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Friday, February 13, 2015

Kickstarter Update - City State of the Invincible Overlord - Mini Overdose and More

It seems like few Kickstarters escape intact when meeting their enemy - reality.

Here's the latest update from the City State of the Invincible Overlord Kickstarter. I'll comment at the end.
Update #49CSIO Maps, Minis, and some Bad NewsPosted by Judges Guild 
Hello Backers,
There going to be a lot to this update, so I apologize for that. This is going to be visible to anyone (the last few have been for Backers only) so I want to bring everyone up to speed. 
Campaign Map Progress: For those that don't know, the first 10 maps have been released electronically. We have the first 5 or so in print. We've had to halt progress on the maps until February because not enough people bought into the Miniatures (we lost about $16k on those) (emphasis mine). We didn't realize this until it was too late due to waiting for all enough of the survey responses to come in. We're still waiting on some final number crunching to give the go-ahead to continue the Campaign Maps.
***Please let me know if you still have yet to receive PDF versions of the Maps*** 
Miniatures Progress:
The Miniatures are brilliant. We had a sample to bring to Gen Con last year. Everybody loved them. The quality is really superb. Despite the hit we took on them, we are still happy that they were made. Mick Leach with Eastern Front Studios has confirmed that a number of them have been received already from the casters mid-December. I'm awaiting word from Mick as to when the rest of the models will come in so we can start shipping those with the maps, etc. 
CSIO Book Progress:
Murphy's Law: "Everything that can go wrong will go wrong." In July, we basically needed to do the finished layout with all the art. We still had a good 3 months to get this to the printers, and 4-5 months to fulfill, so we thought it would be great to bring in James Mishler, a walking encyclopedia of Wilderlands knowledge (seriously, his knowledge (Wilderlands) skill is +18), to collaborate with Bob III on expanding even more of all four parts to this book: the City State, Wraith Overlord, Thunderhold, and Modron. 
We knew we were taking a gamble. Everyone was willing to support this if it meant getting a nice, polished, expanded expansion of Wilderlands goodness. We jumped in with both feet and were off to a great start. In September, James' wife had to have surgery. It took her a good 6 weeks to recover and for James' to be back in a position to press on. We've since had to push back the deliver date twice. Which brings us up to today. 
A Word from James:  
It’s never easy to admit to defeat; it is more than doubly-so when one has failed twice at the same endeavor, as I have with working with the City State of the Invincible Overlord and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. 
But at this point I have to admit to defeat, in the case of re-writing the City State of the Invincible Overlord for the Judges Guild CSIO 2014 Kickstarter. I have tendered my regrets and apologies to the Bledsaws at Judges Guild, and wish to do so now to you, the fans and supporters of the Kickstarter. 
There are all sorts of reasons I could mention here; all explanations rather than excuses. Suffice to say that my days of working with Judges Guild, the Wilderlands, and the City State in my past should have remained there, in the past. 
Unfortunately, I thought I could return to those glorious days when I published under Adventure Games Publishing; sadly, the truth was I needed an exorcist to rid me of the haunting ghosts of failures past, rather than a resurrectionist to dredge up the bodies of the unquiet dead. Every attempt to go further with the manuscript resulted in an avalanche of dreadful memories and unpleasant thoughts, and brought all advancement to a screeching halt. My joyful expectations were overwhelmed by the potent recollections of previous failures. 
And so, after a brief if glorious surge of creativity, my ability to work on the manuscript died a hideous, ignominious death. In fact, my desire to do much of anything with gaming sunk to lows I’d not experienced since the end of AGP. 
Once my wife recovered from her operation, and I’d gotten new, regular hours at work, I’d hoped things would change… and though I was able to write once again, every time I turned back to the CSIO manuscript, the whole world crashed in again, and turned hope to ashes. 
I have delayed the inevitable long enough. 
I wish Judges Guild nothing but the best of luck, in this and all future endeavors.
To the fans and supporters of the Kickstarter I say, nil desperandum! Do not despair! One small man’s failures do not bring down the whole, not when there are heroes ready to leap into the breach. Though there will be further delays, I am sure that the City State of the Invincible Overlord Kickstarter will complete, and Judges Guild will go on to even greater things. And as the maps that have already shipped have proven, their new works will awe and amaze you. 
As the works of Bob Bledsaw and Bill Owen once did for a previous generation… 
James Mishler
So, yeah. That happened.
This has completely taken us by complete surprise. In fact, we are still at a loss for words. We are going to have a meeting this weekend to revise our action plan and divvy up some additional responsibilities among Bob II, Bob III, and some of the other family members here. We are too far into this to let yet another stumbling block cause us to fail. As requested by backers, we are definitely going to be making the PDF version of the CSIO book available ASAP. We will add a spreadsheet on Google Docs to allow you all to add any corrections you find on each page (brilliant idea Bevan Anderson!). Tentatively, we have not decided to push back the deadline further. Once we convene on an action plan this weekend, we will update all to that effect.
There's a whole shitload to digest in that, but the one thing that really stands out to me is that they lost $16k on the miniatures. Holy shit! That is a huge loss that should have been run as their own Kickstarter. I'm not sure if that's $16k worth of lead that can possibly sell down the line or if it's $16k pissed away in the wind and all over one's pants leg.

As for James leaving the project, his wife's health issues were / are significant. Her recovery is ongoing. It's a hell of a load to bear, and the Mishler's are in my prayers.

Looking at the lateness of the Kickstarter itself, it's barely a month and a half late, which in Kickstarter terms means it isn't even expected yet, especially with all of the stretch goals hit.

I'm stuck wondering why they even offered miniatures in the first place? Didn't Reaper Bones I & II produce enough inexpensive plastic to saturate the market?


  1. I took part in this Kickstarter. I waited until the last minute and decided to join in. I did the level for the PDFs and the softcover.
    Judges Guild items were not something my brothers and I got into back in the late 70's/early to mid 80's. Partly due to limited funds as teenagers.
    Reading online over the last few years about all the interesting ideas in these materials, I decided to take the plunge.
    Sounds like those that didn't go for miniatures have the slightly better end of the deal.
    Too bad we don't get all the details that were planned.
    Caveat Emptor and all that.

  2. It's amazing how many relatives of mine have gotten seriously ill or died and yet I still do my job. They have my sympathy but that's not an honey reason to stop working.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. These "dog ate my homework" excuses seem like a recurring theme with kickstarter.

    2. Effing autocorrect turned HONEST into HONEY?!

  3. It is hard to fully appreciate the health problems that plague Kickstarters, On the one hand I am extremely empathetic. My own mother has ill health and things could go awry anytime. But...and this is the issue....my place of business offers 3 days of paid leave for bereavement in such situations, and I might at best have 3 weeks of vacation right now to utilize in settling affairs for the family. So at worst I'll be out for almost four weeks...and the truth is I absolutely can't afford more than five days in a stretch. So while I am empathetic to the health issues and potential losses involved, it really shows that the way most Kickstarters are approached (at least in this hobby) is not as actual work, as a livelihood, but as "something extra" that can be shunted aside and take a backseat. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that the money is already there. If my client had paid my business a million up front for services to be rendered, it might indeed be tempting to take those four weeks off, though common sense of course says "remember renewal time," so even then there's a check and balance. The cost of failure on a Kickstarter is apparently thinking about clever ways to avoid being outed on the next Kickstarter, I guess (or just avoiding them down the road, the sensible option I suppose).

    I'll just stick to Frog God sales.

    1. It's getting to the point where the only kickstarter's I'm willing to back are ones run by the Frogs or Goodman ... at least when it comes to the really ambitious projects that are hundreds of pages worth of product.

      Protip to future Kickstarter runners: Get all of your writing and editing done beforehand and use Kickstarter to fund your art, layout and signature stitched hardbacks.

    2. I'd add Hero Games to the reliable list, too. They've been very informative about the Fantasy Hero Kickstarter and it looks like I should see my copy in a few weeks. Plus, they didn't kill themselves with ridiculous and costly stretch goals.

    3. Of course the folks mentioned (Frog, Goodman, Hero) are professionals with track records of competence.

      This stuff reminds me of investment schemes where one can choose between Warren Buffett and Bernie Madoff if one does one's due diligence and research.

    4. I've had no issues with Troll Lord Games, and Kevin Crawford is a pro's pro on Kickstarters.

      While Jim Raggi's crowdsourced projects do have a tendency to go long, I've never regretted having participated in any of his, either.

    5. Oh yeah, Troll Lord has been good and I've backed them before...omitted in error. I'm not a Raggi follower so not able to comment but he does seem to get all his projects done.

  4. Bob Bledsaw III replying to a backer:

    Steel_Wind - Bob III here. I cannot comment on whether James' wife and depression are "bullshit" because as a human being I cannot read minds to figure out motives, as you apparently can. All I know is the following:

    1. He was suppose to deliver to us expanded material.
    2. When he was unable to deliver that in the time constraints I put upon him, every single backer that commented showed total support for a delay and were completely understanding, so we gave him an extension.
    3. After not being able to produce anything, he tendered his resignation from the project. All the while, we were under the impression that he was chugging along through the material. It was a complete surprise to us.

    Regarding the number crunching, here's what needs to be crunched. When we cannot know whether people's extra $80-$100 is for extra maps, extra books, or extra minis, we have no idea how things met up to budget. The overhead cost of the minis (sculpting, and casting of masters) were $18,000. Only 492 minis were purchased from us at an average of $7.63 per mini; totaling $3755. The cost of actually producing each mini is $4 per mini, totally $1968. $3755 revenue - $18,000 overhead - $1968 production costs = $16,213 DEFICIT.

    We had a lot of pressure from Mick to give him the $18k overhead to pay the casters for the masters, and we would have had to do so before all the survey results came in for analysis.

    As for the maps, we have 10 done already out of 18. Each map costs $1500 in overhead to pay the artists, and about $500 in print and shipping costs. We have 8 maps left to produce totaling $16,000.

    So, the $16,213 that went to the minis, was sucked from the revenue generated from people wanting books and maps without the minis.

    The reason why we need to do number crunching is so that I can figure out how and what to cut out of my personal budget to finance it myself. That is why we needed to postpone and re-evaluate the maps until February, so I could attempt to build up enough capital. However, $4,800 out-of-pocket in necessary dental work needed to be done for my family this past couple of weeks... go figure.

    Is that personal, candid, and transparent enough for you?

    1. I appreciate his factual honesty. But it makes me wonder why they didn't get these numbers together before throwing the minis in as a stretch goal. Yeesh.

  5. My question is why is the City State team working so hard to reinvent the wheel. They could have just converted the 3.5 material over to Pathfinder and called it a day. I'm sure many people would have loved to have a Wilderlands of High Fantasy that didn't cost them $200 on ebay. I thought the 3.5 iteration was solid and the best version of the citystate and Wilderlands yet and conversion to Pathfinder would have been a snap. Am I missing something here?

    1. I don't think they had access to the 3.5 material. They lost legal access somehow or are not able to use it again or they are owned by different companies, not even the maps... so they are building from the original sources.

  6. In regards to reinventing the wheel (and speaking only to that point) : Having just overseen the conversion of a ton of Freeport to Pathfinder, and the Advanced Bestiary to Pathfinder I will say A: Even the absolute most basic conversion is not a snap. The games are different in subtle but crucial ways, that oven require things like stat blocks be reworked from scratch and B: My experience with the fanbase for Pathfinder is that the large majority do not want the most basic conversion, they want a carefully considered and planned out expansion of new concepts that melds perfectly with all old ideas and all current Pathfinder options, and that's even less easy.

  7. Each map costs $1500? I should reconcider my prices.

    What made those old books stand out was the nice material and ideas that came along with the maps. Also, I feel a bit sorry, this kind of "I am hounted by my past and present failure" is no excuse, but the result of ongoing delusions about ones owns ability. It is just sad, for everyone.

  8. Adding minis to a KS is one of the trickiest things going, and frankly, most of the time means delays and worse. After getting a tutorial by Zach of Lesser Gnome Games why miniatures can absolutely kill a KS, I am in awe of people like him, Greg Gillespie, and others that can get their KS + mini projects out on time and under budget. There are all sorts of hidden costs, delays, and pitfalls inherent in the mini process that are just waiting to bushwack the inexperienced or unwary. And, unless you are offereing to basically re-invent the wheel, or include minis that are germane to your campaign world/project (as Zach and Greg do), there really isn't any need to include minis anyway...as you said, who doesn't have boxes of unpainted minis laying around? (I do, some from as far back as the 70s and 80s).

    The Bledsaws are good people, we'll eventually see this, sucks they've had so many things go wrong.

  9. (Wish I could have had THIS bunch of gentlemen in my conference rooms lo all the many years . . . good sense and fair reasoning prevails here)

    They never amended The Land of Opportunity here in America to read, truthfully: The Land of Mostly Bad Opportunities. (And) Meaning Well is not Doing Well.

    Every single comment above should be printed and included in an Executive Manual. The internet has created a new world of artists (a very positive, creative thing) who take on the challenges of real business and may be largely out of their depth; a result of foregoing the standard promotional ladder/matrix.

    I don't think a single one of us wants to see these creators or any other KS RPG efforts fail . . . none of us think it's funny or pleasing to watch another man pursue a dream and suffer for it.

    Yet they seem to keep making the same mistakes. Is there an RPG-based Business Exploratory and Implementation Advocacy Group? Something at least to monitor KPI and business benchmarks . . . (I say this as a Frog God print-pub item just showed up at our door, and the thing is an absolute GEM)?

    Small Hops to Success.


    1. The consumer is the "brake" here for a runaway creator's uninhibited vision. The investor shoujld accept part of the responsibility in some of these cases. There are red flags that should be looked for, and if spotted, keep your wallet in your pocket. If you see a project that looks to good to be true (how can he ship all that at that price?), step back If the project creator has invested in zero or single digit KS himself (if we won't give another project his money, why does he deserve ours?). If the project creator already has one or more projects unfinished, and starts another KS. If the KS has a good (or great) idea yet the project description seems vague, counts on a lot of things happening just right, or the creator admits NONE of the project has been done yet and won't be until he gets the money...etc.

  10. I tend to have about 80-90% of my projects written before launching a new Kickstarter. It seems to have worked well for me so far. That way all I have to do is commission art. Miniatures casting is so far out if my depth that I'm hesitant to comment, but if it's anything like artwork, I still don't understand how you can misjudge by $16,000. The upfront cost of minis, maps, and books should have been figured into the project at the backer level. That way there is little to no risk the creator is taking a loss.

    Here's what frustrates me as a creator. When I plan a KS launch, I set modest goals to cover art and shipping costs. I don't do anything flashy like minis, t-shirts, etc because I see the pitfalls those things cause. But because I don't include those flashy stretch goals, my projects tend to fly under the radar and generate very little buzz.

    On the other hand, time and time again I see creators offer minis, t-shirts, poster maps, novelty dice, custom art, etc. These extras generate a huge amount of interest which translates into thousands of dollars. And then inevitably the creator runs into problems with fulfillment, because time and time again I see the same excuses.

    I misjudged costs. The artist/writer/cartographer crapped out and I have no money left to pay a new one. My health is bad. My family member's health is bad. I lost my job. My family member lost their job.

    I've run three Kickstarters so far (two fulfilled on time, one that looks like it will be fulfilled way ahead of schedule). I have a full time job, a wife and three kids, which means I have all the little money issues and life's problems that every other creator has, but I still find a way to dig deep through hard times and finish my projects on time.

    When you take a person's money, you are taking money from someone who also has a family, a job, and all the other little life's problems that go along with it. They are not giving you a good faith loan. They are paying you with their hard earned money for a product (or products) that you have agreed to deliver on time. When you fail to deliver on time (or at all), you can make all the excuses you want, but the bottom line is you have deprived a person of money that might have been better spent on something else. I personally think that's reprehensible. At best it shows poor judgment and company mismanagement, neither of which this industry is large enough to support. At worst (as in the creators who either lie about fulfillment and/or fail to produce anything at all) it is downright theft.

    I know this might sound harsh, but I'm really tired of seeing this kind of crap because distrust of Kickstarter and Indiegogo makes it that much more difficult for little guys like me to get funded.

    1. Not having it written before starting (or at least mostly written) and stretch goals pumped up way to high are the two things I see hurting RPG Kickstarters more than anything. Glad to see some folks like you are smart enough to avoid those mistakes.

  11. There seem to be many parallels with the Scrappy Startup Rock Band business model, if it can be called that. Many dreams, some good ideas, partial investment from a label or marketpro company, and innumerable pitfalls along the way that can derail the whole enterprise. Please God can the (expletive) drummer wait to get drunk until AFTER the gig?

    My wife got a rather debilitating cold which shoved our Val's Day plans into tomorrow. So I cracked-open the deadtree Grimmsgate product that arrived today. This thing is A-Plus stuff, from Ool Ertus on the cover to the strong content and pagination/maps within. Inspired, evocative, a great launch-village for developing characters.

    TakethemoneyoutofmywalletandkeepityouearneditStarter. I'd love to see more.

    Hooray for the Hoppers.


  12. Pete Spahnyou said it. I lost $50 on one of these schemes. Not a huge amount but I could have used it on so many other things. Money is tight in these parts. Learned my lesson fairly cheaply at least.

  13. This is really hard for me to read about James Mishler's troubles, and the Bledsaws' predicament. These are good people, true gamers, and they have my support.

    I have to agree with +Pete Spahn here: this is precisely why you must have a mostly completed manuscript before you launch any crowdfunding effort. It's the only way to keep delays manageable, reduce the risk of any surprises, and ultimately deliver to your backers.

    I'm actually very surprised that people asking for funding are making this kind of terrible mistake to just have a vague concept to start work only after funding. It's really asking for trouble. NOT something I would personally agree to as someone asking for people's support, I can tell you that.

  14. Is there anybody at all who thinks they will see a damned thing out of this Kickstarter other than quarterly excuses?

  15. Rob Conley did more maps. I don't think he would be doing his part if things were not moving, even at a glacial pace. If all they need is layout, then it is getting close. I trust their word much further than that of other Kickstarters, that are truly failed, if not scams, often mentioned here.