Friday, March 29, 2013
Dwimmermount Project Update #49: Last Hurdle Cleared, Looking Toward the Finish Line
(original update here - copied below for your convenience)
What's the current status of the Dwimmermount project?
Autarch now has all the rights necessary to fulfill the backers' rewards and bonus goals as well as make them available for sale to people who missed out on the Kickstarter, thanks to an amendment of Autarch's contract with Dwimmermount creator James Malizewski. The terms of our agreement will create some changes in the way we move forward, but this is great news and I'm very excited to be back on the rails.
When will rewards be delivered?
A new schedule of estimated dates will be posted in the next update; our general priorities and strategy are discussed below.
What's new this week?
An overview of what the transfer of rights makes possible, examples of our goals for developing James' drafts, and thanks for some of the people who got us here.
What Rights Autarch Has And Why
When I re-established contact with James last week, his preferred solution to the impasse was a full refund to backers. He felt that the Dwimmermount draft fell short of his vision for the mega-dungeon, and one of the stresses he'd been suffering from was the conflict between wanting to do it justice and the mounting deadlines for completing the project. What he suggested was to give everyone their money back so that he could take as much time as he needed to achieve his creative goals for Dwimmermount without pressure.
I agreed with James that it would be better to do a mandatory refund than to continue without setting deadlines. However, I felt that the vast majority of backers would rather have what they pledged for, even if it's not perfect, instead of getting their money back. Autarch can't release the dungeon exactly as James envisioned it, but I argued that as fans, we could use the publication rights to make a version fans will be happy with - or at least allow people the individual choice of a refund.
The compromise reflected in yesterday's contract is based on the two versions of Dwimmermount that were already established. Since Labyrinth Lord was the system James used in his original campaign, we agreed to reserve the LL version of the mega-dungeon as the vehicle for James to potentially release a "director's cut" at some point in the future. Our contract gives Autarch the right to develop and publish a version of the dungeon using the Adventurer Conqueror King System. This will be derived from the ACKS conversion of James' draft we've already been working on, but we'll take it in our own direction and strike a reasonable balance between avoiding further delays and investing the time necessary to develop a product we can be proud of.
What this means is that we'll be using the Kickstarter funds to create just one version of the Dwimmermount hardcover and PDF. This will be written with statistics for ACKS, although we'll include a conversion guide to make it easy to run the dungeon using Labyrinth Lord. If you were a backer who requested the LL version of the dungeon, we hope you'll accept the version we are able to provide instead. However, we'll also gladly provide you with a refund, which you may later be able to use to purchase a version with LL stats. You may also want a refund if you want to wait for James' own version - or if you just don't want to wait any further at all. If so, just send us a message through Kickstarter letting us know whether you prefer check or PayPal and the address we should use in either case.
The O in OSR is for Open Game License
Another implication of Autarch's contract with James is worth mentioning. Our agreement gives Autarch the perpetual, exclusive right to publish Dwimmermount. The way we left open the possibility of James later publishing his own "director's cut" was to stipulate that everything related to Dwimmermount will be designated as open game content, available for him or anyone else to use through the Open Game License. Since the Old School Renaissance is just one example of the communal creativity made possible by the OGL, I'm eager to see what gamers will do with this fantastic public resource. Commercial publication of remixes like Devilmount is one obvious possibility, as is conversion to other rulesets.
More good news is that James also agreed to designate his Grognardia posts about Dwimmermount as open game content. This was the writing that inspired Autarch's enthusiasm for Dwimmermount, and I think that being able to incorporate parts of it into our version will help us stay true to that inspiration. I'm also very excited by the possibility of combining the session reports from James' original campaign with his original notes to do some really cool stuff with the first bonus goal.
Strategy for Schedule and Development
In my next update, I'll provide a new schedule for when we expect to deliver the backer rewards. Our general approach will be to focus first on getting you the things you need to start playing. The wilderness mat, the mega-dungeon tracker, the separate map booklet, and the illustration booklet are all things we can complete quickly. It'll be a great feeling for me to get these into the hands of people who pledged for them (and to make them available for sale to people who didn't). More importantly, having these play aids out there will facilitate the playtesting that'll help make the later release of the hardback as good as we can collectively make it.
Hardcover printing and shipping is the single most expensive line item in the budget. It's the reward that the greatest number of backers will be receiving, and the publication on which Dwimmermount's reputation will ultimately rest. Although it is the most anticipated item for these reasons, I feel it's also the one that we need to take the most time to get right.
For people who are eager to start playing, one of the things I'll be looking at is the feasibility of doing an earlier PDF playtest edition - including illustration, maps, and functionality like bookmarks, but without waiting for all the planned development of James' draft - with a print-on-demand option for those who want an inexpensive perfectbound softcover copy at the gaming table.
In future updates I'll also talk more about the plans for development of the draft. Me and Alex at Autarch will be taking the lead, since we are the people we can best trust to do it right. Opening things up to community input and providing opportunities for feedback by players and GMs will be a key part of our method. I'll also be looking to get other designers involved - I have some ideas in this regard, but I welcome suggestions for people who you think would bring something special to the project.
I don't expect Autarch's development will be a radical re-envisioning of the draft. I see the first half of our job as identifying the essentials that made Dwimmermount speak to all of us in the first place. The second half will be to fill in the gaps that gamers will need to bring this vision to life in their own campaigns.
As an example of the first, the inserts for the mega-dungeon tracker will include each level of Dwimmermount rendered in one-page dungeon format. Creating this hybrid between the sparseness of James' original notes and the detail of his draft will be a key step in laying the foundation for Autarch's final text.
As an example of the second, when I run Dwimmermount I like to roll for the possibility of wilderness encounters whenever the party travels between Muntburg and the dungeon. In the Brooklyn Strategist game, this generated a group of bandits who were charging a toll on adventurers seeking to enter or leave; at the ACA/PCA conference, the largest source of XP for the night was an unlucky encounter with a skittering maw on the road home, defeated by first-level PCs thanks to archery, frantic retreat, and lucky encounter distance roll. In order to play out these situations, allow them to be recurring features of a campaign, and also make connections within and without the dungeon like "what tribe do the Path of Mavors kobolds belong to?", Autarch will develop a local map of the region between the town and dungeon. This will be similar in scale to the one in B2: Keep on the Borderlands, where an entry might mark the hut of a single mad hermit, and will zoom in on a few of the six-mile hexes of Rob Conley's existing wilderness map. Adding this local scale will allow for the development of an "Upper Works" to the megadungeon that I think is rich in possibility.
Thank You and Good Night
I owe a debt of gratitude to all the backers who have made it possible for us to be where we are now, but there are a few people I'd specifically like to acknowledge.
First and foremost, of course, is James Maliszewski. His vision of Dwimmermount and his dedication in sharing that vision through his writing and blogging is what brought us together in the first place. My role in resolving the crisis on this project has been little more than trusting in James' honor and integrity to use the funds entrusted to him responsibly, and I'm glad he's trusted Autarch in return to carry on the torch.
I'd also like to thank Wesley Marshall and the other backers who joined him in exploring legal options. I'm grateful to y'all for being proactive, and willing to publicly stand up for your positions and discuss controversial issues reasonably and without hostility. I'm also glad that none of the potential scenarios you researched wound up coming into play!
Finally, my hat is off to backer and RPG.net moderator The Wyzard, whose reaching out with friendly advice and expertise in contracts could not have come at a better time.
I'll look forward to posting here again next Friday, and in the meantime I'll be glad to answer questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, at the Mages of the Mountain community on G+, by cell phone at (917) 749-6938, in person in Reno, NV until Monday and New York, NY after that, or in the comments here.