I bet that the first two part of the title caught your interest as a content creator and this is a blog post based on my experience. It may not work for everyone, but if this works for YOU, it would greatly benefit your business. let’s go straight onto the topic, but first a brief context.

I got into cartography thanks to the recommendation of a cartographer who I was intending to hire to make the maps for The Great Trial, my first paid product. This cartographer was kind enough to suggest some tools to get me started with map making. I started with WonderDraft and Dungeon Painter Studio and used those software to create the maps for that product (which were later replaced by Inkarnate/DungeonDraft maps of higher quality). I wasn’t satisfied with the tools and looked for alternatives, settling for Inkarnate and DungeonDraft. In March 2020, I did 32 maps with a single month of Inkarnate Pro. I was so excited with the tool!

OK, but how did this help me?

Well, I first posted all maps in my Pinterest in a specific Board, and later on put all of them on my website. I then started to promote my maps on social media (Twitter and FB) and Discord groups. Around late April I got first commission: a capital city for @DMShoes (great guy!). I got paid USD 75, meaning this got me the equivalent to 3 years of Inkarnate subscription. So that a cost I wouldn’t need to have in 3 years. Next, I worked on The Isle of Endless Fog  an 80-page adventure and setting in which I created 32 unique maps with a total of 86 maps considering their different versions. These maps were released in a separated package, the adventure containing 11/20 and the pack, 32/86. And THIS is how it started.

My Strategy

From there onwards, for each product that would make sense (almost all of them), I heavily invested in creating high quality maps to accompany the module. I did this for all modules but Maraxax’s Domain (it has only the dungeon map), Encounters with the Dark Powers and Encounters in Castle Ravenloft, as those products didn’t need maps. All my other products got enough maps to allow me to create additional products based off those maps. I have a wide variety of map packs for many (but not all) situations DMs put their groups through. While it’s impossible to assess and get accurate data on how much my maps have contributed to the success of products like Encounters in Icewind Dale (16/24 maps) and Encounters in Barovia (17/130 maps. yes, 1-3-0), they sure helped direct and indirectly. Overall, I published roughly 150/500 maps in 2020.

“I’m not convinced yet”

I agree that it’s a bit vague. So let’s be more specific. Although I cannot assess how much maps have helped the products they accompany, let’s talk about Map Packs and Map Commissions. I have 12 released maps packs and did a few commissions in 2020, and up to February 2021, I already completed 2 big map commissions, 1 small one, and I’m booked with another medium and big one. Let’s break this down:

Map Packs

So far, they’ve earned me USD 1,232.71, and USD USD 928 came from my Icewind Dale and Barovian map packs, which already sold 561 copies in total. All this in less than a year. I consider this quite reasonable. 

Map Commissions

I already got all kinds of commissions: capital cities, cities, regional/world maps and battle maps of many kinds. My prices vary greatly depending on the size of the map, the complexity level and how many rooms there are, all of which affect the time it will take me to map. Considering all these commissions, it’ll end up in around USD 1170. I believe that commissions may keep coming this year as many people already know me for my maps and even though they aren’t perfect, I get very good feedback about them.

Conclusion

Besides not having to pay for maps that I’d need in my products, my map business represents, so far, 24% of my revenue with TTRPG which is pretty good! This is nearly 3500% return on my investment made on mapping tools (not factoring in my time though!) It’s something I GREATLY enjoy and it’s good to see the results they bring. It’s part of my strategy and it seems to be working, so I’ll keep going!
Before I finish this article, I’ll leave you a video that may help you with the detailing aspect of maps. I might do a more specific post about how to use Inkarnate, though there are many tutorials and videos online. Hope this one helps you!

Last year, at the very end, I wrote a blog post sharing my experience with publishing TTRPG content in 2020. I went into financial details as well as I provided some key takeaways I had on that year.

My goal is to further detail some aspects of the publishing and creation process, in addition to insights on the business itself and marketing. This post is about production costs.

On my last post, I mentioned that I had a profit of around $ 4200 last year, considering a revenue of $ 5000. Which is quite fine: 84% profit is very decent. 

Let’s drill down a bit. My first product was The Great Trial, which costs me $ 132, spent across art, editing and ads. This was WAY too much to spend on a first product. It took me 56 sales in around 9 months to get my investment (ROI – Return of Investment) back. This was not ideal. After joining the Lounge, I learned that there are ways to create products at a cheaper cost.

My biggest release to date, The Isle of Endless Fog from Cities of Myth, was released at the end of July and cost me $ 75. It has sold only 26 copies, netting me $ 74.6, so I almost made my investment back. The only cost with that product was a custom cover and some interior art. This is an 80-page sandbox survival horror and for some reason, it is not selling as much as expected, but it least I can consider it paid for. Any additional sales will be all profit.

I then learned a lesson and decided to create my next product at zero cost. Rime of the Frostmaiden had been announced and I started to work on Encounters in Icewind Dale. I grabbed an arctic image from Piaxabay (CC0 Public Domain), modified it slightly and created my cover.  For the interior art, I used images from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, some of my own art made via Inkarnate and I brought in an editor on the Royalty model. I have 40% Royalties on that one. The production cost was zero. Later on, in November, I spent $ 60 on a Youtube sponsorship, but that was it. This product has sold 542 copies so far, netting me $ 1,253.73 in terms of profit, considering the Fantasy Ground conversion. I released it at the end of August, so we are talking about less than 5 months.

Another one of my great successes, Encounters in Barovia, was also created at a low (but not zero) cost. The cover is a modified Pixabay image, but I decided to subscribe to Adobe Stock, which costs me around $ 20 a month for 10 monthly assets, used on internal assets. Another cost that I consider for this product is the RPG Writer’s Workshop (now Storytelling Collective), which cost me $ 35. Finally, I asked Rogue Watson for a promotional video, but I will not mention the cost publicly, though it was quite a fair amount. My profit on that one is $ 1315 in 50 days, with the FG conversion.

Lastly, Encounters with the Dark Powers also was produced at a very low cost, namely, purely Adobe Stock assets, so less than $ 20. The cover is a montage of a Pixabay image with a Stock art, which worked very well. The rest is art that I already had from last month and new assets, as well as CC0 art. In 30 days, I am at $ 746 profit with it.

So, when to invest?

Covers matter. It doesn’t mean that you need to commission a fancy, custom one. You can have success with free covers. So always look for free or stock ones first. If you cannot find one, consider commissioning a cover. The minimum amount you fill find decent ones is usually $ 120. If your product is sold at 4.95 and you get 40%, you need to sell 60 copies to get it back. it is doable but many products don’t make it to Copper. Though I am of the opinion that with time and proper advertisement, all products are potentital metals.

In my case, I only commissioned a cover for The Isle of Endless Fog, but I have 2 more being commissioned because I couldn’t find stock for them, and also because I am starting to reinvest a bit of my profit into the business.

The recommendation is avoid as much cost as possible if you don’t have means to fund this from your pocket. Once you start getting returns, you can also invest back a bit.

How to be cost effective and where to invest?

Make use of Pixabay and similar public domain art and image repositories like Wikimedia Creative Commons. Under Google Images, you can click on Tools and select Public Domain, though you always need to double-check if the image is really CC0.

Stock Art like Adobe Stock is really worth it, as is Shutterstock even if it is slightly more expensive. Unless you barely release content over the year, 10 assets are a decent quantity for you to use. If you release more, you can consider getting the 40 assets plan, as I am considering.

Additional, you can grab add hoc stock art from DTRPG. Grim Press has many beautiful ones, so does Dean Spencer. I am Spencer’s Patron so I get credits every months to get more art. I subscribed to the $ 5 plan, which is quite worth it.

Mapping tools, if that is your thing, are also worth investing on. I personally use DungeonDraft (one time $ 20 purchase) and Inkarnate ($ 25 a year). Both a very worth their price. I made that money back and exponentially more in 2020, a trend that will continue in 2021.

Something else worth investing in is developing editing. usually, many editors ask for 20% royalties, which is very fair. But I often pay a mix of flat-rate and then follow with 10% royalties.

Even though I did invest a bit on marketing ads from Instagram and Facebook, I could not assess the right way to do it. I am yet to try Google Ads. I will have more details on marketing stuff later this year.

Last tip: learn as many parts of the process as possible. The only aspect I cannot do is editing. The rest, I can do: writing, cartography, layout, etc. This means you get more royalties on your products or save money by avoiding too much flat rates.

GMBinder is a great free option for layout and I have used it for quite some months, until I purchased Affinity Publisher.

So I should avoid costs at all cost?

Not exactly! If you have the means to pay for collaborators, like artists, writers, layout artist, etc, of course, do it! The recommendation is that at least in your first year, avoid spending too much on your creations. I now got to a point in which I am slowly start to reinvest my profit and consciously increase my production costs, which is also great to support other folks from the business!

Well, that was it for this article. Stay tuned for more publishing insights!

TLDR

If you are starting in the business of content creation and have no means to fund yourself, I would recommend being cost effective: use public domain art, maybe sign up for Adobe Stock or use ad hoc stock art from DTRPG. Try to master most of the parts of the process so you maximize your gains.
Once you start reaping the benefits, feel free to invest here and there to up the quality of your products and support the TTRPG community.

Hello! By end of February, before the pandemic hit, I released my first paid module on DMsGuild.  I also started my TTRPG Twitter account, with incredible ZERO followers (as expected). Nobody knew me. Many still don’t! But I’ll share with you my journey from March, when I got my first sale, to today. A TLDR will be available at the end of the post, because it’s going to be a long one. I hope it is informative, though. I hope that some of these insights help you in your own journey! I will share screenshots and graphs to make this also somewhat visual. If you want a guide to DMsGuild instead, check this one from Justice Arman.

NOTE: This is not a generalist experience. Every creator experiences their results in their own ways. There are more ways to success!!

Before joining Twitter, I read the amazing Self-Promo Guide by @AshleyMayWritesand it helped so much! I put a lot of efforts in managing my Twitter (more on that later) and got to 100 followers in 10 days. When I released The Great Trial back in Feb 29th, it took me 4 days to get my first sale. It was like screaming into the void. I had around 100 followers but my reach was short. I was pretty much alone although I recall getting support from folks back then with some RTs. Now, I’m en route to 1000 followers and here’s my first key point: I strongly recommend that you to invest time and effort in your Twitter presence. Ashley’s guide already provide useful insights. Find some more below.

Starting your TTRPG Twitter account

I joined Twitter with not a single follower, which is how social media work when you join. I thought: “How will people know I exist??” I then started by following major accounts from TTRPG. Then Twitter suggested me some more, which I followed. I started to like, comment, RT, interacting with folks. I also tried to find content to post. It was HARD. A LOT of work. I made an effort to participate in all #FF and I managed to do so. I missed only but a few.  When I reached over 220 followers, I got stuck because I stopped investing time on the account and I thought that I would gain followers naturally. Wrong. After some tips I received from the people from the Lounge (more on that later), I managed to reach 300 and continued to grow consistently but actually putting efforts in the account.

March was over and this was my results: I had earned USD 12.00 with 4 sales. Not really great.

What was next?

So there I was, one released product, alone in the community aside from my small network on Twitter. I started to notice some successful creators and I paid attention. In April, I DMed Anthony Joyce, trying to get some insights. He then referred me to a Discord server, the Lounge, where I found a place full of other, more experienced creators with the will and motivation to help me. It was game changing.

The Lounge

In there, I started to interact with the people and asked questions, trying to learn as much as possible. Joining this server was the best thing that happened to me in my TTRPG career, as it would boost me to levels I didn’t know I could reach (again, more on that later). So here’s my second key point: find a community!! The Lounge is for people that already released products but another excellent options is the Storytelling Collective. It’s a GREAT place to network with passionate creators or aspiring ones, and the course is a true gem. Amazing content! I went through it in November and I highly recommend doing it maybe before you release anything. Use the Workshop to release your first product 🙂

I also applied to a project called Cities of Myth, from Realmwarp Media. My pitch, which was beautifully improved by Jack, an amazing editor, got accepted with a deadline for end of July. I was thrilled! The product would be published on DTRPG.

Because of the pandemic, and also to try to increase my sales, I reduced the price of The Great Trial by 90%. April ended and this was my result: I had earned USD 4.00 with 6 sales. So I sold more than in the previous month but earned 3x less. It wasn’t getting any better.

Great! I was not alone anymore! Now what?

It was May and I still felt like screaming into void. I was told to put out another product. So I took my 2018 PWYW, which I released without knowing anything back then (the proof is that it got blocked) and revamped it. I hired an editor (Jack), did the layout again and released it as a paid product. Nice! I had now 2 released product. Since I mentioned editors, here’s the third key point:  hire editors! Work with them! Never release products without using their services! They greatly improve the quality of your content.

Still in May, I translated my first product to Portuguese, as I’m from Brazil, and I wanted to test the Brazilian public. I also put out a tiny Map Pack providing a generic world map in 4k resolution. More on maps in a bit.

Then Play it Forward came. An effort from DMsGuild and WotC to help content creators during the pandemic, in which they both gave up on their royalty share (total of 50%) for two whole weeks! This was great! Many people benefited from that. As I had only 4 products out, I managed to more than double my revenue from March but it wasn’t anything spectacular: USD 24.15 with a total of 26 sales across my 4 products. Not too bad, but not spectacular.

Maps! they helped me a lot!

Let me quickly talk about maps. For my first product, I considered hiring a cartographer to map my stuff, but one of them mentioned that I could try to do them myself and provided some example of tools that I could use. He did that because I mentioned that I was starting out and I had a tight budget. This was an excellent advice! While the maps I released in my first version of The Great Trial weren’t masterpieces, they were good enough to visually show what the DMs needed to run the module. I tried out Dungeon Painter Studio (which I did 2 dungeon maps for the product with it), Wonderdraft, Inkarnate and DungeonDraft. I dropped WonderDraft once I saw what Inkarnate could do and I also dropped Dungeon Painter Studio and started using DungeonDraft instead. 
In March, I did 32 maps with a month of Inkarnate Pro. I put all of them in my Pinterest, and started to promote it. In April, I got my first commission at USD 75 and with that, I basically earned 3 years of Inkarnate’s subscription. Since then, maps have been a decent part of my success, which I’ll get in more details later on.

Back to the topic. By now, I had been writing like crazy for the Cities of Myth project, a product Jack and I called The Isle of Endless Fog. So June came, and this was the result: USD 17.38 with 14 sales. Worse than May but better than March. Ok. Let’s not give up!

By then, trying to better understand the business, I learned that it is one of longtail and snowballing. I was puzzled by those terms, but they simply mean that publishing on OBS (DTRPG and DMsGuild) is something that works in the mid-long term as opposed of fast results. In addition, you need several products which will add up small amounts every month, over time, and then success comes. I loved to hear about this!

Besides ending up with 35k words, I did dozens of maps for The Isle of Endless Fog. We put 11 unique maps (20 in total) in the main product and decided to put out a Premium Map Pack, which would rather have 32 unique maps with 86 maps total. Once I delivered the content to Jack for editing, I translated my second product, Maraxax’s Domain,  to Portuguese. And released it in July. On the last Friday of July, The Isle of Endless Fog, along with its Premium Map Pack, were released and Realmwarp sent an email with a 40% discount code to all its KickStarter backers. 
That Friday was a thrill! 8 copies sold on the release, over $ 23 earned! This was new to me! The month of July ended quite well: USD 82.80 with over 3 dozens of sales.

I could slowly see the effects of the longtail/snowball. It wasn’t much, but it greatly motivated me to continue. August came, along with the Rime of the Frostmaiden announcement. I wanted to do something related to it and in discussion with another Brazilian creator, Rodrigo Kuerten, we came up with the idea of doing Encounters in Icewind Dale. He couldn’t participate in its creation so I went for it. I released it on August 21st, more than three weeks before RotF release. The release day wasn’t great but by the end of the month, it had sold 23 copies! Woohoo!

This is what August looked like: USD 92.18 and 3 dozen sales. An 10% increase! I was happy!

A Glimpse of Wotc intellectual properties’ power

I used the maps I made for Encounters in Icewind Dale, along with the one of the following release, The Great Trial: Frostbite (released in Sep 10th with no sale within Sep), and with those, created 2 map packs. I now had 9 products! Encounters in Icewind Dale started to sell like… a lot! Hit Copper in 16 days (my first Metal), Silver in 3 weeks and Electrum in 41 days! I was AMAZED! So even though my latest release didn’t sell, I was still trying to understand the whole situation. Some factors that contributed to its sales: during September, I was in the Hottest Arctic products banner on DMsGuild for quite some time, I got into 2 arctic sales form the website so I believe those things helped. I also promoted it a lot and for the first 3 weeks, there weren’t similar competitor products, so it worked well. 

This was my September: USD 627.69 over 200+ sales! I couldn’t believe that. 

During September and October, I worked with The Old Goat and James Dodd on a product called The Adamantine City of Tarondir. I was the Project Manager and Cartographer, they were the writers. I did some writing too though. I created MANY maps, including sewers maps at the request of Realmwarp, who published some of my map packs. I also got my first Fantasy Grounds conversion. I used the maps from Tarondir product and released 2 packs. For the sewers one, I got paid a generous amount as a flat rate from Realmwarp. I also released a one-page PWYW adventure for Halloween and I had some products on Halloween sales. This PWYW product was created under “The Great Trial” banner. It was featured in DMsGuild newsletter and got over 800 downloads in 2 days, becoming a Copper in 5 days. In the meantime, the RotF train was slowing down. I also did another map commission.

So October ended up like this:  USD 431.94, which is worse than September, but due to the flat rates, the month ended at 695.42, beating September! The feeling that took over, besides excitement, was: “This isn’t real. It will not hold. November will suck”. During October, I was invited by Isaac Mandagie to participate in the RPG Writer Workshop, now called Storytelling Collective, which would happen in November. I decided to join mainly for networking and visibility but also to find out what I would learn, as I had already release quite some products. Before November, I did 17 unique maps, a total of actually 130 maps for my RPGWW product, Encounters in Barovia.

Once November started, I was fully focused on writing and the RPGWW lessons. I wrote 12.5k words in a week and sent the stuff over to the great Matthew Wulf for editing. In the meantime, I released 2 Barovian map packs from the 130 maps I did (17 unique) and I set up the layout on Affinity Publisher for Tarondir and Encounters in Barovia, as I would release both products by the end of the month. I hyped both of them here and there, I really put out an effort to make them visually look cool. Well, Tarondir, although it delivers a city-setting with an urban adventure, 38 NPCs, 80 plot hooks and 35 unique maps, with over 130 maps in total, sold only 7 copies. But Encounters in Barovia… Well. Let’s talk about it in a bit. On Friday 13th, Tasha’s Crucible of Everything was released, an effort of over 25 creators, myself included. It reached the #1 Most Popular product a couple of times but hasn’t left #2 since.

I hyped the product in Twitter, in Curse of Strahd subreddits, Discord servers and Facebook groups. I got some nice initial engagement, which gave me hope. However, I couldn’t possibly wonder the reality. Check the release day, which was actually on Black Friday:

Over $ 300! It hit Copper in 7h, Silver in less than 13h and Electrum in 9 days. It’s currently en route to Gold. On the next day, it reached the #1 Most Popular spot, but only for 12h, dropping back to #3 and slowly going down the Top 20. It’s been sitting at #14 for a while now. I then decided to test Ravenloft again, and right away started to work on another product: Encounters with the Dark Powers. I invited the same editor and Curse of Strahd consultant who worked with me on Encounters in Barovia. We had 17 days to release the product. A tough challenge!

But first, here’s November: USD 1,136.50 with nearly 1000 sales O.o

I was baffled, uncapable of understanding the situation. It was by far NOT was I expected when I started back in February. However, the image below can already give you a taste of the longtail/snowball effect working rather well. 

Well, of course my obvious logic and rationale was: everyone say that December isn’t good for sales, and there is absolutely NO WAY in hell I can beat November. But still, let’s get to work! So I started to provide glimpses of the upcoming products in the same places I hyped Encounters in Barovia. My first preview got nice engagement and some people wanted to know when the product would be released. 

I then posted the cover and linked my website Contact Form, asking people to fill it to be notified when it would be released. The cover was a success, with over 500 upvotes on Reddit and over 130 people signing up for a release notification, many with excited comments! 

Then came the anticipated Dec 15th. I sent a customized Newsletter to over 130 people and promoted the product like any other. I also bundled Encounters in Barovia, the new release and Barovia Notice Boards from Christian Eichhorn. Here’s the release day: USD 418.72 from Royalties plus 48.78 from Affiliate sales, a sum of $ 467,60. Once again, I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. I hit Copper in 6h, Silver in less than 12h and Electrum in 5 days. on the release day, the product reached #1 in both Most Popular ribbons (all products and under $ 5). It’s now on #10 for the whole website (non-Adept) and it remains the most popular product under $5.

Do you recall when I mentioned about the power of WotC Intellectual Property? It’s QUITE powerful. Here’s a graph that shows how much I made from non-IP stuff and how much I made from linking product with WotC’s IP.

In December, I also joined the Affiliate program. It’s the 30th, so there’s still 36h to go before the year ends, so these results will improve by just a bit: USD 2,090.00 with over 1,000 sales. Over 40% of my year’s revenue.

Effort and Dedication

This is the fourth key point. Work hard! All of this was only possible because I took this VERY seriously: I abandoned my PS4, switching my weekly 20h of gaming for 20h of content production, on top of my 40h+ from my day job in IT. I also do my best on each and every product to really deliver quality content. You might not have 20h a week, but maybe you have some time you use in other hobbies or leisure activities. It’s a decision you need to make: sacrifice fun times for having fun trying to make money? Is this what you want? Only you can answer this question.  

Something else I noticed, and here’s my fifth key point: learn to do most aspects of content creation, maybe leaving at most 1 or 2 for other people. This way you can maximize your royalties. Of course, you should go after collaborative projects to network, learn new stuff and work on something you wouldn’t work yourself. Collabs are awesome! In my experience, though, I had more financial results from my “solo products”. By solo I mean, the ones I came up with the idea and brought an editor and maybe a consultant. But those are usually products in which you earn more than 30% Royalties on them. Once you start thriving, you can invite more people to work with you and support other creators too (e.g. artists, layout artists, cartographers, etc).

Thanks to this effort of 20h a week, I finished the year with my name on 40 titles, considering Fantasy Ground conversion (which are zero work for creators), Bundles and 3 products from other creators in which my maps where used. In terms of actual creations, I did 22 products, among modules, supplements and map packs.

Usually, people from Grim Press contact creators to offer them a conversion. All you need to do is send them a complimentary copy and they do the rest. After a while (usually a short while), the conversion is released and you get royalties on it. 

 

Strategic moves

The sixth key point is about strategy. It surely helped me along the road to take strategic decisions. See what kind of products are missing, connect with the correct people, be curious, ask questions, hype at the right moment and places, use WotC’ IP at your favor, etc. 

Don’t be shy! Promote!

The seventh key point is about marketing. Don’t be afraid on promoting your work. I used to use Hootsuite to schedule 4 promotion tweets of different products every day. I now have a Marketing company working with me, so they do that on my behalf. But you need to let people know you exist and that you do great stuff!

Flat Rates

Aside from OBS money, I did some map commission and also one small writing gig, which added USD 490 to the total of the year. A bit more than 10%, which is not too bad! 

Financial data

Here are some more graphs to show you the potential of this business. On the first one, you see my monthly earnings considering flat rates. Somehow, I managed to keep the trend up. Then you can see the Quartely graph. Q1 netted me $ 12 😛

Below, you can see that 25% of my earnings in 2020 came from map stuff!! Not too bad! That’s around USD 1.200 just from maps, including commission and map packs.

I didn’t mention costs yet. At first, I suggest trying to create products with a little cost as possible. Encounters in Icewind Dale was created as ZERO cost. I profited over USD 1,000.00 with this product up to now.

So far, I’m over USD 4,200.00 in terms of profit, because most of my products are done with low cost.  More details on this topic in a later post!

tldr

Let’s wrap this up: 

  • Invest time and effort on building up your Twitter audience. Tips here (Self-Promo Guide by  @AshleyMayWrites);
  • Find a community! The Storytelling Collective has a great one!!
  • Hire editors! They will make you look better!
  • Work hard! Your success is proportional to the time and effort you put in this business;
  • Employ Strategic Thinking! What actions can you take to maximize your success? 
  • Collaborate with other people to network and grow, but also learn as many aspects of content creation as you possibly can;
  • Talk to other people, ask them what they did and get insights on how they succeeded, so you can decided how you can adapt those insights to your reality;
  • Promote shamelessly, many times a week! Do not overpromote the same product, though;
  • Try to spend as little as possible initially to get faster results, and later on you can start reinvesting your profit into the business.

Curiosity fact: while I wrote this lengthy post, my account increase by some $ 15. It’s not much, but still, it’s 15 bucks more that I didn’t have before I started writing!

Hope this helps somehow, and I can be reached via the Contact Form or Twitter and Instagram, along with Facebook too. I usually provide tips on some TTRPG topics, including publishing, so press the Follow button!

I will write more posts in 2021 going into further details of this business. Stay tuned!

If you want to stay tuned on my work, get access to discounts, free maps, register here and gain not only a free map, but a free MAP PACK!

 

Since Inkarnate announced the Battle View feature, I was hooked and hyped! It’s been a while since it’s been out there and I’d like to share two Timelapse I did using it. It’s really good to use and provides a great alternative to DungeonDraft, which I still use in some cases. Both applications are great, each in their own ways!

Enjoy!

I started to publish content for the DMsGuild this year and this required me to try map making softwares. I tried WonderDraft for regional maps but dropped it once I tried and fell in love with Inkarnate Pro.

For battle maps, I started with Dungeon Painter Studio but abandoned it for DungeonDraft. I already created many dozens of maps in both sotfwares but I’m nowhere near to achieve what I see some people doing with these tools. 

However, I still managed to get a decent portfolio (see Maps) and I wanted to showcase what can be achieved with this wonderful tool which is DungeonDraft. Sorry for the quality, I had some technical issues but it shouldn’t affect the final result. 

As a brief context, I decided to DM “Curse of Strahd” to my group a while back, once we finished the other campaign we were playing. I didn’t tell them that we would play CoS though, but one of my players suggested to run a Session 0, which we didn’t use to do back then. I liked the idea but I thought a bit unfeasible to DM a Session 0 with all players, since this is a bit individual. I also ran the the Prelude for another homebrew campaign, which was built as a module.

So based on this idea, I decided to run individual preludes to each player via WhatsApp. But before going into the topic, let’s check the “prelude” definition:

“an action or event serving as an introduction to something more important.”

I will explain what it involved in terms of RPG, and how to execute them, but first I will list its benefits:

  • Players get to deeply know their Characters
  • Players reate a strong connection with thei Characters before the campaign starts
  • The DM gets to better know the Characters before the Campaign
  • The DM gets to better know the players, how they think and act
  • The DM can easily involve the Characters in the story
  • Improves the DM’s improvisation skills
    or
  • The DM can easily create a whole campaign around the Characters
  • You can have fun before the campaign starts
  • Generates hype
  • Improves the background and plot and increases immersion

Some of the cons I have noticed after running 10 individuals Preludes so far:

  • It requires some effort mainly from the DM (weeks to months)
  • The DM needs to create/improvise a “mini-campaign” for each Character
  • Depending on the players and their Characters, internal conflicts may occur if the players really get into their Character’s skin (it has happened)
  • May bring the current campaign hype down, and folks may want to start the new campaign ASAP

Without further due, what’s a prelude in RPG terms, and how to run it. I will bring examples from my experience with thse 10 preludes I have ran so far, including the examples of “crossovers”.

What is a Prelude?

In short, it is you, the DM, building the background from the Characters with them, individually, through a text app (WhatsApp, Telegram, Discord). They are a pre-campaign with each player, where they are put in different situations, reflect on them, and slowly, the Character starts to get imprinted in the player’s mind.

How to execute a prelude?

To run a prelude, you and your players will need a text app, and preferably, a dice roller for text apps (e.g. Dice Bot).  Telegram and Discord have integrate dice bots, while WhatsApp can be used with Dragon Dice. With this app, you roll the dice and send it over to a group or contact. The DM tem check the roll logs if needed.

You will start the prelude with one player, or with all of them simultaneously if you want, but this is very time consuming and tiring. I did both. It’s better to do it progressively, having at most 2 players at the same time running preludes. If one of these players is slow to interact, start with a third one.

Ask the player one or two paragraphs about their summarized background story. This is going to be the base to the prelude.

Create a group or channel with you and your players. Use some formatting to facilitate the narrative, like italic for dialog to easily identify someone speaking, for instance. Use bold to questions that will require an action from the player.

Based on the story provided by the player, come up and narrate the beginning of the Character’s life, with birth, parents and so on. It is good to ask if the player agrees with things you come up to make sure if the player is comfortable with that. In my case, I asked the player if he would be fine being an orphan. He said yes. Narrate the events from the Character’s life until childhood, preferably to a point where it can remember, so let’s say five or six year. Put it in a simple situation and ask how it feels in that moment. At the end of the post, there will be a small list of real situations and the questions I asked the players.

Then, advance a bit in time, detail some more events from the Character’s life, including important NPCs from its life, like parents or friends. At some point, place the Character in a moral or ethical situation to help it define its personality and alignment. For instance, the Character can come up with a bullying  situation at school, or witness a violent act. Ask the player the reaction, the action and how the Character felt towards that situation. This will help the player to get to know the Character.

After teenage time, start guiding the story to what will lead the Character to its adventuring life. Is it going to be a Fighter? So put it training. When becoming a young adult, the Character will already have some of the skills to execute minor but relevant missions, where the player can continue defining the Character’s personality and motivation.

At this point, start thinking about missions or situations that are related with your campaign and its hooks. In CoS, for instance, one of the hooks relates to werewolf attacks close to Daggerford. Some of the preludes happened around that hook. I placed two Characters (see more in Crossovers) to investigate these attacks.

From there, follow the logic to connect the narrative with certain situations or missions, leading the Character closer to its destination: the beginning of the campaign. Always remember to ask how the Character feels, what emotions are involved, etc.

In these situations/missions, you have two options:

1 – Narrative:

You do not use dice rolls and you define the results of actions based on their description provided by the player. This makes sense if you consider that this is the Character’s past and past actions already happened. However, it may look like you may manipulate the story how you see fit, and some players may not like this. In battles, it gets much more involving and fun! Forget the rules! Use your imagination and let the player use it too.

2 – Rolling:

Use dice roller apps to define the results, as usual. This way, it will look like the player may impact the  Character’s destiny, but it gets a bit more boring with all the dice rolling via text.

Crossovers

A crossover is when two Characters or their story get together and merge their storylines, like in the TV shows “Arrow” and “The Flash“. Use them only when you want the group to start start the campaign as a group that knows each other already.

The crossover is basically gathering the Characters during the prelude. It can be done direct or indirectly. Remember the werewolf attack investigation mission I mentioned? I narrated the exact same mission to each player in their individual preludes, without them knowing that the NPCs from their missions were actually their future adventure mates! This was an indirect crossover.

In all remaining cases, I did it directly I wanted to gather the barbarian and the cleric that both had a Succubbus NPC in their backgrounds. The cleric went into a cave and faced a bear, and fell, screaming before falling. The barbarian was passing by and followed the sound. He killed the bear and helped the fallen dwarf. At that point, I created a new group with both players and their reaction was “WTF!”. From there on, I started to DM their prelude to both of them, as a duo, going back to the individual group when a private scene was needed.

Examples of situations and questions

Raghar and other two friends, o Layzzy and Teruath, go towards the man. He wears very nice clothes, with golden details and from  below, you can see a very fat purse that looks to be filled with coin. When he sees you coming closer, he stares at you with a look that Raghar later found to be indifference and disgust. He starts to walk in the opposite direction, moving farther away from you.

How did Raghar felt with all this and what will he do?

Gannhor says: “There are some reports of werewolf attacks in some villages at the south. You need to go to Masthof and investigate the situation. An apprentice from the wizard school will help you with the investigation. The Watch will provide spears with silvered points, in case the worst happens. We don’t know if the information is accurate, but better be safe than sorry. You must leave now”.

How do you feel faced with your first mission outside town?

During the morning, when Yeghel was seven years old, his father threw him over a cliff to forced him to survive. Yeghel could see his mother’s horrified, pale face wide eye before falling, but she stood quiet, like a statue.

How did Yeghel feel when thrown by his own father, even knowing it is part of the training to strengthen him?

Além disso, como Yeghel se sente com relação ao seu pai? E à sua mãe?

Other situations

Below are some examples of situations the Characters went through even before the campaign started.

  • The barbarian was locked by his father and had to face two wolves bare handed
  • The cleric was dominated by a Succubbus and was forced to open a passage so duergars could invade Mithral Hall
  • The warlock explorer the Misty Forest with two guards while searching for his parents (who got taken by the Barovian Mist), where they faced five wolves
  • The paladin, a bounty hunter, hunt down several criminals with prices for their heads
  • The wizards listen to a lecture from Elminster himself at his wizard school where he studied. The owner was an old friend from Mystra’s Chosen
  • The barbarian and the cleric investigated and a gambling house that  used magic to cheat their customers, and with that, they obtained a book as a reward that let them inside Candlekeep
  • The paladin receive his power and also life mission from Lendys himself, to execute his justice among men, since he judged that Tyr was lacking in his
  • He also received a brass dragon egg, and the female dragon became his “daughter”
  • The warlock joined the Harpists, where he learned to use information and connect dots to finally get a bit closer from his parents disappearance
  • The whole group was gathered and mapped the whole Misty Forest in order to find the children that were taken by the werewolves

These are preludes, I recommend them a lot, it’s quite fun and the end result is great! Any questions, you can contact me!