State of the Enterprise 2020
It is nearly the end of the year and it is time for our annual State of the Enterprise. This is the annual wrap-up to tell you how our year went, our look at the industry as a whole, and our look at the year ahead.
2020 and the Industry
While this is the year of COVID, in the RPG World, this is the year that accelerated changes that should have been made years ago. Take Virtual Tabletops (or VTTs) as an example. Before this year, they were out there, some people played on them, but they were largely a fringe thing. This year, they became the way to continue playing your game when you couldn’t see your regular game group.
There are a number of advantages of playing virtually than in person. Take my own home game from this year as an example. One of the players in my group had meetings right before the game started. Because both were virtual, she was able to go from one to another without skipping a beat. Had it been in person, she would have had to wrap up the meetings, drive to where we held the game, and then start. Sure that would mean we’d start later, but our games end when they do because another in the group has to go to work. Time crunches like that have a tendency to end groups. But we made it work because no one had transportation issues. Then there’s the gamer in our group that moved. He didn’t move far, but far enough that a weekly game was off the table. Playing over a VTT, he missed two weeks, not in a row even (one for showing the house, one for the bulk of the move). Had it been in person, we’d be looking for another group member to replace him. We’re all glad we don’t have to do that.
I don’t see this change reverting back post-COVID, not to the levels in the before times anyway. Sure there will be in-person gaming again, but I believe there are enough people that enjoy gaming in their pajamas and running to their own fridge whenever they want a snack that virtual gaming is a change that is here to stay. Add in the number of groups with tight schedules and members separated by distance or physical capabilities or whatever that VTT gaming is a major change in the landscape.
So what does that means for publishers like JBE, well it means that we should all be working to make our supplements available on Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, and the like. I honestly believe that publishers that do not will be remembered by history in the same way gaming publishers 20 years ago that wouldn’t make their books available in PDF are remembered today, as the dinosaurs of a bygone era that won’t last. WotC D&D is the exception to that; D&D, however, is very much on Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. If I was a new publisher, I’d make sure that every PDF release I created had a corresponding VTT release (even if it is only for one platform). Is JBE there yet? Well, that is a great segway to our next section.
JBE in 2020
To answer my own question, no we are not up to every release having a corresponding VTT release, but we are working on it. At the moment, we’re working on making our most popular catalog releases available for Fantasy Grounds. Why FG? Because I know the platform. I’ve had a license for several years and run a weekly game over it. I’m learning Roll20 but I do not have the same level of proficiency with the platform yet. Having said that, We do have a webstore for both Fantasy Grounds and Roll20. Both contain space battle maps designed for sci-fi games like Starfinder and Traveller. Additionally, we have supplements at Fantasy Grounds designed for D&D 5e, 13th Age, and Traveller. If there is a supplement of ours that you feel we should elevate in our production cue, please let us know. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
As far as new supplements go, the story is in Pathfinder and Traveller. Pathfinder saw the start of the Book of Beasts: Character Codex Subscription. When completed this set of twelve supplements will feature 240 NPCs for your Pathfinder game, focusing on classes the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Advanced Player’s Guide, Ultimate Magic, and the Advanced Class Guide. This NPC Codex-style book has readymade NPCs that you can use in your game. So far we’ve completed the Warpriest, Magus, and Witch Codices completed. These codices are taking longer to produce than we had anticipated which is why we only completed three this year. We’ve got several planned for 2021. I’ll talk more about that in a second.
Traveller has two major releases: Foreven Worlds: Careers Beyond the Claw and Solomani Worlds: Vehicles from the Rim. You’ll note the second covers the Solomani Rim region of space. JBE has stayed with Foreven Sector since the beginning. At first, it was all we could play in. When Second Edition MGT came out, we could play anywhere published by Mongoose. However, we stuck with Foreven because we were there already. However, this year, we wanted to stretch our wings and play in a different sector of space, using different aliens and higher levels of technology. As such, we made the jump to the Solomani Sphere region. Mongoose published two sectors in this region during the 1e era: Solomani Rim and Alpha Crucis, and we are expecting those sectors to be covered in Mongoose’s upcoming Solomani Front book, so we made Vehicles from the Rim with those sectors in mind. To answer the question I’ve gotten several times: does this mean we are done with the Foreven Worlds? Absolutely not. We love the Foreven Sector and have several projects in the works for the sector that we are not be giving up. Don’t worry, the Solomani worlds is a different way for me to stretch my creative wings. We are just as serious about both sectors. Look for more from us in the future (see below for details).
Along those lines, we released two supplements for Traveller over Fantasy Grounds. Getting the d66 Compendium and Foreven Worlds Careers Beyond the Claw released on the platform was a struggle for licensing reasons. However, those have been resolved and we are moving ahead with more Traveller supplements for Traveller. If you play Traveller, you really should stick with his platform since you can get all the material here.
For minor Traveller releases, we restarted our d66 list series. Officially they are under the Cepheus Engine instead of Traveller, but as a reviewer put it, Cepheus Engine is Traveller with the serial numbers filed off. Why did we do that? Short answer: licensing for VTTs. When you create a supplement for a virtual tabletop, it can be specific to one game system or generic for every game system. It can’t be designed for one game system but easily usable for every system. So when we converted the d66 Compendium to Fantasy Grounds, we could either remove the Traveller logo, Foreven logos, and all Traveller related names and ideas removed from the book and make it usable for Starfinder and all other sci-fi games out there, or make it exclusive to Traveller. If you know us, removing large swaths of the book and depriving fans of lists of names and places that they wanted was not something we were willing to do. D66 Compendium 2 is released under the MGT 2e license so there is no changing that. So when we started coming up with ideas for Compendium 3, we decided from the outset to make it usable in any game system. This means we couldn’t use any Third Imperium aliens, names, or places. We’ll miss coming up with corporation names that imply familiar locations and events. However, that is far less of an issue than you would think. Many star systems, subsectors, and subsectors in the 3I setting are public domain names. Deneb for example is a sector in Traveller as well as a real star. Fornax is a constellation in real life and a star system in Traveller. There are a whole lot more than those two; Traveller is hard sci-fi after all and using real names for real stars is part of that. So look for more setting-based names and ideas in the future.
I do hate to admit, we never got out our new 13th Age and D&D 5e supplements that we had planned for this year. So what did we do for these two systems: we worked on converting our existing material to Fantasy Grounds. The 13th Age Class Option Bundle provides new class options for four classes. We also have the Book of Heroic Races: Age of Races which covers 10 new races for 13th Age. While we didn’t finish converting new supplements this year for 5e, we still have our Book of Heroic Races: Player Races 1 and Deadly Delves: Along Came a Spider.
As far as actual numbers go, I decided to do a quick snapshot to make comparisons easier. I did an 80% off sale for November, calling it our Black Friday Sale. As you can see in the chart on the right, Traveller got more than half of all sales. This is the number of bundles sold, not dollar value (which would be even more exaggerated considering the Traveller bundle was the most expensive, followed by Pathfinder, then 5e then 13th Age). Disclaimers: This is one month from one website. This does not include VTT sales. Having said that, the results are pretty clear. Simply put half our market is sci-fi and half is fantasy. However, we have to work 3 times as hard for that fantasy market since we have to put it out for three different systems.
JBE and 2021
This was always the part I waited for as a gamer because this had all the juicy spoilers about upcoming books. First off, let me get the boring bits out of the way. JBE is closing down our webstore on Jan 1, 2021. I’ve already contacted those that purchased from us they will be receiving download links from DriveThruRPG. The two biggest reasons are: 1) Traveller by far is our biggest seller, and we can’t sell it there. Those products are exclusive to DriveThruRPG. Why have a store if you can’t put your star products inside it? 2) Focus on what we do best. As the principal writer, layout person, and promoter of JBE products, every minute I was working on the webstore was time I wasn’t creating new products. So we are just going to focus on creating quality products and leave the retail side of things to our trusted vendors like DriveThruRPG and the Open Gaming Store. There’s more sure but it really came down to these two.
Onto the exciting parts. We have a WHOLE LOT of products that got sidelined for a number of reasons this year and previous that we want to finish up. First and foremost: The Prelude to War Adventure Path. This four-adventure series has had only two adventures out for quite some time. Fans have wanted the final two adventures and we have their turnover drafts sitting on my computer. I really wanted 2020 to be the year where they got finished up and that didn’t happen. We will be finishing them in the coming year. Next up is a 5e supplement for spellcasters. The Book of Heroes: Conjurable Creatures gives cleric, wizards, and druids a greater variety of creatures they can summon up with the conjure creatures spells. We deliberately stopped working on this when the pandemic hit, figuring we’d wait and see what happened. With the vaccines arriving, we’re returning to work on this and will have Fantasy Grounds versions of these creatures at some point. The Slayer Codex is more than half done and others in the series are in the works.
There are two products for Traveller I’m working on (which depends on which computer I’m on at any point in time). First is in a cluster of stars in the Solomani Worlds. Basically, if you liked Mongoose’s Spinward Marches The Bowman Arm, you’ll love this. I really enjoyed that supplement and decided to focus on a different group of star systems and define them like never before. There are plenty of systems with little detail in the region and I feel these deserve some love. Next up is a farming space station back in Foreven. With some systems being little more than mining outposts, people need food. So I have been creating a 20,000-ton space station that can produce close to 1,000 tons of food, luxury food, and spices every day. We are mapping every single square of this station. Short of the long, the PDF will include a high res version of the station all on one poster so you can see how it all fits together. The Photoshop files are so big they push my computer to its limits. Literally, I can make a change and it takes a while for it to be implemented (and I didn’t skimp on my computer when I got it at the end of last year). A farming station is going to be rife with intrigue since there are going to be corporate spies, raiders, and many more dangers waiting right around the corner.
Then there are projects that we have been itching to work on. We have created many monsters for Pathfinder over the years and would like to convert them all to 5e and 13th Age. We have a number of class ideas that would great in all three games. We have more classes that need additional options. With a whole slew of new careers just released in the Aliens of Charted Space books for Traveller, each of them has only a 2d6 events table. I am looking for the time to turn them into d66 tables.
As anyone who has played Pandemic can tell you, you can still have outbreaks even when there is a vaccine. So for the time being, make sure to mask up, wash your hands, and stay home when possible. JBE won’t be attending any physical conventions next year, but we will be doing like this year and attending a number of virtual conventions. In fact, I attended more conventions in 2020 than any previous year. I’ll be doing this again in 2021, but in a bigger way since I’ve had time to practice. If there’s an online convention you would like us to attend next year, drop us a link in the comments and we’ll be sure to take a look at them.
Be sure to watch this space as we bring you some exciting products all throughout the new year.