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!

Posthuman Pathways – Now on Kickstarter

Posthuman Pathways is a transhumanist roleplaying game. It focusses on the changing world and the sacrifices we make in the name of progress. It’s about the change, over a single lifetime, of our society and what it means to be human.

Explore what path the world will take. Discover how technology changes the world and alters our species. There are countless paths that humanity might take, depending on what technologies arise and which decisions we make. Every time you play this game, you walk a different path and discover a different future. This game needs no preparation, no dice and no game master. Over three or four hours, you and two friends can discover the future.

This is now up on Kickstarter. I would love your support!

Examining Icons in Design

A vital part of an engaging RPG is establishing strong connections between the characters and their setting. The stronger those connections, the more meaningful the character actions and player decisions seem to be. We have had examples of this stretching back to the earliest days of alignments, hirelings and deities in D&D. Dresden Files offers places and faces, Fiasco presents Relationships and Apocalypse World deals with Fronts. I designed Spark with Setting Beliefs, Factions, and Faces who represent those factions.
For the ease of this discussion, let’s just label these all as Icons, as exemplified in 13th Age. Before delving in deeper, check out Rob Donoghue’s excellent exploration of this subject [1][2][3] [4] [5] [6] since all of my blathering is based on his analysis.  This is also related to Chris Chin’s discussion of Keys, in the other excellent article.

There is a lot of untapped potential in terms of potential Icons and I think it would be useful to unpack the idea. When I design my own games, I have started to ask 5 questions so I can get a handle on all of these setting Icons and design appropriately.


  • What: What type of Icon created within the setting? An individual, organization, belief, relationship, event, location, item or idea?
  • Who: Among the players, who is connected to a given Icon?
  • How: How does the Icon affect the PCs, and vice versa? How do they change?
  • When: When during the course of the game do the Icons affect play?
  • Where: How does the Icon interact spatially with the world?

Let’s show how this works in practice, shall we?

Fate Core Setting Issues:

Issues and their associated setting Aspects describe the tensions and broader problems in the setting, ones which the PCs will have to deal with during play.

  • What: A distinct issue which may consist of an event, organization or idea, with an associated Aspect.
  • Who: Everyone interacts indirectly with the Issue, but there are no formal connections to individual PCs. All of the character histories, troubles and high concepts will tend to be associated with the setting Issues.
  • How: It is easier for the GM to affect PCs when the Issue is involved thanks to the associated aspect. Significant actions on the parts of PCs can change the Issues over a longer time-scale.
  • When: Issues can affect any scene.
  • Where: Issues usually extend spatially across the entire area of play. While there may be some specific places where the issue is less significant, it is always there.

Fiasco Relationships:

Beginning a game of Fiasco involves establishing relationships, needs, locations and objects that define how the various characters interact. Relationships are one subset of those elements for the purpose of this discussion.

  • What: A single broad category of relationship (Romance) with a more specific detail (Pick-up Artist and Hopeless Romantic)
  • Who: Relationships directly shape two specific characters, though they will have larger indirect effects. This defines the past history of two characters.
  • How: It establishes the power dynamic between the characters; who is high status and who is low within the relationship.
  • When: Relationships establish the backstory, but largely fade to irrelevance once play begins. Relationships affect the PCs, but the PCs actions don’t alter the relationships mechanically.
  • Where: Relationships have no fixed spatial location.

AD&D Alignments:

Alignments in AD&D are powerful things that establish not only the importance of morality in decision making, but also a decidedly egalitarian spectrum of ethical positions. All of these discussions are all drawn from 1st edition.

  • What: Nine distinct alignments which are combinations of Lawful-Neutral-Chaos and Good-Neutral-Evil.
  • Who: Every character interacts with alignments, though there are very real obligations for religious characters to behave in accordance with certain alignments. That said, there are restrictions on alignments for certain classes, which indicates that core activities are antithical to certain ethical perspectives.
  • How: Every character can speak “Alignment Languages”, as a beautiful example of the importance of Alignments within the core setting assumption. These languages act as another communication channel, so that like-minded characters can remind the others to behave in accordance with their Alignments. There are also penalties for changing one’s alignment, and the deities in the various pantheons tend to be very judgemental on this subject. Paladins who act in evil or chaotic ways can have their divine blessings revoked, while clerics can lose their divine spells.
  • When: Constantly. Particularly in high-stress situations, such as when there are high stakes, divine blessings and correct decision making is rewarded especially. The cleric trying to convert a wounded patient into reforming their behaviour? That is part of the Alignment Icon.
  • Where: Relationships are tied intimately with the various religions and kingdoms which are distributed unevenly across a D&D world. The later-day Planescape setting illustrated that perfectly.

What do you think? Would you be willing to examine something else in the comments?

Metatopia 2013 Debrief

I was among my people this weekend. The Game Design festival known as #Metatopia was a stellar success, with a robust panel schedule and some of the best playtesting I have seen to date. Beyond the practical matters, it was an opportunity to spend time with the many amazing folks in the gaming industry.



Playtesting 101, with Rob Donoghue, was in the very first time slot of the convention and was to be heard by a select few. Despite the fact that we had two people recording the seminar, neither of our equipment worked out which meant that Rob’s wisdom was regretfully lost. The general take-away from this panel is that you need to test your games with diverse groups of people, be clear about what you are looking for, and minimize contact with playtesters as much as possible so you can get unbiased opinions.

Accessibility Issues for Game Designers, with Russell Collins, was probably the only panel that wasn’t an unqualified success. Unfortunately, we didn’t get anyone attending the panel, which meant we had to record the panel and hope those recordings would be appreciated after the fact.

Ebooks 101 with Joseph Bloch, went relatively smoothly. We discussed some of the advantages and potential benefits of the various formats, including what tools each of us use to publish our ebooks. Good overall.

Legalese: Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents with Justin Jacobson was certainly an example of me being over my head. Justin explained the basic of IP law with remarkable skill, and I tried in vain to contribute small tidbits that I had heard from other law seminars. Justin handled my ignorance with remarkable grace and gave the audience some really solid information.

Dangerous Mechanics: Rules That Looked Good On The Surface with Rob Donoghue, Will Hindmarch and Ken Hite might have been the highlight of the entire convention for me. I had originally suggested this topic because I noticed more focus on publishing rather than design. There was a great deal of meat to this discussion, including nominations for most Dangerous Game and Most Dangerous Designer of recent memory.

The other panels which I was merely attending were equally excellent, but there were too many to recount.

Playtesting my Games:

My first, crude game (Tell Me About Your Game) was obliterated during this hour-long focus group. Ryan Macklin, Will Hindmarch, Ken Hite and Ryan Shapiro gave me lots of accurate advice and by the end, I got a sense of the direction I should take in redesigning the game.

My second game (Posthuman Doorways) was an unbelievable success. I was incredibly lucky to get Joe McDaldno, Ryan Macklin, Joshua A.C Newman and another two gentlemen for this 3-hour game. It was, to be quite frank, the best playtest I have had in my life. During the very first playtest of this game, it produced the exact play experience I was hoping for. Character creation worked smoothly and created rapid investment, while the resolution mechanic caused the correct emotional reaction. The fine testers identified a dozen different areas where I can or must refine the game, and it will probably take me a month just to analyze all the feedback. Overall though, it gave me hope and confidence that it could be appreciated by others.

My third game (What Came Before: Rogues Gallery) was a case study in overcompensation. James Mendez Hodges and two other fine playtesters tried it out and suffered through the experience. I had managed to move out of my own comfort zone and design a straight-up traditional dungeon crawl with relatively elegant OSR-style mechanics. I had, however, entirely neglected the fact that the game should feature rogue-themed obstacles rather than generic D&D ones. Likewise, I had done nothing to establish story-telling elements or relationships between the focus character and her mentors. It’s a good thing that I have the relevant experience to be able to design solutions to those problems.

Other Playtests:

I got dragged into playtesting a card game titled “Political Capital” by Caddywampus Games and I am very glad I was! It was delightfully designed, with themes of politicking and lobbying. My biggest criticism was that it didn’t quite replicate the feeling of political parties, but rather felt like municipal councillors duking it out. This holds a great deal of promise and I hope to buy a copy next year.’

The second game I tested, along with +Darren Watts, was titled Red Letters. It was an ambitious game that hoped to merge the strong character identity created by Apocalypse World with the bizarre, swashbuckler aspects of Lady Blackbird. The gentleman who designed this showed great promise as a designer, but I fear that he wasn’t quite using the correct tools for the job. It is far too easy to fall prey to the temptation to make “anything possible” and avoid restrictions, but those restrictions often provide the very necessary focus that keeps designs together. I hope he continues his work and we didn’t discourage him too much.

The third game was Springfield, designed by Jim Pinto and presented by Caias Ward. It was a grabby premise, but it hit all of my “comedy” triggers which interfered with the designer’s intent to present a more serious social commentary. It was a fun experience though, and I appreciated the chance to play.


It will take me a week to recover and center myself after the whirlwind of excitement created by the amazing Vincent Salzillo, Avonelle Wing and Darren Watts. Thanks to everyone who made my weekend remarkable and gave me hope.

I needed that.

Games to Make you a Better Person

One of my passions is to use games for self-improvement and understanding. In the process, and in conjunction with various folks on twitter, I put together a list of RPGs that explore the human condition and teach important lessons.  I update this list on a periodic basis to include new examples as they arrive.

The Romance Trilogy – About relationships

Monsterhearts – On queer youth

Dream Askew – On queer communties

Durance – On prison culture

Dog Eat Dog – On colonialism

Kagematsu – On gender roles

Steal Away Jordan – On strength under slavery

Mars Colony – On governance

A Flower for Mara – On death and returning to your life afterwards

Dogs in the Vineyard – On faith and overwhelming responsibility

Misspent Youth – On rebellion and revolution

Grey Ranks – On personal sacrifice

carry, a game about war – On war and it’s costs

Shock: Social Science Fiction – Critical thinking on societal issues

Microscope – On the flow of history and importance of the individual

Heads of State: Nine short games about Tyrants is pretty self-explanatory.


What games would you add to this list?