Monday, January 25, 2021

Kickstarter Updates Blueprint

In this the second of my RPG Kickstarter blog post series (check out the first on campaign page structure here), I will outline what to post in your Kickstarter campaign updates. Some of the best advice I've gotten from RPG Kickstarter veterans is to thoroughly plan out if not pre-write your update posts before your campaign goes live. In your scramble to promote your Kickstarter, answer questions and put out fires when your campaign launches, you'll thank yourself for every second of preparatory effort.

To complement these guidelines, take a look through the updates from the following campaigns. The Mork Borg crew, Exalted Funeral, and the folks at Tuesday Knight Games handle campaign updates with a professionalism everyone should strive to emulate:


  • Aim for 5-10 update posts over the course of your campaign (one roughly every 2-3 days). Over-posting generally isn't an issue for RPG Kickstarters, but under-posting definitely is. Frequent posts help reassure backers that you're active, present, and dependable.

  • Good update posts feel like content rather than dull administrative affairs. Before posting, review your updates in this light. What could you add to make this post more interesting and engaging?

  • Pack your posts with eye candy like you would for your main campaign page. Even on a dry post about shipping updates, try to include some new bit of art or design to grab people's attention.

  • Save juicy surprises and updates for the mid-campaign lull. Between the first and last 48 hours, Kickstarter campaigns slow to a crawl. Try to hook people back in with cool announcements, well-known contributors, and new stretch goals.

  • Combine multiple topics into single updates. Don't be afraid to write meaty, almost blog-length posts. Remember, update posts are content.

  • While a matter of taste, many update posts read more informally than main campaign page copy. In your updates, you're writing directly to your backers and perspective backers. A more intimate, conversational tone often feels appropriate. Just make sure to clearly state any critical info.

  • After your campaign successfully ends, try to update your backers once or twice a month.

  • If your project runs into problems and deadlines get broken, post honest, consistent, and frequent updates. The last thing you want is for your campaign to appear abandoned.

Mid-Campaign Updates


Issues and questions about a particular aspect of your project will inevitably come up during a campaign.

  • Address any concerns swiftly and clearly, and update your campaign page if necessary.

  • Kickstarter has a built-in FAQ section but I find it rarely gets used in smaller projects. Even if using the FAQ, double-up your clarification in an update.

From the Knock! Kickstarter

We're Funded Celebration

When your campaign funds, post an update letting everyone know!

  • Thank your backers. Include them in your celebration.

  • If funded with impressive speed (within 24 hours), note how long it took.

  • Remind your backers to help spread the word and post your social media links. Marketing people would probably say something about a "call to action."

Adding Stretch Goals

Unless you've revealed all your stretch goals from the get-go (or aren't using them at all), you should be heavily featuring new stretch goal announcements in your updates.

  • Double-up on new information. Even if also updating your main campaign page with new goals, tell people about them in an update.

  • Go into detail. Talk up your fancy reward, add contributor bios if the goals involve other creators.

  • Use art and mockups. Particularly for physical rewards, give your backers an idea of what the thing is going to look like.

  • Exciting new stretch goals while cross promoting a smaller project from Mork Borg:

Hitting Stretch Goals

Like adding stretch goals, but with more celebration.

  • Add even more detail about the goal.

  • Pair successfully met goals with new ones in your updates.

Project Status Updates

What's going on with your project right now?

  • Did you just do a round of playtesting? Got back some paper samples or proofs? Some sweet art just came in? Post about it.

  • Pepper these into your other updates. Peeling back the curtain so people can see what you're doing is a great way to get people excited and make them feel involved.

Detail Spotlight

Highlight an aspect of your project not fully covered by your campaign page.

Cross Promotion

Promoting other projects concurrently running with your own in an update is great way to help support your fellow creators.

  • If making content for a particular system, genre, or RPG scene, talk to other creators doing similar things about promoting each other.

  • Particularly if your campaign is doing well, highlight smaller campaigns that might be struggling to get across the finish line.

  • Use cross promotion sparingly in updates. No one will mind some campaign recommendations in a post or two, but as always avoid veering into spam territory.

Media Roundup

Did you go on a podcast, record an actual play, or get interviewed for a blog? Tell people about it in an update and share the links.

Time Remaining Reminder

When there's 1 or 2 days left in your campaign, tell everyone!

  • Encourage undecided backers to help you squeak across that "funded" finish line, or reach just one more stretch goal. Get excited!

  • Again, direct backers to help spread the word on social media. This is your last marketing push, so make it count.

Post-Campaign Updates

Campaign Success Celebration

Take a breather, you did it! Celebrate with your backers.

  • Thank your backers for supporting you.

  • Sketch out next steps. Get your backers oriented for the post-campaign page. When should they expect another update, and what will it contain?

Pledge Manager Update

Are you using a post-Kickstarter pledge manager like Backerkit to collect shipping and add-ons? Walk your backers through exactly how that's going to work.

  • Add a short FAQ: How will you be notified when the manager goes live? Who do I contact for support questions? I'm moving, how can I change my address? Etc.

  • Note if your pledge manager will accept pre-orders from non-backers (consider headlining or making a separate update focusing on this, you'll want to get the word out).

  • See how the pros over at Exalted Funeral handle it:

Survey/Pledge Manager Reminders

After you've sent out a survey or went live with your pledge manager, remind your backers about it in every single following update post. Do your best to make sure backers don't slip through the cracks.

  • Give a prominent last call notice before you close your pledge manager or shipping survey for fulfillment.

Status Updates

Project delays are a fact of life for most RPG campaigns. Be honest and prompt about explaining delays and you'll keep rabid backers at bay.

  • Tell backers about specific problems. They're more likely to empathize with "the cargo ship my pallet of books was on sank to the bottom of the ocean" than "delayed by unforeseen issues."

  • When things are going well, update your backers about that too. Show off a fancy new layout spread, tell them when your books arrive from the printers.

  • A painful message from Luka Rejec about a delay-prompting tragedy. UVG has quite the storied history of unexpected delays, but their nearly 70 updates kept backers steadily informed throughout the ordeal:

From The Insectiary Kickstarter

Self Promotion

Did you release another project or launch another Kickstarter? You could tell your backers about it if you dare.

  • Use with caution! Backers will get annoyed if you use the campaign update feed as a marketing platform for your other stuff. If you do this, make sure you do so sparingly and tastefully.

  • Include self-promo as an addendum to other updates in which you've shared some good news. Don't announce a delay along with a new book.

  • If you've already fulfilled your book, limit yourself to a single self-promotional update (if you post one at all). A notification that you've launched another Kickstarter can work if you phrase it correctly, your previous campaign delivered smoothly, and your new one relates to the old.

Shop Talk

As in mid-campaign Detail Spotlights, post blog-length content updates about production.

Stretch Goal Completion

If you have stretch goals getting fulfilled separately from your main book/zine (like digital bonuses), update backers with clear directions for how to get them.


Tell backers when their books get shipped, when you've heard back that backers have started getting their books, and/or once most of the backers receive their books.

  • Let backers know who to contact if they have a problem with their order.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

ZineQuest 2 Reflections

As we approach this year's Zine Quest and I gear up to launch my first Kickstarter project, I reflect on Zine Quests of yore. I really bought into and got excited for the flurry of RPG goodness on Kickstarter these past couple years. Zine Quest is a cool thing and my excitement to see this year's crop manages to overwhelm my substantial nerves for my own offering. To close the loop and get me in the right headspace for this year, I thought I'd take a look back on Zine Quest 2020. In this post I'll be talking about the zines I backed last year, why I backed them, their current release status and—if yet delivered—reviews for each.

Kozmik Objects & Entities

By Nate Treme

Status: Undelivered (delivery estimate August 2020)

Last year as I was just starting to poke my head around the Twitter RPG scene, Nate Treme's vibrant work kept popping up on my feed. When ZQ2 rolled around, Kozmik Objects dazzled me with colors, promised relevance to Mothership and Troika--my then and still favorite 2 RPGs--and seemed all around pretty cool. Though not yet released, Nate has been consistently posting beautiful progress updates on the art and I'm still just as excited to get my hands on it as when I backed.

Sinister Red

By Rudy Mangual

Status: Delivered July 2020 (3 months late)

Sinister Red was an impulse buy. I hadn't seen anyone talk about it, I'd never before heard of the creator, I just saw its cool art and coagulated blood sea setting and clicked "pledge". Despite funding over 2x its goal, this zine was definitely on the lower end of Zine Quest popularity at 158 backers. I am both saddened and happy to report that Sinister Red is a vastly underappreciated gem that deserves more attention and discussion. This project is the kind of diamond in the rough that makes Zine Quest so exciting and gets me pumped to rifle through this year's offerings.


Sinister Red is a 32-page, "2 color" (it's mostly black and red ink on white paper, but it's full color) zine and pretty much everything about it is good. The layout neatly organizes each section into a single page or spread. Bullet points, subheadings, bold and italicized text make digesting information a breeze. The design and production aren't perfect, but they're quite good for a first effort. My copy suffers from a few smudges where wet ink from one page imprinted on its opposite. The art varies in medium from breathtaking watercolors and woodcuts (I think… I'm no expert) to a few unfortunately unattractive photoshop filter jobs--all in marvelously gory shades of blood red.

The point crawl adventure meanders from morbid location to morbid location over a coagulated blood sea. Vampires, gruesome residents of the blood sea, and other foul creatures lurk behind every frozen wave crest. The adventure makes great use of its format, packing each location with fearsome dangers, memorable NPCs, and cool things to interact with. Some locations reference others, encouraging exploration and tying together the setting as a dynamic whole rather than a series of independent landmarks.

You should really buy this zine. It's damn good, and way too under-loved. I have no idea if the creator plans to make something new for Zine Quest this year, but I very much hope they do. I haven't run this yet (a crime, I know) because I've been busy playtesting my own stuff, but I will one day. The finale involves a standoff between a vampire prince, a djinn, and a wizard frozen in time. How would players unravel such a delicate and potentially calamitous puzzle? I want to find out.

Thirty-Six Stranger Chambers

By Harrison Swift and David N. Wilkie

Status: Undelivered (delivery estimate July 2020)

This one I found while trawling Zine Quest projects and random. I felt drawn to its authentically zine-y collage aesthetics and extremely usable purpose of location-neutral drop-in dungeon rooms. I've since become friends with and published a small project in collaboration with David, one of the creators. Stranger Chambers hit some understandably pandemic-induced rocky waters last year but appears primed for imminent release, which I can't wait for.


Status: Delivered July 2020 (1 month late)

Garbage Barge generated a ton of buzz last ZQ with its punk aesthetics, immediately graspable dope concept, and contributions from indie darlings like Scrap Princess and Zedeck Siew. It hooked me with a delightful sea shanty featured in its campaign video. Amanda got the zine finished and delivered promptly, and I devoured it upon arrival. Let's talk about how one of the largest breakout successes of last year's Zine Quest turned out


Garbage Barge is a 60 page B&W setting zine with simple layout that contributes to its DIY zine-ass-zine aesthetic but somewhat obfuscates usability. Hunting through pages of identical-looking plain text in this on-the-larger-side zine proves difficult without a table of contents. Similarly, its unbroken and often quite meaty paragraphs make on-the-fly detail scanning painful. However, the art by Scrap and Amanda is fantastic and elevates the layout from frustratingly plain to endearingly punk.

The zine splits comprises four main parts: Locations on the mythical garbage barge, notable residents, zoomed-in adventures, and appendix miscellany. The 28 locations vary wildly in detail and usefulness. Some span pages, others single lines. When the zine dwells on its locations and punches out concrete ideas it feels imaginative and palpably atmospheric, but occasionally it strays towards a twee, almost dismissively curt tone that isn't my cup of tea. A GM would have to work hard to fill the gaps between solid ideas and loose prompts. Contributions from stretch-goal guest writers like Scrap and Zedeck are the setting's standout sections, including a fantastic scrapyard armory with perfectly terrible jury rigged gear and robust systems for equipment mods and scavenging-driven store upgrades.


The zine's two adventures offer glimpses into how a GM might expand on the book's ideas. The first, a trek through a gas lake to prevent explosive buildup has the makings of a solid open-ended challenge but suffers from text density and confusing information design. The second adventure takes PCs deep into the trash heap via a tunneling vehicle crewed by eccentric NPCs. Mysteries discovered while churning through each subsequent strata of trash accelerate to terrifyingly surreal heights. I love this adventure and it would be my go-to if I get around to running Garbage Barge, but its great walls of plain paragraphs and lack of practical information design stifle my joy at the prospect of using it. A simple relationship chart and/or some bullet point character traits for the NPCs would have gone a long way.


The Garbage Barge is undoubtedly cool and packed with interesting, strange, and inspirational ideas. I adore the setting and I'd be thrilled to play in a game on the barge but its lack of clear information design has dissuaded me from attempting to run it myself. I respect the zine's commitment to DIY aesthetics, but I can't help imagine its glory if the layout and editing were redone with an eye towards usability.

The Waking of Willowby Hall

By Ben Milton

Status: Undelivered. (delivery estimate December 2020)

Questing Beast videos were a gateway drug for me getting into games like Troika and Mothership that I love and cherish today, so I backed Ben's campaign in part to repay that debt. The zine has some sweet art by Sam Mameli and seems to be nearing the finish line. As an aside, one thing I hope to see in the coming years are more indie RPG video reviewers. Ben got the ball rolling and some great people like Vi Huntsman (Collabs Without Permission) have taken up the mantle, but we need more people reviewing indie RPGs out there.


By Lone Archivist

Status: Delivered August 2020 (on time)

I should say up front that I did a bit of development work on Primeval (and I'm credited in the book!--much appreciated Lone Archivist) so take my opinions here with a grain of salt. That said, when I backed the book I was only doing so as a fan. I'd recently been getting heavily into Mothership and I was excited to get my hands on a sleek new adventure. The zine's Kickstarter page has a sleek and minimalist presentation that's the envy of Zine Questers everywhere. I got my physical copy exactly on time in August along with some fun stickers. Let's dive in.


Primeval is a 56-page full-color zine with mostly white text on black pages. While striking and stylish as a PDF, the design choices get Primeval's physical copy into hot water. The thin body font plunges to dangerously low sizes to accommodate extremely information-dense pages. The NPC and monster sections use red and green text respectively on black pages, which unfortunately causes me too much eye strain to read for any length. The information design, however, is built to fly. Packed with GM notes and asides, diagrams, highlighted terms and thorough references, this zine efficiently conveys more information than your average 300-page D&D hardback.

There's a lot of stuff in this adventure, but at its heart it's a dungeon-crawl through a research base overrun by hostile aliens on a jungle moon. The scenario's introduction extensively covers the approach to and overland travel through the moon's jungle--which could be an entire adventure in its own right. The dungeon proper feels very old school survival-horror influenced, with progression through the facility blocked by key cards, monsters waiting in ambush for unwary scavengers, and expertly crafted environmental storytelling.


One of the zine's major draws is the jungle moon's flora and fauna. The author put a lot of effort into making the local species feel distinct, alien, and dangerous. A particularly nasty mutating creature has its own multi-phase life cycle with 9 different variants. I'd be curious to watch players learn from and attempt to exploit (or at least survive) the local species.


Despite caveats about the physical zine for anyone with eye strain problems like me, Primeval is a sterling example of sci-fi adventure design and a solid place to start if you're looking to expand into Mothership past the 1st party modules.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Kickstarter Campaign Blueprint

This Zinequest I will be running my first Kickstarter (The Drain, a Mothership zine), and I've been doing a ton of research, outlining, and talking to creators with experience. I figured others (including my future self) might benefit from a polished-up version of my notes compiling all my research. In this post I'll include an outline of an indie tabletop RPG Kickstarter page, weaving in some advice from experienced creators and best practices from my own observations. I'm focusing on the structure and presentation of a campaign page here rather than book production or financials--I'll leave that for a future post.

Campaign Video

In general it seems better to do a video than not, but indie Kickstarter videos can be indie. Don't sweat production values. If a video feels too far beyond your expertise, just skip it! You can run a perfectly great campaign without one.

From Kozmik Objects & Entities

  • Keep it short: Limit yourself to a minute or so. Don't try to explain your entire project in your video, that's what the campaign page is for. Just sell the atmosphere and art/design.
  • Keep it simple: Don't break your budget or your brain making a complicated and ambitious video. Simple motion graphics showing off some of your art, mockups, a few key phrases selling your zine is plenty. Alternatively, some people make atmospheric short films--just be careful about overextending.
  • Don't talk over your video: 6-minute monologues will bore backers to death. Whatever you do, don't film yourself monologuing.
  • Examples of good videos:
    • You Got a Job on the Garbage Barge: It's long, but the simple concept shows off the art and sells the atmosphere wonderfully.
    • The Forest Hymn and Picnic: Probably my favorite indie RPG Kickstarter video. A charming short film that nails the atmosphere, shows off how the game plays, and warms your heart. Higher effort, but it pays off because of the strong concept.
    • Fungi of the Far Realms: Another great short film that sells the atmosphere, but this is a better example of making the most of lower effort production. All you need is some store bought mushrooms and a forest.
    • Kozmik Objects & Entities: An example of what's probably your best bet for a simple Kickstarter video: it's got motion graphics, art and design from the project, and some fun music. When in doubt, copy Nate.

Campaign Page

I'm overstuffing this outline with more ideas than is advisable to include in a single campaign. Pick and choose what elements best fit your own project.


  • Graphics: When possible, use graphics for headers and sections like stretch goals and pledge levels in the main body of your campaign instead of plain text. Custom graphics add interest and teases the design of your project.
  • Art: Try to include at least a couple pieces of art from your project sprinkled into your campaign text.
  • Mockups: Include a 3D mockup to show off what your project will look like when finished. You can find many cheap or even free mockup templates online.
  • Layout: Include at least one sample layout spread from your project at a high enough resolution so the text is readable. The spread doesn't need to be final, but it's important to show your backers competent design and writing (particularly if the author and designer are unknown quantities).
  • Examples:
    • Gradient Descent: Heavy use of art, graphics, and mockups here breaks up the text and demonstrates Mothership's signature excellence in design.
    • Silent Titans: Similarly design heavy with beautiful header graphics and mockups.
From Gradient Descent


  • Elevator Pitch: Explain the project in the briefest space possible. Keep flavor text/quotes from your book scarce if you use them at all.
  • Feature Overview: Note fun and interesting details that sell your project. Give people more reasons to buy your thing or at least read on if the initial pitch didn't sell them.
  • Media Inspirations: Wear your inspirations on your sleeve. Weave a brief Appendix N into your introduction.
  • Context: If you're writing something for a specific system, talk about that system a bit. If you're introducing new rules or writing a system all your own, explain them (briefly).

From the Ultraviolet Grasslands introduction:

"The Ultraviolet Grasslands and the Black City is a tabletop role-playing game book, half setting, half adventure, and half epic trip; inspired by psychedelic heavy metal, the Dying Earth genre, and classic Oregon Trail games. It leads a group of ‘heroes’ into the depths of a vast and mythic steppe filled with the detritus of time and space and fuzzy riffs."


  • Timeline: Clarify how far along you are on the project. Break down each step you need to take from now till completion. Including an organized timeline helps win backer trust. Be conservative with your estimates.
  • Budget: I don't see this often with RPG Kickstarters, but some include a budget breakdown. If you do this, be sure to run it by your collaborators to make sure they're cool with you publicly posting their extrapolated rates.
  • Printing: Particularly if you're doing something fancy with the printing, talk a little shop. Who's printing it?
  • Fulfillment: Who's managing physical fulfillment, you or a partner? How are you delivering digital rewards? Are you using a pledge manager, and how will that work if so? Are you taking add-ons? Late pledges?
  • Shipping: Shipping is a hellscape right now. Changes to VAT in the UK and EU have just/are soon to go into effect and no one seems to have a good idea how that's going to work. Do your best to walk backers through what they can expect while preparing them for complications. Couch your statements with qualifications, because you really can't guarantee anything. If you plan to collect shipping after your campaign via a pledge manager, include conservative pricing estimates. As an aside, US-based publishers may want to consider sticking to US-only fulfillment or work with international distributors in the near future.

From Putrescence Regnant


  • Talk a little about yourself and the other contributors (artists, editors, etc.) to your project.
  • Keep the information focused on what backers would want to learn: Who are these people, what have they done I might have heard of, what are they doing on the project?
  • If you have indie-famous contributors on your project, hype them up!

Stretch Goals

  • Don't Overstretch: Campaign finance strays outside the domain of this post, but this is worth highlighting. Stick to goals you've already researched, planned, and priced out. Keep things cheap and simple to avoid eating your entire margin or ruining your release timelines.
  • Tease Rewards: Reveal one or two goals at the beginning of your campaign or after you get funded, then reveal the rest piecemeal as more are funded.
  • Highlight Notable Contributors: Stretch goals are a great place to bring on and show off RPG pseudo-celebrities.
  • Be Brief: Note whether each reward is digital or physical. Succinctly explain each goal's reward. You can always elucidate goals in update posts.

Pledge Levels

  • You might want to expand upon and explain specific pledge tiers if they involve complex rewards, or you just want to highlight a specific reward not covered by the rest of your campaign.
  • This is also a good place to talk about your book's physical production if you haven't elsewhere.

Risks and Challenges

  • Be Honest: Shipping is always a concern, but it's even worse now. If your project faces particular logistical challenges from particular rewards or stretch goals, mention them here. Some campaigns mention the risk of contributors dropping off the face of the earth, but that's a given for any project.
  • Be Positive: Reassure backers about the steps you've taken to reduce risks. Talk about your experience handling similar projects, if you have some. If your project is simple and poses few risks beyond the default, say so.

Pledge Levels

  • Title: Some campaigns use simple, descriptive pledge titles like "Print + PDF" while others use thematic titles like "Mad Cultist". Which you choose is a matter of taste, but be sure to clearly state what the reward is for elsewhere in the pledge if you don't in the title.
  • Description: Some use dry, factual copy here while others add more flavor. Include key details here or refer to sections of your main campaign when describing a complex reward.
  • Items: Whatever your stylistic choices on the above sections, always be dry and factual here. Clearly and simply state each item.