The following article about the state of the roleplaying industry in the mid-2000s originally appeared on DyingEarth.com in June 2006.

Is the RPG Industry Screwed?

When you depend on live game designers for sustenance, the health of the ecosystem which allows them to thrive is of paramount importance. Whilst everyone has an opinion on this subject, I asked people who make their living from the roleplaying games – publishers, distributors and retailers – how they think the RPG industry is doing. A polite-worded request is often misunderstood (many of them are brain-addled from an excess comics and food additives) so I screamed “Is the RPG Industry Screwed?” in their ear and suspended them over my squawking progeny as usual. The responses were interesting, varied, and inconclusive.

I’ll start with a successful company, running a business on a fairly traditional model, Mongoose Publishing. Without the irritating self-effacement and modesty typical of the British, co-owner Matthew Sprange said:

At Mongoose, we believe that a good RPG book still has the potential to blow through entire print runs and that sales of 10,000+ units are still achievable with the right product. Because of this, we are still expanding in terms of both sales and staff (we now employ over 20 people worldwide), and plan to support RPGs for at least the next five years. Many companies are being squeezed out of the market at the moment but we take this as an indication of a customer base that has become more refined in its choice of product, rather than one who will buy anything that has a D20 on the cover. At the end of the day, if you produce the right kind of book, people will come to you.

Hard figures, I said. Hard figures. He told me as an example that Starship Troopers blew through 6000 copies in 3 months. That’s a large number – greater than the total sales units for each of the majority of RPG companies in a year.

Aldo Ghiozzi, who represents a number of RPG publishers as a consolidator and marketing agent has been selling through distribution for a number of years. He has a lofty perch – I respect any creature with a lofty perch – above the three-tier distributor model. He said:

Technology has come around to make book publishing easier for the common writer. Between PDF purchasing and Print-On-Demand (POD), the barrier of entry has dropped considerably. One would think this would create a new Golden Age of RPGs; it has done the opposite. With the barrier of entry being so low, there are more options for consumers to spend their dollars on. The flood of the D20 market was just the beginning; now, RPGs are for every genre, system and an endless number of people creating their own systems. Imagine a consumer that spends $10 a month on RPG books. Five years ago their choices were between the 100 products on the store shelves, thus, a publisher would have a 1 in a 100 chance for that $10. Now, there are so many choices for the shelves that retailers cannot carry them all so it spills into online stores and PDF download stores. The 100 choices turn into 1000 — now that publisher has a 1 in 1000 chance for that $10. The dollars are being spread thinner; that is the reality.

Personally, I believe the best chance for publishers to survive or come into this market with a chance is with proven brands and even licenses. Licenses, like Serenity or Starship Troopers instantly breathe recognition with the consumer and influences the dollars to that product. Proven brands, like a new edition of Paranoia or the mimicking of Keep on the Borderlands through the Dungeon Crawl Classics series are great examples.

It’s all about being heard over everyone else and the only way to do that is to scream louder.

His views are supported by the Starship Troopers sales figures, although we don’t know the terms of their license (for reference, the Babylon 5 license was $65,000). I asked Mr Ghiozzi if he thought the size of the market was the same. He was sceptical.

…we are not seeing 50K unit sales as before, but there are a ton more choices now so for all we know, the same amount of dollars are being spent (proportional to the economy) but just spread thinner. I truly doubt that though.

Green Ronin have been publishing RPGs since 2000, and use a combination of traditional print and PDF publishing. Chris Pramas, the CEO said:

You have to put RPGs in their historic perspective. Really, they have been in decline since the creation of collectible games in the early 90s. It’s hard to remember now, but in the late 70s and early 80s RPGs were a good business to be in. They eclipsed wargames and dominated the market for many years. Since then we’ve seen significant events in our own industry, the two most important being ‘Magic: the Gathering’ creating a whole new category of game, and Games Workshop hitting upon a business model that redefined miniatures games. In the same period we’ve also seen computer/console games become increasingly sophisticated and immersive, and the development of MMOs. In light of these events the old RPG business model has a tough time competing. Once players have a core rulebook, they don’t need to buy anything else to enjoy the game. Contrast that with the collectible games, where not only can you sell people the same product over and over again, but also they have to keep up with each new expansion to stay competitive. Or MMOs, where players pay each month for the privilege of continuing to play.

The d20 boom made some folks think the glory days of RPGs were back. While that was indeed a good time for RPG publishers, it could never last and now the gale has blown itself out. One might even argue that it did more harm than good, since most game stores now have hundreds of d20 books that will never move and this makes selling them new RPG product even harder.

So is the RPG market screwed? Well, certainly it is harder to harder to make a living doing traditional RPG publishing. The market decline that was paused by the d20 boom came back with a vengeance in 2003. Since then the successes have been fewer and farther between and more and more RPG publishing activity has moved online. I suspect that the future has already taken shape. There will be maybe 10 RPG companies that will do well enough with traditional RPG publishing to keep forging ahead. The rest of the market will be PDFs and Print on Demand, largely sold direct to consumers. Until someone comes up with a way to radically redefine RPGs anyway. That may be a long wait though.

Chad Underkoffler of Atomic Sock Monkey – creator of the award-winning Dead Inside, slipped through the “makes a living filter” – he has a separate day job – but he is representative of large part of the RPG publisher market.

I wouldn’t say that the RPG Industry is “screwed” so much as “challenged.” For many small press publishers — and I mean “small” in relation to other RPG companies, because nearly all of them could be considered “small press” compared to mainstream publishers – there are difficult issues to surmount in acquiring an audience of customers. Even access to the distribution system is little help, since the number of retail outlets seems to be shrinking. So you have more companies (some with fantastic games to compete with) trying to reach fewer shelves, and therefore customers.

The costs of production are up, the discounts on MSRP for distributors and retailers are substantial, and the customers are reluctant to spend money on unknown or new products. And while PDF-published, Print on Demand (PoD), and direct sale methods help put more money in the publisher’s pocket, the overall amount of profit is low. Truth & Justice is my best selling game, at roughly 525 copies (mostly PDF, but some PoD and distro) sold in under a year. I’ve made around $4,000 profit from it, which is definitely not enough to live on in my major metropolitan area. However, it is enough money to handle a car payment, take care of the phone bill, and roll into a new product for sale.

I doubt that the game industry can support many publishers as their sole employment under the current state of the market, and the outlook isn’t much brighter for distributors and retailers unless they diversify heavily into other product lines and related-but-different types of products (books, comics, toys, etc.). However, as a second job (or a hobby that pays for itself then a little extra, or even a method of artistic expression), the game industry is an admirable fit. If you adjust your expectations of what the industry will do for you, it will not seem totally screwed, but simply a challenge.

The ubiquitous Gareth-Michael Skarka of Adamant Entertainment, and Phil Reed of Ronin Arts, both big players in the PDF market, produce ePublishing 101 e-zine for their fellow publishers. In the latest issue, they bemoan the status of traditional retail.

From approximately 2000 game stores in January 2004 to somewhere around 1200 stores in December 2005 represents an overall loss of at least 40%. Not a good outlook for retailers in this industry.

They also estimate that the total size of the RPG market is about $25 million, with PDF publishing representing between 8-14% of the market – but that proportion is growing. With the relatively low barriers to entry mentioned by Aldo Ghiozzi, and the legs that such products have, pdf publishing is a good way for publishers to connect directly with their customers without pawning the family silver.

In contrast to Aldo’s lofty view, Ben Lehman , creator of the Polaris RPG, comes at the question from down on the ground. He is a new model publish with roots in the Forge – a forum dedicated to creator-owned publishing, with lots of useful RPG game theory. Some of the best games of recent years have come out of the Forge. With typical Forgeite thoroughness, he unasks the question, one which was begging to be knocked down:

I think it’s really strange how people talk about the RPG Industry as if it, and its screwedness or unscrewedness, were somehow the most central or most important thing about role-playing. To me, that’s turning the entire world upside down. It’s such a bizarre way of thinking about it that I can’t even twist my mind into a position where I can see that as the world at all. So instead of talking about what’s actually important to role-playing – the activity itself. Let’s talk about a bunch of people getting together to imagine things together, because that’s what interests me. From my immediate perspective – which is to say my personal play-groups – role-playing has never been better. I and the people I play with are having absolutely thrilling times with basically every single game we play.

Looking out further, I can look into the play-groups that I see from the Actual Play forums on the Forge, RPGNet, ENWorld, and other community sites. Again, I think that over the last 5 years (and I think this trend extends back almost a decade, but I can only talk from my own perspective, and I started hanging out on online forums five years ago) we’re seeing an across the board increase in actual, enjoyable play. I’m seeing a lot less of “fix my broken group” and a lot more of “man, our play rocked.” Further — and more importantly I’m seeing a glacially slow but nonetheless constant movement away from the periodical/collector/fandom model of enjoyment, and more towards creative focus and real play. In this respect, and that’s what matters, I think that role-playing is at its healthiest state since the 70s.

So where does role-playing text and materials production (the ndustry) fit into this? The role-playing business – like any other hobby business – should exist as long as it can boost and support the hobby around it, and no further. Fortunately, and I think not coincidentally, given the upsurge in enjoyable play, we’re seeing a decrease in the periodical “must buy the next sourcebook” model and an increase in texts and materials focused on supporting real people and their real play. To be clear – I don’t think that this is a Forge only or Independent only phenomenon. I think it is spread wide across games like: Breaking the Ice, Nobilis, Eldritch Ass-Kicking, Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 and up, Ganakagok, Hollywood Lives! and so on.
Literally, there are too many game texts to list.

Now, traditionally, RPG text publishing has used what’s been called the “three tier model” although I actually think its six-tier: Designer -> Line Editor, Publisher -> Distribution Company -> Retailer -> Game Player, where each arrow is representing “sells to.” In the 70s and 80s and even into the early 90s this was the most financially sound model of game sales, and so it prospered. But these days it isn’t doing so hot, for several reasons. The one that I have the strongest grasp on is the growth of internet forums, internet commerce (and the PDF), and digital printing technology (AKA print on demand). In the six-tier system, there is economic and creative compromises at every level. The end results is that both the game player and the designer get screwed — the designer has to make artistic compromises and gets paid no money and the game player gets a watered down product and has to pay a lot of money, because each level in between needs to take their cut. By using modern technology I as a designer (to use an example — there are dozens of other folks like me) can sell directly to the game player. The chain becomes Designer -> Game Player. This is not only massively more profitable on both ends (I make more money, the game player saves more money) but also it brings the two creative ends of the spectrum closer together, allowing for game texts and game play which contains astounding creative content.

The role-playing industry, if we evaluate its success based on how well it facilitates awesome play, is healthier than it has ever been, period. The role-playing industry, when we evaluate its success based on facilitating awesome play, is as healthy as its ever been, period. The only possible view I have of role-playing being in trouble is that certain aspects of the role-playing distribution chain are being eclipsed by an economic model that is more effective in both creative and monetary terms, and as a player and designer I just can’t see that as a bad thing.

Eric Gibson of West End Games says that the RPG-only publisher as a mainstream company is effectively dead, and that publishers must diversify.

Absolutely. Without a doubt. But, before you think I’m being a pessimist and over-dramatic, I must expound.

The RPG industry is “screwed” because the question demands it’s so. You ask in the “RPG Industry” is headed for disaster. As long as we force ourselves into the narrow classification of “RPG Industry” then we the publishers are screwed as well. The successful publisher or manufacturer will see the ever evolving tastes and desires of our customers and change with them to bring new types of products to market. We are not a part of the “RPG Industry” we are apart of the “Game Industry”, or, if you will, the “Entertainment Industry”. As long as there are firms that continue to look at the broader market, we’ll survive. If others continue fly the flag of “RPG Publisher” solely, they have a choice, embrace it as merely a cottage industry, keeping costs as low as humanly possible, but never expecting to be financially successful OR continue to pump massive-a relative term, I know-amounts of money into a behemoth that doesn’t want to come back, and die!

This certainly does not mean RPGs will cease to exist as a viable product. Not for some time anyway. What it does mean is that you must acknowledge the scale that the RPG business has taken and embrace it.

Basic economics tells us that as long as long as a product’s revenues equals ALL its costs (don’t forget all your opportunity costs, of course) then the product is making “normal profits” and should be produced. The bite is, that is growing nigh impossible in RPGs from the perspective of a normal industry.

As I tend to do, I’m going to ramble on far longer than I should to try to make my point. Let’s first start by not using the term cottage industry. We have nearly always been, by and large, a cottage industry, and with the advent of the Internet, a cottage industry does not have to equate to small, struggling, or profit-less. Instead, RPGs is becoming a purely hobby industry-pun not intended. A hobby industry is an industry where the primary source of compensation, for the proprietor, is something other than money-love of the game, I guess you’d say.

In order to make “normal profits” within any business model your revenues must equal the costs associated with the business. Again, ALL COSTS. Not simply the break even point on printing. Not just the overhead. By you must also factor in salaries for executive positions and-this is very important-you must cover the opportunity costs for the owner(s), such as the cost of not working a second, paying job, not having more time with family, and not being able to invest the money you’ve put into the business on other gainful investments. All these costs, and many, many more, must be recognized and paid for by the business’s revenues. In a normal industry, a business that fails to meet these costs must logically cease business (given the time to exit fixed cost responsibilities). The current and foreseeable state of RPG publishing means that it is almost impossible to meet these fairly valued opportunity costs and thus make “normal profits”. So, instead we have proprietors who choose to ignore these opportunity costs and often forego monetary compensation and do it instead for the “love” of the industry. I’m not suggesting this is an invalid reason to do it, but that certainly makes the RPG industry a hobby industry and not a “normal” industry.

So, the question asked, “By this, I mean the market for table-top RPGs. I’m not asking if a small cottage industry will continue to exist – just whether it’s in decline and will continue to decline.”

Sadly, the answer is, “almost certainly.” But again, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. To know it up front, it’s actually very good. If you want to simply make RPGs and sell them as a hobby, by all means you should do so.

Likewise, if you want to run a game company as a normal industry would, you should also be aware that you’re not likely to be able to do so as a dedicated RPG publisher. Diversify. Realize that the business and the market have changed drastically since the late 90’s.

The market wants something else. Provide that “else” and you can stay in business and do just fine and may even have a good chance of making normal profits (or even super-profits).

Is the industry screwed? Only if we fail to see the writing on the wall.

Now we here from a different tier of the industry, a major retailer – Marcus King of Titan Games. He’s having to adapt, and like Eric Gibson, suggest that diversifying into entertainment is the way to go.

As a retailer in a very small town (60K population in the city, with 100K TOTAL in the county) I face some unique problems. First, Michigan has a working class slump like nowhere else – the economy is depressed, young people FLEE this town in search of jobs elsewhere. Second, I have a competitor across town who sells everything for 20% off MSRP. Third, I derive 100% of my income from this company. No outside job, no retirement supporting me, my wife works IN the store with me. I can NOT discount, and support my family.
So, we have two ebay sellers working pretty much full time, two websites (titangames.com and 3FREEgames.com), and we have a retail store, do conventions, and some “liquidation” sales.

Now [our stock depth], was designed to make us a destination store. But, that just does not work. Destination stores no longer compete with everyone within driving range, they compete with everyone within clicking range. Every single thing we sell is available on eBay and/or Amazon, for less. So, though we do well online, our main in store categories are used DVDs, CDs with games come in a distant 4th or 5th

We are going to start stocking fewer RPGs in the store – moving from 1400 or so books today, to perhaps 50 titles, and perhaps 200 books total. I am going to stop buying one or two of everything, and start selecting what we carry in the retail store more based on the idea that 80% of our sales come from 20% of our stock, so stock that 20%, and eliminate about 75% of the rest of it.

What will that leave? D&D, True20, Conan, Traveller, Serenity, Star Wars (if it is ever available), Babylon 5, most supplements by Troll Lord Games, and Goodman Games, some stuff by Mongoose and Green Ronin, and everything White Wolf makes. L5R and Spycraft, and a few others. My store is literally morphing OUT of being a game store, and becoming more and more an entertainment store – with books, movies, music, comics, games and some collectible stuff.

However, I could likely fire my retail staff, shrink my store by 70% floor space, eliminate 90% of my games inventory, just carry the DVDs, CDs, Video Games, and keep one rack of Graphic Novels, one rack of Comics, and one rack of games, and run the retail counter with one person, and never miss a beat as far as sales go.

As a business person first, and gamer ninth or tenth, I look at ALL the options for my business – and it may indeed come to the point where I completely redefine my store around a smaller selection, smaller square footage, and smaller staff on the retail floor – and just carry games as a sideline. Then what do we call the store? Titan Games sure won’t fit.

Jeff Tidball, a long-time award-winning RPG freelancer gives a straightforward answer:

Yes, the RPG industry is more-or-less screwed. You can divide roleplayers into two general camps based on style of play, with smash-and-grab-and-level-uppers on one side, and everyone else (storytellers, world-builders, wanna-be novelists, etc.) on the other. The first, much larger, group is now — with current network and console technology — much better served by computer RPGs than tabletop RPGs. The computers are just plain better and faster at the game experience they want. As those customers stop buying tabletop RPGs, it stops being economically viable to produce them professionally for the second group. Tabletop RPGs won’t go away, but yes, the “industry” that produces them is screwed.

So the D&D crowd will moving over to MMORPGs and the rest will be indulging in a little bit of narrativist theatre? Perhaps.

Mark Simmons, founder of National Games week and publisher of Games Quarterly Catalog & Games Quarterly Magazine thinks that the industry is still suffering from the d20 glut:

RPGs got seriously glutted. Worse than the glut of ’79-81. Worse than the small glut of early ’90s. The d20 boom ran it course with so much product that gamers got enough resource materials to last years. It eclipsed nearly every non-d20 title, killing many good games. It will take time for these circumstances to be overcome. It will take getting RPGs back into stores. R Talsorian is doing decently with Cyberpunk’s new edition, FanPro is doing well with Shadowrun and BattleTech. It’s going to be grim for a while though.
The specialty game stores won’t be stocking and selling enough, so book stores and other types of stores must be courted.

Matt Goodman of Heliograph says:

Table-top role playing is a niche hobby, and like many other niche hobbies (wargaming, pulps, r/c planes, model railroading) over the long haul it is only sustainable as a cottage industry. Die-hards may pass along the bug to their kids–a friend’s 7 and 9 year olds are really enjoying their Star Wars game, and the very best player I had at my Zeppelin Age games at Gen Con last year was in high school–but that isn’t enough to sustain the hobby in the mass market.

So, is there anything coherent to be gathered from these disparate views?

The game store is facing hard times, and none can rely on RPGs alone. An online mail order presence which is able to compete on price is pretty much essential. Leisure Games in the UK is an example of this model. The three-tier system is on shaky ground when it comes to RPGs. Some publishers with well established brands and main stream licenses can still shift sufficient books to make the margins needed to keep going. I think this will continue, but such publishers are not solely producing RPGs – Mongoose Publishing for example relies on RPGs for only 40% of its sales. So what stops new publishers from getting to market? I call it the litho barrier. Unless you have the up-front costs for litho (standard) printing, and the certainty of selling through the print run, you can’t do a litho print run, and your per-unit cost for low-run printing means you will make low or even zero margins through the usual channels. The typical volume of sales of an individual title has declined below the litho barrier following the recent glut of d20 titles an explosion in the number of publishers, and a reduction in the number of players due to improvements in the computer moderated online roleplaying experience.

Hybrid publishing, offering PDF and print-on-demand roleplaying games offer a scaleable model for getting RPGs to their customers without the high risks of attempting the litho barrier. They can sell directly, at conventions, and through specialist online mail order retailers. Forge publishers typically follow this model, and make a very big internet footprint, interacting directly with their customers. Such publishers are actively seeking out players to “tell them about their characters” through Actual Play postings. The idea of signing an NDA when doing a play test is an anathema – they are more likely to publish the beta version of their rules online for anyone to try. PDF-only publishers are on the increase, with rpgnow.com, drivethrurpg.com, enworld.org, e23 and paizo.com all channels to market. Their products have low overheads, can be small, and have decent legs. Still, few people other the etailers are making a living out of this so far.

Paradoxically, it’s never been easier to get an RPG published, but never harder for a new RPG company to support full-time endeavour. The scalability of the new publishing model means that although it is very hard to make money, you are much, much less likely to lose it through an expensive litho print run. If you read that someone you haven’t heard of is about to print 3000 copies of a new RPG, by all that’s holy, stop them.

The following news items and diary entries originally appeared on DyingEarth.com in 2001 and 2002.

You can find the entries for 1998-2000 here.

You can find the entries for 2006-2009 here.

Editor’s note: A few of these news items were not categorized by month or year – I have done my best to approximate their chronology, and have marked them with a small sun symbol.

2001

7th March

Phil Masters has sent his final draft for his section of “Cugel’s Compendium of Indispensable Advantages“. Magic items include “The Ruby of Lucent Absorption” and “Peltaron’s Rapier of Plangent Glaciation”. Included is a section on costume, and Tweaks such as “The Balance of Fortune and Mischance” and “Dour Determination” Phil’s work did not require much editing, as he has grasped the spirit of Cugel-level adventures admirably.

Aaron Allston, who did the Quick Start rules has been commissioned to write the rest of this tome including
*How to negotiate with innkeepers, merchants, teamsters, and others intent on separating you from your terces.
*How to get your fellow players to take all the risks, without their noticing your skilful shirking.
*The fine art of seduction.
*Confidence tricks, as well as a bunch of other bits and pieces.

8th March

We received the final proof copies through – the book looks very attractive, although the spine is a little bigger than I expected. The printers will do the next batch as a free reprint with a slightly smaller spine – they really are admirable people with whom to work. We will be exhibiting at the GAMA trade show in Las Vegas later in the month with the 5 copies we have.

12th March

We received pre-orders for the DE RPG from retailers and distributors. Wizard’s Attic, store and ship all Pelgrane’s stock, arrange for invoicing, and then send us the money. For a small RPG company, it’s a good way of doing things. The pre-orders were pretty good, but we hope that the GAMA Trade Show will improve this.

16th March-25th March

With both my ProFantasy hat and Pelgrane press hat on, I am attending the GAMA Trade Show along with Sasha Bilton a fellow Pelgrane director, and Mark Fulford, the joint MD of ProFantasy Software. Mark has been travelling around the world for a year, and this is his first taste of work for some time. The game goes down well with retailers and distributors, and all promise to order copies. Those large distributors who initially ordered very small numbers I collared, and using techniques inspired by the Dying Earth, tried intimidation, glibness and shame until they agreed to order more. Mike Webb of Alliance Games is a great enthusiast, and I thank him for promoting the game so well.

2nd April

The books have arrived in the UK, including a few signed by Jack Vance, Robin Laws and other contributors. I am thrilled that so much work by so many contributors has finally come to fruition. Piles of attractive-looking books are stacked up in the offer, and I showed them off to everyone in ProFantasy and Hogshead, too. Esdevium Games (the UK’s largest games distributor) have placed a large order and will be collecting it shortly.

5th April

The books are now at Wizard’s Attic in the States and presumably are shipping out to distributors. We’ve had our first on-line orders direct from the website and shipped them out. What will people think of it?

12th April

Thanks to the work of Liz Fulda of Sphinx Group who is doing our publicity and presumably our efforts at GTS, our retailer pre-orders have doubled!

14th April

XPS 2 is ready to go to the printers. Gary Gygax has written a fascinating article about the influence of Vance on the D&D game, the origins of the magic system and his encounters with Vance. Robin has written a 6000-word Rhialto-level adventure, and Steve Long has added a gambling den. Artwork by Ralph, Hilary and newcomer Dave Bezzina is apropos.

As Jim Webster, the editor says “…after many years of good service you will pass it on to your grandchildren who will likewise treasure it as an irreplaceable resource.”

20th April

We are on the front cover of the French magazine Backstab along with an interview with Robin Laws. Next month they feature a review. Cassus Belli, another French magazine has a review, too, next month.

I can’t wait to see some reviews.

23rd April

Esdevium (the main UK distributor) have sold out, as have Alliance. The level of re-orders will tell us how successful we have been. Overall, I am very pleased with our progress.

May-September

The diary appears to have transmuted into a memoir. I am using hard evidence, combined with my infallible memory to reconstruct what has happened over the last few months.

May-July

Reviews! We have lots of reviews, now – all favourable.

Realms of Fantasy described it as “.. a joy to read” and “everything players and a GM need to create a successful Campaign in one of the seminal gaming fantasy worlds”. Yes, these quotes are selective, but no one said anything unpleasant. Backstab used French words that may or may not be bad, but they did give us the Golden Dagger and five stars. Kenneth Hite, industry guru, wrote one of the reviewers and has subsequently agreed to write an article for the XPS. He said he would write a sourcebook “If we agreed to fly him to the UK.”

The Excellent Prismatic Spray II was released in July. It’s bulkier (and more expensive) than XPS 1. It has an air of self-confident formality, with its thick cream cover and old-fashioned text and layout. We really need to do more to encourage subscribers – we are making very little margin on this issue, and need to sell 900 distributor copies just to break even. We are having a few problems with the perception of the XPS – it’s not a fanzine – the articles are of a similar quality to the main rules; it’s timeless – there are few if any time sensitive articles, and it is full of adventure material. I hope that word will spread. Initial orders are very good, but I underestimated the print costs, so we need to sell 800 to break even, unless we can increase the number of subscribers.

The Players’ Guide to White-Walled Kaiin

The manuscript for the Kaiin sourcebook arrived from Robin Laws. It is written from an original perspective and is designed to demonstrate the joys of long-term adventuring in Vance’s world. The book is designed to be perused by players during the game; it is assumed that your PCs are long term residents of Kaiin, and know how things go. You can visit contacts, pick adventure hooks, and share much more of the creativity with the GM. It is over 100,000 words long, and none of it is wasted. Play test response has been very good; we’ve received a few minor requests for additional material and one correction. Jim Webster, editor of the Excellent Prismatic Spray, is a beef farmer, and he pointed out that the fodder requirements for the animals described for the Kaiin supplement are ludicrously low. In the interest of satisfying the large Beef Farmer – Jack Vance fan crossover market, we have corrected these errors.

August

The efficient team of Jim Webster and Sarah Wroot have put XPS 3 together in record time (a record that is perhaps undermined the number of previous attempts.) It gets better each time. Peter Freeman’s exposition of the Valley of the Graven Tombs, illustrated by Sarah is sublime. It won’t be released for a while, but I’m very pleased it is ready to go. This should reassure our potential subscribers.

GenCon 2001 US

The morose David Thomas braved illness, and a woefully low profile (my fault) to represent Pelgrane Press alone at GenCon 2001. I am told by freelancers and other publishers that we did rather well, but we were not buried in terces, and hope to do better next year. A few demo games and suitable clothing might help next time! Strangely, only half of our customers are Americans – this is very unusual for a roleplaying game, particularly one based on a license from a US author. Maybe GenCon will help spread the word. For most companies, the US is 80% of the market. Still Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms notoriety took out a subscription, and both he and Jonathan Tweet praised the game.

Cugel’s Compendium update

Cugel’s Compendium is nearly ready to go – I am just awaiting a quote from the printer. Allen Varney has completed the layout in a similar style to the main rules, and Ralph’s artwork is better than ever. It’s Robin’s idea, written primarily by him, Aaron Allston and Phil Masters. However, the excellent Dying Earth Magazine mailing list contributed additional material. It is a book of goodies for players. It includes new items, both magical and mundane, new cantraps, confidence tricks, negotiation strategies, a costume generator, and Tweaks. Tweaks are powers that can be used to amusing effect at a small cost in points. Here are a couple more examples:

Volcanic Umbrage

Situation: You have just discovered that you have been cheated or conned. The individual responsible for doing this still stands within throttling range.
Description: You fly into a titanic, blustering rage, waving your arms about and spitting out barely coherent threats. Even if you are a mild-looking person not known for violence, your aspect temporarily becomes so alarming that even a hardened warrior will flee from you in instinctive fear .
Benefit: The person who cheated you must run away from you at his best possible speed, in the direction best calculated to put the maximum distance between himself and your raging, lunatic self. After one minute, he can stop his flight by making a successful Wherewithal or Persuasion (Intimidating) roll. If he wants to make that a Wallop instead of a roll, he compares his Wherewithal or Persuasion (Intimidating) rating to your Rebuff (Wary) rating.

“Please Forgive My Companion, Who Was Dropped At Birth”

Situation: A member of your group has just committed a terrible social faux pas. He may have offended the attendees at an elevated social function, insulted an influential potential patron, or annoyed a hot-tempered person who is even now reaching for his rapier.

Description: You can mollify the insulted party or parties by smoothly pointing out that your companion is either a halfwit or foreigner, and is therefore not fully responsible for his errors of etiquette. Given their source, you explain, the offended persons need not consider his words any kind of meaningful insult; they can safely ignore him without damage to their reputations or honor.

Benefit: You may spend 1 Etiquette point to eliminate the adverse consequences of another character’s Etiquette failure. Treat this as an automatic action, not requiring a roll.

The Scaum Valley Gazetteer

This supplement will describe the centre of civilization in the Dying Earth, the Scaum Valley. Jim Webster wrote the bulk of the material before the rules were even started. David Thomas and Steve Dempsey added more material. David Thomas and I have been slowly editing and re-writing this 90,000-word manuscript, adding more material than we remove. This supplement is less rigidly planned than Kaiin and the Compendium, so it will take more time to polish. It is full of adventure material and background information, and includes the manse of many of the major Arch-Magicians. We’ve had to deal with certain minor discrepancies in the novels; what is unimportant to the reader of a novel becomes very important in an RPG. For example, Iucounu’s manse is described as overlooking two different rivers in Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel’s Saga. We don’t want to get uptight about it – you should hardly notice such discrepancies.

6th September

We ran out of XPS 1 some time ago, and people are still asking for a copy free with the rules. We aren’t going to do another re-print; we can’t afford not to charge, and people would be upset if we did. I’ve decided to put a PDF up on the website. This will keep current players happy and, with luck, increase the number of subscribers.

1st December

Dragonmeet was fun – we sold out of the new releases, literally rather than metaphorically. We dsiplayed a marvelous four tiered hat created by Magot, and Matt Goodman of Heliograph modelled it splendid effect at one of the seminars. John Kovalic was swamped by hundred’s of fans, and nearly lost the use of his writing hand and voice. The estimable James Wallis of Hogshead Publishing presided over the auction, and we were treated to a glimpse of his games designer’s torso. Luckily, no one bid high enough to see his Doomstones.

10th December

The Player’s Guide to Kaiin is in the hands of Sarah Wroot, the XPS layout artist. However, she has also been working on XPS Online, a web-based supplement for subscribers to the Excellent Prismatic Spray. This has ballooned and now includes additional websites for the Scholasticarium, Wakdun the Panderer. Whilst this will provide new material of the highest caliber, it has delayed Kaiin.

2002

Kaiin and Kaiin map released. The Player’s Guide to Kaiin is on general release. A limited edition full-color map is available from our order page.

19th January

The Scaum Valley Gazetteer has gone out for play testing again. It has been substantially rewritten to provide a better balance between the adventures and source material. We’ve added more taglines, spells and items and toned down certain death for PCs to to likely humiliation.

23rd January

XPS 3 and Cugel’s Compendium were printed back in November, and we had 30 of each shipped by airmail to us to sell at Dragonmeet. Unfortunately, we were unable to get the rest out in time for Christmas. The delay was further compounded by a miscommunication betweeen the printers, their shippers and Wizard’s Attic which means that they only arrived in the States on 20th January. Still, they are here now.

25th January

The XPS 3 subscription copies have gone out worldwide, and Cugel’s Compendium and XPS 3 are available in the States. Wizard’s Attic are shipping copies of each supplement to the UK for distribution to the rest of the world. We should have them over here by mid-February. I think that Leisure Games, who purchased some stock at Dragonmeet might have some copies for those in the UK and rest of the world who are desperate to get them.


The Dying Earth — and its rules-lighter version the Revivification Folio — take you into the world of master fantasist Jack Vance, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words,and a fine sense of fashion. Survive by your cunning, search for lost lore, or command the omnipotent but quarrelsome sandestins. Purchase The Dying Earth or the Revivification Folio in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following news items and diary entries originally appeared on DyingEarth.com in 2000.

You can find the entries for 2001-2002 here.

You can find the entries for 2006-2009 here.

Editor’s note: A few of these news items were not categorized by month or year – I have done my best to approximate their chronology, and have marked them with a small sun symbol.

1998 to 1999

In early 1998 last year, we began discussions with Jack Vance’s agent in New York about the possibility of creating a game based on the Dying Earth Tales. In early June, we started a mail list for interested parties. What could such a game be like? Would it even be possible? We consulted RPG industry professionals, looked at the finest rules systems and adventures and established that such a game was possible given the treatment that Vance’s work deserves.

After long and drawn out negotiations, we established a price and gained extensive licensing rights. We were ready to commence work on the game. Next came the difficult task of deciding who should write the game. We decided at the outset that it should be more than one writer, as we soon discovered that everyone has their own interpretation of Vance’s tales and we didn’t want to impose a single vision.

See the press release for more details.

In December 1999 after perusing the CV´s of many admirable writers, we chose Robin D. Laws to be the senior designer. His name had been put forward very early on, and we were very pleased to get him. John Snead we chose to write the magic system, primarily because of some as-yet-unpublished material he sent us as a sample, but also because of his broad RPG experience and knowledge of effective rules for magic systems. Both these writers demonstrated their ability to add a light Vancian touch to their writing, without creating a pastische.

The novelist Peter Freeman sent samples of his work, and that was sufficient to persuade us that we should make room for him on the project writing flavour text and making other contributions.

10th October 1999

Allen Varney, a well known RPG writer, novelist and games writer volunteers his services; he little knows what we have in store for him.

20th December 1999

Allen sends through final Dying Earth logo and Pelgrane Press graphics – they are accepted.

2000

Integral Edition gathers pace. This ambitious project hopes to print all of Jack Vance’s work in sixty leather bound volumes.

The Dying Earth Gallery was added to the website.

10th January

Hilary Wade, an artist introduced to us by Peter Freeman produced some sample illustrations of creatures for us. They are deemed suitable and original.

24th January

Allen sends the first draft layout. This two-color affair captures the mood of the background very well. Can we afford two color though?

26th January

I spoke to Jack for an hour or so yesterday. He is a quietly spoken and thoughtful man. I found him very helpful and friendly and where he remembered details or concepts from the books, he enlarged upon them. He tries not to re-read work, as much of the earlier work he finds disappointing. He likes all his Dying Earth stories, although he refers to the ending of the Museum of Man as “slightly sophomoric”. His other least favourite DE story is the Grey and the Green. He emphasised that he like these stories. He has a great affection for Cugel (pronounced Coo-gul (Coo like a dove, gul as in prodigal.) and Rhialto. He would be happy for someone to fly to visit him, but unfortunately that’s not in the budget! A few snippets of our discussion follow. He let me know what was in his thoughts when he pictured the map (somewhere on the Earth, although I’m not saying where) He describeds Sandestins as “the executive performers of acts of magic.” People in the Dying Earth are not warlike en masse. There are dangerous areas, but war is a pastime for younger nations. He conjured a great image of archmagicians working on magical problems, likening it to a “a shed full of junk and old paperwork and a couple of old guys trying to build a lawnmower out of odds and ends. They experiment until they find something that works, then they perhaps write down the recipe. Mainly, they are using old knowledge, intuition and years of experience. It doesn’t really matter what the solution is.”

1st February

Robin produces his first draft of the basic engine. Amusing and well-written – the Robin D. Laws TM comes with a built in proof-reader and editor; no RPG company should be without one. This is distributed to the other developers and is greeted by virtual cries of admiration.

2nd February

Ralph Horsley supplied the illustration of the Deodand you see on our home page.

15th February

John Snead produces a very early draft of the magic rules.

Second conversation with Jack Vance. He answered some useful game-relevant questions. He suggested why bows and other projectile weapons are rare (magicians don’t like them), detailed the political structure (people are too difficult and egotistical to be ruled, magicians don’t like rulers) and described why the half-humans and humans hate each other (the usual human reasons.)

3rd March

Allen supplies us with another layout proposal, this time one color. Either layout would be suitable, although we’d like to be able to do two-color if we can.

17th March

Peter Freeman, our sidebar author has finished “The Daybook of Geomalacus” to illuminate the embryonic magic system. An example:

At Azenomei, on the junction of the rivers Scaum and Xzan, word had come that the Arch-Mage Phaeton was seeking an apprentice. On my arrival the town was already full of bursting lights and all manner of reports, odours and fluxions as every jack-leg magician of the district attempted to display his skill, along with many lacking all reasonable pretension to command of the art. Phaeton himself was not present, and so I took myself to an arbour pleasantly shaded beneath a single great pall-willow and sipped yellow wine. I watched in quiet amusement as the various tyros and dabblers argued among themselves, none showing more than a fleeting ability, yet each more vociferous than the last in his claims. All but the most cloddish and ill-refined citizens seemed intent on the contest, even those conversant with but a dozen phases of the Laganetic cycle or possessed of erotic amulets of dubious efficacy.

Eventually Phaeton arrived, a personage of stately height and demeanour, whose sagacity was evident in the length of his beard. As the crowd began to press on him with claims and counter claims he responded with increasing distaste, until finally he was forced to evoke the Omnipotent Sphere in order to protect himself.

He immediately began to dismiss those ill-bred, lacking in adequate style or innate competence, along with singers of popular songs, lallators, groatmen, those unable to deflect the Spell of Internal Effervescence. At length only a half-dozen remained, all minor mages of greater or lesser worth. At that point I drained the last of my wine, rose and walked to the group, addressing Phaeton with a sweeping bow and ignoring the others. Phaeton returned my greeting with a cool glance, at which I, with a carefully judged flourish, evoked the Liberation of Warp, thus simultaneously impressing him and causing great inconvenience to my competitors. With a second flourish I produced from the folds of my robe that libram I had secured from the tomb of Yasbane the Obviator. Phaeton’s eyebrows, previously immobile, rose perhaps the half-breadth of a finger.
´You overcame the demon Orsadran?´
I responded with a modest inclination of my head.
´Your name?´
´Geomalacus, ´ I replied.
He gave a nod of acceptance, turned and began to stride from the square. I followed, keeping close behind him to avoid the malice of my disappointed rivals. Having gained my goal it seemed superfluous to comment on my agreement with Orsadran.

19th March

Hilary Wade, one of our artist has produced some amusing and characterful illustrations for the game’s Persuasion and Rebuff abilites. Here is an example of a Pelgrane unsuccesfully using its charm techniques on a very wary opponent.

21st March

The Dying Earth RPG play test begins.
Over 50 playtest teams have begun the two-month long process of testing the fledgling core rules for the game. We´ve included two Cugel-level test adventures, one by Robin Laws, the other by David Thomas. We are working on some higher-level example adventures. The play testers range from complete novices who are avid Vance fans, to highly experienced GM´s with no knowledge of the Dying Earth books at all.

April

Millennium to publish Tales Of The Dying Earth in the United Kingdom. All four of the original books are to be printed in one volume under the Fantasy Masterworks series. Fantasy Masterworks is a library of some of the greatest, most original, and most influential fantasy ever written. These are books which, along with Tolkien, Peake and others, shaped modern fantasy. The book, number four in the series, has the ISBN number 1-85798-994-5, is due for release in April 2000 and will cost £6.99. Pelgrane Press intend to sell the book from this website.

2nd June

As might be expected, the play test has taken a lot longer than expected – we are now on the second round of playtesting. Robin fixed a few play tester’s niggles and all the developers are hammering away at John Snead´s Rhiato-level rules to try to break them.

6th June

JS has incorporated some changes to reflect certain loopholes in the Rhialto-level rules that were discovered. They are now more robust. This includes a fix by Robin to the main rules section that caps abilities, preventing powerful characters from hosing everyone in sight with magic.

21st June

The highly-experienced Aaron Allston (industry credits include GURPS, D&D Cycolpedia, and three novels) begins work on the Quick Start rules. He adds some amusing flourishes to the examples he gives.

14th July

Ralph Horsley begins work on illustrating the DE source book.

20th July

David Thomas, who has already supplied us with two example adventures, posts an article to the Guild Companion about the progress of the game. Apart from some slights to Tolkien, it generates some positive comments. (The url is now dead, unfortunately.)

2nd August

The artist Greg Staples (Dragon magazine, Green Lantern, 2000AD) has agreed to do the front cover of the DE RPG. His work really has the atmosphere and professionalism we are looking for. The initial idea:

“Cugel stands on Shanglestone Strand with the sun setting in the background. (Possibly, across the sky or in the clouds is an image of the face of the laughing Iocounu) Cugel is shaking his fist at the sky an cursing I´s name. The Agent of Far Despatch (a winged demon) can be seen as a silhouette in the sky. The friendly glow of Twango´s manse is visible further up the beach, but strange white shapes are can be made out dimly in the woods. Perhaps the distant glimmering of the light of Saskervoy can be seen.”

8th August

Jim Webster, a massive contributor to the Dying Earth mail list, and adventure writer, foolishly gives his consent to editing a quarterly magazine devoted to the Dying Earth. He starts soliciting articles.

9th September

We have had more rules revisions and typo corrections in the main rules and an initial layout for the DE Quick Start rules. David Thomas is combining Jim Webster´s, Steve Dempsey´s and his own work into the Scaum Valley Gazetteer, to be our first supplement. It will be aimed primarily at Cugel-level characters. We are using a CC2 map created by Peter Freeman as the basis of the river course.

15th September

More revisions to the magic rules covering area of effect spells and spell wallops (very powerful magicians against weak defense)

18th September

The Origin of Species, which began as a flip remark on the mail list, and became an amusing Vancian digression, draws to an end. Jim Webster, a major participant posts a listing of proper names, included here. It is full of sources of pedantry, personages and adventure seeds. It can be downloaded from here.

21st September

Aaron Rosenberg agrees to put some polish on the magic chapter. It´s over 41,000 words – we were expecting around 25,000, so some chopping is needed.

28th September

Allen posts an attractive first chapter layout in PDF format with rough illos. This is a two-color version. It’s looking less likely that we can do this. Ralph has excelled himself with headers and footers such as this:

Ombalique

3rd October

I attempt to get printer quotes. Following James Wallis´ advice, I contact a number of printers, and learn strange printer terms, such as offset, coated, lpi, 2/2, smyth sewn and bizzare American paper weights measured in pounds (instead of good old simple gsm)
Can we afford two colors? Hardback? Nice paper?

5th October

Phil Master (GURPS Diskworld, etc.) agrees to write a few thousand words for a project initiated by Robin – “Cugel´s Compendium of Indispensable Advantages” These contain tweaks – an example of which follows:

“Is That Your Spear, or Do You Hide Behind it from Small Children?”
Situation: You are confronted by one or more opponents, and physical violence is clearly unavoidable. You are confident enough of your chances, but would feel better if you could be sure that your opponents would remain innocent of much tactical subtlety.

Description: You a fix your leading opponent with a glance, and issue a remark of brutal contempt. Hopefully, this provokes him to anger, which the wise warrior avoids.

Benefit: For the expenditure of 1 Persuasion (Forthright) point, you may engage your intended victim in a contest of Persuade against Rebuff, with no rerolls permitted on either side. If you win the contest, your opponent is enraged, and will charge you at maximum speed. If he has Ferocity as a style of attack (preferred or secondary), he must use it; otherwise, he suffers a levy of 2 to all his defense rolls for the first three attacks you make. You would be well advised to win the ensuing combat, as you are unlikely ever to make a friend of this person.”

6th October

Allen Varney sends through the laid-out Quick Start rules. Greg Staples cover art arrives. It is a striking an attractive image, with only one fault, Greg has added two moons! In the Dying Earth, the moon has long since departed (some say in the Great Tumble). I send the art back to Greg.

10th October

Jim sends through some articles for the as-yet-unnamed magazine, some 14,600 words. Jim a gregarious and amenable character compensates for his total lack of layout ability by finding an experienced designer and zoologist, Sarah Wroot. She agrees to set the magazine.

11th October

Greg’s final artwork for the front cover is scanned and finished. Here’s a glimpse:

17th October

The Scaum Valley Gazetteer cover is underway. We asked all the contributors to make suggestions (artwork by committee, I suppose) This is what Greg Staples had to work with:

Ideas:

The Valley of Graven Tombs, with a barge and an exhumation. The Sun should probably be present in the picture.

The barger could be something like a big, over-ornate punt, with a little cabin aft (like the tent things that workmen hide under) and stuff (retrieved items, say) being loaded on board. Dying Earth fashions are wild and frequently bizarre; strange hats and costumes.

A deodand ready to pounce would be good, but might be a bit too busy, or even a deodand on a chain.

(The deodand is largely human in appearance. It stands seven feet tall and is extremely broad-shouldered. Its skin is pitch-black in color, offering a dramatic contrast with its large, dripping fangs, which may be yellowed or gleaming white. The surface of a deodand’s skin is well-oiled, reflecting light and highlighting the extraordinary definition of its musculature. It might be considered quite beautiful, were it not for its cruelly bestial facial features and aforementioned incisors.
Deodands eat flesh, craving that of mankind most of all. They speak our language and are often skillful, if wheedling, negotiators. They may pretend that they devour humans only reluctantly, as if driven by uncontrollable instinct. They dwell in forests and jungles. Sometimes they are sighted singly, sometimes in small packs.
If faced with some impediment to the immediate dispatch of human prey, the deodand will plead, bargain, cajole, imprecate, and sweet-talk, seeking to persuade his interlocutor into removing the barriers which stand between them.)

Comments from the writers:

Somehow the picture should look placid without anyone making any real effort, even the barge should drift.

The Valley is natural, with natural tombs on the north side, but artificial on the south.

My mental picture of the Valley. The Scaum runs basically East to West so the sun should be to the south side of the river. Travelling down stream you have the sun on your left hand side. The south side of the valley is the one with the artifical accretion of tombs , the North side is the natural hill side,.probably running up to a plateau which will inevitably be forested. On the north bank there is a village which provides the homes etc of those who work among the vines. Near the river where streamlets draining the plateau run down the north face they have eroded some graves and have washed the contents down onto the river margin forming the “bone fields” where the locals grow some grain for their own consumption.

The valley is long, so you needn’t pick out all these features. Many of the tombs are covered in ancient grape vines which yield a harvest of fine wines.

This is what Greg came back with first as a rough idea:

Scaum Valley cover

We mentioned a few coloration problems, and he came back with this:

Scaum Valley cover - final

The final cover is now at the A3 scanning bureau, so we can’t show it to you. But my, is it impressive!

18th October

A discussion over the name of the magazine continues. I shortlist three:

The Primer of Practical Magic AKA the Primer (mentioned in Rhialto)
The Excellent Prismatic Spray
The Compendium of Universal Knowledge (Duke Orbal’s exposition)

After debate, I choose the latter.

19th October

I change my mind; The Excellent Prismatic Spray it is.

20th October

Printer quotes come in. We take the rather brave step of using a Thai printer; the quality of their samples is excellent, and their pricing is such that we can do hardback (although not two colours) Their salesman seems to be knowledgeable and cooperative. (Please don’t quote this paragraph if it all goes wrong!)

21st October

Ralph has spent a week doing additional artwork for the magazine and some extras for the main rule book. His usual high quality is in evidence.

Ossip Wax

7th November

Tor Books to publish United States omnibus edition. The book is expected to be released in November 2000.

The Scaum Valley Gazetteer reaches 92,069 words. David Thomas chases his contributors with a danny-stick to ensure prompt completion of their contributions. Words derived from Dutch, French and other inappropriate foreign languages are banned. The Dying Earth master map is in CC2 form, and we have made some adjustments to it to reflect certain inconsistencies between different writers´ versions.

10th November

Sarah Wroot sends us the first version of her layout for The Excellent Prismatic Spray (XPS). It has a suitably classical style. Allen Varney, with Aaron Rosenberg has cut down extraneous material and re-worded the magic chapters to bring them down to 25000 words. I read through and can´t find anything missing. An amazing job. With a few minor changes, John Snead expresses his satisfaction at the new version.

15th November

Allen Varney´s front cover draft comes through. Eye-catching.

21st November

Quick Start rules are printed! The Excellent Prismatic Spray is at the printers! Hooray! Sorry about the exclamation marks.

25th November

Pelgrane Press launches the Quick Start Rules and The Excellent Prismatic Spray at Dragonmeet 2000. We sold lots of copies of the Dying Earth Tales, even more copies of The Quick Start Rules, and some magazines. We generated a good buzz. Steve Dempsey demonstrated the game to an entirely unfamiliar audience. Most of the playtesters enjoyed the game to the extent that they would purchase the rules.

Playtesters

December

☀ XPS 1 now available to download.


The Dying Earth — and its rules-lighter version the Revivification Folio — take you into the world of master fantasist Jack Vance, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words,and a fine sense of fashion. Survive by your cunning, search for lost lore, or command the omnipotent but quarrelsome sandestins. Purchase The Dying Earth or the Revivification Folio in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article for the Dying Earth RPG originally appeared on DyingEarth.com in November 2005.

Push aside the detritus to see the shiny gew-gaws horded by the Pelgrane

I have two things to announce, one horrifying, the other edifying.

For your edification, we have relaunched the webstore after its long hiatus. Rather than leave you at the mercy of unreliable sandestins, we’ve come to an arrangement with our sister company, ProFantasy Software Ltd. Their minions have been working for over a decade processing multiple mail orders every day, and will deal with Pelgrane orders with barely a mumble of protest and with their customary efficiency.

If you buy any of our older books, you’ll find that you can get the PDF within minutes of your order. The link will be presented on your receipt.

We also are proud to launch the Book of Unremitting Horror, full of creatures which would grace the snopes urban legend site. The disturbing content contrasts admirably with the quality of the layout. There is already a short review , and one commentator suggests that it “puts the V in vile.” Persons of quality will buy it forthwith.

XPS 7/8 (now collected in the Excellent Prismatic Spray) is progressing, and Jim Webster has agreed to field any and all questions on the topic after I threatened him with desanguination. We would also appreciate any letters to the editor, either in or out of character.

Finally, I must report on a complex development. The Gazetteer and Bestiary are to be rolled into a larger work – The Dying Earth Cyclopedia (ed: now called the Compendium of Universal Knowledge). Edited by David Thomas it will be our largest work, and our most impressive.


The Dying Earth — and its rules-lighter version the Revivification Folio — take you into the world of master fantasist Jack Vance, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words,and a fine sense of fashion. Survive by your cunning, search for lost lore, or command the omnipotent but quarrelsome sandestins. Purchase The Dying Earth or the Revivification Folio in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following press release for the Dying Earth RPG originally appeared on DyingEarth.com around 2004.

Stories of the Earth’s demise are premature.

Press Release
Pelgrane Press

LONDON, ENGLAND – Dying Earth RPG released.

After two years of development, design and playtesting, Pelgrane Press has released its role playing game based on novelist Jack Vance´s seminal Dying Earth series. Written by Robin D. Laws (Feng Shui, Hero Wars) John Snead (Nephilim, Star Trek) and genre writer Peter Freeman, the game features robust, fast-playing rules that encourage creativity and interaction.

Simon Rogers, Managing Director of Pelgrane Press said “The Dying Earth RPG has exceeded all our expectations. Jack Vance and Robin D Laws are a killer combination – great rules and a superb and atmospheric background. The artwork and layout are of the highest quality, and the book itself is glossy and attractive. We intend to support this game with new releases throughout the year and beyond.”

In the game you enter a world where the sun is in its dotage, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words, and a fine sense of fashion. Choose from three levels of play, a lowly rogue such as Cugel the Clever, surviving by wits and cunning, an ambitious and deadly mage searching for lost lore, like Turjan of Miir or finally a supreme magician to rank with Rhialto the Marvellous, commanding the omnipotent but quarrelsome Sandestins. The Dying Earth is available through good RPG stores and on line at Pelgrane Press.

INFORMATION

Jack Vance is the world’s greatest living Fantasy author. Jack Vance wrote the DYING EARTH series of books over many years; the original volume “The Dying Earth” was released before Lord of the Rings. Other volumes include “Eyes of the Overworld”, “Cugel’s Saga” and “Rhialto the Marvellous.” He is said to be “tolerant” of the idea of a roleplaying game based on his work.

Principal designer Robin D.Laws has inveigled such game publishers as Wizards of the Coast, Last Unicorn, Pinnacle, FASA, and Steve Jackson Games into compensating him for his efforts. His works include the roleplaying games Feng Shui (Atlas), Glorantha: Hero Wars (Issaries, Inc.), and Pantheon (Hogshead), and the novels Pierced Heart and The Rough and the Smooth (Atlas).

Magic rules designer John Snead has, to his astonishment, designed no fewer than six magic systems for roleplaying games. He has also written for the Trinity, Aberrant, and Star Trek: The Next Generation RPGs.

An established genre author, contributed the illustrative “Daybook of Geomalacus,” “Journal of Xolon the Hide Merchant,” and “Disavowal of Jhail” sidebar texts. He holds a degree in Ecological Genetics, which offers an interesting perspective on the creatures of the Dying Earth.

Pelgrane Press Ltd
18-20 Bromell’s Road
London
SW4 7SA


Pelgrane Press acquire the rights to publish an RPG based on the Dying Earth Books By Jack Vance.

LONDON, ENGLAND: Pelgrane Press Ltd, a UK-based company is pleased to announce that it has acquired the rights to produce games based on Jack Vance’s seminal Dying Earth novels.

Pelgrane Press is jointly owned by ProFantasy Software Ltd, which produces the renowned Campaign Cartographer map-making software, Simon Rogers, co-founder of ProFantasy Software and Sasha Bilton, a long-time Vance fan, role-player and top Java programmer.

“We are very excited by this property,” says Simon Rogers. “We intend to do justice to the license. In a world of genre fiction, vanilla fantasy, Vance’s voice is unique. We are brimming with idea to bring Vance’s world to life. In the game, your choice of menu will say more about your character than whether you know the business end of a Bohemian ear-spoon.”

Sasha Bilton said, “The Dying Earth has been such an inspiration to fantasy roleplaying games designers and now, finally, we’ll get to play at the source. The chance to work with the highly professional team who run ProFantasy Software Limited is the icing on the cake. ProFantasy has the distribution channels, industry knowledge and business savvy that will set Pelgrane Press apart from most game company start-ups. I can’t wait to get playtesting.”

Vance’s style is humorous and vivid, yet melancholic. His characters, petty or powerful, are well drawn and credible. They have weaknesses and vices combined with a redeeming humanity. Vance’s creations range from Cugel the Clever (an incorrigible rogue whose fortunes fluctuate with his pride) to Rhialto the Marvellous (a dashing, vain mage who commands elemental spirits called sandestins). In between are less talented wizards, doomed brigands, vat-grown beauties and wandering innocents. All overestimate their abilities and the stories delight in describing their misadventures.

Pelgrane Press will begin work on its roleplaying game in January. Submission guidelines will be available soon.

INFORMATION

Jack Vance is the world’s greatest living Fantasy author. He wrote the DYING EARTH series of books over many years; the original volume “The Dying Earth” was released before Lord of the Rings. Other volumes include “Eyes of the Overworld”, “Cugel’s Saga and Rhialto the Marvellous.” He is said to be “tolerant” of the idea of a roleplaying game based on his work.

PROFANTASY SOFTWARE LTD was formed in 1993 and publishes critically acclaimed PC software for gamers including Campaign Cartographer, Dungeon Designer and the Forgotten Realms Interactive Atlas for Wizards of the Coast.

SASHA BILTON is the Managing Director of Ends of Invention and is one of the few expert Java programmers in the UK.


The Dying Earth — and its rules-lighter version the Revivification Folio — take you into the world of master fantasist Jack Vance, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words,and a fine sense of fashion. Survive by your cunning, search for lost lore, or command the omnipotent but quarrelsome sandestins. Purchase The Dying Earth or the Revivification Folio in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Olingo the Sedulous had studied the creature’s routine, and was thus surprised to see the pelgrane flapping back to its nest a good hour before its projected time of arrival. The scholar, no longer as young as he wished to appear, attempted to clamber from the collection of firmly packed branches comprising the monster’s home. As the pelgrane soared his way, the striped velvet garter attached to Olingo’s left pantaloon leg caught on a wooden gnarl. Dropping the sack of important artifacts he had gathered, he bent down to work it free. By the time he had finished, the pelgrane was perched on the edge of its nest. In a neat motion the creature tucked its vast, bat-like wings behind its back. A thread of saliva dripped from its elongated spear of a beak.

The creature pointed its beak at the bag of items at Olingo’s feet. “I find myself in the presence of a connoisseur,” it said.

“Permit me an explanation,” Olingo responded.

The pelgrane sighed. “Belay all tedious lies. The year’s darkest night is upon us, and I am gnawed at the edges by melancholy.”

Olingo took the risk of picking up the sack. “You are correct, Sir Pelgrane, to guess that I possess some expertise concerning these items. Perhaps, in exchange for my erudite commentary upon them, you might consider sparing my life.”

“Demonstrate.”

The scholar withdrew a thin glass orb, covered in a sparkling crimson glaze. “This dates back seven eons, to the Caoropoan Rift—”

“Five,” said the pelgrane. “Five eons. But continue.”

Olingo took a breath. “From the earliest eras of civilization, we humans have marked the winter solstice with a feast of lights, a promise of night’s end, offering hope of birth. Or, depending upon the culture, rebirth.”

“A quotidian observation.”

“Indeed yes but one must ease into any topic. Among the tumultuous peoples of the Caoropoan, competition to display solstice ornaments of the finest subtlety—”

“You mentioned feasting. Frankly, that is a matter nearer my interests. Describe a Caoropoan winter banquet with sufficient piquancy, and I’ll let you go.”

“Let me start with the salad course,” said Olingo. “First, there is the pickle board, which starts with fermented lettuce in a bed of sesame paste.”

The pelgrane wrinkled the soft tissue at the top of its beak.

“I shall glide quickly over the preliminaries, and onto the meats and sauces,” Olingo said.

Watching the expiring sun inch behind the Cuirnif mountains, Olingo described it all: the candied grouse, the gilded carp, the sweetmeats in orange sauce. Not stinting on the side dishes, he conjured the flavors of puffed yam, vault-roasted maize, and jellied sea asparagus.

“It is a shame,” said the pelgrane, “that in these dwindling days it is no longer possible to earn a living as a poet of the culinary. It is there, my friend, that your true talents lie.”

Olingo bowed low. “You humble me, sir.”

“You may go,” said the pelgrane. “I forgive you for coveting my treasure.”

“But wait,” said Olingo, drunk on flattery. He had enjoyed no audience as rapt as this pelgrane. “Our imagined feast is not yet finished. I have not described the sweets course.” He sank back into monologue, beginning with the cacao mousse. He lingered over the shimmering biscuits, and finally listed each of the nine spices, three of them no longer extant, that went into the brandy-soaked cake of the Figgy Extravagance. “Finally the most lissome serving boys drizzle the center with the simplest of caramel sauces, nothing but golden Almery sugar and—”

The pelgrane surged forward, driving its beak through Olingo’s breastbone. It withdrew it a moment later. About to ease a chunk of flesh down its gullet, it caught itself, and spat it out. Horror and shame convulsed its reptilian features.

Hands struggling in vain to close the wound, Olingo gasped his final words: “But you spared me!”

“I concede error,” the pelgrane said. “You were speaking of pudding, and I became distracted.”

Merry Holidays to you and yours from the jolly crew at Pelgrane Press!

Following on with the music blog, I’m going to let Mike Torr introduce himself…

I’m a composer with a broad spectrum of experience and influences.  A long history as a keyboard performer (and one-time double bass player) has taken me through a landscape of Electronica, Blues, Classical, Jazz, and Rock; via the usual grind of touring and recording with bands; and landed me on the shores of media music land.  Writing music is always an adventure, and I’m attracted to it because it feels like a back door into the human subconscious.  Perhaps I was a necromancer in a previous life…
I live and work in Southampton and I’ve known James for a few years.  He’s already written some great material for Eternal Lies and I’m going to be joining his team and helping him to express his ideas in a variety of ways.  With Marie-Anne and Yaiza on board, I’m in the company of a great group of talented and creative people, and I’m really looking forward to discovering where this is going to lead!

Here’s a quick update on the state of the Eternal Lies suite.

This has been a truly phenomenal week with a chance for composers and authors to finally bounce ideas of one another. I’ve been absolutely amazed by the exceptional ideas coming from Will and Jeff and I’m so pleased about their enthusiasm for having their adventure scored. This week we began looking at the various chapters and how they will be scored.

Without giving away too much here, we have come up with around five distinct musical themes each representing concepts within the campaign. Therefore, chapters will reference themes based on the relevance of the concepts at the time. We’ll also be using this idea for the various stings that are to be used for specific circumstances. For instance, this week I created the sting for when a character is … well let’s politely say ‘retired’ from the game for whatever reason. This sting is a piano version of a theme which in one sense represents failure but is really part of a bigger concept. Perhaps I’ve said too much already…

We also agreed to include a new piece specifically to be played when the group are sitting back and reviewing the information they’ve amassed. We felt this would be a useful piece of music for keepers. In fact we’ve really spent a lot of time looking at the utility of this music for a group playing a game. That whole aspect has been very important for keeping us focused. The music must serve the game.

I hope that I’ll get a chance to include samples of the music during these articles to whet appetites!

Next week I’m going to start introducing the wonderful composers working alongside me to create this enormous suite of music.

James

Just to let people know that we are currently in the preparation phase of the Eternal Lies Suite project.

This means that right now we’re focusing on a variety of tasks: –

  • Developing themes for the suite
  • Dividing up the various tracks amongst the group
  • Building a suitable orchestral template within the sequencer software

For the most we’re focusing on a fairly traditional ‘film orchestra’ sound, particularly focusing on the kind of sound used in the 1930s. We had considered using more of an old fashioned sound for the final mix but we have decided against it. The style of arrangements and melodies will have the appropriate sound but we’ll use a more modern mix.

We will also be using elements of non-orchestral music including both folk instruments and sound design elements. I hope to be able to give more definite examples of what we’re using in a later post.

James

E23 Sale

We are running a PDF sale over on Steve Jackson Games digital store . You can get 15% off all GUMSHOE games. The sale ends on 1st March.

Get your GUMSHOE PDFs here.

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