Kickstarter 3 – How many words on the back cover?

How much text should you put on the back cover of a book? Well, I guess the first question to ask is “What is it there to do?” Actually, that might be the second question, as it is almost certainly worth deferring to what I consider the Ken Hite Rule here – beyond a certain point, the more words that are squeezed onto the back, the more crazy the contents. So let’s not go that far.

I think that the main job of the back cover text is to grab the attention and encourage someone to crack the book open. As such although it may be beneficial to give some details about the content, I think it first has to answer the question “is this something for me?” In other words does it draw the potential player in. What is it about, and how does it support what it is about.

Looking at some established examples from my RPG bookcase:

Fifth edition D&D Players Handbook

The great grand-daddy of RPGs plays upon its name recognition, and in one sense it doesn’t have anything to prove – it is probably still the 800lb gorilla in the RPG marketplace. It tells you that it is a reference book with a wide range of rules, that you can use it to create exciting characters, and then gives evocative examples of the kind of adventures you can play, ending with a simple call to arms:

The Players Handbook is the essential reference for every dungeons and dragons role-player. It contains rules for character creation and advancement, backgrounds and skills, exploration and combat, equipment, spells and much more.

Use this book to create exciting characters from among the most iconic D&D races and classes

Dungeons and Dragons immerses you in a world of adventure. Explore ancient ruins and deadly dungeons. Battle monsters while searching for legendary treasures. Gain experience and power as you trek across uncharted lands with your companions.

The world needs heroes. Will you answer the call?

Trail of Cthulhu

This is a big one! I think it was the second gumshoe game (after Esoterrorists) and it was entering a field dominated for many years by Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium, which literally invented this genre. I think that is the reason why the back page text here is somewhat more extensive, with a couple of paragraphs to spotlight the author and his credentials, and then the reason why the Gumshoe system is a good match for this kind of investigative game.

Then there is a section which breaks out in the simplest possible form some of the components of the rules – the fact that there are two modes of play, a flavour of Drives and Skills, and the promise of an adventure in the book so you can get started straight away. Again it closes with a call to action – although rather inevitably given the genre, it is more of a call to go mad and die!

An alliance both dread and inevitable
The cutting edge in investigative roleplaying joins forces with the game that started it all – with spine chilling results

Horrors Hacked From History
In what can only be described as his masterwork, acclaimed expert on the eldritch Kenneth Hite weds his encyclopaedic command of vivid historical detail to his piercing mastery of H.P Lovecraft’s classic horror tales. Trail of Cthulhu brings the cosmic malignity forward into the 1930’s, a time when the creeping madness of the Great Old Ones intermingles with the sweeping cruelty of global totalitarianism.

Hurtled Towards Cosmic Madness
The revolutionary GUMSHOE rules system, by award winning designer Robin D Laws, will change the way you play investigative games. It speeds and streamlines play, ensuring that, as your characters plunge into rotting farmhouses, forbidden libraries, and frigid Antarctic labyrinths, they’ll always get the clues they need to move ever onward. Onward toward their fated confrontation with ancient truths too appalling for the mind to assimilate

A Choice Of Dooms
Choose your mode of play: a Purist spiral into mind blasting despair, or lurid two-gun pulp
Fortify your investigators with 14 compelling Drives to get your characters into that crypt at night and over 60 abilities from Cthulhu Mythos to Explosives to help them get back out
Includes three exciting campaign frames for tweedy academics, jut-jawed G-men or grimy traffickers in the uncanny, plus “The Kingsbury Horror”, a complete introductory adventure

The Trail of Cthulhu – a whole new way to go mad and die

Traveller (Mongoose)

Another interesting example – this was the Mongoose relaunch of Traveller, arguably the first widely available sci-fi RPG. I think it was probably beaten to the punch by Metamorphosis Alpha (which I also have!), but it is clear that this Mongoose version already has some name recognition built in. A lot of people who see this and pick it up will be familiar with the original Traveller, so they don’t need to do much to sell the concept.

So this back cover briefly sets the scene, tells you that it has rules for a broad set of circumstances, and then has what is to my mind a fairly weak call to arms.

Traveller is back. Based on the classic original and updated for the new millennium, within these covers you can find everything you require to explore the vast Third Imperium and the alien-controlled regions that surround it – or any other science fiction setting you can imagine!

This book contains all you need to create characters, equip them, design their starship, generate their missions and adversaries and send them on interstellar adventure.

Whether you are new to Traveller or an old hand, the science fiction adventures you desire await within

Ashen Stars

A more recent sci-fi RPG, and a more recent Gumshoe game. It isn’t competing against an incumbent, and it doesn’t have a history to point back to, so it is putting most of its effort into painting a picture of what the game world is like and the kind of adventures you can play in it – especially with the focus on gritty investigative space opera.

About half the text is setting the scene, then there is a quarter spent outlining the seven playable species, and a short paragraph that gives examples of additional rules which are contained within. Again, the provision of an adventure in the book is also mentioned. I think that is a common and welcome theme in Gumshoe books.

They call you lasers, regulators, or, out in the Scylla Outzone, shinestars. To the lawless denizens of the Bleed, whether they be pirates, gangsters or tyrants, you’re known in less flattering terms. According to official Combine terminology, the members of your hard-bitten starship crew are known as Licensed Autonomous Zone Effectuators. You’re the seasoned freelancers local leaders call when a situation proves too tough, too baffling or simply too weird to handle on their own. In the abandoned fringe of inhabited planets known as the Bleed, you’re as close to a higher authority as they come

Ashen Stars is a game of mystery and adventure set in a gritty space opera universe. You play freelance law enforcers solving problems for pay in the Bleed, a war-ravaged frontier of colonised space. You’re needed in the wake of a massive retreat by the Combine, the utopian empire that first colonised it. Amid the ashes of the devastating Mohilar war, the lasers solve mysteries, fix thorny problems and explore strange corners of space. You balance the immediate rewards of a quick buck against the need to maintain your reputation, ensuring that you can continue to secure lucrative contracts, fix your ship and pay the upkeep on your weaponry and cyberware enhancements.

Featuring seven new and highly detailed playable species {details omitted}

Ashen Stars also contains extensive, streamlined rules for space combat, 14 different types of ship, a rogues gallery of NPC threats and hostile species and a full adventure to get you started in the Bleed

Era: The Consortium

An interesting example of a small press book by an independent publisher who I met at Dragonmeet last week. This quickly sets out the broad sci-fi setting, and includes one of its unique selling points – that there are 500 years of history included in a way which allows you and encourages you to set your game at any point in that history.

We have a call to arms just before the final paragraph which quickly covers the contents of the rulebook.

Humanity has left Earth over a thousand years behind, landing on a new planet and founding a new government. The Consortium is an inspiring ideal – three star systems teaming with life and four species living and working together. As time passes, however, cracks are showing in the Humanity-led society, and those less scrupulous have taken power.

Enter at any point in 500 years of playable story, following the Consortium’s growth from a small colony to a multi-system economic and political establishment. Explore new worlds and encounter alien races, direct or fight in battles which span a solar system and will decide the future of the Consortium or join a Resistance movement against the government to save or destroy billions of lives!

What you decide will decide the future of the Consortium!

This book contains the full story of the Consortium’s history, a guide to character creation, a list of weapons, armour, equipment, and spacecraft encountered in the Consortium universe, premade characters and even hardcore rules for advanced players.

So what about my game?

This is what my back cover text looks like at the moment, taking what inspiration I can from the way that various people have written theirs. One thing that I haven’t included here but perhaps should, is some outline of the areas covered by the rules. There are also several adventures in the rulebook too, and perhaps I ought to mention those too.

What do you think? It would be great to hear back from you on social media, whether twitter, Facebook or google+

Starguild: space opera noir

In space, nobody can hear you scheme…
Starguild is Space Opera Noir, where futuristic weapons and faster than light travel meet heartbreak, decadence and betrayal. Be brave naval officers or devious smugglers. Match wits and passion in high society or creep through ganglands in derelict cities. Explore dangerous jungles on the frontier worlds or engage as high tech mercenaries on future battlefields. But everything has a price.

All this is underlaid with the essential noir setting details – cynical, ambitious, cruel; with dark undertones of emotional blackmail, sex and betrayal. Conflicting agendas and fragile trust. Secret deals and complex intrigues. The good guys do not always win. The good guys do not always live. The good guys are not always good guys.

To support this atmosphere, the game treats social conflict – the ability to alter someones emotions and thinking – just as importantly as the more traditional kinds of conflict of fist and gun. There are many ways that adventurers can achieve their objectives, including manipulating their friends and allies should the need arise. But beware – lest your head be turned by seduction, poisoned by distrust, swindled out of something important or taunted into an irrational act!

This is the world of Starguild. What do you want to do?

Cover Photo by Romain Vignes on Unsplash