Last winter I wrote about publishing my roleplaying game RealTime, the rules-light game that's played in real time and simulates things like 24 with a level of intensity and immediacy that roleplaying games rarely if ever achieve. My explorations of another indie game, Solipsist, made me start to think it might be possible if I could find an artist who would work on commission. But when my attempts to find an artist fell through and then I got really busy at work in spring and summer, it just got forgotten.
At Carnage 12 this weekend past, I saw and played several independent games, and got both encouraged and discouraged about the idea of reviving that effort.
On the encouragement side, I saw and played in several independent off-beat roleplaying games, and those games were well-attended. Part of that is the reputation Charlton Wilbur has garnered, which I would have to earn over the course of years by being more visible at more cons, and probably by doing more mainstream things to get people to believe in my abilities as a GM so they'd be willing to take a chance on me doing something odder. But maybe there's more market for people to go to a con session with an off-beat independent game than there used to be; not only Charlton's games did well.
In fact, Charlton told me about JiffyCon, a one day semiannual mini-convention dedicated to independent press games. It's a little far away from me but I might want to consider going anyway. (Though not the next one, since it's this coming Saturday, and I'm still exhausted from Carnage and suffering the Venusian Death Flu.) Maybe the combination of some street cred earned at other cons with being at that one might get people to show up for my game and give it a try.
And several of the independent games I saw were also being run and sold by their makers, and at prices that suggest I could cover costs. (I'm not looking to make any real money; if I can cover costs and pay an artist, I'm fine, and if I get a few bucks left over, that's gravy. But since price per copy depends entirely on size of print run, you have to think in terms of profit just to avoid taking a bath.)
On the downside, though, some of the people who were running and selling their own games came off as a little desperate, even verging on tacky. I'd hate to get to where there was $1000 worth of books in my garage pressuring me to make sales so much that I felt I had to flog my work at cons, especially since I'd be an even worse salesmen than those I saw (and they were pretty bad).
My feelings about Solipsist also give me pause. I'm convinced that there's a lot of things about that game that need to be mentioned, or explained better, in the book, but which the author doesn't realize are needed because they're clear to him, perhaps based on familiarity with some other game I haven't played. Worse, my attempts to make this point always get deflected by the true-but-irrelevant fact that the background of Solipsist is very weird and different, so any time you don't seem to get something, those who do just dismiss it as the one-size-fits-all "well, you have to get your mind around the idea", they lump you with tactical-game-influenced people who don't get anything without experience points, and your concerns are overlooked, to the detriment of the game. While I've made every effort to avoid having RealTime fall prey to that problem, how do I know I'm not going to be that same person?
Really, I just want to see RealTime given a fair shake. I think it's a really unique game, and that it does what it sets out to do, and that when I played it it was exhaustingly exciting fun. But there's so much noise in the world of "I wrote my own roleplaying game" that there's no way for anyone else to know if I'm really a gem amidst the dung, or just more dung. Or even for me to really know.
It will be a huge amount of time invested to give RealTime the full rewrite it needs, write and run a few more adventures, and then push hard to get other people to try playing in it at cons and even running it. If I felt sure that the game's quality would be the determining factor for whether it got noticed, I'd do it, no question. I have confidence in the game and in my ability to refine it. But I think it falls on my own ability to be personable and well-known at least as much. So maybe I should just let it fall to the side again.
Of course, if I can't find an artist who can do a few drawings and then get paid per copy sold, instead of in advance, it's a moot point. Where are all the desperate, starving artists trying to flesh out their portfolios and earn their reputations?