Indie Gems – Heroes of the Hearth (2016)

Heroes of the Hearth

Seven-Wonders_cover_350-200x300-200x300Designed by Stiainín Jackson and Published by Pelgrane Press as part of the 7 Wonders Anthology Available at the Pelgrane Press site.

Pelgrane Press has recently published a fantastic anthology of story games, titled “Seven Wonders”.  I will be preparing short reviews of all seven games within the book as part of my “Indie Gems” series.  The third of these is a game by Stiainín Jackson, titled “Heroes of the Hearth Rise and Fall”.

The introduction begins as follows.

Today, we do not sing of the adventurers. Today, we sing of the people behind the adventurers. We sing of their stories. We sing of their struggles. We sing of how they themselves deal with the threat that holds their lands in thrall – the threat that dragged their loved ones from their sized. The Heroes of the Hearth.

This is a complex and well-crafted game that focusses on the loved ones whom the adventurers left behind. Each person portrays one of the various individuals from the village who are related to one of the mighty adventurers: the spouse of the Barbarian, sibling of the Paladin, Child of the Bard, or the Rogue’s betrothed. Each of the player characters are defined by a key question you aim to answer in play, such as “What are you afraid of” or “Do you really believe in the gods?”. They also have a list of potential bonds with the other player characters, such as “You idolise this person and want to be just like them” or “This person is a threat to your business”.  These few elements bring enough richness and characterization that a robust community drama can emerge.

Drama does indeed emerge out of this relationship web.  Play proceeds through a series of acts, corresponding to interactions with the great darkness. Act 1 involves the characters writing letters to the adventurers, while Act 2 involves hearing rumours and news from the front. Act 3 includes letters from the adventurers, which is then followed by an attack from the threat. In each of the first three acts, players declare if their characters appear strong or weak, in the face of the difficult situation. Those strength and weakness checks will inform how the village will respond to the threat’s attack.

The game builds these beautiful tragedies, offering player all of the tools for safety (X-card), improvisation (Yes-and), and vulnerability (playing to lose). The game reminds me in many ways to Montsegur 1244 or Witch: Road to Lindisfarne, with the pre-generated characters doomed to an inevitability tragic situation. The system is streamlined and clean, while offering ample tools for storytelling.

I thought quite highly of this game, and then I discovered the additional scenario at the back. This additional scenario changes the context of play, from Tolkeinesque fantasy to French villagers in World War II. This thoughtful, additional scenario is excellent, and has seduced me even more than the original one. The game is perfectly calibrated to tell human stories, and it’s an excellent reference for future designs.

Ennies Nomination for a Spark in Fate Core!

I’m very happy to report that I have recieved a nomination for “A Spark in Fate Core” as Best Free Product for the 2014 Ennies Awards. It’s was a lot of fun to produce some content that would integrate wtih the Fate Core book, and to try a different style of collaborative worldbuilding. If anyone wants to get their own free copy, it’s over at DrivethruRPG over here!  I’m currently working on a very short run printing of hardcopies of the game for GenCon attendees.

In gratitude, I am also temporarily putting the Spark RPG on sale at 50% off, right over here!


Posthuman Pathways Post-Mortem

Just as I have done with the Spark RPG kickstarter, I wanted to present a financial breakdown of the Posthuman Pathways project. Unlike that previous project, this one was a bit less successful at the preliminary stages and may take a year or two to get into the black. I am very proud of the game as a design and a product, but this taught me a number of valuable lessons as a publisher!

Original Budget $3,360

Printing 1000 copies of the game: $2,500
Printing 1000 cover stickers: $500
Other freelance costs: $360

My original, minimal kickstarter request was planning on just covering print costs for the core pamphlet. I met this goal, but didn’t exceed this be a very significant amount. Unlike my previous kickstarter, all donations were made in Canadian dollars which meant that I couldn’t benefit from the currency exchange rate.

Revenue $2,525

Gross Kickstarter Total: $ 2,806
Admin Fees: $280
Net Funding Received: $ 2,525


Campaign Expenses – $ 5,351

Printing 2000 Copies. $3,219

I originally budgeted for 1000 copies, but secretly hoped that I would have enough demand in the kickstarter to justify a larger print-run where the costs decreased. When I originally planned this project, I had assumed that the economies of scale would kick in at 1000 units for pamphlets, just as they do for books. Turns out that is not the case, and things only became economically feasible at a 2000-unit offset print run. Oops!
There is normally a variance of +/- 5% on print runs of this size, and they provided me with 100 discounted copies. Note that each “copy” of the full game involves five different pieces of printed material, so they printed over ten thousand individual pamphlets in this little endeavour.
Lesson Learned: Get comprehensive quotes earlier in the design process and don’t assume all products have the same economies of scale.

Printing 2100 Stickers. $594

Before going into the campaign, I had gotten several quotes and settled on a professional-seeming company specialized in sticker production. Unfortunately, I discovered after the campaign closed that they didn’t provide physical proofs, didn’t understand how crop marks worked and demanded payment up front with no refunds. I went back to the printer who produced the pamphlets and they were able to give me the high-quality stickers that I used, at a pretty competitive price. It worked out pretty well in the end, though it was a bit of a hassle to get there.
Lesson Learned: Double check what printers offer as “proofs” when getting quotes, not at the end of the process.
Commissioning Velvet Cases from Sink or Swim Stitching: $ 378
I was originally not intending on including many of these in the campaign, but due to popular demand I included them at a stand-alone level. These reward levels brought more money (making it possible for me to meet my goal) but also increased my overall costs not insignificantly due to payments to the artisan and additional shipping costs. Good thing they are beautiful!
Lesson Learned: Consider the additional shipping costs as a more significant portion of goals using large add-ons such as this.

Other freelance costs: $360

This project included two editors, one illustrator and one graphic design professional. I was happy to compensate each of them for their work and the payments were made before launching the kickstarter campaign, out of the profits of the Spark RPG sales. It was a relief to be able to simply hire skilled professionals to help me with this, and they did amazing work.
Lesson Learned: Paying all the freelancers before launching the kickstarter campaign drastically decreases the stress levels while running the campaign; would recommend!

Shipping : $ 800

Shipping is always an issue, and this was no exception. One of the goals of this campaign was to produce something that would be as affordable as possible to ship. Between the product design and the printing, our mail prices skyrocketed which made “as affordable as possible” still rather nasty. I also had the unpleasant surprise that the final product (5 pamphlets + 1 sticker + envelope) was heavier than I had originally forecasted. I had expected that the final product would increase in weight 50% over that of my prototypes, while it turned out that it doubled the weight instead. This pushed it over a mailing price threshold and boosted the cost for international backers (outside of North America) by another $2 which was rough.
Fortunately, I worked with Magpie Games to reship most of the rewards to American backers domestically, which dropped my overall costs considerably. The cost-savings from that little maneuver pretty much negated the cost increase for the international shipping.

Stretch goal costs : $ 0

One of the reasons why I created that first stretch goal, only $250 above the base goal, was that I could do it entirely in-house. As a purely digital release with no external costs, I could add value without spending additional funding. I’m very happy about this digital supplement as well.

At the end of the day?

Despite these setbacks, I am happy to say that this kickstarter has been a success overall. While I haven’t broken even yet, I have plenty of product available for sale and it’s only a matter of time before I do so. I think that the actual product and the underlying game design are beautiful, and I’m really proud of what I have accomplished.
I have sent out just under 300 copies of the game at this point to you fine backers. Within the next few years, I am confident that I can make up most of the difference, and break into the black on this project. More importantly than that, I hope that people really enjoy this game and that you tell stories of the transformation, tranhumanism and sacrifice.
That said, your support would be very much appreciated. I depend on your enthusiastic voices to spread the word and get copies of this in people’s hands.
Play the game: Play sessions at home, at game stores and at conventions. The best way to help is to play the game and enjoy yourselves!
Leave Honest Reviews: Reviews are great, and I would love to hear your thoughts about the game. The DriveThruRPG page is a great place to talk about the game.
Send people to GenCon: I will be working at the Indie Game Developer Network (IGDN) at GenCon, running demos and selling the game. Spread the word and send people over, so I can introduce them to the game in person.
Send people to buy copies direct: With the completion of the kickstarter campaign, I have now put the game on sale and included a more reasonable shipping premium. Please feel free to send friends, colleagues, and random strangers to buy their own copies over at
Thank you for all of your help, and your support. The more people hear about Posthuman Pathways, the more likely I am to sell a few copies and produce more interesting RPGs.

Happy Gaming!

Game Chef 2014 – The Roman on the Rhine

I am very pleased to present the Roman on the Rhine, my submission to the game chef competition. This is a one-shot roleplaying game for 3-5 people to play  over a bit over an hour. This game is presented in the form of an interactive audio drama. All of the rules are present in this mp3 file, which you play in the background during the session in order to teach you the rules and manage the game.  This is a diceless and paper-less game which you can play in a car. For those hard of hearing, I also offer the text version of the rules in this post after the “Read more” line.

MP3 Download

As is typical in the game chef competition, this is more of a proof of concept and thought experiment than a fully polished piece. That said, it’s also free and I hope you find it interesting.

This game would not have been possible without the kind permissions of Wes Otis, whose RPG background loops were invaluable in producing this audio-piece. If you like any of the background music, they are all available over at

1) Viking Dining Hall (Council Scenes)

2) ) Winter Background sound

3) Gladiator sounds (Transition)

4) Werewolf Forest (Senate Scenes)

5) Campfire (Also Senate Scenes)


Continue reading Game Chef 2014 – The Roman on the Rhine