Parts Per Million is the first indie RPG publisher in the Spotlight for 2021.
As a result, PPM will be immortalised (if that’s not too grand a word) on the RPG Publisher Spotlight page. Geek Native’s patrons can use the same page to find the latest poll for the next winner.
I emailed Peter Rudin-Burgess of Parts Per Million a fortnight into January, and he was kind enough to get back quickly. In our exchange, we talk about the company’s history, the recent removal of saddle-stitching from OneBookShelf and plans for the future.
As we’ll discover, Peter and Parts Per Million are a respected part of the solo RPG community. You can read Geek Native’s own attempt at an playing RPGs by yourself and Fiona L.F. Kelly’s What there is to know about solitary gaming on the blog too.
An introduction to Parts Per Million
Who are Parts Per Million?
Once upon a time Parts Per Million was simply PPM. It started out as Peter, Paul & Marcus. We were all very keen on the idea of writing RPG books and supplements and making lots of money. After our first year, we were making less than a Dollar a day. Paul and Marcus liked the idea of adventure writing but not so much the the actual writing. When it came to forming the LLC, they backed out, so PPM become Parts Per Million. Parts Per Million is just me, I do the writing, layout, art direction, and marketing.
What’s the Parts Per Million story?
In the beginning I had no idea I was going to get into this. I was regularly blogging and someone said to me that I could repurpose some of my blogs, gathering those on similar subjects, save them as a PDF and sell them. This seemed a ridiculous idea, but I thought I would give it a go, and the book sold. I had my own home brew game, called 3Deep, so I polished it up and saved it as a PDF and sold that, and it started selling as well. That is when I went to Paul and Marcus with “If I can do this, anyone can.”
A lot of PPM stuff from the early days is all over the place, while I/we were working out what we wanted to do, and what we could do. When I was doing some RPG reviewing, there was a debate about whether just reading an RPG was sufficient to review it. War Games often come with solo playing rules. It didn’t take a huge step to go from war game solo rules to knocking up solo RPG rules. Then I could play every game I was given to review.
I didn’t sell my first set of solo rules, I put them on my blog as a free download and that page became the most popular page on the entire site. The next set I put on DriveThruRPG, and it instantly started selling. I had loads of solo rules from my reviewing days, some I could publish because the games were open, or there was a license or community content programme available, some I couldn’t. I just started publishing one a week every week.
Now I reckon I am one of the bigger names in the solo roleplaying niche, after the likes of Shawn Tomkin [Ironsworn] and Word Mill [Mythic GME], and Chris Bissette [Wretched and Alone] and maybe a few others.
What does a good RPG product look like to you? What must it do?
A good RPG product should take me from opening the cover to playing my first game inside an hour. If your core game mechanics cannot be explained on a post-it note, they are probably either too complicated, or the description is too wordy. When I was a lot younger, I would devour rulebooks, and I could retain everything. Now, I refuse to read anything over 300 pages, unless a game is pretty special. I think I am seeking instant gratification in pen and paper RPGs, not something that I need to spend a month reading before I get to play.
What do you think Parts Per Million is currently best known for and what would you like to be known for?
Solo roleplaying supplements, and specifically introductory, rules-light solo roleplaying supplements. I was once told that being a big fish in a small pool is simply self-delusion. Success is being a big fish in the ocean. I have a game called Navigator RPG, which is a d100 space opera RPG, right now I am writing it’s fantasy version [Pilot RPG]. The two games will be interoperable, and these two are the first two parts in a game system that will go into modern genre and gothic horror. I want these games to become the big fish in the ocean.
Life as a small publisher
How does Lightning Source and DriveThruRPG dropping saddle stitch affect you? And the industry as a whole?
I think the loss of saddle stitch is a real shame. Those books would lie flat on the table, you could do centrefold, pullout maps, and generally, they worked well for gaming materials. For me, the impact is virtually zero. Parts Per Million don’t have any saddle stitch books. I had ordered my first saddle stitch proof the day they announced the end of saddle stitch. I cancelled the order, made the necessary changes to the layout and cover and uploaded the files the next day. I think it took me about an hour.
I do run a fanzine for Zweihander. There are four issues out for that, and they are saddle stitch. I think an afternoon will be enough to convert all four to perfect bound.
As an industry, I don’t think it will miss a beat. It could even be a good thing. I have been considering going to offset printing rather than print on demand. It is cheaper per copy, higher quality, and you can have any binding you like. The downside is that you have to pay for an entire print run up front and deal with your distribution. If I am looking at it, I am sure many others will be as well.
What’s the hardest thing about being a publisher of your size?
Hours in the day. I need a few more of them, or maybe an extra day in the week. I love doing everything myself. I enjoy learning the skills, and understanding how this all works. I even enjoy the marketing side. That is the part that most creatives dislike, and to some extent, shy away from. I want to do it all, but having the time to do it is a constant struggle.
What’s important to you?
Independence. There is a saying “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. I am almost certainly slightly autistic, I have an idea, I then commit 100% to it, until it is done, then I move on. This does not fit in well with working with others. I had done some work with freelance writers, but it didn’t really work out. By the time they had written what I wanted, my imagination had moved on, and I wasn’t really interested in the old version any more. I want to dream it, make it, play it, and then move on.
Although I go fast and alone, I get to make a lot of mistakes and learn a lot of lessons. I believe that a world full of happy wealthy people is better than a world full of miserable poor people. I also know that a lot of people use RPGs as a side hustle to earn a bit of extra money. I like to share my experiences, what worked and what didn’t on my youtube channel. If they help create a few more wealthier happy people then they have done their job. Although the videos are not very good. They are a definite case of going fast. I do a piece to camera and then upload it. No second takes, no editing, no post production, just me and what I learned this week.
The future of Parts Per Million
What’s next for Parts Per Million?
This is the hardest question of all. I am typically working on four projects at once. Most of my week is spent currently working on solo rules for Wicked Ones. I also create a trifold one page adventure each week. I am also exploring something called non-authoring solo roleplaying, I create a PDF book for that each week. This week will be the sixth book in that series. Because I have been publishing a book every week for the past year or so, the only way I could do that was by sticking to PDF only. This year I want to get about fifty of those titles out as print on demand. Then, after that I want to explore solo RPG GM screens, so all your tables are there at a glance, and solo card decks for games that don’t have them. All of that should keep me busy for a couple of years. Then I want to start making iPhone and android app versions of my solo books. Fifty or so phone apps will be an interesting challenge.
Parts Per Million
- Parts Per Million’s website.
- Parts Per Million on Discord.
- Parts Per Million on Facebook.
- Parts Per Million on Twitter.
- Parts Per Million on Instagram.
- Parts Per Million on YouTube.
- Parts Per Million on DriveThruRPG.
Latest Parts Per Million Products
Parts Per Million are available on DriveThruRPG, and we can therefore list the titles with the most recent publication dates.
- 18th of January, 2021 Cut Up Solo – Lovecraftian Dialogues.
- 11th of January, 2021 Cut Up Solo Fantasy Dialogues.
- 6th of January, 2021 RolemasterBlog Fanzine Issue 45.
- 4th of January, 2021 Cut Up Solo – A Thin Ghost and Others.
- 28th December, 2021 Freelancer!
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