Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Elf Lair Games: Looking Ahead and a Few Updates

So as I was wrapping up the main text for The God in the Dark, it required me to reference my notes for the forthcoming Wasted Lands: The Dreaming Age roleplaying game (hereafter WLDA). For those new to Elf Lair Games, or who simply haven't been following along, this game was originally announced (with no release date) as Apotheosis.  It's to be a pulp swords-and-sorcery game (powered by O.R.C.S., naturally) with a pre-packaged "Meta-setting" (to borrow a term from James Maliszewski). The core rules will be tweaked to represent an even more gritty, pulp sensibility than does the core S&S rules set (which many people seem to feel is already pretty pulp). The God in the Dark (hereafter WL1) will include a hint of what's to come, with very brief peeks at a couple of the WLDA cultures and a new Elite Path designed specifically for WLDA: the Sorcerer.

As it stands in WL1, the Sorcerer is adapted from pre-existing materials so as not to expand the module into a mini-sourcebook with a complete grimoire, but when WLDA finally hits DTRPG it will have a complete original spell list and grimoire for the Sorcerer, which will be a core class replacing the Wizard and Priest from S&S.

This is what brings me writing today. I love game design. I really enjoy putting together a new game that hopefully others will really enjoy playing. For me, however, without a doubt the worst part of game design--we're talking core games, here, not modules--is the grind of putting spell lists together. It's a long and painful process of describing and properly limiting spell effects for their level, and comparing them to all other spells at a given level to ensure that there is rough parity with the power level of the effect in question.  At its simplest this process requires combing through reams of OGL material to select what is most appropriate, then copying/pasting and modifying descriptions, and at its most complex is a draining creative process--each new spell can be as involved as creating a new character class (not always, but can be) and there are generally nearly a hundred (if not more) spells in a given core rulebook.

I'm not stating all this as a matter of fact--it's just the way I feel. I'm sure there are designers out there who really dig designing spells and compiling spell lists. I just don't.

However, I realized that since I'm putting WLDA together from a combination of S&S and my Age of Conan booklets, I might actually have 99% of that work done already, save changing a name here and there for IP purposes.

So, it seems that the text of WLDA is much, much further along than I thought it was. Much like Twelve Parsecs, it is actually nearly complete. There will be some tweaks, as with 12P. I'm considering (and will likely do so) dropping Ability Scores and replacing them with the -3 to +3 bonus, as that's what matters in O.R.C.S. anyway. There will be some clarifications to combat insofar as how to handle the multiple attacks issues so that the game doesn't degenerate into "whoever wins initiative wins combat in the first round," and a few other bits and bobs. But by and large it'll be the same system you know from S&S.

Which leaves me with the same problem I've consistently faced for new releases for ELG: No artwork, and no art budget. It was fine to use public domain art for S&S--it matched what the game was about and worked well (though some of it is shamefully low-res). But for things like 12P and WLDA, I'm going to need real artwork. I can get some decent stuff in the royalty-free art purchases available on DriveThru, but will still need some stuff to fill in the gaps, and my income is zero. Elf Lair isn't paying for itself at this point--I'm bringing in $50 a month if I'm lucky (which is going largely to paying off debts so I can get solvent). I have an artist on board for 12P who is quite talented and willing to work for peanuts to get the credits, but she's also quite busy and untested in the RPG waters. So we'll see how that works out. I'm also rather new at "art direction," so I'm not sure what to tell artists about what's needed, should I get some on board. I'm not sure how much art is too much, or not enough, or approximately how often it should appear. Once every other page? Once every three or four pages?  No clue. From looking through my other games it would seem one piece of art every three or four pages is about right, with exceptions made for such things as character classes, monsters, and equipment.

Confusing and frustrating. Wish I had a few grand in the bank to get things up and running, do some real art and layout, get a distributor, and run from there. I can handle layout and design work, but I'm no artist or cartographer.

I've had several e-mails from freelancers eager to work with me, but I've had to turn them down due to a lack of funds to actually pay for artwork. So as much as I hate to ask for handouts, at this stage if there are any decent artists out there willing to work for a byline and references, or who have art laying around that they're not using and are willing to donate that is in a pulp swords-and-sorcery or science fiction style, by all means please drop me a line. Who knows? If the next two games sell well enough, maybe I can get up and running for some real, paying gigs down the road apiece.

Okay, I guess that about covers it for ELG developments right now...Oh, I did some editing work on Eldritch Witchery over the past week as well. Not as much as I'd have liked, but the editing phase has officially begun.

So there you have it: the state of Elf Lair Games as of January 3, 2012. Here's hoping with the stuff I have in the wings that 2012 ends up being a productive year for us here.


  1. I so agree about spell lists. That and Random Encounter Tables. Just...slog.

    Interested to hear what's new for the system.

  2. Have you thought about Kickstarter? Several rpg projects have raised some capital for paying artists through them.

  3. It crossed my mind. Unfortunately, more projects try that and fail than succeed. Elf Lair just doesn't have the kind of momentum or visibility at this time to pull off a Kickstarter.


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