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The Holy Fires of February!

Hey all,

So it’s been a while since I’ve blogged on site, but that’s mostly because I’ve been incredibly busy on multiple fronts; I tend to wear a lot of hats running my business and writing (and don’t get me started on school), so I find myself switching between organizing events (like Sheboygan NonCon), building websites (like the site I’ve been developing for DesignCamp), writing (for Bloodlines & Black Magic, Rhune, The Celestial Host, and The Shadowlands), managing projects (The Shadowlands Campaign Setting), and even acting as the part to full time art director for all of these IPs.

I probably need a clone. Or maybe to level as a Chronomancer.

Picture of a bald magician reading a book and sipping tea

In short, I have to make time these days to blog, and when I can, just to unwind. Mind you, that’s not a complaint, but rather an explanation (for those of you who actually read my blog). You see, I’m doubling down on Storm Bunny Studios going into 2017 and there’s a lot I want to accomplish before Gen Con 50 this year. Coupled with local cons (Gary Con, Nexus Game Fair), local gaming, play testing, and the multiple design meetings I have scheduled throughout each month, it’s a wonder I have time to even get out for a beer.

That said, I’ve long struggled with blogging, especially since founding Storm Bunny Studios, and knowing when and where to place my time is incredibly helpful. I’m also very active on social media, which is a bit of a time thief. So, I’m looking for ways to streamline the whole process. I’ve started scheduling blocks of time to tackle things like blogging, and am even starting to dedicate whole days to particular IPs. If you follow my work on Bloodlines & Black Magic, you already know that Black Magic Mondays (#blackmagicmonday) is a thing. I’m expanding that concept to other fronts, as well. All in all, my goal is to continue to expand all of the campaign settings I’m building; it’s pretty demanding, but I’m happy to do it.

So, where are things and what’s up? Let’s take a look, shall we?

The Shadowlands Campaign Setting – Back in December of last year, my friend Roman (who founded Nat20 Studios) purchased the Shadowlands IP and asked me to step in as project manager for their Kickstarter, since I was one of the original designer/developers for the IP (back in the good old days circa 2011/2012). The Shadowlands Campaign Setting Guidebook was originally supposed to deliver in August of 2014. Sadly, it did not. I’m not entirely sure where things fell apart, but I know communications and production apparently broke down at some point. As a result, it’s currently over two years late (and this August will be three). Facing a lot of anger, frustration, and toxicity (initially), it’s been my job to jumpstart production, assemble a new design team, hire new artists, and get things moving toward completion. We set a year schedule for execution and dived back in. Initially, I made a few missteps and the feedback wasn’t hot (mostly because I was still leaning Basecamp and made some logistical errors in my rush to be inclusive). Over the last sixty days, however, I’ve been posting regular updates and getting the production moving forward again. As a result, backer response has been improving. To me, it’s a testament to just how cool so many gamers are. It’s also a reminder of the importance of transparency as a content creator, the power of communication, and a reminder of how much trust and love backers put into the products and creators they support. It’s both eye opening and humbling.

In short, it’s something I carry with me as a reminder.

In the coming months, that’s going to become one of my major focuses. If things go as planned, The Shadowlands Campaign Setting Guidebook will actually see the light of day in early 2018 (my current production date is January next year). We’re also working up some adventures for the setting, and planning a Shadowlands Player’s Primer for this summer.

Rhune: Dawn of Twilight – As my primary (and pet) campaign setting, Rhune is going to get a lot of work this year. We’ve been slowly converting the Rhune: Dawn of Twilight Campaign Guide to the Savage Lands mechanics and have also started converting it to Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, as well. I also have several adventures and supplements planned on the Pathfinder front, all of which are due this spring. So, fans are finally going to see the conclusion of the Beyond the Glittering Fane adventure arc (which will be over 220 pages of content), as well as some smaller adventures – including both The Mines of the Missing (by yours truly) and The Zephyrfan Tournament (by Mike Myler). By the end of the year, these will be compiled as a single, print-on-demand adventure.

We’re also in the process of fixing some of the print files, so that I can finally make the Rhune: Dawn of Twilight Campaign Guide available as a print on demand product, which I hope to make directly available through both Create Space (even though it’s already available through my distributor on Amazon) and DriveThruRPG. In short, fans of Rhune are going to get a lot more material this year, which I am very, very excited about.

Bloodlines & Black Magic – I’ll be honest. This is my current obsession. I’ve been designing and developing this beside Clinton Boomer (a dear friend and amazing writer – check out his Patreon here) for nearly two years now. Over the last year, we’ve collectively plugged away at it and the current manuscript is a healthy 96 pages and growing (and honestly, I don’t feel like it’s done yet). Additionally, we’ve added some awesome folks to the team, including Matt Banach, Ben McFarland, Brian Suskind, Stephen M. DiPesa (who was one of the original designers), Christen Sowards (of Lost Spheres Publishing)

I had originally planned to Kickstart it this month on my birthday, but with Sheboygan NonCon and a whole host of other events that cropped up, I had to push it back. Right now, I’m currently planning on launching the Kickstarter early next month. Backers will be getting not only a whole bunch of awesome Pathfinder compatible material using our new O7 rules, they’ll be getting a modular system they’ll be able to adapt to their traditional Pathfinder games, meaning that they’ll get more than just a bunch more Feats/traits/spells and so on. They’ll be getting a whole new adaptable set of alternative rules. This is a setting we’re taking some creative risks with, and so far, the feedback has been outstanding. This will be a Kickstarter that backers/fans are going to want to back.

Additionally, we’re already developing several seasons of adventure support, so backers aren’t going to get just a single book. They’re going to get adventure support, encounters, locations, and a whole host of supporting cast to use in their games. Given the talent involved, I can’t help but swoon a little when I think about all the content we’re developing.

Design Camp – Last September, Ben, Brian, and I launched Design Camp, a tribute to Wolfgang Baur’s patron-sponsored Open Design. Using the same basic model, we launched our first project – The Celestial Host (which funded at 173% our original goal, exceeding all of our expectations). That project is nearing completion. I have a few more thousand words to add, but all in all, it’s been a crazy awesome project and the Campers have been awesome. I’ve seen some real talent coming out of it and I’m excited to see some of these developers and designers grow. There’s just a lot of awesome material!

If you don’t know what it is, The Celestial Host is a book covering three real-world, historically accurate (as much as you can get when you apply a fantasy template to Earth’s mythology) pantheons, including the Norse gods, the Arthurian heroes, and the Tuatha Dé Danann (Celtic pantheon). It’s completely Pathfinder compatible (with a lot of support for Mythic Adventures), so in a lot of ways, it functions like the older Deities & Demigods, but with historical footnotes, story seeds, new NPCs, new items, new artifacts, and lots of research using modern, updated resources. For folks running Pathfinder games set in historical Earth, The Celestial Host will be an invaluable addition to their library.

Right now, we have a rough manuscript and a handful of illustrations. I’m hoping, later this year, to Kickstart it. It really needs a lot more art, a nice cover, and could easily include more content, but it’s otherwise in pretty solid shape. In fact, I could easily see this becoming the first in a series of books updating all of the real world myths, eventually becoming its own line.

Working In Multiple IPs – I’m a strange cookie. I make no excuses for my general approach to design, but I do want to talk about it for a few words – if for no other reason than to share some of my ideas with other designers.

I tend to do a lot of design off the page, be it via verbal discussions with other designers (both Ben and Brian are on speed dial) or over beers at local cons (Boomer and I actually brainstormed Bloodlines & Black Magic in 2015 at Nexus Game Fair – over beers). That said, I tend to tackle multiple projects at once. I was chatting with Christen Sowards last night and he asked me how I do it. I said I was a Necromancer. He said I was a Chronomancer. The truth is, ironically, somewhere in between. You see, I tend to work best when I’m on the verge of being overwhelmed. It’s weird to say, but it’s increasingly becoming a pattern that I can objectively point to time and time again. There’s something about looking at a long “to do” list that secretly excites me, gets me geared up, and helps me internalize that old “oh yeah Universe? Watch me…”. The thing is, we’re constantly bombarded with information telling us why we can’t do things, absolving us of personal responsibilities, and in general, telling us why we’re the victims of a soulless world that only wants to grind us into dust, without a second thought. While that kind of pervasive, existential-questioning data can be really depressing (:::Jaye mumble something about staring into the vast, uncaring Abyss:::), it’s also liberating. It frees me from some of the normal social constraints (that “Zero Cares Given” syndrome) that’d normally internalize and lets me get back at it.

There’s also another factor, as well. Doing what we do involves a lot of legwork, a lot of research, hours of meetings and emails, and all the mundane aspects of running a business, as well. There are many times when the excitement wears off and you just need to pull yourself through the trenches to finish a product. We all know the thriving excitement that comes from newness (it's your first kiss after a long absence). But when you get past that initial hurdle, you have to keep pushing, kicking, and screaming to finish. When I was an active participant in Open Design, Wolfgang wrote about how designing RPGs wasn’t always exciting and you had to find ways to keep pushing forward, even when there was no excitement in sight. I won’t quote him verbatim, both because it’s been nearly a decade, but also because he addresses it in Fire and Sword: Inspiration and Discipline in Design (which you can find in the Kobold Guide to Game Design – which every aspiring game designer should read). The point being, you absolutely must find a way to keep pushing forward, even when that exciting flame starts to flicker and grow dim. To beat the fire analogy a little more, you need to constantly fan the flame, feed the fire, and keep things going – even when you’re exhausted. This is how Kickstarters get done, how books get written, how pitches get polished, and at the end of the day, how you actually get to where you want to be.

For me, that means writing as much as possible. But it also means taking a break when needed (and as I told Christen, I’m totally making #NetflixAndNotes a hash tag).

More to the point, however, it means knowing how to balance what excites me against what has to be done. This means balancing different projects that I find exciting. I set daily goals and knock out things. Then, I change gears and move onto something else. While I’m not able to knock out a single project as quickly, I do get to push all of my projects forward at a pretty steady pace.

This doesn’t work for everyone and probably isn’t the best advice for aspiring writers/designers who want to focus on a single project at a time, but for me, it works.

Am I occasionally overwhelmed as a result? Sure. But all in all, it’s a process I’ve been refining for nearly a decade now and it’s helped me hit the benchmarks I’ve set, including founding my own company and completing my first book. So, I’m going to call it a success.

Conclusion – I’m over 2.2k words into this post and it’s time to shift gears again. I have a lot more to tackle today, so I’m going to sign off. See you fine folks in March!

Cheers, Jaye

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