On I've Made a Terrible Mistake

I was going to save this for Monday to let it stew some more, but Mythmere's post crystallized the issue. I'm just reporting facts below - my posting volume and continued contributions should indicate that the below is just a observation, that is only a smidgeon rantish.

I've released everything I've done for free, and it was a terrible terrible mistake that drastically undervalued the time and effort I put into it.

I released it for free, not out of a lack of ego investment or self-motivation, but because I wanted to contribute to the community. I do not 'need' the money, what I desired was communication, interaction, and community.

The community's response, nearly 1000 downloads of *each* of my documents and little more then a dozen comments. Barring James (of the Underdark Gazette who I've talked to over e-mail about this) and Simon and Andreas there was no one who commented on the .pdf's I released under the Alexandrian license who's only requirement is that you comment. (Locks & Keys was released under this license, and had 131 downloads. And 3 comments not by me - after I pointed it out in a different post over a week later.)

The psionics document, was a group effort, and has art, was designed by a professional layout designer, was playtested extensively, and provides a cohesive psionics system for old school games. It took hundreds of hours to create, has a class, four kits, over 60+ psionic powers, is totally compatible with 1st edition psionics, adds quick reference for easy use - we even made magic items, encounter tables, and background training tables. It's indexed and well organized. A 44 page professional document. It was my first work, and it has its flaws, but it's good work.

The general consensus? Psionics are stupid and I wasted my time. This for a system that works with Hackmaster perfectly (which is missing psionic rules) LL, OSRIC, and S&W (none of which have them) and streamlines the tables from anyone running an actual first edition game. (In spite of the lack of any feedback psionics had 93 downloads in March and 41 in April)

Note that this didn't stop me, I made treasure and tricks after that. I figured I was making them for me - why not release them to the public.

So, I am not receiving the one thing I'm seeking, partially because I am not charging money for my work - which makes other people devalue it. It's not a mistake I plan on continuing to make. This way, if they want it they can pay, and since they are using money to overcome their social obligation, I won't care if they comment or not. I would just think they would rather comment, but apparently not. This is an extension of the general gestalt of the community - art and resource posts don't draw comments and navel gazing does. Some people have figured this out long ago (Uh, all the big ones) I'm apparently just realizing now how silly it was to expect people to want to comment instead of pay.

Now before my tone is wildly misconstrued, I will point out that I continue to release quality works for free.

I know that text doesn't communicate this, but I'm not really bothered by the above. I'll leave everything I've released free forever, but when I redo things and release them in the future, I'll take money instead of thanks.

The weird thing is, I think that's really the way people prefer it.

P.S. I've already paid the Joskey tax 100 times over. :-)

Edit: I can say now, from 2014 that it goes both ways! Not only was On the Non-Player Character super successful, but there's a ton of big-hearted people out there making my Patreon Campaign an astounding success!


  1. I responded to your original comment on my blog before I noticed that you'd posted on yours, so I'll also put my comment here as well. It sounds like you already made the decision, so some of what I said is a moot point:

    "The one thing to keep in mind is that you don't get many substantial comments even when you publish for money. It's simply that most people don't feel like writing comments.

    There simply aren't many rewards to publishing for free or for profit unless (a) you're simply addicted to making stuff and can't stop yourself anyway -- the completed product is its own reward, and (b) there's not really a (b), actually, I can't think of one.

    Free products get more downloads and I think more readers, but few comments.

    Paid products get fewer downloads but some cash, and still get few comments. A few more comments, I guess, but not many.

    It has to be its own reward, and if it is, and you publish stuff, you still have to be reconciled to the fact that the community as a whole is pretty quiet about products."

  2. I really don't mean this to sound as ranty as it actually does.

    I just feel a little foolish in not realizing the above sooner.

    It's an accurate observation and how. Session reports, free documents, art just generate low response totals.

  3. "P.S. I've already paid the Joskey tax 100 times over. :-)"

    And then some! I think contributing to the scene via content is the best use of our time here in the blogosphere. Whether you give it away or charge some coin, that's your call. Either way no one should fault your reasoning.

  4. I am sorry that you had to find out on your own what many have learnt through the course of time.

  5. Idealism will get you every time.

  6. I don't know if my blog reading habits are typical, but I honestly don't read much in the way of rules or similar. Every once in a while I'll come across a pdf that I will download to 'read later' but, honestly, I seldom do. Perhaps I've become a bit jaded because there are so many 'clone' sets of rules out there.
    I download a lot of artwork to study/look to for inspiration.
    I try to comment on blogs here and there but I am reading a lot less than I used to these days because of other issues.
    I also hate reading PDFs but don't want to print out stuff either. I know that makes me a luddite.

  7. On Psionics: TL/DR. I downloaded it, skimmed it, decided it was a pretty awesome implementation of the old-school psionics rules, and thus too heavy for what I like to play with. If I wanted to play Dark Sun by the book, I'd probably use it, but I'm way more likely to write up my own very short rules for psionics (say about 1/10 the length, or what Carcosa uses) and play a game by that book.

    In other words, I shouldn't be leaving this comment, according to the Alexandrian License, which is stated as follows:

    If you use something awesome from a blog in your game, go back and tell the creator about it.

    ... since I looked over your work and decided it wasn't for me, and thus didn't actually use it in my game. Just downloading doesn't engage the license, just as you shouldn't expect even the most scrupulous Alexandrian reader to leave a comment on every blog post they read.

    Nonetheless, hey, cool thing, thanks for making it and putting it out there. I'd warmly recommend it to potentially interested parties.

  8. Please charge or don't charge as pleases you.

    Also, I must object to the idea that I've figured anything out. My blog has been mostly pointless navel-gazing from day one.

  9. Just my opinion, but I think a blog is not the best forum to elicit feedback on creative work. Readers come to the blog post, download the content, then read it later. At this point they're not at your blog anymore, so they're not going to come back to comment, even less so if the blog post is no longer the most recent. When they do come back, the blog as 'moved on' so to speak, and they're not going to comment on an old blog post.

    Forum threads are designed to have many parallel conversations going on at the same time over a longer period of time. Post a link to your PDF on odd74, knights and knaves alehouse or dragonsfoot and mention your require comments (or even just put a link to the blog post and tell people to comment there). I think you'll get much better response because when people go back to the forum, they'll see the conversation thread and remember that they have now read the document and can give you an opinion.

  10. @Rob:

    If you'll peruse those boards, you'll see posts about every one of my documents.

    Several of them elicited no replies. Dozens, sometimes near 100 downloads though.

  11. I release my stuff for free because I want people to have and enjoy it. I don't get many comments on my old school Microlite materials on my blog, but I do see comments on them on message boards -- including people recommending them to others.

    I don't see how charging for them -- as many people have suggested I do -- would help me meet any of my goals for these games. I'd probably get fewer comments as the percentage of people who will comment would likely stay about the same -- but fewer people would download the games so fewer people would be able to comment. Fewer people would have the games and be able to use them. And charging for the games would not make much money but would generate a lot more bookwork and form filling come tax time.

    Of course, I've been active in running online message areas since the BBS days of the 1980s and there is one thing I've learned: the reader to poster ratio is often as low as 100 readers to 1 poster. So I've learned to take anything much better than that as a sign of real interest.

  12. I don't consider your comments rantish or disagreeable at all. Frankly, if I'm going to download a free product from someone I'll thank them at ther very least - and I'll quite often review it on my blog as well.

    I can understand your position. However, I'm afraid that lack-of-appreocation is endemic in western society -and is not limited to free RPG supplements alone. It is, unfortunately, a fact you're going to have to live with if you wish to continue to publish your material for free.

  13. This is one of the reasons I started posting about the OSR stuff I'm using, in my game recaps.

    That said, I am, obviously, a big supporter of commercial OSR enterprises. And as much as I appreciate and love all the free material, if I had to choose I'd rather see more LotFP's than Dragonsfoot's.

  14. Your work will not go without reward. I wish I had more time to comment on all the good things I find out in the blogosphere but this year has been worse than last and I didn't think that was possible.

    The work you have done is some of the best I have found out here and I am still trying to get through my whole reading stack.

    I will help you be compensated for your work if you like. I am trying to finish the first stage of a project and as work winds down on that I have some ideas.

    If you like just email me and let me know.

    I learned this from the world of software: Linux is free, but there sure are a lot of companies making money from it. :)

    Look forward to chatting.

  15. You do not sound rantish at all.

    Also it is basic psychology, if someone has to pay for something, even a nominal fee, then they will value it more.

    I have been lucky. I have gotten to write books and release them for free and for pay, both gave me satisfaction, just different kinds of satisfaction.

    Personally, you should charge for your work. You may love every minute of it and it is a labor of love, but it is still work.

  16. I agree with ADD Grognard. Your work is really exceptional in this corner of the universe. Your writing style in the PDFs is what caught my attention (of course the layout and organization are also well crafted). I can't find the right word for it - this is my first blog comment ever for OSR so I am not used to commenting - but your style seems to flow really well, entertain, and inform with just the right amount of "goodness" without overwhelming me with tables and data dumps. I particularly like your introductions and lead-ins before the various tables. So, in the end, I am really surprised you haven't received more comments.

  17. I didn't know my comment was that rare. Anyway, I like your work and am glad my comment was noted.

    When I did my A-Z posts, I got almost no feedback at all. It made me realize how much feedback I had gotten before!

    The world is a crazy place.

  18. I posted a response to your initial comment on Mythemere's blog here:

    In Response to a Comment by -C . . .

    I think it also serves as a comment here. That said, I totally understand your position. I appreciate what you have posted and developed here, and I hope that you do find that the OSR supports this new change in direction. You've got a good track record of churning out cool stuff!

  19. I really liked the 2 docs that I downloaded, and felt compelled to comment gushingly and recommend elsewhere the "empty rooms" pdf - very good stuff! In general, my download/read habits are much like limpey stated above - so, again, thanks for the good materials and blog! Release as you see fit. I can understand being "put-off" (I know that's not the right phrase, sorry) by not getting more comments - recognition and acknowledgement are right up there with sex & money IMO

  20. You get sex and money from your blog? Cool!

  21. Grigori le ZurkoskoApril 29, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    I'm not sure if I totally buy the "people value something more if they pay for it" argument. If nothing else, I suppose it does force people who are going to download something to stop and consider that decision for a moment (presumably excluding those who aren't actually that interested, and thus wouldn't have valued it much).

    Have you also considered other ways you might get some additional feedback though? Dedicated forums? Possibly with early releases or partial releases for the express purpose of gathering feedback and critique (ala Paizo and the Pathfinder boards)? Even something as simple as a poll with some options for what you might work on next could get people feeling more involved (and thus more engaged and prone to leaving comments). Meh, just throwing out ideas here.

  22. Grigori,
    There have been some tests done (I don't recall where or the quality of them, so take it with a grain of salt) that show people do tend to value something they paid money for more highly than something they received for free. The assumption is that people don't like to believe that they made mistakes on bad purchases -- it was a test about how cognitive dissonance operates.

  23. Grigori le ZurkoskoApril 29, 2011 at 7:02 PM

    I'm aware (at least in a layman's way) of those studies. The part I'm not so certain of is that the results should be applied quite as broadly as people tend to apply them. I also wonder about the potential for a negative reaction that people seem to ignore in discussing this. While those who choose to pay some token amount for something may value it more highly, those who choose -not- to pay will tend to rationalize their choice by looking at the potential purchase in a much more negative light.

  24. For what it is worth, I just downloaded the psionics book and I enjoyed it. Hopefully you won't become completely burnout by this experience.

    Keep up the good work!

  25. The whole Joskey tax is a bit old too. It's our blog so we're gonna write what we want! However, when I do write about a new critter, that's usually when I'll get comments.

    I did just download the Avoiding Death pdf and Lawd knows I need it since I play a magic user in Labyrinth Lord. I'll be sure to add more comments asap.

  26. I really like your treasure and tricks .pdfs and am excited to use them in my campaign. I haven't checked the psionics one out, but you've encouraged me to do so. Thanks.

  27. Look how many comments you have now :)

    I try to comment as much as I can, although sometimes I do forget. Too many blogs and not enough time. But your point is well made; and as long as it is useful and doesn't cost me an arm and a leg, I'm happy to support the community by purchasing the things that intrigue me.

  28. You know what saved my behind? The psionics pdf that you had put out & I read about in the Underdark Gazette. This book let me get my players to get in tune with my OSRIC game, fix several problems I've had with the AD&D 1st edition system, & I was able to get the campaign off of the ground without a hitch.
    Now why didn't I comment about this work or the wonderful other material that you had put out? The reason is simple I don't have a huge amount of time & I didn't think that there was much that I might contribute to the works. There was a huge effort that had gone into the psionics book & it showed. The editing,artwork, design, etc. all led me to the conclusion that I was looking at a done project.
    The other effect that your blog had on me was to look deeper into the blogging process & start writing again. So I've started my own blog & in 2 weeks I've got 15 followers. Thanks for being one of the ones who inspired me to pick up a keyboard again.

  29. I think it's perhaps indicative of a new way of consuming information.

    For example, in my own case, I rarely buy anything gaming related. I've got the basic rule books for the games I'm playing at the moment. If I want to play a new game I'll buy the books for that. But that doesn't happen very often.

    Otherwise, I read a fair amount of creative content on old-school RPG blogs, including sometimes downloading PDFs that people have made of their stuff. But, thinking about what I'm doing when I'm reading online, I'm using it all as a quagmire of inspiration, fuel for the fire of ideas. That way of consuming is a luxury we have nowadays with the flood of information about any imaginable topic. Each individual piece of information becomes more throwaway, while the global effects of pool takes more of the focus.

    So, I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think it means that people are ungrateful, it's just when some DM out there has the urge to introduce a psionic mutant (or whatever) into their game one day, thinking to themselves "oh that's a cool idea", they will often have no memory of all the things they read online that formed the subconscious seeds for that idea.

  30. -C, I've been off the blogosphere for a couple days and look what you stirred up. You should charge for your work. You've given some great stuff away which has allowed people to see what kind of work you do. I had Starter Adventures and 0-level Spells for free DL, SA was DLed 700x and 0-level spells 200x, one comment. Don't let the lack of comments phase you, your stuff is mentioned everywhere. Now its time to make some hobby money. I know I will have no problem buying the things you put out. Have fun with it. And best of luck!

  31. Thanks for all your stuff -C. I know what you mean about comments, but I rarely get any either. Too bad there isn't a JAVA widget that requires a comment before the download can commence. :) I appreciate your help with the Monster book too. It WILL be edited and ready for art next month (June) :) Take care.

  32. I would guess that most of the downloads were the instinctive type, by people with a collector mentality. They may not even have been read, much less used in a game, hence no comments according to what you asked. I tend to download anything that seems potentially interesting, and then may or may not ever actually investigate it. I'm 100% certain I'm not the only one who does this. Images, articles, and yes, gaming blog ideas. It's collecting for the sake of it, and hoping that "Someday" it will be useful somehow. Perhaps those few that posted comments are the only ones who actually read/used your ideas...

  33. "I don't think it means that people are ungrateful, it's just when some DM out there has the urge to introduce a psionic mutant (or whatever) into their game one day, thinking to themselves "oh that's a cool idea", they will often have no memory of all the things they read online that formed the subconscious seeds for that idea."

    Indeed. This sort of thing is the reason that I blog - so I can track the flow of inspiration and attribute where attribution's due. I try to repost things, link back to sources, and generally point out the interconnections - but I don't actually play D&D, of old or new school flavours, and so I'm sure it comes across as a lot of navel-gazing. I will start releasing 'content' once I have some tested and viable content to release; releasing half-baked, untested mechanics is of no interest to me whatsoever.

  34. I can offer an anecdote and I doubt it will help you, but it at least gives you perspective (and another comment!).

    I have a flash drive with a GB or two worth of D&D stuff, including PDFs of published material and reams of fan stuff. I often download something I think looks nifty and then never read it. I've got 100s of hours of reading material and not more than a handful of free hours in a given week. (Actually, most of those free hours go into reading blog posts just to find the information...) Most of those free hours that go towards D&D end up creating my own meager offerings.

    The 'OSR' puts out more material that is at least mediocre (yours is better than that) and worth a free download than I can ever read at the present point of my life.

    So I won't speak for everyone, but that's one person's take.

    PS Do you get miffed when people refer to you with male pronouns?

  35. Being that I am very much male, no.

  36. Hey, this is quite an old blog post so I don't know if you will even read this, and even if you do I won't be back to see if you comment, but I feel bad for being one of those anonymous consumers of your work. Your Tricks & Traps pdf in particular was cool and got some use in my game. Thanks man.

  37. :-) I read all the comments on my blog, no matter when (or where) they are made.

  38. Locks PDF = awesomesauce
    Critical wound charts also fabulous (& the only way I can tolerate D&D hit points).
    Most of your creative work is great to read & I plan to use when I next run a D&D like game.
    Lastly, your discussion of Hackmaster prompted me to give its second look.

    Thanks again -C

  39. Well, i'm sadly one of those non-talkers. I can't really defend myself but nevertheless, thanks for everything you post here. I'm a Pathfinder player/gm with little experience in OD&D and a little AD&D 2e but what you write here is priceless, a good chunk of advise for everyone who takes the moment to read your musings. Thanks for the effort of sharing!

  40. About commenting on blogs: I never know what to say to someone in a situation like this. I read a lot of gaming blogs when I find time. Hack & Slash is a recent add to my blog list, even though I've seen your name around in circles on G+. From what I've read, I'd be very unlikely to comment on your blog. Its something I don't do a lot of anyway, even though its the thing I'd like to see on my own blog. My main reason is that I find you're often addressing issues of the game and gaming that require me to be operating at a high intelectual level. Thats not a complaint, but it does impact my decision making around how much time/energy I can focus on reading about my hobby.

    So, I guess responding is in the same category. Your output is demanding, and challenging, and therefore difficult for me to respond to intelligently, or even politely (not a fact, more a fear) because I don't believe that posting "Hey I read this and liked it." is really the comment you're looking for. Am I wrong about that?

    To the point of the post. You make a solid case for your decision to switch to charging. I'm looking forward to reading through the free things you've made available, and I have put the new NPC book on my wish list at RPGnow so that I'll remember to get it eventually.


    1. I read this and liked it is the perfect type of comment.

      In fact, if you did this, or clicked +1 or left some kind of feedback with the people you liked, they would appreciate it! Not only because it's nice, but because it communicates something to the other readers of the page.

      But in general, I expect only questions and trolls in comments - the exception being when I release something under a license where the price is to comment, and then the price is ignored. . .


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