A Travellers’ Dozen

After some twenty odd years of publishing random RPG material to my website, I finally decided to try to publish something for real. By which I mean that I put something on DrivethruRPG and hoped that some people would pay for it. It’s something I’ve been thinking of doing for a while, and I saw it as a challenge of wanting to prove to myself that I could put together something that people might actually want to spend money on.

I had a few weeks off work (we get a 4 week sabbatical after 10 years with the company, and Covid had scuppered our plans for a trip to far off destinations), so I used the time to finalise the text and make sure everything fitted into a printable product. Though I didn’t do anything fancy, and only used Google Docs, a lot of the effort was spent in editing (for which I had much help from my partner) and typesetting to ensure everything fitted into pages correctly. A few extra lines of text doesn’t matter on a website, but for a printed PDF they can make the difference between a nicely formatted document, and one with pages full of white space.

Entry for one of the main characters

Google Docs is easy to use, and being able to edit from anywhere was a real benefit, but a full desktop publishing suite it is not. I did take a brief look at Scribus, but really wasn’t impressed with what I saw.

A Travellers’ Dozen is a collection of twelve NPCs for Mongoose Traveller. These are actually some of the characters that I generated at the beginning of the year as part of the ‘Character a Day’ in January, though I’ve cleaned up the text and in some cases expanded on the character descriptions and backgrounds.

DriveThru have a number of licensing schemes which make it possible for gamers to sell material for existing licensed game systems, and Mongoose allow Traveller material to be published under the Traveller’s Aid Society banner. This means that Mongoose take a small cut, in exchange for allowing small publishers to use their rules and reference their material.

Doing this definitely made it easier. I didn’t need to worry about whether I can refer to actual worlds, events and organisations mentioned in the Traveller published material – I just do it. It does tie things to the Mongoose system and setting, but the various editions of Traveller are similar enough that it shouldn’t be hard to transpose between rule systems, and most GMs are capable of taking ideas from one background and moving them to another.

One of the supporting characters

I didn’t want to just provide some characters though – I also added six story hooks for each character to provide the GM with some ideas on how to integrate the characters into their campaign. Since characters in Traveller also come with allies, enemies, rivals and contacts as part of character generation, I also added a little detail for each of these, taking the total number of characters to over 50. This was maybe overkill, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I also ended up adding in details of four organisations. Some of the characters seemed to work better if they had references to organisations to ground them, so three organisations – Intuitive Biomedics, Sag Mekilure and Paternity Inc from my own campaigns got added, plus I created a fourth – Tobia Uncovered! Adding in extra story hooks just for the organisations provided another two dozen adventure ideas.

Finally, six of the main characters came with ships, so I added in some details on these together with the crew for each ship. I didn’t bother with deck plans for the ships, since they are standard ship designs from the core books, but did add some artwork to show the ship colour schemes and nose art.

My attempt at art: The Spinward Comfort

Since I had artwork, including portraits for all of the characters (thanks to Artbreeder), I also decided to include graphics for use in a VTT. Each character has a portrait and a token, plus I provided logos for the organisations and images and tokens for each ship. I’ve released the actual artwork as CC0 – effectively public domain.

This took the whole thing up to 45 pages, which was much longer than I had originally expected. The final hurdle was coming up with a price. Since I’m doing this for fun rather than trying to make a huge amount of money, I just tried to set a value somewhere around where equivalent products were. Being able to provide my own artwork also greatly simplified things, since my own costs were limited to time spent.

In the end, I opted for $3.99, with an option for “Pay What You Want”, to give people an opportunity to buy it for less (or for free) if they wanted to. I get just over half of any payments, after DriveThru have taken their cut, and Mongoose a little bit more.

My targets were that I’d be happy if it sold 10 copies, overjoyed if it sold 100. So, after two weeks, where am I?

I’m coming up to 50 copies sold, with another 100 people using the ‘Pay What You Want’ to get it for free. Whether this mix is comparable to other products I don’t know. DriveThru doesn’t provide a complete breakdown of exactly how much each person paid – just the number of sales and total royalties.

It’s given me some money that I can use as credit on DriveThruRPG (though I could claim it into my PayPal account if I wanted to), but definitely not an income that I could live on (which is hardly surprising). It’s enough though that I’m planning on doing it again, and I already have some more ideas, both for some simpler generic SciFi supplements and also more complicated TAS products. At the very least, I still have another two dozen characters I could flesh out for sequels.

It was definitely a fun thing to try, and using something like DrivethruRPG really lowers the barrier for entry. A while back I did think about publishing some things on the Roll20 marketplace (some maps and tokens), but the effort needed to set up a publisher account was significant. For DriveThru the hardest part was coming up with a suitable publisher name – in the end, I settled for just the name of my website.

For those who have thought about publishing your own content, I’d definitely recommend giving it a go.

Samuel Penn