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MHanretty

Glorantha Fiction Projects

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First off, apologies if this topic is verboten - I have created this thread purely out of curiosity, not as a way of hectoring Chaosium staff, who I believe are doing a bang-up (and often thankless) job since the reorganisation a few years back.

With that out of the way, I am aware of several incomplete works of Glorantha fiction, all of which sound fascinating. Greg Stafford's Arkat's Saga, Harmast's Saga and Jeff's own Prince of Satar webcomic. While the former will remain incomplete - and the latter on hiatus presumably until at least 2021, given Jeff's dance card - will Chasoium ever commission other stories set in Glorantha as part of the Chaosium fiction line? Is it feasible that Penelope Love's The Widow's Tale could be reprinted by Chaosium?

More broadly, could fiction ever be considered a part of the overall strategy for bringing new people into the game line (as is the case with Games Workshop and WotC)? Was the expanded and revised King of Sartar considered a commercial success? In the current environment, is supporting a fiction line for a single setting even viable? I'm extremely curious but plainly ignorant to the business side of the hobby, so any answers on this subject would be revelatory.  

 

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15 minutes ago, MHanretty said:

More broadly, could fiction ever be considered a part of the overall strategy for bringing new people into the game line (as is the case with Games Workshop and WotC)? Was the expanded and revised King of Sartar considered a commercial success? In the current environment, is supporting a fiction line for a single setting even viable? I'm extremely curious but plainly ignorant to the business side of the hobby, so any answers on this subject would be revelatory.  

Love it. I am not on the business side here but these are great questions. The short answer here is usually "dazzle them with a pitch if you want something to happen and maybe there's a way to align resources to opportunities."

From the cheap seats, I think the revelation today is the way the economics work in game publishing. It costs roughly the same amount to produce a page of fluff or a page of crunch. Only the gamers want the crunch and they are at least an order of magnitude smaller as an audience than the mass fantasy market that just wants new fluff. With that in mind, every page of fluff you create is ultimately better deployed in that mass market. Page for page, "fiction" can reach more people and ultimately make you more money.

This was a factor in the old Dungeons & Dragons fiction effort as well as what companies like FASA and White Wolf did. It's probably also going on with the Black Library. Luring anyone who picks up one of these books back to the crunch is secondary . . . don't get me wrong, it's great when it happens because the crunch books are priced for a niche market, but historically the real payoff was simply getting the fluff in front of the much larger passive fantasy audience.

Chaosium was a bit of an outlier here with the Mythos Library. On one tentacle, these books really did function as a gateway for the game because the core sources were largely available only to hardcore collectors. Having them available in something like a mass market format helped ensure that people who heard about this "Cthulhu" thing could get up to speed and buy into the game experience as well. That's your marketing engine. 

But it worked because much of this material was deep reprint, cheaper per page to produce than original game fluff. Throw a new Bob Price introduction on it, give it an attractive cover and it was something close to free money. That's the second tentacle that Glorantha doesn't quite have right now. While there is some existing fluff, it "costs" roughly as much to render compliant with current crunch as it would to simply commission new fluff. (This is not a slam on Penelope, Oliver, the divine Phyllis or anyone else, much less Greg's original work. It's simply a statement of economic realities.)

As far as I can tell, simply feeding the game publishing is an all hands on deck effort right now. When that effort hits a nice groove, there will be internal resources for more outside fluff and theoretically the expansion potential that conventional fiction has historically offered. Growing the game audience accelerates that timeline a little but at the end of the day companies at this stage are all about project triage. You have to pick one toy today. Maybe you can get another one the next time you come in. Today it's the supporting the game we have. 

So how do we grow that audience and get more pages? At this scale fan outreach still works great. I don't know about the fan policy because I am not a static blogger. All I do is talk about Runequest all the time. Sometimes it sells an extra copy or two. A couple times it spawned an actual fan who the company can count on to buy new product when it comes out. That fan is now in the audience. Audience +1. A couple of years from now, if all goes well, we all get more toys. The scale right now is that constrained . . . every single convert moves the needle.

In the meantime, the audience is the audience so a page of fluff in some Gloranthan novel has to wrestle the same opportunity costs as a page of setting for the game market. We don't know yet how deep the Gloranthan game market is right now in terms of spending power. Reading between the lines, the Stafford Library experience has ultimately been the opposite of the Mythos Library. Instead of expanding the audience, Greg's Deep Fluff only attracted a subset of the game community so the economies of scale get worse. Maybe three dozen people know any of the sagas. In a real way, RuneQuest exists to drive that fanatical niche population to the sagas, and not the other way around. 

Can that change? Sure. Would it be easier for some hotshot writer to revise the sagas for a mass fantasy audience than it would be to do it in house OR commission something completely new? Maybe. I'm thinking it's a resource intensive project either way even if the pitch is dazzling. Even the assignment documents are a lot of work.

Is it economically viable? Depends on the pitch. I seem to recall the mass fiction efforts kept both TSR and White Wolf liquid until they didn't. When they faltered, the dream rapidly became a nightmare, but the drivers were very different in both cases. Fluff delivery systems have changed so much in the intervening decades that the winners of tomorrow may look very different from what worked historically.

Do we want new chapters of Prince of Sartar, new Glorantha fiction, inexpensive starter paperbacks of the pulp / myth sources, luxe collections of the annotated sagas? Oh yeah. Baby steps.

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17 minutes ago, scott-martin said:

It costs roughly the same amount to produce a page of fluff or a page of crunch.

Won't fiction cost a lot less per page than a rulebook due to the lack of art (other than the cover) and the simple B&W layout and printing?

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1 minute ago, Steve said:

Won't fiction cost a lot less per page than a rulebook due to the lack of art (other than the cover) and the simple B&W layout and printing?

Sure. At that level, art is (doing math on a nearby cocktail napkin) 85-99% of the content spend. That's part of the joy of the mainstream fiction market . . . format expectations are much more relaxed and every page can stretch farther for you once you're in that market. That's the goal.

Here in game land, though, page of fluff, page of crunch. Laid out the same, same art direction, similar freelance. When crunch is budgeted as "design" it can be more expensive . . . but those pages tend to be more utilitarian as well so art demands can be lighter.

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I agree that the Stafford Library is not a good way to attract new enthusiasts (even if, arguably, I personally jumped from the Prince of Sartar comic right on over to the King of Sartar book, which I gather is... unconventional), but I have seen snippets of more conventional prose set in the Glorantha universe. The fictional account of Lokamaydon in the History of Heortling Peoples sticks out because it's actually written like a short story, as opposed to a historical account. If there is more of that kind of stuff hidden away in the vaults, whether it's Harmast or whoever, I'd love to see it. Don't get me wrong, I love the prose that's written as though it was recounting ancient sagas, but people tend to prefer their third-person past tense non-omniscient, non-present narration voice told in a linear fashion, and that's understandable. 

Bonus points if it's a "coming of age" story, where the main character can act as a surrogate for the audience, with both learning about Glorantha's quirks together (as many good fantasy novels work - eg. Frodo or Bilbo in Tolkien's works, or Conan in the eponymous stories, and so on.). Some Heortling free youth going off to be a warrior or getting sidetracked during a journey or any one of a dozen other fun story hooks that the very people playing the RQ and HQ games have used would do fine. Also bonus-bonus points if it's a story that does not have the earth-shattering impact of Argrath. ;) 

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I would probably need Jeff to answer this (or at least someone within Chaosium) but the majority of the people who post in this forum are probably aware of the homebound Arkat’s Saga and Harmast’s Saga collections currently listed on eBay, yes?

They’re advertised as being akin to Stafford Library books in that they’re mostly fragments. Are these likely to be made public? Do Chaosium have their own copies from Greg or would these have to be privately purchased and then authorisation from the Stafford estate procured before they could be sold online?

Or would it make more sense for the current owners of the HeroQuest and RuneQuest lines to ignore these and push ahead in a new direction, should the opportunity arise for fiction set in Glorantha to be published?

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1 hour ago, MHanretty said:

but the majority of the people who post in this forum are probably aware of the homebound Arkat’s Saga and Harmast’s Saga collections currently listed on eBay, yes?

Greg produced various pieces or versions of Arkat's Saga and Harmast's Saga over the years. Some were sold at various conventions, some were gifts to people. Presumably the owners of some of those copies are now selling them.

1 hour ago, MHanretty said:

Or would it make more sense for the current owners of the HeroQuest and RuneQuest lines to ignore these and push ahead in a new direction, should the opportunity arise for fiction set in Glorantha to be published?

With so much other stuff in the Glorantha/RuneQuest pipeline, I doubt these are of high priority. To develop a Glorantha fiction line you need: 1) good writers; and 2) good writers who have time and interest in Glorantha to set stories there rather than their own creative worlds.

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6 hours ago, jajagappa said:

Greg produced various pieces or versions of Arkat's Saga and Harmast's Saga over the years. Some were sold at various conventions, some were gifts to people. Presumably the owners of some of those copies are now selling them.

With so much other stuff in the Glorantha/RuneQuest pipeline, I doubt these are of high priority. To develop a Glorantha fiction line you need: 1) good writers; and 2) good writers who have time and interest in Glorantha to set stories there rather than their own creative worlds.

and 3) the tenacity and patience to get the details right so that the forumites do not behead you at first chance.

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41 minutes ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

and 3) the tenacity and patience to get the details right so that the forumites do not behead you at first chance.

Risk-reward is indeed interesting here. On the one tentacle, you can market to the loyal existing Glorantha audience so the sales floor is a little higher than zero. On the other, limiting yourself to that audience without actively trying to grow it sets your sales ceiling at maybe 3,000 copies right now. Does someone who can write see that as an opportunity or a constraint?

But people can do it for love as well and sidestep the development costs. I believe the Johnstown Library would take unauthorized fiction. If you have the love, see how it does.

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6 minutes ago, scott-martin said:

I believe the Johnstown Library would take unauthorized fiction.

Actually, no, not at this time. The Guidelines for it explicitly note:

What types of content are prohibited?

·        ... Comics, fiction (unless short vignettes in roleplaying game materials)

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31 minutes ago, jajagappa said:

·        ... Comics, fiction (unless short vignettes in roleplaying game materials)

I have a few as chapter headings - but not for the Introduction or Appendices. Sometimes it is easier to 'show' instead of 'describe'...

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9 minutes ago, M Helsdon said:

Sometimes it is easier to 'show' instead of 'describe'...

Yes, and there's also the aspect of "in-game/in-world" text that helps build up a flavor/content for a particular part of Glorantha which should fall into the accepted category of:  Original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, stats for NPCs and monsters.

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2 hours ago, Sir_Godspeed said:

and 3) the tenacity and patience to get the details right so that the forumites do not behead you at first chance.

Hey, the forum mites are usually wiiling to provide some fact-checking and even initial research. They only sharpen the axes when such readily available source of information is ignored.

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On 12/1/2019 at 3:46 PM, Joerg said:

Hey, the forum mites are usually wiiling to provide some fact-checking and even initial research. They only sharpen the axes when such readily available source of information is ignored.

Pretty sure the axes here about are kept permanently Bladesharp'ed, for instant deployment.

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So, from what I’m reading here, any non-fragmentary fiction projects are unlikely at the moment.

That’s fair. Disappointing but fair, if there’s no budget for commissioning fiction from established writers (which seems to be the norm).

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2 minutes ago, MHanretty said:

any non-fragmentary fiction projects are unlikely at the moment

Not within the Jonstown Compendium. (That's possibly a DriveThru requirement since they maintain a separate DriveThruFiction line vs. DriveThruRPG.)

If you (or others) have Glorantha fiction ideas, then you should approach Jeff and the Chaosium fiction line director.

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Hey!

Wait just a bloody minute, here!

Oliver Dickinson's Griselda, anyone???!?

...

Bueller...?

ANYONE?

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Andre also had some other fiction at his stand at Essen, IIRC:

We have three Gloranthan fiction books published: The Widow's Tale, a 244 pages novel by Penelope Love, and Eurhol´s Vale & Other Tales, a 192 pages anthology, including two novels and two short stories, also by Penelope Love. And It´s Not Easy Being Grim, containing all gloranthan short stories by the late Jim Chapin.

http://www.tradetalk.de/english/index.php3

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