Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Weekly Update for Sunday, May 18th, 2014 - An Island of Serenity in a Confused World

It's quiet, and I like it that way.

It has been a quiet week, but a very busy one. I have finally managed to locate all my bins of tools and model-building supplies in our very crowded little bit of reality, and moved everything back into the workshop. There's a  lot of new storage around The Workbench proper, and I have finally - al long last! - sorted out the huge piles of unpainted lead into 'keepers' and 'surplus'. I am keeping the bulk of the stocks of Tekumel figures I have been accumulating for the past decades, but the majority of them will be organized into full cohorts and integrated into the military figures; the gods may no longer be on the side of the big battalions, but I am.

At the same time, though, I am also reorganizing what used to be the 'role-playing' portion of the collection - basically, the individual 'personality' figures - into bins and separating them by era and RPG group. Dave Arneson's merry crew of "honest seafaring merchants" now has an individual bin-tray to itself, with the kindly old Captain himself and his four officers joining them. I think that having them all together is kinda cool; the crew figures are relatively new, being only a decade old, but their leaders are the originals I did for Dave and Phil back about 1980. It will certainly make gaming with them easier - which is the idea, after all!

The 'heavy industry' portion of my own Ditlana is now done; I am moving the table saw and related tools back into 'ready use' storage, and all the spare lumber I didn't use on the game table is also being stored. I still have a shelf unit to build for the A/V rack in the game lounge, but that's a simple 'weekend' project.

I have to say that I am very, very pleased with how everything has turned out. The rooms look good, I can get to stuff for gaming, and I don't have to bust my butt for three hours to reset the basement any time I want to run a game.

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I am sorry to have to report that the Dell computer we use for our Skype and Google+ connections is out of service due to a hard drive issue. I will not be able to originate either type of video call, but I can still receive them by prior appointment on The Missus' super-duper smart phone. I will keep everyone posted on this, of course.

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There is a hot rumor floating around the Internet that the lawsuit "Sweetpea Entertainment vs. Hasbro, Inc." has been settled; the case was supposed to go to trial on March 26, but that date came and went with no news. I have a couple of legal news sites that I check for this kind of thing, but nothing confirmed has appeared yet.

This lawsuit stems from the 1994 agreements regarding a proposed D & D movie, and is more then a little complicated to describe for the non-legally-minded. I'll post more, when and if I get hard news on the subject.

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Not a hot rumor, but a reality; the Tekumel Foundation has finally published something, I'm told. I'll know more when I get the notification from DriveThruRPG.net, and I'll post more when I see it. I'm told that they have republished the Tita's House of Games product, "Tales from the Thursday Night Group", part of their long term plan to republish all of the Tita's and Adventure Games backlist of old titles.

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On the subject of publications, I have been asked when I will be submitting my two projects, "Qadardalikoi - Advance Standards!" (the updated edition of my old miniatures rules) and "To Serve The Petal Throne" to the Tekumel Foundation for their approval, editing, and licensing. The short answer is "Not any time soon; I can't afford their fees."

To summarize the recondite details, I was quoted an annual sub-license fee of $5,000 (renewable every year), a requirement for the Foundation to have unlimited editing powers over the manuscripts, a five percent royalty on the gross sales of the books (in addition to the annual license fee), and a requirement for me to pay the Foundation for research, editing, and legal services at the rate of $200 per hour - the Foundation to be the ones to determine how much work is needed at these rates. The three- to five-year "processing time" that I was quoted by the Foundation for their approvals process, as well as the usual stipulations about the Foundation having unrestricted rights to the works (as set forth on their website), has led me to conclude that doing the works for myself (and my kids and grandkids) and simply giving them away to people is going to be the most economical course of action for me. I don't think that there is anything like the commercial demand needed to raise this kind of money and still pay for hard copies - even print-on-demand copies.

While, personally, I think that somebody is being wildly over-optimistic about the commercial possibilities of Tekumel as a  commercial property in this day and age, as far as I am concerned the Foundation has priced themselves right out of the market. I'm not the kind of "Big Name Author In The OSR" that Chairman Dr. Raymond of the Foundation feels gives the Foundation and the Board of Directors (as he put it to me in person) the sufficient "Prestige" and "respect" that they need, so I don't get the kind of favorable terms that such a Big Name Author would receive.

Not that I'm annoyed, really; as Chairman Doctor Raymond said to me several times, "Their business model doesn't concern me." Over the past winter, it's been slowly dawning on me that I have achieved all of my own long-term goals relating to Tekumel; I can now settle back to enjoy life and get on with the things I want to do in gaming and with Tekumel. Let the Foundation do their thing; they wanted my job very, very badly during the 1980s and 1990s, and now they have it. My brain bleed was caused by the stress of dealing with them for several years, and I have no interest in repeating that excercise; let them go forth and conquer, I say, and more power to them.

I am, I am delighted to say, retired.


22 comments:

  1. I can't say I even begin to understand what the Tekumel Foundation wants you to pay such enormous sums for, but does this mean now you won't be publishing (as POD) your six-volume To Serve The Petal Throne?

    I do hope I've misunderstood what you've written here as I'm really looking forward to reading about your adventures in Prof Barker's games.

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    1. Thanks for your comment! Let me clarify my position, if I may...

      The policy of the Tekumel Foundation (see their blog, link to the left), no one may receive any compensation for any use of Prof. Barker's intellectual property without paying a fee to the Foundation. If I were to charge you for a copy of my books, I would have to pay a portion of that compensation to the Foundation.

      For example, when a Tekumel fan made 3D sculpts of various Tekumel subjects and sold them for below his cost on the Yahoo group, he was told to either pay the fees or stop. He stopped, as for his it was a fan project and not a commercial one. The Foundation, however, views any and all efforts where someone receives any compensation whatsoever as a commercial enterprise, and wants the person operating said commercial enterprise to pay them. In the same vein, a friend asked me to paint his Tekumel figures for him, and offered to pay me for the painting work. The Foundation took the position that this was "unjust enrichment", as I was using the Professor's work as a reference source, and wanted me to get a license and pay the usual fees for doing the work.

      The fees I was quoted are simply uneconomical in today's market. TSTPT is looking to be six volumes with over 300,000 words, and a retail price that took into account the Foundation's fees would result in costs of something like $100 a volume. The miniatures rules would be much worse; the original edition has sold about 500 copies since I first published it on 1982 or so, and the idea of doing a 'commercial' edition is just silly. The Foundation's fees would kill the project stone cold dead.

      Now, I will finish both books; both will be 'published' as e-books, as I can do my own web site that costs me very little to run and maintain. There is very, very little 'overhead' in doing e-publishing, and so you'll be able to download the books from that site. If we get enough interest, we'll do the work needed to set up the files as a PoD book.

      I will not receive any 'compensation' for the work or the books; this is forbidden by the Foundation's Board - to quote one of them, "we passed a resolution." So, you will be able to read all about our adventures on your Kindle, Nook, tablet, smart phone, laptop, or computer; all you will have to do is download the files.

      It was suggested that I do a Kickstarter to pay for the fees and publication of the books in hard copy; we ran the numbers, with several PoD companies, and the retail price point for the books and for the funding goals for the proposed Kickstarter were just way too high to be realistic.

      I simply don't have the money to pay the fees that the Foundation wants to charge, and I don't have the 'name recognition' in the OSR that the Foundation wants their sub-licensees to have. So, I am simply going to give the files away - my goal is not to make money, it is to tell people about Phil and his wonderful creation.

      So, I guess that I can summarize my position by saying that the books will be available in electronic form, and unless and until there's a change in the situation the idea of a PoD version is pretty much a dead issue.

      yours, chirine

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    2. Thank you for the comprehensive (and informative) reply.

      The money they are asking (demanding?) is preposterous and totally out of touch with how much (how little?) cash there is in the roleplaying hobby as a whole, especially in the dusty, niche corners - away from Wizards Of The Coast and Paizo - where the DIY aesthetic and community spirit keeps the hobby alive.

      I get the impression then that they have some legal hold over Prof Barker's IP and this isn't something that can just be ignored or bypassed.

      What a shame. That's such a short-sighted approach and, to my mind, goes totally against the spirit of the "old school" roleplaying hobby of inclusivity and sharing the fun. It's not as if you are trying to publish a game in the Tekumel setting that would distract from anything they were publishing - you want to write about the adventures you had with MAR Barker.

      I really don't see what business it is of theirs if you want to publish your game notes and memories, but there you go: the ugly face of capitalism is alive and well in our little hobby.

      If it wasn't so sad your anecdote about "figure painting" would be laughable.

      I am genuinely saddened by this revelation and turn of events.

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    3. Thank you for your reply! The legal situation is that the Foundation has an exclusive license granted to it by the Barker Family Trust for the "commercial exploitation" Prof. Barker's creation of the world of Tekumel. The Foundation interprets this to mean that they have sole and exclusive control of the Tekumel IP in any instance where what they define as 'compensation' changes hands; their interpretation has led to their chracterization of any such 'compensation' as 'unjust enrichment' on the part of the person receiving the 'compensation.

      They have also established the policy that any enterprises that involve compensation is an example of commercial exploitation, and as such is in violation of their license. Back when I was working with them, I strongly advocated a 'non-profit / non-commercial' category of work, which was the kind of thing where a fan makes something and offers it to other fans at or below cost, and not as a for-profit / commercial enterprise. My suggestion was that fan producers / writers / artists would get a very favorable deal, based on their being willing to support Tekumel with their efforts.

      This was flatly rejected by Chairman Dr. Raymond, with the comment that "we don't care what their business model might be like." The important thing is that the Foundation be seen to be in control of the IP, and that the Foundation receives what it considers to be it's proper due from any projects. You can see all of this on their blog; they have been right up front about this for the past several years.

      It saddens me, too. I don't have the money to fight legal battles over my gaming; I've already had to do that once, and I have no wish to do it again.

      -chirine

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    4. I've been thinking on this. It have seemed like Tekumel as a commercial enterprise have never really taken off. The professor's two books with DAW might be the exception, I have no sales figures for those. But, it feels like it has always been a little bit off.

      Now it seems to have happened again, Tekumel has ended up with people without business sense and the way to go is to tell stories and do it for free, without "compensation".

      Maybe that mean that only those who care enough to share for the love of it will be involved, which mean less opportunistic moves like a, I don't know Pathfinder Tekumel?, would be.

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    5. EPT was a very strong commercial success; the royalty statements from TSR indicated that they originally printed up 1,000 copies of the boxed set, which sold out in about three months, and then they printed two additional runs of 5,000 copies each (Letter, Blume to Barker) which also sold very well.

      The first two novels from DAW did not do as well, despite a major marketing effort by DAW, including a full-sized poster and in-store racks for the books. "Man of Gold" had 15,000 copies printed in total, and some 9,000 were listed as sold. This was not as good as either Phil or Don expected, and DAW only printed 5,000 copies of "Flamesong", of which about 3,000 were listed as sold.

      Tekumel as a commercial enterprise has never taken off primarily because no capital was ever invested in it as a world-setting or game system. There was never any objective thought given to marketing the world setting, or how to go about it. it was all kept alive in the 1980s by my being a fan, and spending some $12,500 to go to conventions and put things on the table; in effect, Tekumel lived out of my back pocket from 1980 to 1988.

      And, speaking as the 'Vice President of Tekumel Affairs' at Adventure Games, there was never any real thought given to Tekumel publishing there either; we inherited the WRG-style miniatures rules and army lists from one of Phil's players who liked Ancients miniatures (Gary Rudolph, bless him), the 25mm miniatures line from Ral Partha, and later publications from Gamescience. There was never any thought given to doing a systematic development of the thing; it all grew organically, depending on the interests of Phil or his players out at Phil's at any given moment. (My forte, for example, has been miniatures; by number of figures sold, my sales of the old Tekumel figures made me the fourth largest miniatures manufacturer in the US during my time in the hot seat.)

      Since then, it's lurched from bargain basement game company to bargain basement game company, and has never gotten any 'real money' in investment; the one guy who has invested some real money has been Howard Fielding, who has paid up front for something like 200 sculpts at today's going rates for greens.

      There is no 'pot of gold' at the end of the 'Tekumel rainbow'. It has always been a labor of love, and will likely stay that way as matters now stand. Back in June, 2012, I was at the first strategic planning meeting of the Foundation, and made the same points to the Foundation that I made above; there were no real decisions or policies made at that time, an I kept hammering away that what was needed was to bring Tekumel into the modern game hobby - not, by any means, to repeat marketing decisions that I had made back in the early 1980, when I was effectively 'winging it'.

      Since then, about all the Foundation has done is to have lots of meetings. I still have no idea what they are going to do, besides reprint all of the Tita's back list; they keep saying that 'they are working on things', but nothing ever seems to get done. Quite a few of the Professor's works exist in digital format, and could be released in very short order.

      I'm just as baffled as you are...

      yours, chirine

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    6. Thanks a lot for your insight in the business side of things. It's pretty clear it has been, as you put it "from bargain basement game company to bargain basement game company".

      Those sales figures for EPT was interesting, though. I would have expected those to be lower, and the DAW books to be better. Just proves how much I know.

      Thanks again. Whatever happens, let's explore Tekumel and have fun while doing it.

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    7. You are very welcome - happy to be of service!

      And I agree; let's enjoy what Phil gave us!

      - chirine

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  2. "but their leaders are the originals I did for Dave and Phil back about 1980. It will certainly make gaming with them easier - which is the idea, after all!"

    I'm sure this is merely a problem with pronoun antecedent, but I absolutely adore the idea that you are preparing these as your grave goods, so that when you see Phil and Dave in the afterlife, you can hand them their minis and then immediately start adventuring.

    Please don't disillusion me.

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    1. Yes, they are my grave goods, actually. Phil kept saying that he wanted his miniatures to be buried with him to serve him in the afterlife, as any good Ancient Egyptian would, but his wife kept whacking him and telling him that "Phil, we're Muslims! We don't do that sort of thing!", while rolling her eyes at him.

      I started doing all this stuff back in late 1976, after I started gaming with Phil, and an astonishing amount of that old gaming stuff has survived here in the game room. We still game with it; Phil, Dave, and to a lesser extent Gary are all here in the game room, being represented by stuff that they were kind enough to give me back in the day to make my games more fun.

      I'm trying to keep their memories - as fun gamers, not as Sacred Icons - alive and well in my games. And yes, it does have an effect on new players, when they realize that the last guy to use that particular figure in a game was somebody named Dave Arneson...

      Roll some dice, and have some fun. I think that's the best way to remember all of them...

      yours, chirine

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  3. Sometimes I think the whole world is mad. Mad for money, and other things.

    Still, you share your time and stories with good humour because you can and just want to. Many thanks, Jeff. Much appreciated!

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    1. Thank you! You are very welcome, and I hope that I will be able to entertain you for quite some time to come.

      I am a 'populist', not an 'elitist'; I hope to be able to share all of the fun and good gaming we had with Phil as we explored his world.

      - chirine

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  4. Those requirements are mind-boggling. I'm sorry to hear that you won't receive any compensation for all of your hard work and I'm grateful that you've decided to move forward on those projects.

    As far as the Thursday Night booklet goes ... underwhelming doesn't begin to describe it, especially considering how long we've wait for new material to be released. A 20-page booklet comprised of a handful of disconnected vignettes, its value content-wise is that of a handful of blog posts, with no art and as simple of a page layout as possible. If this took a year to produce, I fear we will never see even a fifth of Tita's back catalog reproduced.

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    1. Thank you for your comment! Yeah, I found them mind-boggling as well, but I think the Foundation Directors thought that there was a big pot of kaitars at the end of the Tekumel rainbow; my impression, from the time I had with them, was that they thought that they were 'inheriting' a 'going concern', and that all they had to to was meet four times a year and collect their checks. None of them had had any experience with what it was really like to work for and with Tekumel, and I got the very distinct feeling from them that they were shocked to discover how much work being a publisher really is.

      I did it for some fifteen years, and I am genuinely shocked that they are trying to republish products I came up with in the early 1980s - I would have thought that it was high time to take my cold dead hands off the marketing controls by now...

      I have the Tita's edition of this booklet, by the way; I found it to be a very useful look into what gaming out at Phil's had become in the 1990s after we had all left. Like you, I am genuinely surprised at how long it is taking the Foundation to do anything; it would seem that having really good meetings is not a substitute for elbow grease.

      - chirine

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  5. Just keep doing what you do best, Jeff - prep and play games, and tell a story now and then...

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    1. Thank you! I shall try to do so!!!

      I am planning on rolling dice, pushing lead, and telling stories for people like you, and I hope you enjoy the fun!

      - chirine

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  6. From what I have seen "Big Name Author In The OSR" are happy to sell 500 .pdfs and make $2.50 each profit. This doesn't cover even the first years $5,000. I cannot even conceive of wasting three to five years "developing" an already written manuscript Intellectual Property Rights killing good roleplaying games and ruining friendships since 1979!

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    1. I agree. It's all about the money, I think, as the Foundation's board seemed to have the perception that Phil's world-setting was a hot commercial property. It isn't, not at this late date, and would take a lot of marketing effort to bring back into the forefront of the game hobby's mental map. Heck, I first created Chirine's suit of armor (see the picture) as a marketing gimmick; I used to spend 8 hours a day running miniatures and then 6 hours a day running RPGs at Gen Con and Origins in the suit. It helped that I was one of the first costumes at a game convention, but boy, you really had to work to 'sell' Tekumel to folks.

      My two years with the Foundation were kind of surreal; they are not really connected with the game industry or hobby, and don;t have a good handle on what makes today's industry work. Their sights are set very small in terms of over-all market (if I can use that term), so the returns from the small market have to me much greater.

      I see this in miniatures, as well; there's simply a much smaller level of 'economy of scale' in miniatures manufacturing, which is why something as simple as a 'Native Hut' will cost upwards of $30 at a game store, and downwards of $10 at the pet store in the aquarium section. (Guess where I buy a lot of my stuff?)

      And yes, I agree with you about the 'need to edit and develop' a done manuscript; I went through this with Adventure Games, back in the day, over my "Qadardalikoi" miniatures rules. I wrote the thing and play-tested it over the course of some three years, did all the prep work to publish it, and then after I signed the contract with AGI I was assigned a 'game developer' who would "develop the game into a publishable product". The gent was a good miniatures man, but had no experience with either Tekumel in specific or fantasy miniatures / RPGs in general - he was a historicals man. The game went nowhere for a year; no playtests, no meetings, no nothing. I finally asked the man about the project, and he told me that he hadn't done anything because it wasn't a field that he was interested in, and so hadn't submitted a budget to do any work on the game.

      I waited until my contract expired, didn't renew it, and then published the game myself.

      Sigh.

      I don't know what to tell you, I'm sorry to say.

      - chirine

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  7. I'm really looking forward to seeing the books once finished!

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    1. Thank you! I am writing the thing for you and Christoper, really, so that when the family gathers and begins to mutter darkly about The Eccentric Of The Family, everyone has something to point to... :)

      yours, chirine

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  8. It's a great pity that the Foundation seems to be sitting on the IP, waiting for it to pay off in some big way. The same thing has happened to other "old school" properties from the dawning days of the hobby; the current IP owners sit on it, turning down modest proposals, waiting for the big jackpot $10 million offer to do an MMORPG that never, ever will come.

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    1. Agreed; I will admit to being an 'activist', wanting to get out there and promote Tekumel, rather then taking a more passive role. The thing will not sell itself, after all, no matter how good in quality it might be.

      Sigh.

      - chirine

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