The Grinning Frog’s Kickstarter funded in three hours and with two weeks still on the clock is currently at 200% of its very modest goal.
As a result, we’ve a new monthly digital fantasy RPG magazine on the way. As well as taking a look at some of the (not final) layout, Geek Native took this chance to speak to the frog (aka Stephen Hart) about the unpleasant background to the project.
A pledge of £5 gets you “Issue Zero” and £20 the first four issues and perks.
We’ve a Kickstarter to discuss, but the reason why you’ve been able to focus so solidly on it is a bad one. That’s worth highlighting first. How has COVID-19 changed your life?
I was six months into a new job as the Business Development Director for a design studio. Sadly, our clients in travel, automotive and leisure were amongst the first to start closing shop. The knock-on effect meant that there was little work coming into the company, (despite my best efforts!) and they had to furlough me. I’ve been told quite clearly the job won’t be there when the virus clears and sadly, it looks like the company might not make it either. My wife’s a self-employed massage therapist so you can imagine that her business is completely closed as well. Which leaves me looking into the future at a lot of bills and no income. Having taken a hard look at the job market, and considered my rather niche skill-set, it strikes me that going independent as a writer is actually the most likely way to generate the income I need.
Have you had the luxury to do market research and investigate whether a monthly digital fantasy RPG magazine can succeed well enough to support you? Or is this a leap of faith?
I was a week into running my first Kickstarter (for a 5e adventure) when I lost my job. The first thing I did was sat down and flowcharted expenses vs. income over the rest of the year. The answer was stark. I either launched the magazine in May/June or it wouldn’t have a chance to build up enough subscribers to make a difference. That didn’t give a lot of time for market research but the good thing is that the magazine had already been in development for three years and during that time I have tracked and observed various similar offerings on Patreon. From that ongoing research, I can confidently say that it is possible to make a living self-publishing monthly RPG content although, and this is an important point, it’s far from easy and the risk of failure has to be guarded against.
In my opinion, the thing that gives me a fighting chance is the three years prepping the content and working on the concept. For example, during those three years, I wrote and successfully published around 30 publications for 5e and the general Fantasy RPG market on DrivethruRPG and DMsGuild and I started to attend and sell at game shows. That gave me direct feedback from customers over what was wanted, and what was optional. It also helped hone my writing and art skills and enables me to develop a work-flow for the material.
Okay, let’s talk about the project as I suspect that’s what most readers will be interested in. Why should they check out the Kickstarter?
The magazine is for anyone who is a DM or GM of any Fantasy RPG games who would benefit from fresh, original system-free monthly RPG content.
The content is system-free for two reasons – one) that makes it very simple to translate into the game system the person is used to because we can describe things more naturally two) it enables the magazine to have the broadest appeal possible.
The content is broken down across different sections. Based on our experience of writing RPG material over the last three years we know that inspiration can be a fluid thing! To work with that most human of creative characteristics we are committing to a flexible content schedule. Let me show you:
First is listed the content section and the numbers indicate the number of entries per monthly magazine:
1) DM Advice (Varies!)
2) Festivals (3-5)
3) Locations (3-5)
4) Creatures (3-6)
5) Magic Items (3-6)
6) Non Player Characters (12-25)
7) Non Player Character Organisations (2-4)
8) Story Hooks (8-12)
9) Things to See (6-12)
10) Random Encounters (6-12)
11) Trinkets and Treasures (10-20)
The background to this is a bit geeky and practical but in all honesty, there is only so much writing time available and inspiration is a fluid beast! By being flexible on the content spread we can adjust based on where our inspiration flows that month. In Issue Zero (only available via the Kickstarter by the way), the first organisation that we detailed came to just over 2000 words, the second one was 1000 words. We simply found we had more to say about the first. So, rather than keeping to a nominal word count per organisation, we wrote until we were concluded. The result will be that the reader gets much more genuine articles which is powered by inspiration and creativity rather than constrained by a rigid process.
We will always at least produce the minimum listed but in every edition that we have fully drafted so far, we exceed the maximums in at least two categories!
We believe in transparency and we have explained our design thinking and the content in some detail on the Kickstarter page.
There are pledge options for a single issue (to test us out!), a four-issue bundle and a years subscription – the early bird for which provides the backer with FOUR free issues! The four-issue bundle and the year subscription also come with an exclusive Discord group access. That will enable subscribers to influence the content of the magazine and partake in a monthly Creative Jam. This Creative Jam will provide them with the opportunity to take part in creative writing exercises whilst working on their own RPG material. I’ve fifteen years experience as a corporate trainer so I’m really looking forward to those and the input from the readers into the magazine!
Okay, it all sounds great but what if you get a full-time job out of the blue – what happens to the magazine?
That’s a very fair question and I have a three point answer, because I’ve thought about this a lot. First of all, I’m not now looking for a full-time job – this is my full-time job! The monthly Dungeon Masters’s Adventure Pack magazine is the core product now from The Grinning Frog and I have drafted material for the first 12 months and a degree of material for the following 12! (This is where the 3 years of prep is really helping!) Additionally I have a planned schedule of adventure releases (following on from the success of the first adventure last month) to take me up until January 2021.
Secondly, if I did get offered a job I couldn’t refuse, then my spare time, as it has been for years now, would be dedicated to producing the magazine and additional RPG material. I’ve been playing RPG’s for nearly 40 years and I love them more than any other game form. I’m not giving up this activity – and that leads to my third point… whilst I might have an uncertain future due to the coronavirus, I also have an opportunity to put into practise something that’s been bubbling away for three years. I’m turning fifty quite shortly and I’m taking this as an opportunity to change direction and do something I love rather than jobs that I’ve liked!
Final question – and it’s a small one, why Dungeon Master’s Adventure Pack, not Games Master’s, especially as it is system-free?
Because DnD was my first love and despite all the other games systems I have, and do play, I still think of the person running the game as the Dungeon Master.
Any final words?
Nothing, other than thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk and share about this project. Also, should people really be struggling financially at the moment then they should go to www.thegrinningfrog.com where we post free weekly RPG material that they are welcome to take and use for whatever purpose – commercially or personally. Thanks again for the opportunity and stay healthy! Stephen Hart
Tempted? You can check out the details of Stephen’s project over on Kickstarter today.
Comments about this article can be found below and discussion elsewhere on Geek Native accessed via the chat portal.