by Steven Hammond

Well, as we say in the software world, 2020 has passed and good riddance. I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you all the best in 2021!

Transparency is one of our company’s values. In that spirit, I’d like to share with you a summary of what went well and not so well in 2020 and some exciting things we have to look forward to in 2021. If you have questions, reach out to me through the Black Book contact form (https://theblackbook.io/contacts/new). I’m happy to answer pretty much anything.

2020 In Review

We had 3 major goals for 2020, and we hit all three.

Launch the Black Book GM Tools: The first, and most important, goal was to launch the GM tools. The first beta of the GM tools that we rolled out in 2019 didn’t work so well, largely because of some early design choices, including database selection. We spent most of the first half of 2020 completely replacing the database (CouchDB -> PostgreSQL) and the basics of our API (Rest -> GraphQL). The launch of the GM tools was a tremendous success. The Rhode Island Historical Society shared their Lovecraft walking tour as part of our virtual launch party at Gen Con. We had a good crowd and the feedback on the GM Tools was very positive. I am super happy with how this went.

Improve our Integration Story: The most common feature request used to be integration with Virtual Table Tops. Of course everybody wanted a different one, and several of the more popular ones are difficult to integrate with. Also, several people (including a few Pelgranistas) felt that VTTs were too heavy and needlessly complex for GUMSHOE games. Through discussions with our community, we learned that there was one tool that almost everyone uses when they play on line. Discord! And Discord provides a robust set of tools for integration. So we launched Discord integration at Gen Con as well. This has also been an enormous success.

Financial Self Sustainability: Our last goal was financial sustainability. We needed The Black Book to grow to where it covers the technical infrastructure costs for itself and other company projects. We achieved this as well, with a little extra to invest back in the business. Someday I’ll be able to leave my day job behind and focus solely on software to make games better. But it is not this day.

That said, we didn’t get everything we wanted done in 2020. I really wanted to get support for Swords of the Serpentine and QuickShock launched and our bug queue is a lot longer than I want it to be. Finally, even though we met our financial goals, I don’t feel like we’re really getting the word out beyond Facebook. I would really like to take part in the broader GUMSHOE community in 2021.

What’s Coming in 2021

We have some big plans for 2021.

The Black Book

Our overriding goal for the Black Book in 2021 is to make it the go to tool for running GUMSHOE games online. You shouldn’t need a VTT in addition to the Black Book —  we’ll have you covered. Here is a roadmap for the Black Book, roughly by quarters. Note that these are just the major things, the usual steam of bug fixes and smaller features will continue.

Q1: Our first goal for Q1 is to support all GUMSHOE games except Mutant City Blues (more on that later). The second goal is to have robust support for one-shots and con games. This includes GMs creating and managing characters for the players, and support for libraries of pre-gens that can be reused.

We are proud to announce that “game complete” includes Casting the Runes from The Design Mechanism and Quill Media! They have generously agreed to allow us to add their game of Edwardian horror to the Black Book.

Q2: Mutant City Blues and support for QuickShock combat will arrive during Q2. We’ve been saying that for a while, but both are harder than they first seem and both are going to be exceptional!

Q3/Q4: The goals for the last half of the year are to round out the functionality needed to run a great game. This might include sharing image assets with players and integrating with one of the audio tools that are out there. It might also include some special functionality for the more popular games. Things like a Chase Track for Night’s Black Agents. We’ll be reaching out to all of you for help in defining exactly what the Black Book needs to fulfill the vision.

Thank you!

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our customers and supporters. Without you, we couldn’t do it. 2020 was a tough year for all of us. You certainly helped us through it, and hopefully the Black Book helped you. Don’t hesitate to connect with us on Twitter, Facebook or at https://theblackbook.io.

Sincerely,

Steven Hammond

Founder, Northland Creative Wonders

by Steven Hammond

Lockdowns and quarantines are vitally important, and you want to keep your game going if for no other reason than to have something to do and stay sane. Remote gaming has been a thing for several years, but did you know The Black Book offers functionality tailored to run GUMSHOE games online?

Our GM tools are still in beta, but you can get access to them with a Player level subscription. During the beta test, GMs can invite both free and subscribing players to join their campaigns. Free players get full access to the live player tools while connected to a campaign.

Until further notice, the $14.95 Player level subscription has a 60-day free trial. That way, you can use it through the quarantine and lockdown period without being charged. We’ll even send you a reminder a few days before the trial period is up, so you can cancel if you don’t want to continue using the live play tools. No hassles from us, we’re happy you could use the tools to keep your game going. However, we’re betting that you’ll like the tools and want to keep on playing with them.

What do the Player Tools do?

Many people think of the Black Book as a character generation tool; we provide this service for free to the GUMSHOE community. But paid subscribers can use the Black Book as a digital character sheet during play. The following features are available for live play.

• Track spends and refreshes of individual Ability pools.
• Refresh all ability pools
• Track Health, Stability and Sanity
• Automatically roll dice with General Pools spends, if desired
• Works offline and syncs between devices

Here’s a short video that demonstrates the Player features.

What do the GM Tools do?

The best way to understand what the GM Tools do is to see them in action. The following 5 minute video provides an excellent overview of live play features.

The GM features include:

  • Live character matrix: see all of your PC’s Ability pools and ratings updated in real time
  • Highlight missing abilities: the tool highlights abilities that none of your characters have so you don’t ask for them in play
  • Spotlight Highlighting: the app also highlights the last 10 spends on the matrix so you can see which player has been getting spotlight time recently
  • Live die rolling: if your players use the automatic die roller, you can see the results as they roll them

Please take advantage of this offer to help keep your game going during the lockdown. Stay safe, healthy and be kind to each other!