Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Science Fiction? Fantasy? Kids? Adults? How about game for all of the above?

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by Paul Lell who is here to talk to us about his intriguing RPG Kickstarter, “Kalijor.”  Thank you for joining us today Paul!

Hello, James. Thanks for “having me on the show,” as it were. I’d hate to be so cliche as to say I’m super excited to be here, but it’s true. *grins*

From your video Kalijor: the RPG sounds like an interesting change of pace for role playing games, can you give us a rundown of the project?  

Sure thing. The basic idea was initially just to translate the world of the Kalijor novels into a viable role playing game setting. Originally, I wrote the entire book around another game system’s engine and went through pretty extensive talks with the owner of that company about publishing either through them, or with their permission, and an IP license. In the end however, we both sort of mutually arrived at the same conclusion simultaneously: It would be better for both of our IP’s, long term, if Kalijor was its own game, with its own game engine.

So, I began rewriting it. And while I was neck deep in building my own game engine, I had a great conversation with a friend, and some fans of the novels, on the floor at GenCon 2012 about how tough it can be to find really good ways to help kids learn about and grow within the ‘geek culture’. So, I took a look at the rules engine I had created and it dawned on me that with a few tweaks here and there, I had something pretty special on my hands.

By peeling back a layer of the logistics that so many gamers like to have, the game engine was still completely functional, but vastly simplified. With a few more tweaks here and there it became something I’ve never seen before. A pen and paper game engine that could be played by kids as young as four or five, with the help of their parents. Then, by adding those layers of logistics back in, a little bit at a time, that same engine can scale up to a full blown pen and paper RPG that is both deep in character development, and story.

So, to get back around to the question again, this Kickstarter is to help bring the full blown Kalijor RPG, the Kalijor: Kids RPG, ~and~ the Grow With Me RPG games to print, and get them to GenCon 2013 to share with all those gamer parents out there that want to share their love of RPGs with their kids but are having trouble with systems that may be a bit too complex for younger minds. Then, as the kids grow up, they can transition through the rules and join their parents’ full games, or start their own, all using the same set of rules they learned to use as kids.

You mention in your video that you wrote the Kalijor series, but I didn’t see a good run down of the game setting.  Would you care to describe the world of Kalijor for us?  

You’re absolutely right, and this was just mentioned to me in a message from a new supporter who was (rightly) a bit mystified at the lack of this information. I’d say it’s my first Kickstarter, but at this point I think that is fairly obvious.

Anyway, the world of Kalijor is sort of three worlds in one, and the game system reflects that, and captures it very well. At its core, the setting is science fiction, about a thousand years in humanity’s future. In the span between today and the setting of the books, corporations have taken over the governance of the human race, using a nuclear conflict on Earth as the final and clinching proof that traditional governments were not up to the task at hand.

Since they took over, Humanity has spread out across the solar system and both Genetic Engineering and Cybernetic technology have become commonplace. There are mining and fabrication operations spread across the planets and their moons and everyone has what they need to survive. Jobs, food, education, even entertainment, all provided by the Conglomerate, which is comprised of the heads of the five largest corporations in the solar system.

Of course, not everyone is happy with this corporate dictatorship and there are those who live on the fringe, outside society and off the grid. These people are called Dissidents and have become legal non-entities in the eyes of the Conglomerate. But, everything has a price, and sometimes it just makes good business sense to insure the viability of a competitor...

Beneath the shiny veneer of Conglomerate rule, there is a thriving, hidden world where the Dissidents and their undocumented settlements refine raw materials, fabricate goods and smuggle things in and out of Conglomerate facilities, all without official sanction, but still at the behest of the Conglomerate themselves. Of course, since these Dissidents are are not citizens, they cannot be officially allowed to transport cargo, or enter Conglomerate territory, which means that they are subject to open harrassment from Conglomerate forces, up to and including the forfeiture of cargo, and even their vessels and equipment.

That said, one of the things the Conglomerate does provide, is recreation. And one of those forms of recreation is a massively multi-player online game called Kalijor. This is a fully-immersive high fantasy themed virtual reality game that people log into and inhabit avatars, sort of like in the Matrix films. This game allows people to become someone else for a while to get away from things and have some adventures, all from the safety of their own homes.

Of course, it isn’t just as simple as that though. In a future where all information, and money, is digital, a virtual world such as Kalijor is by nature the perfect medium through which to have meetings, exchange currency, and even transport data such as schematics for new technology, chemical formulae, and so much more. Over the years, Kalijor has become the default medium through which people separated by millions, even billions of miles, can interact in real time, face to face.

As a result of this, Kalijor has become a tunnel through which untold sums of money and vast amounts of information are moved from place to place. Smugglers use it to transport, and even hide money, stolen data, and more, creating a need for people to go into Kalijor and retrieve such things.

And finally, the world of the internet and computer networks that ties everything else together. This is a virtual cyber-space world that characters can enter to sneak into other networks, hack computers, and steal, or recover, valuable data, money, and so much more. Hackers rule supreme here, and can create their own worlds to protect their digital turf from encroachers, other hackers, or just your average net surfers.

The great thing about the game system is that players can choose to play in any one of these worlds and have a great gaming experience. Or they can choose to use two, or all three settings, moving back and forth across virtual borders as they chase some bit of data they need for whatever reason.

Now you’ve described a three tiered system for the RPG, can you describe the levels and how they relate to player ability/age?  

Absolutely. The idea is to start off as simple as possible for the really young players. And this tier of the game system is, at the moment, not set in the world of Kalijor, but in a less dystopian setting. Some place that young kids will have an easier time associating with. Places such as the playground, the swimming pool, etc.

Anyway, the idea is to give them a very simple character sheet, with pre-made characters, and a set of dice they can learn to use. We’re working with a partner company called G33k & Co. to pull together the setting and provide oversized gaming dice in primary colors for young players. At this stage we’re keeping things super simple. Single digit numbers, no real bonuses to keep track of or math to do, etc. Here it’s more about the story. Describe a situation, have them describe their actions, and use the dice to add interest as well as teach primary color and basic number recognition. All rolls in this version are on a single die and there is no addition or subtraction to do on rolls. In fact, the only place the kids will need to use any sort of math skills will be keeping track of health, and again, that is single digits. Simple as possible.

Next we have the Kalijor: Kids version of the game. Here the characters are a bit more complex, but still vastly simplified over the full version of the game. Each character is pre-built and ready to play. All they need is a name, gender, etc. The non-technical stuff that is personal to the player, but not as relevant to the game itself. The idea is to make this as much like a videogame as possible so it is fast, and presented in a way that is familiar to kids these days.

Here we use bonuses to strike and dodge, and start using multiple dice for combat and skill rolls. But at the same time, we are not presenting these players with a ton of logistics such as tracking actions in combat and adding attribute bonuses to skill rolls. Each character in this version of the game has five skills in progressively more proficient ability, a bonus to strike and dodge, their six attributes, and starting equipment. Leveling up is handled through the rewarding of money and equipment during play so there is no taking time to add or increase skills, monitor bonuses, and so on. The focus in this version of the game is to keep them interested by keeping things fast and not presenting kids with tons of minutia to track.

The full version of the game has hundreds of skills, hundreds of spells, more than fifty abilities, piles of equipment, rules for making your own spacecraft, etc. Here the player is presented with the game engine in its entirety and they build their character from scratch, choosing a race, allocating attributes, picking a class, selecting skills, genetic and/or cybernetic modifications and so on. Being a story and character driven game engine, character creation takes some time, but there again, rarely do players end up building throw-away characters.

The idea here, and this is the core of what I was after in designing this system, is that the player’s choice of skills carries serious weight toward the way they need to interact with the world. The game combat engine uses 2D10, so all rolls are normalized toward the middle, critical success and failure is much more rare than in D20 systems, and skills and attributes play a significant role in things by adding bonuses.

At one point you mention the system being a 2D10 system (percentile or just added together?)  yet later your bullet point mentions playing without dice.  Which is it? Or are dice only required at higher tiers?  Would I still be able to play the full game diceless?  

One of the things I went into this project with as a clear goal was that I wanted the system to work with or without dice. I myself am a very story-centric GM and the ability to play a game using nothing more than conversation, is a concept that has always intrigued me. So, if you and your players choose to, and no matter which version of the game you are using, you can play with or without dice, and all of the same stats and mechanics still work!

All skills, including combat-related skills, are ranked so that they have an immediately recognizable level of proficiency. The idea is that, if you want to play without dice, then instead of rolling a number of dice based on your skill proficiency, or rolling to see if you hit that guy you’re throwing a punch at, you can compare relative skill ranks against the difficulty of the problem at hand, or against the relevant combat skill of your opponent. The higher rank prevails, but the interaction is resolved through story telling, rather than die rolling.

In the event of a tie, the GM’s decision is going to stand, but they should be factoring in things such as environment, situation, etc.

Possibly the best part about this aspect of the game is that the same characters work in both styles of game play. You can create one character and play them diceless one game, and with dice the next, all using the same stats and equipment.

Since you plan on other sourcebooks in the future what will we be getting in this first book?  

The core book for the full/adult game, will contain the setting information, races, classes, skills, equipment, spells, etc. for both the future world, and Kalijor, along with the cyber-space virtual network world. All three settings in the one book, and once the art is in place it should weigh in around 300 pages with a cover price under $30.

The Kalijor: Kids main book contains just the future setting, with eight classes, some NPC’s/opponents, equipment to upgrade to/buy, and setting information. Cost on this one will be much less than the ‘adult’ version of the game, but I’m hesitant to give a number because I haven’t decided if I am going to make it full color for the kids or not. I would expect it to weigh in under fifty pages and almost certainly under $20. Really though, that is all hanging on the outcome of the Kickstarter. If it doesn’t succeed and I have to use alternate revenue to publish it, then one of the first concessions I’ll have to make will be color, I’m sure.

After this first version gets to market, we’ll do a similar version of the Kalijor: Kids RPG that has the fantasy setting of Kalijor in it. They’ll still crossover perfectly using the same rules, we just didn’t want to overwhelm new, and young, players with too much information all at once.

The Grow With Me RPG is going to be pretty simple and straightforward. Just a few pages containing rules, characters, and setting, plus some tips for parents working with their kids to play. Our goal is to have these books be super cheap and between Kalijor Press and our partner G33k & Co. we’re going to set up some package deals to get both the GWMRPG and a set of My First Dice for around $10.

To add to the thought of sourcebooks, the idea is that all sourcebooks will be useable with all versions of the game, so there will be no need to purchase the same basic material multiple times, or try and figure out which version of the sourcebook goes with which version of the core game. Using the same rules allows us this flexibility to simplify things for the player, and their bank account.

The goal is to be ready for Gencon Indy 2013 which is in August, yet the reward delivery dates all say September.  Is that just because you figure August will be a wash what with getting the delivery and then going to Gencon?  

That’s pretty much the sum of it, yes. I need to allow the artists time to produce what can only be described as a ton of art, then we need to get it all sorted and into the books, plus another layout pass and another quick edit once it’s all assembled. I’d love to get stuff out to backers before GenCon, and if it is it all possible, I certainly will, but I also didn’t want to set up a false expectation and add stressors to the project that might result in allowing things to sneak by in production.

In my ideal world, everything will go smoothly and I’ll have everything done and in hand by July so I can get rewards out to backers before the public release in Indianapolis at GenCon, but all of my project timelines always seem to get pushed out for all manner of crazy life circumstances. In this case, I figured out my timeline and then pushed it out a bit to try and accommodate that craziness that is life getting in the way.

For the record, I am shooting for late July and everything I am doing is being done with that deadline in mind. If I meet it, and the USPS is amenable, then backers should have their rewards in advance of GenCon. I just don’t like making promises I can’t keep and there are too many variables here to be assured of the best case scenario.

Have you already contacted a printer?  Is it being produced here in the US?  

I publish all my own novels and I am, at this stage, going to be using the same printer for the RPG books. They deal with smaller print runs, which raises the cost a little bit, but all prices will still be more than competitive with current RPG material from other publishers.

And yes, the printing is done here in the US. On the east coast.

I love and prefer digital rewards (no shipping yay!)  and I notice you have two at the $25 level.  One is the standard PDF the other is “an interactive ibooks ePub” version.  What is that and why would I want it over a standard PDF?  Why are they two separate reward levels?  

I agree with you on this one. And as a publisher, and a shoe-string budget publisher, at that the rewards on these are double for me. I get to put product out to the supporters faster, and I save time and money by not having to go to the post office or the printer.

That said, there are two different rewards here just so people will see that there are going to be two different eVersions of the book. Both rewards are still the same price.

As for differences between them, well, the PDF will be a standard, albeit searchable, PDF file with an active table of contents and so on. So it will be useful, but still just a PDF. The iBooks platform and their version of ePub 3.0 allows for some additional features that are really only supported by iBooks. Things like active links, forward and back buttons to simplify flipping pages in the books from the character creation section to the skill descriptions and so on. Those little things that feel easier in print than in a PDF are much more approachable with this technology. Unfortunately, this only works in iBooks, on an iPad at the moment, and I wanted to make sure it was a separate item in the rewards just so people knew how separate it really is.

The PDF version will display on any eReader/device capable of displaying a standard PDF with such minor technicalities as multi-column and table viewing features, which includes the vast majority of tablets, eReaders, and smart phones out there today.

A welcome, and increasingly more common trend I’ve been seeing in Kickstarter RPGs is a playtest, non-art, version of the game being posted.  Any chance you’ll be posting one of those for at least your current backers to check out?  How much playtesting has been done with this system and with what age groups?  

I have not been asked to do so before now, but it sounds like a good idea to me. I’ll see if I can get something up this weekend for folks to check out.

The rules as they exist in their current form have been in playtesting by several different groups for a little over a year. Since I had all of the material written already for that other game system, we were able to jump right in on playtesting as soon as I had the core of the new engine on paper. There have been refinements and adjustments along the way, but it has stood up very well thus far and most tweaks have been to the material (rearrange things, adjust descriptions, remove artifacts of the old game system, etc.), rather than to the game engine.

My primary testing groups have been adults and young adults (18-60), using the ‘adult’ version of the rules. I have two groups of kids, ages 10-14 that have been playing the Kalijor: Kids version and offering good feedback but again, most of it has been things like, “why is this description here when it would fit better there?” sort of statements.

I have one test group in the 4-7 range and feedback there is good, if a bit subject to interpretation. :) Seriously though, parental feedback has been very good, and extremely helpful in covering some of the things about kids that I have lost sight of as mine have grown up a bit.

From all groups, the response has been amazing and extremely encouraging that we are on the right path.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

Well, I like to think I have a decent read on the pulse of the internet most times. That said, I sort of knew it was out there and what it was about since it started. But my first interaction with Kickstarter was when I supported the Gamers: Hands of Fate project after GenCon 2012. Since then I’ve supported a couple other projects. It’s a great platform to get things rolling on a shoestring budget by building support from those that would use what you’re making. Going directly to the source, as it were. I’m a huge fan of the crowdfunding concept, although I have to admit I am a bit nervous about putting my stuff out there. It makes a person take a really hard look at what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, not to mention the possibility of the denizens of the internet telling you what they really think of your work. *laughs*

More and more we’re seeing board games and RPG’s coming to Kickstarter.  Do you think Kickstarter is becoming the “go to” place for funding in the tabletop marketplace?  

Well, there are other crowdfunding sites out there, to be sure. Many of which work on a slightly different modality that allows builders to get to work right away, although it also allows them to ‘go to market’ with a less complete picture of what it may take to really pull off what it is they’re trying to accomplish.

So, while there are certainly other options, including traditional financing and the odd board game venture-capital investment, I would say that yes, I feel this is fast becoming, or going to become, the ‘go to’ place to get some of these things off the ground.

The sort of sad truth is that these days, most businesses with the financial muscle to get some of these things off the ground are being run, or at least overwatched, by folks whose business it is to make, and not let go of, money. Unfortunately, many of the people in those roles are not gamers, or have been in their roles so long that they’ve sort of lost touch with what it’s like to discover something new and fresh. This makes them less inclined to authorize risk taking and innovation.

As a result, those folks with the next big idea, need to go straight to the source to demonstrate proof of concept and get off the ground. I suspect what will happen next is, the big companies in the gaming world will start watching Kickstarter programs and swoop in to buy those projects that do well, get produced, and start to be successful after funding and release. It will be the new proving ground for new games and concepts, which will save them more money in R&D and allow them to invest in much ‘surer’ things.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Thus far I have been updating with more information about the games, descriptions of classes, mechanics of the system, etc. I’ve also been trying to include some art from the supporting artists in all of the updates I’ve posted. I haven’t done additional videos as yet, because the first one was such a nightmare to pull together that I’m kind of hesitant to try and pull another one together when I could be using that time to do other things, like finish up the last few items on the check list for the games.

If folks are interested in hearing production stories, or playtesting stories, I am more than willing to share that. I just had no idea that sort of thing would be of interest. I am kind of weird though...

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

I am using Facebook, Twitter, Google+, my own blog at Kalijor.com, email, and word of mouth, currently. I thought about putting some coin into advertising (and I do have a google adwords campaign going) but the additional cost is pretty steep and I am torn between spending additional money on spreading the word, and saving that money for production costs.

I’m not familiar with Kicktraq. I’ll be checking it out here momentarily.

Do you have any tips/advice that you would give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Sure. Some things I’ve learned thus far are, get more rewards into the lower tiers of support, even if it means raising your goal to make up for the reward cost in volume. Folks are looking for a bit more bang for their buck than what I initially planned for.

In my case, and as you mentioned above, I should have included a bit more world information in my info page. This is a mistake I’ll be rectifying here shortly (so you may see it on the page if you click over from this interview), but more information is better, as long as you aren’t rambling.

It’s mostly about getting the word out, so have a plan for distribution of that word as far and wide as possible. And don’t get defensive when people ask tough questions. They are looking at supporting your business venture and they want to know their money is going into something that won’t just be a flash in the pan.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

You are most welcome. Thank you for the opportunity to chat! I would really only add that I am unofficially increasing rewards at the $10 and $25 levels, adding bookmark sets and 6x9 cardstock art prints respectively. I’m looking at adding other stuff as well, so please stay tuned and if you have suggestions, let me know.

Unfortunately, you cannot change a reward package once someone has pledged money to it, even if you’re increasing its value. :/

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

Thank you!