Barbarians of Heavy Metal Design Diary 9


Nathaniel here, again, this time with Random thoughts that are rattling around my head and new developments for Barbarians of Heavy Metal.

Things are afoot with BoHM, with a spot on my very busy schedule and a tentative release date set for the end of March or beginning of April. This game isn’t going to be your standard RPG release in a number of ways, however, and I’ve been probing the RPG community, thinking aobut new design and distribution models and otherwise looking for ways to make it more widespread than your average indie RPG. Outside of a uniquely entertaining setting and the evocative but easy to learn and use rules, the best way to do that is to present the game in a larger variety of cheap and easy to access formats outside of the standard Printed or PDF Book.

Considering this, BoHM will be released in three formats (hopefully simultaneously), and I’m considering a fourth:


This is part of my thesis project as well as an attempt to come up with a post-digital format that can move the RPG Industry into the 21st century, hopefully attracting new blood that will revitalize our hobby.

Some of you may already know what this is about, but for those who don’t, the Playbook line is a series of RPG Boxed Sets in a digital format. Think the old (or new) D&D Red Box, with everything you need to play right in the package (rules, dice, character sheets, etc.), but completely automated and portable so that you can take it anywhere including the park or the car. No stacks of paper, broken pencils, dice rolling all over the place or miniatures getting knocked down and no internet needed to play. For more info you can go to this design thread.

BoHM will be the first game designed from day 1 to be used in the Playbook format and the rules writing and programming will go hand in hand. It will be the first playbook with a map and miniature function for playing out Titan, vehicle and personal combat. Both Player and Full versions will be available. What’s more, the new build of the Playbook software will be available in a number of formats, from iPad to Android to CD for those who are stubbornly clinging to your lap and desktops.


This is by far the easiest format to get a game out quickly, to the largest number of people and for a low price point. Pretty much the current standard in the industry, AFAIC. The thing is, I think the Boxed Set is king over your standard RPG book and BoHM will be sold as a PDF Boxed Set, with a copy of the Player’s Guide, the GM’s Guide and maps, fold out minis, a GM Screen, character sheets and any other chotchkie I can put into a Portable Document Format. You will also be able to buy the Player’s Guide and the GM’s Guide separately for the cash conscious folks.

The interior will be clean and B&W with only a single piece of art per page, if that, so that it will be very easy to print out for the average printer and to keep art and, by extension, product costs down.


I have come to realize is that in a niche industry with a highly fragmented market, it is no longer really feasible for an independent designer, such as myself, to go the traditional route of creating a product, getting it printed and then distributed to brick & mortar stores. There really isn’t a huge market for this sort of thing anymore and you can count the number of  RPG publishers who are still capable of doing so on the hand of an incompetent shop-teacher.

That being said, however, recent threads in which I have posed the ‘Print is Dead-ish, Long Live Digital Media’ theory have revealed that there are still a number of people that prefer dead-tree to digital for a number of reasons. This means a suitable print format must be made available as well.

The most obvious choice is Print on Demand, and I’ll be using Lulu or something similar, as it doesn’t cost me anything up front, although it can get a bit pricey for those who are purchasing overseas. The print versions will be B&W to keep the cost low, because If I’ve learned anything about this industry, pretty pictures are all fine and dandy but what you’re really selling is a game, not a picture book. Experience with the BotA print edition has shown me that even those folks who demand a lavishly illustrated full color hardback will often bypass it for something less pretty but easier on the wallet (usually complaining all the while about the expense of RPG products).


While trying to think up a cheap alternative to traditional printing, it occurred to me that a game done in a cheap pulp format, like a reader’s Digest or Sci-Fi Anthology magazine, would be cheap to produce and offer a number of advantages to the consumer. First it is cheap to purchase, with the average rulebook costing a fraction of the cost of your standard hardcover high gloss 4/4 affair, allowing everyone at the table to get one. Second, it is cheap to replace if you spill a drink on it, tear it or the cat takes a whizz on it. Third, it can be sold in places that sell comics or magazines, but not normally RPG books.

I might do a limited run batch of player’s Guides and Gm Guides for sale at conventions to see how folks like the format, but that is up in the air at the moment as I investigate the costs and quality of an RPComix line.

Up Next: Random Musings – A Brief Treatise on the Thousand Psychic Wars…

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0 thoughts on “Barbarians of Heavy Metal Design Diary 9

  1. Otto

    Definitely consider a stripped-down no art (players book only?) FREE pdf- S&W & LOTFP both used this model, to what strikes me as considerable success.
    The comix method also sounds good, and the zine aesthetic seems particularly suited to the game.

  2. Iceberg256

    I know I’m really responding late to this post and don’t know if it will get noticed, but I had just recently acquired a Kindle so I figured I would throw the idea of an ebook reader format for this (and BotA) into the ring.

    Also, I would very interested in the RPComix format and would definitely pick up several copies.

  3. Nathaniel

    It’s never too late to comment, Iceberg : )

    While my design work on BoHM has been slowed down a bit by Grad School, I have also learned a great deal more about the myriad formats e-publishing offers and am exploring them all, including E-Reader device formats, especially with the release of Nook Color.

  4. Marsh

    Any chance of a status update? There are just too few systems out there that can fit such a great setting that needs to be published.

    1. the venomous pao

      Thanks for stopping by, Marsh. As I understand it, Nathaniel is knee-deep in work for Cubicle 7 on the Doctor Who game at the moment. I’ll see if we can’t get some kind of update from him ‘ere long, though. Cheers!

  5. Nathaniel

    I’m finishing up the layout for a new Doctor Who boxed set for C7 at the moment. I imagine it will be done between the end of November and the beginning of December (depending on how long it takes me to do the graphic design), but I’m already thinking about BoHM. I’ve been chomping at the bit to do it, but grad school, toddler and my position as a research assistant are all slowing the process down a bit.

    I have been seriously thinking about mechs, however, and how to get the Battletech feel without the Battletech crunch. I think I’ve come upon something, but I’m still working on it. An example of the simplification of the rules with all the detail of the original can be found in a single attack: everything you used to do for an attack in classic BT, including rolling to-hit, target location, armour penetration AND critical determination, can be done with two 2D6 rolls in BoHM, and without all the circle counting and constant erasing that went along with it. Same feel, same result, less math and paperwork. You should be able to run a company on company battle in BoHM in about half the time it takes to run a lance level conflict in BT. And that’s with individual mechs, not as some abstract Battleforce type simulation.

    After I’ve nailed it down some more, I’ll do another post that will go into more detail. But as I’m heavy into the Doctor Who box, motion capture for a video game, creating an experimental visual notation style for non-musicians and heading up a grant project for my boss, it might be a few weeks…