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.

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