I realised quickly once OpenQuest 1st Edition came out that it needed an adventure/scenario pack which quite frankly showed how awesome it was. Life and Death was planned to do that, but I had descended into a pessimistic revise/rewrite loop which meant it wasn’t getting done any time soon. My friend John Ossoway had a series of old RQ3 Conan scenarios, which featured monsters from the HP Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos, which he casually mentioned over a lunchtime meetup. Excited by the idea, I convinced John to let me release it as an OpenQuest adventure.
So the plan was.
For me to create a new setting. Which was faithful to the essence of Pseudo Vikings and a frozen North, fighting eldritch horrors in the wilderness, but didn’t include Howards or Lovecraft’s IP. This led to the creation of the Savage North, which is made up of three kingdoms. The two kingdoms, the Drakkar, Nortland and Sonderland*** and the misty hill land of Bogdan.
To do editorial on John’s adventures, strip out the Conan + HP Lovecraft IP and convert it all to OpenQuest. This led to many bloodthirsty demons replacing Lovecraft’s creations since I’m a bit of an 80s body-horror fan (Clive Barker, Chronenburg etc.). The adventures formed a mini-campaign, which took the characters up a glacier and through the underground dungeons that riddled it to face waking evil Serpentmen Priests. Then south for a spot of monster hunting while safely escort a Druid who was turned into a pig to a sacred grove to be turned back into a human. Finally, the campaign ended with a dungeon lair of a demi-lich on a remote island and a race against time to prevent the master from resurrecting as a full member of the undead nobility. The whole thing was very Old School with dungeons and set-piece encounters along wilderness journies. John wrote one section of the first scenario to provide an excuse to replenish the party after it suffered a Total Party Kill.
John did all the internal art, including this map of the Savage North.
It was one of the most fun collaborations that I have been involved in, and that playful sense of fun translated into sales, with it meeting my expectations. One of D101 Games’ best sellers, it was a no-brainer when I did the OpenQuest 3rd edition that there should be a new version of the book entitled Saga of the Savage North.
I threw together this web comix from John’s art, and I think it sums up the sense of mischievous fun we had 😀
*Drakar was a land of pseudo-Vikings, with a touch of the North East of England where I’d lived as a teen. There’s an Angel of the North, a massive statue that comes to life and crushes its enemies, a city called Newcastle, the twin river gods Way-Ai and Kan-Ai and Howay the Hunter God.
OpenQuest’s story starts around 2005. I was regularly going to cons, about every 3-6 months then, and well into writing adventures. Sick of me going on about it during TV time, my wife challenged me to write an adventure and release it. Drivethrurpg.com was a thing then, for pdfs anyway, and Mongoose RuneQuest (MRQ) was out with its OGL Systems Resource Document. So over several lunchtime writing sessions at work, the adventure pack that was to become Life and Death* started to take shape.
Then one day, it occurred to why not publish a ruleset to go with it? As a long time RQ fan, I was amazed that no one else had seized on this opportunity**, and in a wonderful, joyous sense of naivety, I set about working on it on days I didn’t feel like going out into the grey rainy Manchester city centre.
By 2008 I had the core of the game, which was at that time called SimpleQuest. My design goal was to make something that was easy and straightforward to play, D100 games at that time, even the modern MRQ often descended into a mess of crunchy rules when the basic core is quite straightforward yet. I also wanted to make something that would be accessible to my friends on the UK con scene that used D100 as a default system. So I took a spirally bound printout to Continuum 2008 (D101-02) and ran an early version of Life and Death there.
So the rest of the year was heads down get it done time. I used a mix of public domain art and art generously done by Simon Bray, another D100 fan who got what I was doing with OpenQuest. The game’s name got changed from SimpleQuest to OpenQuest in October of 2008, at the suggestion of Tom Zunder (who runs The Tavern BB) since it reflected the open gaming nature of the book.
So September 2009, it finally came out. As a free pdf and a paid-for low-cost Print on Demand book available from Lulu.com. This initial release went well, with something like 700 downloads of the free pdf within two months, but I was less than impressed with the sales of the physical book – which I needed to do more than beer money to pay for production costs of further OpenQuest supplements that I had planned. So I had a rethink after four months or so and started charging for the pdf. Suddenly the game was paying for itself!
The second big change was the cover art. It was nice that people cared about the game, but I got incessant calls to get a new cover. Initially, I was resistant, I like Simon’s cover to this day as a piece of vibrant art, but my publisher’s head won out in the end. Jon Hodgeson, who I was already in contact with to do Monkey’s 1st edition cover, was able to modify an existing cover to fit OpenQuest***. Sales then started to go up. Not in a way that was making me zillions, but away that showed that I had something to build upon.
All in all, we had about five versions of OQ1 to fix typos and rules****, and I also played about adding extra content. This was fairly typical of indie-RPGs of the day, so I felt justified doing it. Plus, it was fun to grow the game this way. I released two mini-settings with supporting adventures, the Savage North (D101-07) and Life and Death (D101-015), both in 2010. While this was going on, I was getting more feedback from the fans, and it was obvious that a second edition was on the cards. So by summer 2012, OpenQuest 1st Edition had had its day, and OpenQuest 2nd Edition was upon IndieGoGo.com being crowdfunded. But that’s another story 😉
Next up The Savage North (D101-07)
*Life and Death is currently out of print. The plan is to re-work it
** It became very clear why no one else seized on it later on. About five years later, Mongoose gave up the MRQ 1 license and released a second edition. At this point, the RuneQuest logo license, which, if you were saying “hey, this is compatible with RQ” was important, just disappeared. So you were stuffed if you had gone down that route. Cakebread & Walton, for example, took a year to redo their MRQ version of Clockwork and Chivalry game, moving it over to OpenQuest as a standalone game (so I guess it worked out well :D). But the rest of the more casual hobby publishers who used it were stuffed, and their supplements eventually disappeared. The MRQ 1 Systems Resource Document hung around, and is still on the internet to the best of my knowledge, but was the subject of some dispute as revitalised new management at Chaosium pointed out that several Glorantha elements had been released in it without permission – which of course invalidates the whole thing. Today, as a result, OpenQuest is based fully on the successor to MRQ1, through MRQ2, Legend, which was released in its entirety as Open Gaming Content under the OGL. One of the reasons I didn’t release Life and Death under the MRQ Logo license was that I saw that it could be withdrawn at any time. Even though I checked with Greg Stafford just before release, he was ok with it and never had any of the disputed Gloranthan material in OpenQuest, which has always been a non-Gloranthan game. Still, I didn’t twig that the MRQ SRD was on shaky ground until much later. Wiser eyes would have seen this mess straight out of the box. If I had realised this, I would have worried myself to death and never have done OQ. So it’s good my publishing naviety won out here 🙂
***The (in)famous Halfling to Duck change.
**** OQ 1 had a car crash of a proof/editorial. In the case of one proofer quite literally, another had a major life-changing crisis that took him out, and I had the game over the situation of my second child being born, literally the month I decided to publish and be damned. Part of me wishes that I had taken more time to squash the typos and clean up the rules mistakes. My rather happy punk rock attitude to getting games done in the early days of D101 gave us a reputation based on that, which some reviewers focused on and highlighted in their reviews. That made me very angry until I took practical steps to fix it and realised that they only said what they did because they cared about the books and wanted them to be better. But I stand by the decision to publish when I did. I don’t think I would have done it otherwise. My second child was a more bumpy ride than my first, which was effortless, and I think I would have lost the momentum of getting it out there. Plus, it gave me and a great many others, who told me in person at cons or via emails, a great sense of joy.
Hearts in Glorantha (HiG) was a big part of my publishing life for a good decade-plus. It ended just under a year ago, something I’ll cover when I do posts about the later issues (7 & 8). I remember the first three issues fondly because they just got done to the bi-yearly schedule that I set myself, and they were, on the whole, well-received.
My early years of running convention games were running Gloranthan games, first RQ3 in the dying light of the system’s popularity in the late 90s, and then a rapid succession of three editions of HeroQuest. I organised a group of demo referees, the Ring of HeroQuest Narrators, which warped into the semi-official Masters of Luck and Death before imploding. Monkey and my own efforts were on my mind, but I still lacked the impetus to actually get down and publish it. That impetus came unexpectedly one morning just before I set off to work in May of 2008 as I sat and read a 30 page + thread on RPG.net where an obvious sockpuppet called Angry Agarath attacked everyone involved in Gloranthan publishing from Rick and Jeff at Moon Design (who had just taken over from Greg Stafford’s Issaries Inc) to the fan publishers over the lack of urgency on the publication schedule. AA really riled me up, and after spending 45 minutes reading every post, I thought I could have a go at filling the void and Hearts in Glorantha was born. A quick check with Jeff Richard, who greenlit the fanzine, and I was off on a crash course learning InDesign, emailing potential contributors and artists.
Three months later, Hearts in Glorantha issue 1 (D101-05) was released to many happy Glorantha Fans at Continuum 2008 in Leicester. I’ve always followed the Pink Faries mantra (via the Henry Rollins cover version) of DO IT, so this, in my mind, is the official birth of D101 Games.
HIG 1 was a real hodge-podge of what I ever could pick up at short notice. But it worked, and I was happy with it. It had a gaming background, fiction, a couple of Stewart Stansfield’s infamous Duck articles and a very quick adventure by myself. But that’s how I wanted it. It was a magazine, not a supplement in disguise. I also set the Editorial policy, which lasted for the magazine’s entire run, where I resisted setting a theme, so authors could be lazy and write to order, because I wanted folk to come up with inspirational pieces that had just lept into their imagination. The feature for each issue was whatever came out from what was submitted. For issue 1, it was the very appropriate Mythology.
HiG 2 (D101-03) and HiG 3 (D101-04) came along according to schedule. It debuted our consistent look and feel, with John Ossoway creating a new logo, doing the cover (which he would do for the next three issues), and setting up the layout templates. HiG was also the Creature Feature, which saw Dragonnewts, Chaos Elves from Dorastor, Jack O Bears, Harpies rub shoulders more of Stewart Stansfield’s Ducks.
HiG 3 was, amongst other things, an Undersea Feature, which featured a write up of an all Mostali (Dwarf) mini-campaign, We All Live in a Brass Submarine, by Richard Crawley, as well as material from a never-released HeroWars era Men of the Sea second book by Nick Davison. I also got in there with an OpenQuest Scenario (the only OQ Glorantha adventure) based on the premise of WHAT IF the Big Rubble was in Dara Happa, and it was Solars vs the Lunars? To my knowledge, this was the biggest stretch of YGMV (Your Glorantha May Vary) ever published (Fan or Official) and I’m quite smug about that 😛
Worth noting, as well as articles by Gloranthan Luminaries such as Mark Galeotti and Jeff Richard, each of the first three issues had a one page bit of fiction by Greg Stafford himself based upon the three approaches to Gloranthan Magic.
In many ways, HiG 1-3 is where I learnt the hard way how to publish, and while Monkey and OpenQuest, my first two RPG releases, got put to one side they were both the better for what I learnt from doing HiG 1-3.
Part of me cringes when I look at the sloppiness of the layout, and my editorial. The whole thing was part of a learning curve and I was still in a happy fan publishing punk rock frame of mind, which helped me overcome some pretty crippling “omg, omg, I can’t believe I’m allowed to do this” self-disbelief.
I’m also very proud that I used HiG to get other authors work out there, and into the hands of fans. It’s the reason why to this day, D101 Games is not an exercise in pure self-publishing, that I have other people write and draw for it. HiG was especially good as a recruiting ground for many artists that would go on to illustrate other D101 releases.
My local gaming cons have always been important to me. It gets me out of my home and lets me try out ideas with other roleplayers. Most D101 Games releases have had an outing as a convention game at some point.
Continuum 2008 held at Leicester University, was a medium-sized gaming convention of about 200+ attendees, held over the Summer. I’d been going since 1998 when it was called Convulsion and was a Gloratha/Call of Cthulhu/Chaosium convention. At some point in the early 2000s, the organising committee resigned en-masse, leaving Lawrence Whitaker as chair of a new convention, that was really just the old one continued with a new committee. Hence the name Continuum.
“My attendance at Continuum 2008” was important in the D101 scheme of things and why it is counted as a release for the following reasons.
I spent a lot of time talking to people and promoting the idea that I was doing D101 Games.
I was running the early version of OpenQuest, which was known as Simple Quest Zero Edition, for several of the games I was running over the weekend.
I took along a box of forty copies of Hearts in Glorantha Issue 1 that sold out!
I also wrote a longer review for this blog just after returning.
The first release is not actually a game or a book, but this website.
Let me explain. When I first moved to the Greater Manchester area and worked in Manchester city centre, I became quite obsessed with the history of Factory Records. How they ran their business along anarcho-syndicate lines, and how some their of releases weren’t actually records but ventures important to the label’s owners. So, for example, Fac 01 is a poster advertising a club night that they used to run, where various bands associated with the label played. Similarly, D101-01 is this website (and associated blogs), and D101-02 is my convention attendance at Continuum 2008 (which I’ll cover in my next blog post in this series).
The start of D101’s web presence was a Livejournal.com* blog, which I started when I started planning what D101 Games would be and, more specifically, what Monkey, which was going to be my first release, was going to look like.
In 2008 as things got more serious with books actually being for sale, being a web developer/programmer as my day job at the time, I signed up with a hosting company. I created a WordPress Multi-Site – which is still the bedrock of the site** and hosts all the sub-blogs (including this one) and domains like openquestrpg.com. This multi-site approach has let me blog about various games and themes (for fantasy, see my long-running The Sorcerer Under the Mountain blog), which is a good marketing tool and a bunch of fun to boot.
Other big changes to the website over the years
Changing to D101Games.com. Being proud of being a British Game Designer and because it was cheap as chips, the original release of the website had a .co.uk domain name. But business sense prevailed, and since the .com domain gets much more views, I eventually about 2009 moved over.***
Div Theme. I’m not a graphic designer, so Elegant Theme’s Div for WordPress gives me all sorts of nice responsive layout controls, so it works with mobile devices and tablets without me doing anything, and a nice inbuilt page builder so funky page layouts are a breeze.
Woocommerce. An Open-source and free shopping cart for WordPress. This has allowed me to run my own web store quite profitably and do direct to customer sales, which before 2016 I could only do at conventions.
Mail-Chimp. I use the free version of this, and it lets me build up email lists to announce new releases/Kickstarters etc. This is why I don’t have to do Farcebook to promote what I do with D101 😉
Having a well functioning and well-constructed website has been a core business activity from day one. More important than having a Facebook page. It’s also a focus. So much of what I do is through the web, from producing the books through print on demand sites like Lulu.com. So in retrospect its only fitting that this site is D101’s first release 🙂
*To my great surprise, my d101 games blog still exists over there, but I won’t link to it because Livejournal.com, which was a happy little internet start-up that began as a bunch of friends running it off a couple of servers in San Fransico, has long gone down the toilet as it was sold on. All the content was migrated over here long ago.
**D101 Games is hosted with a Manchester company called 34sp.com. They are a great little outfit with great service, and although they don’t officially support WordPress Multisite, they have gone out of their way to do so over the years.
***once I stopped using d101games.co.uk it was quickly snapped up by a company that holds domain names that have been used in the hope that someone will pay them zillions of dollars. At one time, rather worrying, it had a mock site that was all about gambling and poker. Not sure why? In the hope that I’d buy it to stop them damaging my business’ image? Or simply to attract purchasers with the whole “games” thing. Oh yes, and having “games” in my URL gets it banned via BT’s Strict parental controls.
OK as with most D101 projects this one started with a mad jolt of excited energy, a flash of inspiration a couple of weeks before Grogmeet 2019, at Fanboy 3 in Manchester where I was appearing as a trader. “Hey I’ll do a fanzine, Chris (of Dirk the Dice fame) likes Fanzines!”. So cue five days of frantic throwing articles and art together. Peter Frain graciously, or should that be gleeful, got on board with both the cover art and the interior art of the four versions of Grogzilla within the zine. Which I’m not previewing since they are flippin’ awesome (hint: buy the zine to see). The physical output was less than impressive, since my colour printer doesn’t do multiple pages very well, and I managed to struggle to put together six or so hand made copies. These sold or were given away to the lovely chaps who put on Grogmeet on the day.
So fast forward to ZineQuest 2, which is Kickstarters annual winter promo held every February. I had participated in the previous year’s event, to great success with From the Shroud #2, so it was a no brainer to give Grogzilla a second chance of a wider audience. This time however I wanted a proper printed version, and Glynn Seal (of Monkey Blood Publishing fame) pointed me in the direction of Mixam print, who he uses successfully for his Midderlands Zine. I really wanted to use it as an excuse to do something using a proper printer rather than being reliant on either Lulu.com or Drivethrurpg.com’s Print on Demand service. I wholeheartedly recommend it as a service, it was simple to use their web site to price up and upload files for production, and at a vastly lower price and improved quality than POD. The Kickstarter funded quickly, so much so that not only was I able to put in another three articles, I was able to fund another zine, Skyraiders of the Floating Realms Zero Edition, as a stretch goal.
As well as a mad creation, that matured into a more fully rounded 50-page zine, that allowed me to do a non-POD print run, Grogzilla is an excellent showcase of where D101 is heading. There’s a good mix of material for existing games.and previews of books in the works.
There’s a very limited quantity in print + pdf for £5, and when they are gone they are gone, and its also available as pdf only for £3.
I keep on putting off my State of D101 Games 2020 address. The short version is, we are doing well. New stuff is getting out there via the Kickstarters, and we’ve got some great things in the pipeline.
But there’s the stuff that hasn’t got done. That has been hanging around my neck like a millstone preventing me, and in all honesty, going forward.
So I’m currently looking at all the outstanding work from various Kickstarters I’ve run over the years. Stretch goals that have got overlooked and periodically forgotten, as a one band I’ve tried to struggle on regardless.
So given the current Lockdown, I’m using this as a golden opportunity. To get my head down and get all these bits done and out there. I’m calling the whole project “The Great Escape”, and my aim is to have everything done and published and in backers hands by the time Lockdown is lifted here in the UK (which I reckon will be mid-June).
Last year I got To the Stars!the long-awaited River of the Heaven companion out by being bloody-minded about it. So I learnt what I needed to do to bring these long-overdue stretch goals back from the dead. Which basically boils down to three steps.
I’m injecting the fun back into a project that has become “that thing I have to do as work”, remembering the thrill and excitement that I felt when I first felt when I came up with the idea and explained it to backers.
Working out a sensible, achievable plan, and getting my head down and doing it.
Not feeling afraid to reach out to contributors and asking for help. But at the same time only working with people who will understand the need to get the work done and not put their own spin on it.
If you’ve backed something I’ve done with outstanding stretch goals, you should have received an update explaining what I’m doing and will continue to get updates until it’s done. If you haven’t for a particular project its because I’m still working out a plan to get things done and waiting on collaborators to get back to me 🙂
Like everyone else its strange times here at D101 HQ at the moment. I went on holiday to the lovely isle of Lanzarote back in mid-march and came back to the UK on lockdown. The schools closed, so I’ve now got the 24/7 company of my children and my wife is now working a six-day week at her hospital, which involves getting data from the Intensive Care Unit where they are treating CONVID 19 patients (!).
Last week I made a concerted effort to get back into D101 work, but I’ve been largely distracted having to look after my family. So its mainly been admin tasks, catching up after the holiday. Good news got some playtesting in for Skyraiders of the Floating realms, and ran Defenders of the Dragon Empire – a Wuxia Kung Fu hack based on Monkey RPG, via online games using Google Hangouts.
OpenQuest 3rd Edition is back on track this week, after being put to one side and possibly abandoned, but I’m envigourated with it once again. Its also eased me back into heads-down writing, with a nice bit of tinkering-fiddling writing blowing up in my face and solidifying into a new finished chapter about how organisations (Religions, Sorcery Societies etc) work in OQ3.
My big task next week is to work out timescales for delivery of games and updating Kickstarter backers.
Overall the virus has been a punch in the gut, but I’m quickly getting up off the floor and getting back into the mighty work that is D101 Games 🙂
I got to play River of Heaven, the Guns of Olympus Mons, at Winter Con 2020 at Fanboy3 in Manchester last weekend just gone. On a personal level, it was great to play in a game with Jon Ossoway, a man who knows his Sci-fi troupes inside out. As a publisher of River of Heaven, it was great to be playing the game with John and seeing exactly how it ticks with the author playing it.
The set up was simple and direct. The Renoucers, a sort of Fascist Luddite paramilitary movement who are out to stop the rise of AI, had taken over a military base on Olympus Mons, which a huge extinct volcano on Mars. Since said base controls the planet’s defence grid, our team of Marines were going in hard and fast using drop-pods to take it out. So cue a fast-paced military-techno-thriller, with much sneaking about, hacking into systems, taking out guards from a distance, as well as the all-out firefights you’d expect. John had included some hooks in the character’s backgrounds which led to some great roleplaying from the players, so it wasn’t all grunts-n-gunplay. I had fun ‘weapons-testing’ the power armour and a quite frankly scary array of guns and grenades our characters were equipped with. My favourite one was the Smart Grenade, which can be programmed to have a delayed explosion (“Hey Google, set explosion for 30 seconds after impact”) and to only go off when near actual combatants, not say, civilians
The best thing of all was that it felt like we were in a distinct Sci-fi universe, not a cheap knock off Star-Wars, Star Trek or Aliens.