free expression and the vision of the author or creator should trump any and all other concerns – including diversity, representation and so on. To my mind the answer is for people to create according to their own conscience, not to be condemned out of hand or for their motivations to be presumed and for diversity of ideas to be the benchmark. I want a world in which Varg Vikernes and David Hill can both make and sell games and I can ignore both of them.

That said, I cannot help but be drawn to controversial topics – that is where the interesting conflicts and stories lie – and there are few topics so controversial as the treatment of ‘minorities’ within media. Here we arrive at a nexus-point between realism, expectation, demands for representation, demands for free expression, historical revisionism, magic, science fiction, truth, ‘is’ and ‘ought’. That makes it interesting, but the battle lines of identarian politics, liberalism, conservatism, the regressive left and cultural libertarianism also make it an area fraught with difficulty and wilful misunderstanding.

There are no good – or at least no satisfactory – answers to a lot of these questions. Perhaps there are just multiple approaches each of which will annoy some group or other. What’s true in all circumstances however is that these controversial topics are interesting, fascinating and important in terms of world, character and scenario building whatever your particular stance.

This booklet intends to examine these issues in and of themselves, outside of the current state of controversy and to ask – rather – how we might better simulate the plight of minority groups, understand them within the context of fictional worlds, make allowances for player-characters who might seek to buck those societal trends or allow characters – through their actions – to affect social change within the game worlds.

Postmortem Studios Financial Year

My financial year runs 1st January to 1st January so far as my accounts go.

I’m not going to give absolutely precise figures to you but I’m going to let you know where the business currently stands financially and what I think this means for me, and potentially for you if you work in this sort of area or have expectations thereof.

Postmortem Studios covers my income from fiction self publishing, RPG self-publishing, freelancing for other RPG companes/small publishers and also my income from stands at conventions, sales via distribution through third parties and so forth.

Postmortem Studios has a diverse RPG product portfolio with many different games and one-off products, support materials for other companies and generic products.

In our last financial period we made around £8,000 and have approximately £500 worth of stock currently in storage.

We made less than the UK minimum wage, but more than the US minimum wage (close to $13,000).

The year was a difficult year due to the economy being bad enough to reach into the leisure market and due to personal problems and additional expenses. My depression kept me from working at my full capacity and turned more than one month completely unproductive. Medical costs have increased for me despite the NHS and the cost of learning to drive has been considerable but may pay for itself later on with easier and increased convention attendance.

Agents of SWING was the banner product, supported by hardy perennials such as the 100 seeds books and increased access to distribution.

The best move I made was probably becoming involved with IPR and supplying them with hardcopy product though cashflow issues have prevented me fully exploiting that avenue for sales. Potential profits have also been impacted by the relative slow speed at which third party access to distribution has been processed.

I speculate that had I not been so ill this past year I would have been able to break the UK minimum wage barrier for yearly income for the first time, rather than merely the occasional month. Without a strong hit (like Agents of SWING) I am unlikely to make the same amount this year, particularly as I intend to concentrate on my diversification into written fiction.

Good things we did this year

  • The $1.99 pricing for short or one-off products seems to work well and to attract interest to things that might otherwise be passed over.
  • Conventional pricing for larger products seems to work better than cheap pricing.
  • Blog engagement has been good and has driven sales, especially in hardcopy.
  • IPR has been worthwhile to join and e23 sales have continued to grow.
  • Assisting/boosting new writers has been good and driven engagement and enthusiasm.
  • Social media engagement, especially Twitter and G+. Facebook doesn’t appear to be worth the effort.
  • Managed to pay artists more and get good rapport with co-workers and bind regular co-workers together.

Things that didn’t work out

  • Deluxe versions of products are very expensive with little return other than buzz.
  • Still haven’t managed to find a stable, usable and common enough platform for running demo games or found people to reliably run demos etc at cons.
  • Depression, enough said.
  • Didn’t get to more cons.
  • No improvement in direct sales.