Friday, March 18, 2011

Necromancer Games Tome of Horrors (part 2)

Moving on to some of the more interesting production decisions:
My first instinct on hearing about the plans for the Compiled Tome of Horrors were that the Swords & Wizardry version should be compressed into 2-3 monsters per page, dropping the page count to 4 or 5 hundred pages, which would drop the total price by a certain degree (not by half, because page count isn't the main cost component of a book, but significantly).

I initially had two problems with the idea of a 1000 page book with one monster per page. First: white space. The S&W monster descriptions are SHORT, even compared to 3e. They are really, really short compared to Pathfinder. I pointed out that you'd have a really ugly page, with a tiny monster description, big illustration, and empty space.

The second objection was based on maximizing sales, which might sound mercenary, but it's less so than it sounds. For me, S&W is intended as a way to introduce old-school type gaming back into the mainstream gaming audience. I don't see old-school gaming as intrinsically "better" or "worse" than the more rules-oriented later editions, but I think it is preferable or less-preferable for any particular gamer. Right now, this type of game simply isn't out there any more in any significant way. Therefore, maximizing sales is a major issue for me, because the more people who hear about it through the grapevine, the better we're doing at that goal. Also, it is an index of whether we are actually getting resources to the people who play the game, as well.

There are a couple of ways to maximize sales. Mine was based on "sticker shock." Many people will happily buy two books for $50 but shy away from a $90 book. It's simply that at a certain point, the number becomes so big that the potential buyer freaks out. I think that freak-out point tends to be lower among the generally older gamers than the younger ones, and the S&W market is likely 10 years older on average than the Pathfinder players. Hence, it made sense to cut the total cost, whether that meant compressing the monsters into more per page, or dividing it into two books. I preferred the former, because dividing it into two books would affect price less (you'd be paying the fixed cost of binding twice).

On the other hand, you can maximize sales by generating "buzz," and one way to do that is with an "epic" release. This book, at 1000 pages and with the Necromancer Games name behind it, will be an epic release. There's no question about that. Even if it were to have more of a sticker shock, it's possible (and Bill thinks likely) that the epic feel of it would make it attractive to more people. I still have the question of "which people?" but I think Bill has a much better sense of reaching out into gaming communities than I do.

The other big index of quality here was simply - are we providing value? The book has to offer lots of value to gamers, not just as shelf decoration. A big obstacle here for both the PF players and the S&W players was that some of these monsters have been seen before. The PF players mostly have copies of the original Necromancer tomes, and the monsters aren't totally portable to Pathfinder, but are fairly easily converted. Many of these guys have literally seen all these monsters before. The S&W players (except for a few) haven't seen the new monsters, but are familiar with the ones that came from the Fiend Folio. In this case, although there are many, many monsters that are totally new to these players, the FF ones are already known and need no conversion at all into S&W. There is zero value (except illustrations) for those monsters (we've fixed that with the lairs, but at this time I was very concerned about this).

So Bill came back to me on this with the idea of having a hex/lair description written by John Stater for each monster. Bill has been buying and reading Land of NOD longer than I have, and is a big fan. I reread my one Land of NOD issue in light of a possible author, bought a couple more, and agreed that John could write like a bandit. I still wasn't entirely sold on this idea, because my initial reaction was that no matter how good it might be, it would have all the risks of "filler material." Are we going to cut part of John's lair-description if that's needed to keep everything on one page?

It does, however, emphatically solve the problem of added value. It changes the book from a traditional encyclopedia of monsters into something very different - a monster resource with a different and more comprehensive feel to it. I have never been a fan of the way 2e added depth into monster descriptions by formalizing the description and providing material about ecology (which I think is limiting). However, this was a way to add richness to a monster without creating a limitation within the monster description. It adds ideas, not limits.

Once we juggled around those various options, I ended up agreeing that an epic release of an added-value book, even though there would likely be some people who avoided it due to sticker shock, was probably the best balance of the options. You can't create a book that pleases everyone - not even in terms of how people use the book, much less aesthetic considerations - but you can make (or fail to make) decisions that are optimal. I think we have done that, planning the best possible book to accomplish the goal of maximum new value per page while still reaching out to new audiences.

The next set of challenges is to produce the book we envision - meeting those goals with good writing, strong binding on the book, etc. For a book this size, the production of it will be as epic as the book itself. There will no doubt be crises, disagreements, and panics galore as well as triumphs -- it's going to be a wild ride.

1 comment:

  1. I think the idea of a monster manual plus lair is exactly the right approach. It has the right "smell" about it if you know what I mean.

    I concur that addition of a lair adds valuable detail without limiting creativity in the way the ecology approach of 2e did.

    Similar to what I found with using the hex crawl format for detailing a setting. You can give a lot of useful detail while keeping the high level overview loose to make it easy for people to incorporate the material into their existing campaign.

    I am not sure if I will get the hardcopy but I will definitely get the PDF version. At some point I might come out with a Majestic Wilderlands Monster Manual that uses the same approach. (but not a 1000 pages tho). I think the format is that good.