This time we’re going to be talking to TPK Games about their new Kickstarter for Laying Waste: A Guide to Critical Combat. We’ll also be discussing their last Kickstarter, The Bleeding Hollow. and a few other topics.
Tell me about the idea behind the Kickstarter for Laying Waste: A Guide to Critical Combat.
Sure. The main concept is that the critical hit rules as written for the d20 system are old and outdated. They exist only to give a very quick resolution to a better attack roll and do not give any real flavor at all. They can easily be manipulated, and you can create damage dealing characters that deal over 100 points of damage in a single attack. This sort of game play actually detracts from the fun of the game. Each huge chunk of pure damage removes another player’s chance to do something fun during the course of the combat. It also could mean that a flavorful opponent is overcome in a single hit, reducing them to nothing more than a speedbump in your story, and robbing the players of a memorable encounter.
On top of that, I really have some strong dislike for the critical confirmation rolls. There is almost nothing worse than getting to that tense moment in combat where a critical can turn the tide for your party and you roll a natural 20, your teammates are cheering, only to then have to confirm it and find out it was a base hit. It’s a very un-fun mechanic. It too has been streamlined in Laying Waste.
When I played with these new crit rules at Xenocon this past weekend, I noticed three distinct things about the players: 1) Since they couldn’t lose their crit with a critical confirm check, there was never any disappointment, 2) from original crit to final damage roll, all players remained engaged, and 3) people always seemed to feel like bad asses, even when they didn’t end up hitting as hard as they possibly could. That is a lot to ask from rule changes. How did you find that balance? How many iterations of the rules did you go through?
That is a lot to ask for from the rules. I think that the original rules were designed to be simple and not exact representations of combat. Of course, over time, all games (and design philosophies) evolve. I perceived a flaw in the system, and it was one that really bugged me. I’d bought other critical hit books and even the GameMastery critical hit decks, but none of these products really gave me entirely what I wanted from the system.
I started brainstorming about what I thought were good end results and then started figuring out how to get there, piece by piece. Laying Waste has actually been written now for about a year, it’s just that we wanted to have a perfectly workable beta before we went to kickstart the project. We made some initial changes to meet our early playtesting needs, but one of the strong points of the system is simplicity. It’s not overly complicated, and thus it doesn’t need a lot of tweaks.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Bleeding Hollow Kickstarter. While things are being delivered now, I’m sure you heard from upset backers over the year it was late. I have a few questions:
Without getting overly detailed, can you explain how this project ended up getting delayed? Was it something as simple as content not being delivered to you?
The Bleeding Hollow was a huge learning experience. It was actually one of the first things we had written, and it was never published because of the size and necessary scope of the project. We were definitely too ambitious and didn’t have the production capabilities to do what we wanted. So along comes Kickstarter… We had a draft and good idea. That’s not enough to take a product (especially a large adventure) to Kickstarter.
It was almost exactly at this time that two of the three main writers were taken out of commission. The first had a newborn child and the second ended up going back to school and both were almost completely removed from writing and production abilities. On top of that, I was having some difficulties with our cartographer at the time. I had the weight of an enormous project on my shoulders, plus running the day to day operations of TPK and meeting our other project deadlines. It was a recipe for disaster.
Tom Phillips then turned over the prequel adventure manuscript to me and it was amazing. It was a really excellent story and a great adventure that would get players from 2nd level all the way to 5th, and prepped for the Bleeding Hollow. I had intended on a short, simple adventure but this was 80,000 words and over 200 pages. I went with it, which was a poor decision for timeliness, but it was a great product. (Author’s Note: That adventure is The Reaping Stone).
A lot of time passed as we slowly made headway through it. I ended up hiring a lot of new talent to do some of the tasks that really slowed me down. I no longer do layout, having outsourced that. I also removed our previous cartographer from the project altogether and got a great (and much more professional) person to work with. Those changes really vaulted the projects forward and we were able to get things completed, but it took a lot of time getting there.
The end results though are fantastic. Both adventures are rather long and complex, giving your groups a lot of material to play through and enjoy. I guarantee they will be memorable. I’m sure it will be worth the wait. The good news is that during that trying period, we reinvented our business and vaulted forward our quality. The product we produce now rivals or exceeds most of our peers in production value, and the content… well, we thrive on bringing people excellent dark fantasy material.
I know you haven’t fully wrapped the project, but what are some of the lessons you’ve learned about the entire Kickstarter process?
I won’t defend our lack of timeliness with the Bleeding Hollow. The circumstances were unfortunate, but ultimately, our backers don’t really care about why, they just want the adventure they paid for. I think that’s completely justified too. After that project, we really learned how to use Kickstarter. We’ll never go to market with a half-written project again. Ever.
For instance, Laying Waste was completely ready for consumption, sans art, prior to the release of the Kickstarter. As soon as the campaign ends, we are sending out the beta version to all the backers who were interested in joining the beta test, and we might make a few tweaks based on their suggestions, but that will take no time at all. Then we’ll be able to test and add the additional stretch goal authors’ material and add the final art, creating the final draft in about a month. That’s a huge difference compared to what our last Kickstarter campaign did. As they say, the Devil’s getting smarter all the time…
Ultimately, Kickstarter is for independent artists who get backers who believe in them and help them create their dreams. That’s exactly what we used it for and what we did. Kickstarter has become a lot more commercial of late, as larger companies are entering the waters and using Kickstarter simply as a storefront. This has changed the perception of what it is for, to a degree, and changed people’s expectations as consumers. I think a lot of people want to just buy stuff on Kickstarter. That’s what Amazon is for, and it’s important to know the difference. With Kickstarter, you are investing in a product, not buying it, and when it is created, you have the added satisfaction of knowing that without your help, this project might never have happened.
Still, perceptions are changing and we have evolved to meet the desires of our fans. We will never host a project that isn’t almost ready for publishing at that moment. For many people, this might be their first glimpse of your company, and it’s definitely important to wow them. We didn’t wow people with our timeliness on the Bleeding Hollow, but you can bet we will with Laying Waste.
TPK Games products have an old school lethality, but this is juxtaposed by the fact that a lot your products are about flipping certain concepts on their head. I.E. Feats Reforged: Vol. 1 and The Deductionist Class. Are these products intentional strikes at where you think things are lacking or are you just working on whatever seems like the most fun at the time?
The beauty of being an independent publisher is that you can write what you like. A lot of our products are really niche, and things Paizo would never do. That’s intentional. I like to write adventures and fiction, but my main love has always been game mechanics. Consequently, I get to print some of the things that I dream up. Feats Reforged was a big hit because of that. Anyone who’s played with Laying Waste also knows it turns the existing critical mechanics on their head, but it’s fun and balanced. If I see an opportunity to make a product that adds value to the game, or I simply think is really cool, I’ll make it happen.
I’ve been reading The Deductionist Base Class and it seems unlike anything else out there. (I can’t recall seeing another Pathfinder compatible book out there with illustrations from Sidney Paget.) What can you tell me about its genesis?
That book comes from writer Matt Everhart. He is a newcomer to TPK, and he pitched a great concept that was nearly written. We tore it apart and put it back together again with stronger mechanics, and when it was done, we had something that definitely did not exist in Pathfinder. Again, it’s niche as hell, but if you like that sort of play style, you will love the Deductionist class.
I’ve heard at least one guy mention he wouldn’t want to play a Deductionist because he didn’t
want to be in a “support role.” What would you say to try to convince people to change their mind and give it a try?
There are a number of classes that exist with a variety of roles. I don’t think of gameplay about roles, but more about roleplaying. If you are having fun playing the game, what does it matter? You can play a game where everyone is a cleric and still have fun. I heard a lot of discussion about our malefactor class recently too. Some people complain about the fact that this class can actually hinder your party. I just chuckle to myself. I definitely designed it that way on purpose. It’s a very deep class for roleplaying purposes, and the malevolence you might inflict on your own party helps balance the very cool powers they have. Ultimately, it’s a lot of fun, which is my number one goal with any player oriented product we make. Going back to the Deductionist, who wouldn’t want to play the movie version of Sherlock Holmes, or Harry Dresden or even Batman? All of these folks use their keen intellect to overcome their enemies.
Any final thoughts?
With the Bleeding Hollow and Laying Waste written, someone is probably going to wonder what big projects we are writing now. There’s a number of great sourcebooks planned, and fans of Feats Reforged will rejoice to know that we are doing a full line of support for that book. Some of the bigger projects coming out on future Kickstarters are The Fen of the Five-Fold Maw, a nasty old-school swamp-crawl adventure (currently in playtesting) and we are working on a series of future adventures called The Doom of Othrigar, based on a TPK Games campaign setting. Gaming legend Jim Ward will also be joining us on that project. It will be everything you expect from a setting devised by us. That alone should leave you pondering.
We are eagerly looking forward to 2014. This year has been a huge surge forward for us, and our company grew tremendously. Our Facebook page has more followers than nearly any other Pathfinder third-party publisher, and that’s due to the rabid support we have among our fans. We’ll keep pushing the envelope of design and adventure because we want to really wow people with our brand of dark fantasy. So to everyone that has supported us in the past or in our future projects, we thank you sincerely. We couldn’t do what we do without you.