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Author Topic: The Legend of Yore: A Fantasy Heartbreaker Story  (Read 17448 times)
Brennan Taylor
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« on: December 14, 2005, 12:57:37 PM »

Our tale begins long ago, in 1986. Our hero, a young lad of 16, begins his long journey into game design innocently enough, on a family car trip. Bored, the boy decides to design his own role-playing game.  Thus begins a journey that is not to end until the next century, a story full of reverses, disappointments, and the cold clutch of reality.

In 1986 our hero’s experiences with role-playing are quite limited. He has played Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Middle Earth Role-Playing from Iron Crown Enterprises. This is the extent of his experience. Still, he has been exposed to a number of different and innovative sets of rules, and has found them lacking in some respects. As he designs his own game, he comes up with several ways to streamline and simplify rules that he has found in these other games. His game, at this stage called “Archers & Alchemists,” contains a couple of innovations: a basic life path system that leads to career-based rather than class-based characters, and a table that reduces combat actions to a single simple roll. The game is fun, and he and his friends enjoy playing it. He continues to run it for his friends through 1992, by which time it has acquired a new name, “The Legend of Yore.”

At this stage, it is suggested to him that perhaps he try to publish this game. Up to this point, the thought had not crossed his mind, but now, the seed has been planted. Why shouldn’t he get his game into print? It is as good as, or better than, many other games out there. He begins to research what would be required to do this. He talks to hobby store owners, he talks to his gaming friends, and his relatives. He learns of the distributors who buy games and sell them to hobby stores. From one hobby store owner, he hears some words of discouragement: “My advice—play this game with your friends, don’t try to print it.” Our hero dismisses this advice, and decides to print his game.

Now resolved, our hero gathers money, setting up a company and selling shares to family and friends. With this capital in hand, he seeks out artists willing to work for free or for a small fee. His friend offers to edit the book for him, free of charge, and buys desktop publishing software to do so. Our hero spends nearly a year getting his book ready for publication, and finds a local printer. Once all of the work is complete, he prints 1000 copies of The Legend of Yore. The year is 1996. He sells the first few to his circle of friends, and begins trying to promote his game.

Two distributors show interest, and place orders for his game. Our hero goes to local hobby stores and runs demos.  He attends local conventions and runs the game. One of the distributors even writes a full-page article about his game in their quarterly circular, praising The Legend of Yore as a great new fantasy RPG. He buys a booth at GenCon to promote the game. Then, disaster strikes. A flood damages much of his stock, and several hundred books must be destroyed. He has a lot of lightly damaged stock as well, some of which he takes to GenCon with him. Cutting the price of the flood-damaged books to $5, he sells out of his stock at GenCon. Flush with success, he returns home hopeful and excited.

It turns out that the low price was the main driver of sales at GenCon, and the word-of-mouth he hoped for never materializes. Not deterred, he begins a supplement for The Legend of Yore, consisting of a GM’s screen and four adventures. He continues to promote it locally and at local conventions, getting a few sales in this area. Troubling news begins to surface, as two hobby stores contact him, letting him know that their distributor has informed them that he is out of business and The Legend of Yore is out of print. He tries to interest hobby stores outside his area by sending them a free sample. This does not result in any orders.

This turns out to be the beginning of the end. Our hero returns to GenCon the next year, and sales are meager. Those few who drop by indicate they hoped for a supplement or something at this point. Sales, never stellar to begin with, continue to decline gradually over the next few years. In an effort to kindle more interest, our hero sinks another few grand into a printed supplement, ordering 900 copies. Sales do not improve, and no distributors will take the supplement.

This is how it continues, until sales finally trail off to nothing in 2005. The remaining stock of The Legend of Yore, about 300 copies now dried out and falling apart, along with the majority of the supplement printing, is pulped.

--------------------------------------------------------------

I hope you found this story interesting. This tale of woe is not a tragedy, however. Although The Legend of Yore was a waste of money from a business standpoint, I do not regret publishing it. It got me started on the game design train, and I am really happy where that train has taken me now. I also learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way which led directly to my current POD printing philosophy, and to the creation of IPR as a way to help other folks avoid the problems of the three-tier (really four-tier, these days) distribution system.

The Legend of Yore is in many ways an archetypal fantasy heartbreaker, and I find it so problematic these days that I would only republish it with a complete rules revision. I find many aspects of the game world embarrassing, and would only be satisfied with a complete rewrite there as well. Someday I may do these things, but I have a lot of new projects I am interested in now. I think somebody said that everyone should write a fantasy heartbreaker, and this is mine. I learned a lot about game design on the way, as well. Doing something is the best way to learn it, and I learned a lot the hard way.

One thing I absolutely do not regret, however, was ignoring the advice not to publish it at all and just play it with my friends.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2006, 09:10:05 AM by Brennan Taylor » Logged

Judd
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« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2005, 01:13:35 PM »

Brennan,

I am going to digest that for a while.

For now, I'll just say thank you for sharing.

Judd
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Matt Wilson
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student, second edition


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« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2005, 05:58:47 PM »

Quote
Troubling news begins to surface, as two hobby stores contact him, letting him know that their distributor has informed them that he is out of business and The Legend of Yore is out of print.

Deep inside I have this desire to become extraordinarily successful, enough so that distributors like this seek me out, at which point I can tell them to kiss my ass.
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Judd
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« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2005, 06:59:51 PM »

Quote
Troubling news begins to surface, as two hobby stores contact him, letting him know that their distributor has informed them that he is out of business and The Legend of Yore is out of print.

Deep inside I have this desire to become extraordinarily successful, enough so that distributors like this seek me out, at which point I can tell them to kiss my ass.

It is such a common story here on the Forge about pre-Forge life; I can't count the amount of times I've heard the story about the indie publisher has to fight to tell stores that they are in fact still in business because the distributor mis-informed the retailer.

I don't get it.  What is the draw of telling retailers that the small guy is outta business?
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matthijs
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« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2005, 03:00:29 AM »

It's common - I've heard retailers say that company X is out of business, or that the distributor can't get their stuff anymore, or it's out of print; and then I order it from the company's website, and get it in the mail a week later.

I know there's people here who have worked in distribution - Chessex, for example. Anyone who can say anything about what goes on? I'm guessing it's simply a bit much to keep track of every single indie company, and it's easy to file them mentally under "out of business", because so very many RPG companies go bust after their first 1-3 products.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #5 on: December 15, 2005, 08:15:04 AM »

Well, I would certainly imagine that it's a matter of ego and keeping the face: you look like a much more informed and comprehensive distributor if your reason for not stocking something a retailer wants is that they don't exist anymore, rather than you being lazy. It's the same phenomenon you get in retailer-customer interactions: it's much easier to claim that something is not published at all or is already out of print, rather than own to not stocking it because you've never even heard of the product. "It's a confidence boost for a very small price" thinks the distributor/retailer, "for surely this person won't doublecheck what I tell him, and will instead respect my deep knowledge of the scene."

Brennan: that's an interesting story, thanks for telling it.
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Brennan Taylor
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« Reply #6 on: December 15, 2005, 08:31:52 AM »

I agree that it's probably either a shortcut on the part of a lazy distributor, or a quick ego boost that is thought of as costless. Either way, it's a terrible business practice on several levels. From my standpoint, obviously, this wreaks havoc on my business, as the retailers I wish to sell to start to think I am out of business. From the retail standpoint, this is terrible because they have typically contacted the distributor on behalf of a customer who wants the item in question, and this harms their business as they pass the erroneous information on. From the distribution standpoint, this is terrible because they have damaged their credibility with both the manufacturer and the retailer, and prevented product that someone wanted to buy from moving through the system.

I would like to think this was an aberration, but it is in fact common practice among distributors.
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Luke
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« Reply #7 on: December 15, 2005, 01:15:27 PM »

::wipes tear from eye::

I love that story. I never get sick of hearing it.

Even better, I'm that same zone right now. Apparently, Alliance is telling retailers all sorts of things about Burning Wheel that aren't true. I had to fight hard to get Alliance West to list the game on their website.

Anyway, I hope Mortal Coil sells billions and Bulldogs! is evergreen.

-L
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greyorm
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« Reply #8 on: December 15, 2005, 05:02:19 PM »

I know that when I worked in a bookstore back in the 90's, management consistently told customers wishing to buy certain books that said books were no longer in print, regardless of whether the books actually were so and regardless of whether they actually knew the truth of the matter or not.

One day I overheared the reasons why they were rejecting certain orders -- one of those "employees shouldn't hear these things" moments -- so I decided to test the system once myself to see if they would do the same to me, and ordered a book I knew was still in print.

I heard back a few days later it was "out of print". Knowing this was not the case I went to management immediately and complained, stating the book had just come out, so it could not be out of print, and even offered them the publisher's direct phone number. They hemmed and hawed a bit, tried to play the "more knowledgable than thou" card (which I didn't buy and stated I had spoken to the publisher), before declaring they simply couldn't order it -- no real reason given.

Of course, from what I'd overheard and had quietly tracked in the store, I knew the reason: these were products the owners did not want to sell for personal, philosophical reasons (ex: they claimed all new age, occult, etc. books were out of print because (part of what I overheard) they were opposed to such things) or for reasons I could not divine and can only vaguely guess at.

I have no clue what truly motivates this sort of idiocy, but it exists in traditional retail as well, not only the hobby store.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #9 on: December 16, 2005, 01:14:21 AM »

Ah, the assclownery we must put up with.

I had another little chat with my FLGS dude today. He's decided that indie games are a "completely different thing" than the RPGs he sells. But I don't know how he'd know; he's never heard of the Forge (despite my having told him...), and that's why we're not interested in distribution.

That's cool.

He was also interested in sponsoring a game club, so no harm done.

I've never felt this need to write a heartbreaker. Closest I got is a pile of design notes that I still draw on. We used to play with those notes, and they worked, as long as my judgement as GM was consistently good. But it was always clear to me that it was effectively my judgement with the addition of a d4.

So I gotta say, Brennan: I'm really thankful for you learning what you've learned so I don't have to, for Ron burning the bridges to nowhere, for Vincent showing me how to make the product. It's posts like this that remind me what I like about this place. Well, also the threads where people help me make better games.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Brennan Taylor
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« Reply #10 on: December 16, 2005, 05:31:50 AM »

So I gotta say, Brennan: I'm really thankful for you learning what you've learned so I don't have to, for Ron burning the bridges to nowhere, for Vincent showing me how to make the product. It's posts like this that remind me what I like about this place. Well, also the threads where people help me make better games.

Well, if one person reads this story and avoids the same cycle, all of this will be doubly worth it to me. Failure is an excellent way to learn, and it's better if you can learn from other people's failure. There are ways to succeed, but trying to do what WOTC and other 'big' companies do ain't it.
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Larry L.
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« Reply #11 on: June 19, 2006, 06:50:53 PM »

Brennan, (smack my knuckles with a ruler for posting to an old thread if you like)

I completely missed this! Thanks for the war story. (And thanks Ron for prodding.)

Regarding that "they're out of business" thing, I have a funny anecdote. Back in the Wargames West days, I asked my local bookseller (w/ games on the side) if they'd be getting this hot new game that I'd heard so much about. The more-knowledgable-than-thou employee matter-of-factly replied that the company had "went out of business." The absurdity of this statement would not much later become apparent, as "Vampire: The Masquerade" and its supplements were soon stocked by the chain bookstores, and White Wolf would go on to be the "other" giant in the hobby.
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Brennan Taylor
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« Reply #12 on: June 20, 2006, 02:26:00 AM »

Brennan, (smack my knuckles with a ruler for posting to an old thread if you like)

Don't worry, Larry. I'm not the harsh taskmaster that Ron is in the main area. :)
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