What I’m Working On

May 31, 2022 rpgs lessons_learned process mothership

A lots going on in the Motherverse. We went from producing a zine a year roughly to now having something like six plus books due this year and a hundred or so third party products.

I don’t have an MBA or really extensive knowledge on how to run a company other than that Sunday marked TKGs 9th year in business. That’s pretty cool! But I’m always trying to learn how to do this better and the past year has been a huge challenge on that end.

So what am I working on?

The listThe list

There’s about 33 major projects for the Mothership boxed set, all of which are crucial to shipping. To complicate things Lindsay and I had a beautiful baby girl in December. Which is amazing and something I won’t spend any time complaining about on here.

That being said, time is at an extreme premium. This would’ve been a difficult job with just one kid, but now that we have two there’s a whole other shift. I spent time talking to Matt from Exalted Funeral who basically told me to expect an hour of work max a day for the rest of the year.

How am I going to ship this boxed set on an hour of work a day?

I’ve had to learn to delegate.

This is challenging for me because the original players survival guide I did mostly by myself. Jarrett Crader, the indie Sherpa, and Fiona Geist, head talent scout of the OSR, flew in at the last minute with some badly needed editing and a couple key tables, but I did the bulk of the writing along with the illustration and layout.

The easiest thing to delegate was Unconfirmed Contact Reports. All the writing was always intended to be from a wider array of writers from the start. Jarrett took project management off my plate for getting all the descriptions and snippets written up which freed me up to chase down artists. The layout is relatively simple too, so it was something I didn’t have to sweat.

So that was the first domino to fall.

Next was customer service. Matt and Cristin again from EF told me there was no way I’d be able to stay on top of all the messages from all the platforms asking me all sorts of things 24 hours a day. We have 15,000 backers. Even if each of them only sends me one email for the whole entire year that’s 41 emails a day. Can’t be done.

We brought on the amazing Tyler Brown to handle that and he’s been killing it. Customer service is one of the least fun parts of the job, but if you don’t do it, it will slowly sink you.

So two big chunks down.

Then a big one: I had a dream of writing and doing the layout for Another Bug Hunt myself. It’s the starter adventure and I have a lot of opinions about those and how to do them.

But an hour a day for an unwritten adventure? On top of everything else? There’s no way.

We brought on Alan and Luke and Dylan to do the writing. All voices I trust implicitly. Tyler Kimball one of our devs took on a new role we invented: science developer. Basically he keeps an eye on the aliens we invented, their technology, etc and make sure it all works across the five different adventures by three different writers. Super invaluable.

I also brought on Lone Archivist to do the layout, which is the first time I’ve ever outsourced the layout of an adventure to another graphic designer1.

I think it’s safe to say mothership built our reputation on graphic design so this was a bit of a trust fall for me. But I’d been talking to LA for awhile and I know our processes would be similar. And from his Kickstarters I could see he was used to hitting deadlines and shipping. Very grateful to have him on board.

Here’s the other thing: if what we do at Mothership can’t be replicated or if it depends on me and me only, then there’s a ceiling to how far we can take things. I don’t want that. I want to keep making Mothership for the rest of my life and I have 3-4 other RPGs that I want to design and support long term. Eventually I’m going to have to move into more of a producorial role. Now is as good a time as any to learn how to do that.

Next we have the Shipbreaker’s Toolkit. Originally I wanted to design all the ships in Sketchup myself. I have a lot of fun working in 3d and it’s a nice break from the other design stuff I typically have to do.

But we were going to need 10-20 ships. All concepted out and built to a high consistent quality. One of the users on our discord Hail Santa had been churning out just awesome hard SF ship designs. I brought him on initially to do 2d concepts that I would turn into 3d. Then I looked for 3d artists that could do that part for me.

Then it turns out Santa could do all the 3d himself. So now we have all the ship designs we need from someone who is passionate about spacecraft design and can actually tell you what all the little bibs and bobs are on the ships.

This is my favorite kind of sci fi design: intentionality. That’s where we have a reason why we did things but it’s not important that you know or understand. We just do the hard work for you. It’s also easy to ignore hard sci fi type stuff and hand wave it away but I like knowing we did the work to create a semi internally consistent (but hidden) universe.

Jarrett is handling the conversion from 0e to 1e for all the old modules. And so that means the bulk of the work is covered.

So back to the initial question, what am I working on?

I have three big jobs right this second:

  1. Writing the Warden’s Operations Manual. This one has been a beast but I’m almost done. I’m also doing layout and commissioning art at the same time so once the first draft is done we’re basically just at editing and final polish for that book.
  2. Collating Another Bug Hunt. All the writers have turned in their adventures and now I’m stitching them together. It’s a ton of fun to work with such great adventures and then weave them into a solid core. The brief going into this was write what you want just know that it might all be cut and mangled to better fit the overall shape. Everyone turned in great stuff and it’s a lot of fun Voltroning them together.
  3. Writing the Shipbreaker’s Toolkit. A much much smaller book than any of the other core books with only about 12 pages of rules content and then just 20 pages of ship maps and stats and deckplans etc. This one has been great as well and I’m about 30% of the way done.

I bounce back and forth between these three projects when I need a break but right now my focus is on ABH as Jarrett and LA are waiting on me to finish so they can get started there.

My rule for giving up creative control is basically I don’t. Unless I physically can’t do it or the person is obviously better than me, I try and do as much of everything myself as possible. I really enjoy all the different tasks that go into RPG publishing and I love to learn how it’s all done, so I’ve never seen the reason to give up control until now.

I wouldn’t recommend this method.

The Mothership team has been amazing during an incredibly difficult time and this boxed set is undoubtedly the work of a large scale effort by a ton of creative people and I can’t wait for you all to see it.

Next time I’ll write a little bit more about how I stay on top of all the little projects and what my process is for wrangling this many manuscripts together.

  1. Caveat: I’ve done tons of work on other smaller graphic design projects for Mothership and I hired Christian Kessler to do graphics on a book that ultimately got shelved, so it’s not a first ever but it is the first time this work is coming to fruition on a full scale module.↩︎

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