Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Mastercraft RPG System

Mastercraft is the RPG system from Crafty Games. The company will be producing different genre roleplaying games that will all use this one unified system.

It's origins start with AEG and their espionage roleplaying game, Spycraft, which used Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 and even required those books to properly run it. Originally the game was conceived under the title Series Archer, but then the plan was to release with two product lines. There was the generic silver books which expanded every character class. The other line was a campaign setting that featured secret societies and psionic powers. This line was called Shadow Force Archer all in black covers.

AEG updated several rules with a licensed game, Stargate SG1, a Powered by Spycraft product with a core rule book and two supplements before being discontinued.

The next edition of Spycraft saw a complete overhaul of the system. In 2005, Spycraft 2.0 took the OGL as far as possible, it seemed. What came out the other end was an extremely detailed and very comprehensive game system that no other OGL system has yet reached. The book is huge and the rules are so detailed that it seemed most found it completely overwhelming. Many criticizims said that the game was trying to be too much of a general modern RPG toolkit instead of focusing on what was on the tin- spies.

With that, AEG discontinued the Spycraft game.

But that's not the end! The guys that created Spycraft and Spycraft 2.0 started Crafty Games, a the new company with the intent to continue the line and ultimately expand it into other genres.

Much of Spycraft 2.0's attention to detail stems from an active Living Campaign and organized play stemming from RPGA which justified such a high level of detail in the rules.

Fantasy Craft is the first and currently the only game released under the Mastercraft system in 2009. It is Crafty Games' fantasy genre toolkit which implemented Mastercraft as a streamlined and slimmed down version of many of the system improvements tried in Spycraft 2.0. The need for such rules for organized play isn't in as much demand these days. Fantasy Craft has seen a rather successful following with an abundance very positive reviews.

Last year Crafty Games officially announced the upcoming Spycraft Third Edition. It looks like the Third Edition of Spycraft will be a bit of a return to what the first edition was like with a more espionage flavored focus with the Fantasy Craft-compatible, Mastercraft system. Crafty plans on leaving other aspects of modern campaign settings to other Mastercraft releases, like for instance, the Ten Thousand Bullets campaign- which will focus on the criminal underworld.

What I like about the Mastercraft system and Spycraft 2.0 is the amount of what the industry calls CRUNCH. This is the d20 version of GURPS and I mean that in the best way. I believe GURPS is the best, most comprehensive system invented for the hobby. Mastercraft/Spycraft 2.0 comes the very closest to that level, closer than any other game OGL I've ever read. I used to believe I preferred system-lite games, but for some reason I find my obsessions lingering on these far more detailed systems instead. Mastercraft is turning out to be one of the best.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Beat Bond at His Own Game.

Found on the back of G.I. Joe A Real American Hero issue #66. This was out December, 1987.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Erin Esurance

Erin Esurance by MiloSaberhagen
Erin Esurance is a guilty pleasure of mine. I used to delight in the many commercials that starred her longing for the chance that the character and premise would grow beyond the ad campaign into a series or something. The tropes that the Esurance ad campaign used hit me in all the right buttons- spy girl in a S.H.I.E.L.D.-like uniform, gadgets, espionage action. Not sure what it had to do with insurance, but cool anyways.

Esurance has recently been assimilated by Allstate. This spells doom for Erin. Her espionage skills and gadgets may not be enough for her to get out of this one...

The demise of the Esurance cartoon girl as Allstate moves in?

Posted in dscriberwatch
The pink-haired, black-catsuit-wearing Esurance cartoon character, "Erin Esurance," may soon exit stage left leaving, however, in proverbial "good hands." In a note to its car insurance policy holders today, Esurance announced that it has been acquired by the nation's largest publicly-held personal lines insurance company, Allstate.
The companies will continue to run independently, according to a statement. "Your policy ID and coverages will remain the same and we'll continue to offer all the services we do today," policyholders were also told.

There was no immediate news on whether the two brands would eventually merge into one and, if so, which name would win out over the other. Bets are that this is the start of the end for Erin Esurance, a familiar commercial figure. Allsate's familiar "good hands" logo may well stay given that the company has been leader in the U.S. insurance industry for more than 80 decades and fully acquired Esurance, founded in 1998.
If the Esurance brand disappears, Erin could survive under the right scenario. That's what happened in the last decade when collapsed. The popular sock puppet dog that carries a microphone in its paw was sold to 1-800-BAR-NONE, an auto loan firm that focused on giving drivers (and corporate mascots) a "second chance."
Erin Esurance by joeadonis

Erin Esurance Looks Like KP by Kimworld

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

James Bond

BOND by RM73
An interesting article by Terence Bowman popped up on Den of the Geek today. It looks at the differences between literary characters and their film counterparts. In this post we'll look at Ian Fleming's 007, James Bond.

As a kid I remember discovering James Bond through my dad. He being a fan of the films guaranteed that I was going to be a fan, too. We even went to A View To A Kill in the theater!

Over the years I eventually saw films and appreciate them for what they are. However, getting into the Fleming novels AND gaining a perspective from film and video school revealed just how bad they really are. I believe that if you want to continue to like the Bond films, you must stay away from the novels.
James Bond author Ian Fleming once described Sean Connery, the first actor to play 007 on the big screen, as "a Glaswegian lorry driver who mangles my character". Many Fleming fans might be inclined to agree with that sentiment, though their issues may not lie solely with Connery.
The 1959 novel Goldfinger, for instance, opens with Bond sitting in a bar in Miami Airport. He’s just flown back from Central America, where he has just carried out an assignment to kill a drug dealer who was working for the Communists. As he sits there, Bond reflects on his deadly deeds in the line of duty. His internal musings on the nature of his dark and often brutal occupation depict a man questioning his own morality and place in the world. Fleming's writing in this part of the book is almost poignant in its existentialism.
Cut to the corresponding opening scene in the movie, Goldfinger. Connery, as Bond, on a similar mission, emerges out of a lake with a plastic duck on his head. He then takes off his wet suit to reveal that he is wearing a perfectly dry tuxedo underneath. Nothing can describe the difference between the Bond novels and the Bond films better than that comparison.
Described by Fleming as a “blunt instrument” rather than a hero, the literary Bond bore only a passing resemblance to his cinematic counterpart. Bond was a cool, detached and efficient killer in the service of his country, hence the term, “Licence to kill”. He rarely uttered a joke or a witty one-liner, least of all in regard to someone that he had just killed.
The actors that followed Connery in the role of Bond strayed to and from Fleming in varying degrees. Roger Moore played a highly camp character that happened to have the same name as Ian Fleming’s Bond. Timothy Dalton took over the role in 1987's The Living Daylights, and is often denigrated by critics as one of the worst Bonds ever. Ironically, Dalton is lauded by fans as one of the best. They see him as the only actor who truly brought the spirit of Fleming’s 007 to the role.
Pierce Brosnan took over the cinematic Bond mantle in GoldenEye in 1995. Brosnan's interpretation was something of a compromise between the lighter Bond of Connery, Lazenby or Moore, and the darker Bond of Fleming and Dalton.
Finally, Casino Royale, the Bond reboot of 2006 starring Daniel Craig as 007, brought back a darker Bond, even though he still wasn’t entirely based on Fleming’s work. Craig and the franchise both used Fleming, and at the same time did their own thing with the character. The result seemed to finally satisfy both fans and mass audiences alike.

This article strikes a cord with me. I prefer the original concept of the character over the various film versions.

As for the films, I really enjoy the music mainly. And the traditions that have stayed with the franchise throughout. I am enjoying the latest two films and hope to see more like them (especially the last one, Quantum of Solace- I think I'm the only person on Earth that liked it better than Casino Royal!).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pole Position

The animated show called Pole Position was named after the Atari video game, but there was nothing in common between the show and the game other than they both featured cars. The show resembled the Americanized Japanese anime Speed Racer more than anything else. Perhaps there was a lot of influence from Knight Rider, too. The show is about three siblings who are agents for an investigative/secret agency that uses auto racing and stunts as a front. Even in the show's intro it lays out how these kid's parents were lost in the line of duty prior to the events of the show and their Uncle Zachery, head of the Pole Position Agency, acts as a surrogate father for the kids, or perhaps is the legal guardian. The agency issues the kids a semi-truck as a mobile base of operations and two cars that each have unique artificial intelligence as well as a wide array of gadgets that Q-Branch would be jealous over.  Dan drives the futuristic concept car named Roadie which sort of resembles a blue DeLorean. Tess drives the red 1965 convertible Ford Mustang named Wheels. Daisy is their younger sister who always gets involved with the case or mystery providing many-a plot point, getting kidnapped and what-not with her cohort, Kuma, who is a lemur or a hybrid monkey cat of some sort. Most animated shows of the '80s had a token animal companion with a highly irritating voice and Kuma was Pole Position's. However, they stayed one step in reality by keeping the creature as an intelligent animal with no ability to verbally speak.
Pole Position - by rsj

In 1984 Pole Position stood out beyond it's peers in several areas. The sci-fi of the show was fantastical, but never went over the top. Sure there were talking cars with artificial intelligence that displayed emotion, but the events and stunts were almost always within a believable boundary. There were hints at some elements of espionage and spies.

The show had a very smooth animated quality to it compared to many other shows of that era and even decades after. Where most other shows of it's type seemed very choppy with fewer frames of animation per second, Pole Position's integrity was etched into my memory as quality.

The musical score throughout each episode features variations of the theme song and fluctuates through many styles of music. There are some recognizable themes, all very nicely done. All of it was composed and arranged by Jef Labes under Saban Productions. He clarified some of the details behind the production of the music here:
Dear Jeffrywith1e,  I was actually the composer/arranger who wrote and produced the entire library of music for the whole Pole Position series, when I was a ghost writer for Saban Productions in L. A.  The actual theme song was composed by my boss, and I did the rest.  The same tactic was used to creat the library of music for Heathcliff, Kissifur, the Getalong Gang, Wolfrock, and several other shows, mostly the animation products of DIC production from Japan.  Saban Prod. specialized in Sat. morning cartoon soundtracks back in the early 80's, and eventually got into the full production of Power Rangers and other shows of that ilk.  I moved up to the Bay Area in 1985, and though I look back fondly on those busy days and nights in their studio in Studio City, I left behind the maelstrom for the quieter life in Marin.  Cheers, Jefwith1f 
Pole Position-Roadie by GI-Joe09
The show aged rather well. The music may be the one thing that really stands out as genuine '80s. In the concept car and the '65 Mustang make the show timeless. The character design also is nicely timeless. The show looks like it could air today. The entire series is available for free at this time on hulu. Check it out right here

I tell you what, my son loves this show. The only reason I even thought of it lately was a toy set he got from his grandparents for his 4th birthday. The Fisher-Price Shake N Go Xtreme Race Set. The two cars that came with it match the car's colors in the show. The designs vaguely do too. The blue car looks more modern and concept like Roadie and the red car has a more classic muscle car look similar to Wheels. I wonder if this was intentional on the part of some geek toy designer, but who knows. The toys are actually very cool. Each car has a tiny differential in their rear axle so there is a pretty sophisticated design going on in there (you can tell by spinning one rear wheel and seeing the opposite wheel spin in the other direction!). I think he thinks the show IS about these cars.

I think this setting could be good for a pulpy action roleplaying game. If I were to tackle it, I'd go with Savage Worlds or Ubiquity System and scrape the chase rules out of Spycraft 2.0. It could easily be done.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gallagher Girls

The Gallagher Girls is a young adult series by Ally Carter which follows the adventures of Cammy "The Chameleon" Morgan who is a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women (which is actually a training facility for young espionage agents!). Four books have been released in the series which is said to be six when it is all finished.

We've talked about the series here before. We see the series as a fantastic and exciting venue for teaching conservative values and positive character development for young women. They are also pretty darn entertaining (no matter what age).

Since our first look at the series, the fifth book has been announced, has a release date and cover art! Out of Sight, Out of Time will be released on March 20th, 2012.

The first two books establish a vivid portrayal of the universe in which the story develops- perhaps overly so. After you finish book one - I'd Tell You That I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You you are left with a solid concept of who these characters are, where they live and what they do. But there really is no foreshadow of what's to come. The span of events and revelations from the end of the first book and the end of the fourth book (the last book at the time of this writing) is unbelievable. It's like the series grew up really fast. The first half of the series suffers from a lot of fluff. No one is really ever in danger. There are important characters introduced, but Carter sure takes her time getting to the real meat of the series. 

On her website, Carter states that she struggled with the 2nd book, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, which was the least of the four in my opinion, too. I speculate that she almost introduced some of the plot elements into book two that we see right out of the gate in book three. It probably was a good decision on her part. What now is maybe too long of a setting up for the series may have suffered stepping into the 3rd act in that second book. It could've made quite a cliffhanger, though. Even so, what we have in the end is good quality.

The last half of the series- Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover and Only the Good Spy Young doesn't just turn up the action and danger, it's like suddenly just on! Full blast! These two books make for a very exciting espionage thriller, even for the young adult audience. I feel the first two books ought to be read for much back story, but it's the second two books that really make the Gallagher Girls books great.

Friday, August 12, 2011


roll of the dice by runielf
I was first a comic geek. Later a game geek.

My first game was the TSR Marvel RPG. The next game I got into was TSR's Top Secret/S.I. and from there Star Wars d6. It wasn't until 3.0 that I ever got into Dungeons & Dragons. The main reason for this was that my parents were not comfortable with the magic, wizards and dragon tropes that go with fantasy gaming. And this was the mid '80s to early '90s where the mainstream view of such things were not that favorable. The settings where this wasn't so blatantly  obvious were permissible, but still not completely comfortable with my mom.

A majority of my gaming has been D&D 3rd Edition. I reserve a strong desire to play almost any system but that, but my usual gaming group are a bunch of old-school curmudgens who are stuck on 3rd- (I was able to nudge them on to Pathfinder, however which is where they still are for the most part).

I have explored many of the more prominent game systems available, sometimes immersing myself into the game for a while. Many of these I have never actually played, just... studied. GURPS is one of these. I admire the system for what it is and seems it accomplishes. I think it'd be too cumbersome for me to actually apply. D6 System and True20 are some others that I got into for some time.

On one of their visits my father expressed that he didn't understand the hobby and my enthusiasm for it. He pretty much dismissed the whole idea. Not a big deal.

A few weeks later my dad called to apologize for how that conversation went. He felt convicted and that he perhaps was too judgmental about the issue and asked for forgiveness. I told him not to worry as I wasn't offended- as gamers I suspect we all are calloused to some of this. Comes with the territory. He was forgiven, but in a moment of inspiration I told him that I'd like to run a game for him (with my mom, my wife and my step-daughter) so that he'd have first hand knowledge of what the game and the hobby is all about. He agreed. I set to work.

I finally settled on using the Top Secret/S.I. rules, but instead of the espionage setting I created a one-shot pulp adventure ambiguously set in no era with vague Nazi-ish bad guys with some relic macguffin. I pre-generated characters for everyone so as to get right into the game (robbing them of the joy of creating characters... perhaps another time). This was all with my dad as the main target audience (as this all started for him). The other element I was sure to add was to introduce my step-daughter to the concept of role-playing. Leesha was around 10 years old and had a vague idea what this gaming thing was all about. She was pretty clear she wanted a character that had a big cat as a pet. I started her off with no animal companion, but did plant a panther as an encounter in the adventure as a very likely animal companion if things played out in that direction.

We played for a few hours, they made their way through the simple dungeon tomb and overcame the bad guy. We all really got into it, but what made it all worth while was my parents asking when we could do it again! I successfully ran a one-shot game for my folks, which they enjoyed and they got it. Sadly, we haven't been able to sit down and do it again. I do plan to return to that game one day. Perhaps with a different system, however.

My latest reads have been all about the Ubiquity System from Exile Game Studio introduced through the Hollow Earth Expedition RPG. I saw this game and it's system as one that could easily be understood and used with my children and family. Then I discovered the Wilderness Kids Adventures which solidified the deal. I intend on using the Ubiquity System as our household game system.

Why RPGs? This is a way for me to not have to grow up. My fondest memories as a child were exploring the amazing and strange worlds my brother and I would create through the lens of our action figures. We never played G.I. Joe or Star Wars properly, we mashed them all together and had intergalactic bands touring in concert or people stuck in a prehistoric world, or taped paper wings to their backs and made them insect hybrid people. Gaming is a way to continue that. To continue creating.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

[ spooks ] MI-5 will end

Looks like season 10 of [ spooks ] or MI-5 will be it's last. Discovered it on A&E late one night during a marathon in 2003 or something have have been a fan ever since. Spooks has always provided high quality espionage story telling and suspense. It's never over the top in a James Bond way, but features realistic and exciting action. This is the kind of show that the protagonists don't always survive. In fact there is only one guy who has been there through out the series. Everyone else has either died or been removed through some dramatic and highly political reason. I'm sorry to see it go. Perhaps it's better that it does before it jumps the shark.
SpooksA tabloid newspaper claims that the BBC is to axe spy drama Spooks after ten years.

The Sun claims that the forthcoming tenth season of Spooks will be its last and that bosses have promises a "high octane thrilling finale" for the highly popular and critically acclaimed series. The MI-5 based drama has run for over 80 episodes since it launched in 2002 and is still hugely popular with audiences. The drama has featured several storylines which, later on, have actually played out for real.

The current cast of Spooks include Peter Firth, Sophia Myles, Max Brown and Nicola Walker while Richard Armitage seemingly bowed out in the season nine finale. Previous cast Max Brownmembers of Spooks include Rupert Penry-Jones, Gemma Jones,  Miranda Raison, Hermione Norris, Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes. In 2008 there was a short-lived BBC Three spin-off Spooks: Code 9 which starred Ruta Gedmintas and Georgia Moffett. The spin-off was set in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion at the 2012 Olympics in London but was poorly received by critics.

Kudos, who make Spooks for the BBC, said that wanted the drama to "go out on a high". Spooks isn't the only long-running drama series to be brought to an end by the BBC. Waking the Deadended its run earlier this year after nine seasons though a spin-off, The Body Farm, has been ordered. The Sunday evening dramaLark Rise to Candleford also ended its run to much dismay from the public and the BBC has confirmed the next series of Hustlewill be its last.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Spycraft 2.0 and Print on Demand

The print-on-demand edition of Spycraft 2.0 is a reprint of the last Spycraft product Alderac Entertainment Group produced before they shut down the Spycraft product line. When that happened, the crew behind the Spycraft RPG started Crafty Games in order to continue the line and have since expanded to different RPG genres, most recently developing the Mastercraft game system.

I now have a hardcover edition of the print-on-demand Spycraft 2.0. This version has many fixes from the original run's errata. It also is available in softcover.

This was a re-purchase of the book as I had the original book at one time. A big fan of the original Spycraft, it was difficult for me to let the 1.0 version go in favor of 2.0. The book is rather large. I found it to be too overwhelming and shortly after buying it I shelved it where it sat for many years.

Now my interest is rekindled (I don't know why! I'm quite fascinated with my obsessions coming and going!) and with Spycraft 3rd edition coming soon under the Mastercraft system I longed for this book once again. So here we are. is where I ordered this book. There are many reviews saying how their customer service is great. I'd like to re-affirm this to be true. I made an error in my ordering the book submitting a very old shipping address that was lingering on my account. With one email the issue was resolved and the book was shipped to the corrected location with no problem and rather quickly at that. The whole process took four days- that includes the printing AND shipping.

The hardcover book is an excellent product. It is black and white as opposed to the original's full color production. The paper feels like a lighter grade or weight (however paper is measured) which actually cuts the physical weight of the book quite a bit from what I remember. As mentioned before, the book is updated including errata fixes and a black and white print version of the graphical design. Very well made.

Print-on-demand is an interesting thing. Game books and gamer collectors probably know the frustrations of old and out-of-print books. PDFs are on the rise and probably a majority of gaming products never are even intended to see print. Out-of-print could be a thing of the past (no pun intended), in theory.

My brother has dabbled in print-on-demand with children's books and the market for it seems to be still trying to figure itself out. Here is an interesting blog post about this topic [from The ArtOrder]:

Print On Demand and the gaming industry

Patri Balanovsky -
Leandro A. Pezzente dropped me an interesting question recently concerning Print On Demand (PoD). For those that are not publishing savy, Wikipedia defines PoD as:
Print on demand (POD), sometimes called publish on demand, is a printing technology and business process in which new copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order has been received. “Print on Demand” developed only after digital printing began, because it was not economical to print single copies using traditional printing technology such as letterpress and offset printing.
Many traditional small presses have replaced their traditional printing equipment with POD equipment or contract their printing out to POD service providers. Many academic publishers, including university presses, use POD services to maintain a large backlist; some even use POD for all of their publications. Larger publishers may use POD in special circumstances, such as reprinting older titles that had been out of print or for performing test marketing”
PoD sounds like the magic bullet for everyone that doesn’t have the funding or demand to print the thousands of documents necessary to hit the “minimum print run” required by most traditional printers, doesn’t it? And that goes right to the heart of Leandro’s question:
“My question is related to “PRINTING ON DEMAND” concept , like the one Pinnacle Publishing uses for “Savage Worlds” . More throughly i wanted to know , why such a simple concept that could save Publishing companies thousands of dollars and help to drastically reduce piracy is such a hard one for publishing houses to adopt.”
Sounds like a no-brainer doesn’t it? I wish it were that simple. We are starting to see companies adopting e-pub, and PoD strategies, but it is not a decision to jump into lightly. Wizards of the Coast has been investigating all of these publishing options for a while, and I have dealt with the same considerations personally here on ArtOrder. Let’s talk for a few minutes about this issue . . .
Everyone is quick to talk about the cost savings for PoD. There is a little realized fallacy in this statement. Everyone thinks that there is no cost associated with PoD, and that isn’t really the whole story. Yes, it is true that the publisher does not pay for printing – there is actually a cost for printing. But instead of the publisher bearing the initial cost and then passing it along to the consumer – now the customer bears the cost directly from the printer. Many folks tell me “so what’s the difference? I have to pay for the book either way.” So true, but here’s the twist:
Twist #1
Everyone believes that the company is saving money because they don’t have any printing costs – which should result in a saving on the end product. Wrong! While the publisher doesn’t incur a printing cost, the consumer still has to pay for the printing, and they aren’t getting a quantity discount either – so they actually end up paying more for the printing.
Let’s take a real-world example. I’ve got a book for sale on Blurb. The development costs are fixed for me whether I print traditionally or through Blurb. So I didn’t save any money by printing PoD. I have a set “profit*” amount that I need to make for each book, and that wouldn’t change which printing method I use. If I were able to print a minimum of 1000 books, and use my print broker in China on the Lovecraft Creature Lab book I could bring the book onshore for less than $5 each.
$5 for publishing with broker, with volume discount
$5 for profit*
$0 for development (thanks to the volunteer work of Aaron Miller)
$10 Retail Price
Let’s compare that to PoD
$14.89 for publishing with Blurb
$5 for profit*
$0 for development
$19.89 Retail Price
Did you notice anything? The cost to produce the product didn’t diminish in any way, and the cost to the consumer actually increased. Not really cheaper to either the publisher or the customer, is it?
*All ArtOrder products have only a $5 mark-up (whether digital or PoD). This money is used to defer costs of running the blog and community, and to raise funds for ArtOrder scholarships.
Twist #2
As a publisher, when I deal with a printer to print a product I tend to have options. I love options! I can pick certain papers to improve or influence the consumer experience. I can choose print options to affect price, shelf presence, durability, and a million other variables. When I deal with PoD I normally have just a few printing options – sizes, formats, papers stock and finish, cover stocks and finishes, and so many other aspects of the printing process. Because of this, I have very limited options to tailor the customer experience. While this doesn’t really affect my costs, it does affect my perceived value – which in turn affects my ability to set a specific price point on my product. This often directly affects my ability to set a retail price that allows for an appropriate profit or development level.
Twist #3
This is the hardest one to illustrate and get folks to understand. Development costs . . .
Let’s look back at the previous examples. In the traditional model, I would figure out development costs by taking the total development cost and dividing it by the total quantity of books produced to get my development cost per book. Let’s pretend that Allen had charged me a reasonable fee to produce and layout the book. Let’s also pretend that I billed for my time directing, marketing, and various other activities around the development of the book. Let’s pretend that we amassed a development bill of $5000. Modest development costs for a book. So, when I take the traditional model this is where we end up:
$5 for publishing with broker, with volume discount
$5 for profit*
$5 for development ($5000 development cost/1000 books published)
$15 Retail Price
Okay, that probably makes sense right? Not to complicated, is it? I’ve got development costs, printing costs, a target profit level and that gives me my retail price (wish it were that simple in real life…).
Now, what happens when I choose to go PoD. Remember, the reason we are going PoD is usually because we feel we can’t pay the print fees out of our pocket (cash flow issue), or we don’t think we can sell enough copies to hit the minimum print run. In this case we are going to deal with the minimum print run issue. So we don’t think we can sell 1000 copies of the book. Do we think we can sell 100, 200 or 300 copies? We have to decide, and we have to be right. Why? Remember what we need to set our retail price? Print, development and profit numbers. Let’s take a look at an example, and let’s assume we think we can sell 300 copies of the book.
$14.89 for publishing with Blurb
$5 for profit*
$16.67 for development ($5000 development cost/300 books sold)
$35.56 Retail Price
See what just happened to out retail cost? It significantly jumped, didn’t it? Why is this a big issue? If everyone else can produce and sell a similar book with a retail value of $15 (from our traditional model), and we are producing a book for $35.56 – how do we deal with the customers expectations they have for paying twice as much for a comparable book? And what about the risk? I hear you thinking – “What risk? You printed PoD, there isn’t any risk?” Wrong. Remember, I made an assumption that I’d sell 300 books. Let’s pretend that I wasn’t able to convince folks that my $36 dollar book was worth buying when my competitors were selling for $15, and I only sold 100 copies of the book. What does that do to my pricing model?
$14.89 for publishing with Blurb
$5 for profit*
$50 for development ($5000 development cost/100 books sold)
$69.89 Retail Price
But wait, I didn’t sell it for $69.89, I sold it for $35.56. What happens then?
Gross income – 100 books @ 35.56 = +$3556
print costs – 100 books @ $14.89 = – $1489
Development costs = – $5000
profit = -$2933
Holy cow! That hurts, doesn’t it? You did notice the negative symbol in front of that number, didn’t you? Forget the idea of profit. Heck, forget the idea of even covering your development costs.
So, does PoD seem like the magic bullet still? Is it a useful tool? Sure! Is it a great way to develop certain products? Sure! Is it a great way to lose your shirt? It can be. This is the whole reason companies don’t just jump straight into this technology. They have to understand the limitations of the tech, the customers perceptions, and the risks involved. As this industry matures, I except to see more and more publishers move into this technology – but it will not be the massive cost savings that many customers think they will see, nor will it be the ‘get rich quick’ path that many self-publishers hoped it would be.
Great question!

Good Night by Batfish73

Friday, July 8, 2011

[ spooks ]

Espionage drama. BBC's spy show, [ spooks ] (known as M.I.5 in the States on A&E) has been a favorite of ours. We've stayed on board through the many cast changes as many characters simply do not survive the show. There is a lot of drama and action. The show rarely, if ever, goes too far over the top in the spirit of 007. There is a strong sense of remaining as realistic as possible which I appreciate.

Harry Pearce and Ruth Evershed
Only one character has been with the show through all nine series or seasons since it's debut in 2002, the head of Section D, the boss. What a great character he is, too. Serious and down to earth, sometimes coldly so. The agents portray how dangerous the job is as they continually fall and get replaced. The writing draws us in and suddenly we care about them. And just as sudden, they die. We've had several favorite characters. One lately was Beth Bailey (played by Sofia Myles- Madame de Pompadour in Doctor Who- Girl in the Fireplace!). We also like Ruth Evershed very much. She's been in a majority of the seasons. Like most BBC programs, the casting and the acting are top notch.

There was one short lived spin-off called Spooks Code 9 which was set in a near future London shortly after a nuclear strike hit the UK. Didn't care for it and didn't follow after the pilot. Apparently not many others did either since it disappeared quick.

Another show that may be a spin-off is a show produced for younger audiences- M.I. High. I've seen one episode of the show and wasn't impressed as it seemed very over the top and gadgety and very clearly for kids. The secret agents in this series are students in school who are undercover in their school. The bad guys they fight are almost monsters you'd see in Power Rangers, etc. I've taken a 2nd look at the show as inspiration for a Spycraft game along the lines of Ally Carter's young adult book series- Gallagher Girls which Leesha has taken a liking to. The Gallagher Girls are a very similar setting, but a much more realistic take. I've actually read two of the four books and enjoyed them a great deal. M.I. High is a spy show that my  four year old might enjoy quite soon, too.

Neil Burnside - Director of Operations
The other spy show that I really enjoyed out of England was Sandbaggers. This is a very serious spy drama. I discovered the show from Greg Rucka's Queen & Country comic book and novel series. Sandbaggers was truly cold-war espionage. There wasn't a whole lot of action, but a great deal of very clever writing and dialog. On some levels the show was disturbing because our protagonist, Neil Burnside - Director of Operations, was cold and sometimes simply a monster! You wonder if the 'bad guys' were actually better than our hero. I highly recommend Sandbaggers to anyone interested in realistic and dramatic espionage not requiring action and gadgets. The show's allure is complete with it's creator's, Ian Mackintosh's mysterious disappearance.

There is another spy show coming from BBC soon called Morton:

Morton, 8 x 60 series, written by Frank Spotnitz made by Kudos Film and Television
Meet Sam. A spy. A hunter. And herself hunted by an enemy more ruthless and determined than any she's ever known. Sam has been running from her past her entire life but when she returns to Mobius, the organisation that employs her, and begins to pursue her pursuer, she will discover the only way to escape that past... is to confront it. This is the story of a spy with a bull's eye on her back, a human target unable to trust anyone at any time, even the man she loves. She is, quite literally, running for her life. Morton is a smart, complex and contemporary spy series.

Frank Spotnitz was involved with the X-Files and MilllenniuM. Morton may star Gillian Anderson, also from X-Files, but these appear to be rumors at this point.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I've been on board with Spycraft since it first came out. AEG's 1st edition remains one of my very favorite RPG books in my collection. They published generic espionage books as well as on official setting- Shadowforce Archer, which I passed on, but I owned every book that covered the generic espionage material. When Spycraft 2.0 came out my interestin d20 was waning and the book was overwhelming. It sat on my shelf for a few years before I sold nearly all my Spycraft items. This is one of those things you do that you later regret as inevitably my interest in the game has returned.

It has come back to me in my search for a game system to run some sessions with Leesha modeling a campaign in line with Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls books. One system I've leaning toward is SpyLite- The MicroLite20 Spycraft game. A lite game seems like a good way to start with her and this one should prove to be an easy transition to any fundamental d20 game no matter which version of Spycraft we end up.
Spycraft 2.0 Cover by Chriss2d

A great resource for a Gallagher Girls style campaign is found in issue 75 of a game magazine called Signs & Portents. The article is called Childish Things which covers playing children or juvenile characters in Spycraft 2.0.

The Crafty Games forum has a lot of talk about Spycraft 3rd Edition (not 3.0) which sounds like a slimmed down and improved version of Spycraft 2.0 which was originally still released by AEG. Later, Crafty Games produced an edited second printing. This version is now available again through a print-on-demand method.

A side note here- print-on-demand is a pretty cool thing that could change a lot of things in the gaming industry. Suddenly long out of print books can be available again. Interesting, that.

Anyways... 3rd Edition will be Crafty Games' first real Spycraft game. It has been described as an improvement on 2.0- which is now the Mastercraft system, but more narrowly focused on espionage avoiding the overwhelming magnitude of the 2.0 book. Other genres may be covered in other supplements, for example- for more of a crime campaign than espionage, Crafty Games has the Ten Thousand Bullets line (powered by Mastercraft) to cover that. I think this is a good move. Their Fantasy Craft is where Mastercraft has really seen it's development and seems to have done pretty well.

Espionage roleplaying games are my favorite of any of the RPG genres. Most likely starting with my first real RPG- Top Secret/S.I. I've recently picked up some of the old Victory Games James Bond RPG. Spycraft always felt like the natural next step from Top Secret/S.I. (like Fallout was the unofficial sequel to Wasteland).

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Comic Ad

Four Color Promises is a blog that features the ads from comics that range from the '70s on through the '80s. It's pretty entertaining to revisit many of the very familiar images that are tucked away in my subconscious, somewhere. One image featured is this Top Secret/S.I. ad. This ad is apparently from Action Comics issue 606 (which I actually have).

The interesting thing about this ad is the four novels fanned out in the corner. Four novels. This is evidence of a book that never was produced. The four Top Secret/S.I. books that we know exist are:

  • Double Agent: Acolyte of Darkness/Web of Danger
  • Double Agent:The Hollow Earth Affair/The Royal Pain
  • Double Agent: The Hard Sell/Glitch!
The fourth book is a bit hard to make out, but I believe the titles are- Double Agent: High Stakes Gamble/Overloads of the Underworld. Yes. Overloads. I'm not sure if this is a typo because this entry is spelled this way.

I wonder if the unproduced Double Agent novel was basically a novelization of the High Stakes Gamble box set. It's too bad it was never released. I would have liked to see more Sebastian Cord. 

Also, notice the early box cover art for the High Stakes Gamble box set with the red border.

I do not recall seeing any other Top Secret/S.I. ads in comics those days. But I do recall seeing this ad in quite a few issues.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Paizo selling new TS/SI stuff

Paizo bought out a regional distributor,  American Eagle, and are offering the merchandize on their online store. There are many Top Secret/S.I. books in the mix. I believe these books are new or shelf condition.

Check it all out here.




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