Black Clouds over your European Indie Publishers: VATMOSS is a MESS

tl;dr: I will probably have to stop selling PDFs from the Lost Pages shop. This might make the whole enterprise of writing RPGs and selling them on the web kind of not sustainable. If you want PDFs, get them now.

New tax regulations are about to unfold over the EU. From January 1st whoever sells digital products through an automated process to a customer in the EU must pay VAT to the country of purchase and not to the country of supply. This is done to stop shady profit-shifting companies like Amazon and Apple from selling from countries with low VAT (Luxembourg) and dodge taxes, despite having fulfilment operations in the same country as the purchaser.

The issue was partly covered by the Guardian. HMRC in the article mentions they spent effort to “publicise the changes” but I received zero notice from HMRC.

Dave Walker made a funny/grim cartoon about it:vatmossThe unintended effect is that this will also kill many small businesses. Possibly including Lost Pages.

Here’s why: the regulation that if I sell you a PDF and are within the EU the following apply:

  1. I have to apply the correct VAT for ebooks depending on the country where you are in. It’s a mild pain, but doable.
  2. I have to get two non-conflicting proofs that you actually are in that country. For example, the billing address of your bank account, geolocation of your IP, the country of issue of your SIM card if it’s over mobile. The problem is that these bits of informations are either unreliable (like geolocation) or invalid (if you’re momentarily in the UK but live in France, your bank account billing address conflicts with the rest).
  3. Payment processor are not allowed to give me the information, even if they had it. Paypal does not seem care.
  4. I have to keep the collected data for ten years within the EU. Having tiny businesses holding this volume of customer data is a security nightmare waiting to happen.
  5. I would have to register for VAT and make at least 8 VAT returns per year. It’s a monumental burden for a dude working from a corner of his flat.

The whole rigmarole happens because this new law ignores the VAT threshold for small businesses. Companies ordinarily have to have a minimum turnover before handling VAT, but this law was written to deliberately ignores the threshold.

This means a whole lot of bureaucracy. And being liable in 28 different countries.

A simple way to comply is to start selling ebooks on Amazon. So Amazon pays their taxes with one hand, and immediately takes their tax money from your pocket with the other hand. And this is one of the reasons I try not to buy on Amazon anymore. I suggest you do the same.

A harder way to comply is to find a platform that does this for me (they all have a long list of caveat) or write my own. For example, RPGNow does not pay this tax, despite selling to EU customers. Mind you, the fact that they do not have EU operations does not matter: if the customer is in the EU the EU has the right to apply tax on the transaction, that’s how it works. I contacted RPGNow several times, and they told they would get back to me, but they did not.

Thing is, I don’t mind paying taxes. I mind hoarding your personal data. I mind being liable for unlimited fines in 28 countries.

I mind spending my days filling paperwork instead of writing games.

The outcome: I will probably have to stop selling PDFs as of January 1st 2015. This might make the whole enterprise of writing RPGs and selling them on the web kind of not sustainable. If you want PDFs, get them now.

If you want to help:

  1. Write about this. Share the comic on social media. Share this on social media.
  2. Reblog this post hard.
  3. Write to your MP, MEP, MSP, whatever. They are at times oddly sensitive to people telling them about their problems because it gives them an occasion to show off a bit. And maybe to act on them. Especially if they are in a contested seat.
  4. There are two petitions you can subscribe, one for the UK and one general for the EU.

Soon from Lost Pages: Wonder & Wickedness

soon

Wonder and Wickedness is Brendan’s Sorcery supplement. It contains:

  • a new magic system with level-less magic and rules to adapt it to your favourite fantasy RPG
  • support for magic duels! like in fiction!
  • seven magic disciplines and a whole lot of new spells
  • scores of catastrophes, for when spellcasting goes horribly wrong
  • fifty magic items
  • and some fine art by Russ Nicholson

I’m going through the last part of the layout. Available in before the end of the year, print version in January. More news soon.

New Release: Into The Odd by Chris McDowall

frontChris McDowall’s Into the Odd contains everything you need to create a character and explore an industrial world of cosmic meddlers and horrific hazards. This is a fast, simple game, to challenge your wits rather than your understanding of complex rules.

small

You seek Arcana, strange devices hosting unnatural powers beyond technology. They range from the smallest ring to vast machines, with powers from petty to godlike. Beside these unnatural items that they may acquire, your characters remain grounded as mortals in constant danger.

The game is 48 pages, containing:

  • Original artwork from Jeremy Duncan, Levi Kornelsen, and others.
  • The fastest character creation out there, getting you playing as soon as possible
  • Player rules that fit on a single page, keeping a focus on exploration, problem solving, and fast, deadly combat.
  • The complete guide to running the game as Referee. From making the most of the rules to creating your own monsters and Arcana.
  • Sample monsters, arcanum, traps, and hazards.
  • Character advancement from Novice to Master.
  • Rules for running your own Company, and taking it to war with an original mass combat system.
  • Complete guide to the Odd World, from the cosmopolitan city of Bastion and its hidden Underground, through to backwards Deep Country, the unexplored Golden Lands.
  • The Iron Coral, sample expedition site to test the players’ survival skills.
  • The Fallen Marsh, a deadly wilderness to explore.
  • Hopesend Port, a settlement to regroup and sail on to further adventure.
  • Thirteen bonus pages of tools and random tables from the Oddpendium.

Into the Odd comes both in PDF and Print + PDF. The printed books will ship in January.

If the book is ready, why are you releasing now and shipping in January?

First of all, time. The book is ready but not printed. Printing and having them delivered here takes a while. And shipping anything in December and hope it arrives across the ocean before Christmas is not very reasonable.

Second, while the book is print-ready, additional eyes help.

Third, I’m more or less homeless for the next two-three weeks. Which makes fulfilment of print orders a problem.

Fourth, there’s going to be a major bungle up in how EU small businesses sell things online. I might have to stop selling PDFs to EU countries due to new regulations that make it too much of a burden. So, if you are in the EU and want a PDF, get it before 2015. More updates on this topic soon.

Pointcrawl City Generation (for both GMless and GMfull games)

Last time I made a first post about pointcrawls. Today we look at neighbourhoods and we assume a solo/gmless game.

Urban movement actions take a turn (same as shopping for weapons, bribing an officer of the law, etc, etc) and are either:

  • go to a neighbourhood you already know
  • explore

Last time we ended up with a simple exploration table. Roll 1d6 and spend a turn when you explore:

  1. waterfront
  2. market quarter
  3. slum
  4. other slum
  5. more slums? yes
  6. citadel

Butou can use the usual tricks to make the exploration more interesting. Like, for example:

  • Wrong turn last lane: of course to explore or go to a known neighbourhood takes a turn. And when exploring, you might roll a number of an already discovered neighbourhood. It’s OK, you immediately realize you took a wrong turn, and can reroll once, twice if you have a city map, a thief or ranger in the party. This is interesting in all situations where time is a resource: in a chase, or finding a cleric while someone is dying of poison, or finding a contact before they get shived, or finding the local friend before the local gangs knife you, and remember that in urban situations random encounters literally happen all the time, because city streets are always bustling. Random encounter chance at every roll, because PCs are actually basically trawling the streets a lot.
  • Lost: when moving to an already known neighbourhoods in a city you don’t know well, there’s a flat 1-in-6 chance of just getting lost and ending up in a neighbourhood at random 1d6 turns later.
  • Random People on the Streets: overnight random encounters are not as frequent, but it’s either criminals or the night watch. We covered this in Burgs & Bailiffs volume 1.
  • Let’s split: actually splitting the party might be an intelligent thing to do, except that both halves can end up in the same neighbourhood they’ve never previously been. And random encounters are riskier, because while 6 foreigners with weapons are safe, two are gonna be dead any time soon. Remember that nobody cares if a foreigner dies because you’re literally nobody there.

Oh, there’s that pub that’s really hard to find

There are some places hard to find. We’ll call them hidden spots. We need mechanics for these:

  • you actually find a hidden place the second time you get in the location
  • or when you spend a some time there
  • or when you spend a turn actually exploring the location like a dungeon room. I said it would be pointcrawls all the way down, and you did not believe me.
  • or every time you get lost, there’s a 1-in-6 chance of ending in one of the town’s hidden spots.
  • or you roll a die one or two steps smaller than the size of the table, and you only step up the dice size once you discover all the locations you can discover first. So if the city has 8 neighbourhoods, when you explore you roll a d6, but roll a d8 only when you found all the first six neighbourhoods, or when you get a reroll because you rolled an already known neighbourhood (per wrong turn rules), or when you get lost. Remember these random encounters. For example, roll 1d6 on the following table until all 1-6 neighbourhoods are found:
    1. waterfront
    2. market quarter
    3. slum
    4. other slum
    5. more slums? yes
    6. citadel
    7. that nice pub
    8. lotus den
  • or you can use a bigger die size, and every time you roll over the number of neighbourhoods you get lost and mark off the result. Eventually as they are all marked off only the base neighbourhood dice will be rolled. And if you get lost, you roll the base dice. So, for this example starts with a d10 but eventually will use a d6 as the lost locations are marked off:
    1. waterfront
    2. market quarter
    3. slum
    4. other slum
    5. more slums? yes
    6. citadel
    7. lost (1d6)
    8. lost (1d6)
    9. lost, plus attempted mugging (1d6 after encounter)
    10. lost, plus random encounter with very nasty people (1d6 if you survive the encounter)
  • or you can combine the two above, but “lost” entries after being crossed off are replaced with hidden spots, and you always use the same dice. So the first time you roll a 8 on the example table below you get lost, the second time you get to the black market. This is better than using a numeric modifier because you’re annotating the table already and requires less math. For this example, you always use a d10:
    1. waterfront
    2. market quarter
    3. slum
    4. other slum
    5. more slums? yes
    6. citadel
    7. lost (1d6) – hidden spot: incredibly cozy and friendly inn with great food and awesome locals that welcome the adventurers and befriends them.
    8. lost (1d6) – hidden spot: black market
    9. lost, plus attempted mugging (1d6 after encounter) – hidden spot: lotus den
    10. lost, plus random encounter with very nasty people (1d6 if you survive the encounter) – hidden spot: thief “guild”
  • You can also have extra hidden spots reveal in normal locations. Roll always 1d10:
    1. waterfront – hidden spot: smuggler
    2. market quarter – hidden spot: fencer
    3. slum – hidden spot: barn with a tunnel leading outside of the walls
    4. other slum – hidden spot: actually a small nice immigrant neighbourhood
    5. more slums? yes – hidden spot: smuggler
    6. citadel – hidden spot: poncy restaurant
    7. lost (1d6) – hidden spot: incredibly cozy and friendly inn with great food and awesome locals that welcome the adventurers and befriends them.
    8. lost (1d6) – hidden spot: black market
    9. lost, plus attempted mugging (1d6 after encounter) – hidden spot: lotus den
    10. lost, plus random encounter with very nasty people (1d6 if you survive the encounter) – hidden spot: thief “guild”
  • See entry #10 in the last table? you should totally have more than one thief guild in town, in different locations.
  • You can totally replace #10 with a second table full of weird and hard to find places.
  • And of course you can do the same for hex contents. What did I just say? Topic for next time.

Pointcrawls and Random Exploration: words plus a game mechanic supporting Solo gaming

There’s a lot of discussion going on about pointcrawls recently. Chris’s writings is what you want to read first. I did a thing too.

First, I want to say a couple of things about pointcrawling.

Pointcrawl is a technique for organizing spatial relationships between discrete campaign locations. All locations are separate and can connect to each other through a number of paths. If this sounds like graph theory, there’s a reason.

Why do we do this? Because:

  1. action in RPGs happen in a specific location. The stage of the mind’s eye theatre is a single place. It can move, and be big, and new can be created (for example for random encounters along a road), but we usually focus our attention to a discrete location.
  2. the links are super-immediate to convey where to go from a place. Adventures are often about travels, travel are about connections. Explicit connections convey this information faster, for the same reason roads in maps are depicted in weird colours like green and red, despite being covered in black tarmac. This does not mean that travel can happen only along these connections, or that more connections can’t be made.

For example:

hypogea

This map is the example map in the Chthonic Codex boxed set. It’s a network of caves and canyons. All important locations are marked by a dot; it’s possible to go from a location to another doing up and down the paths marked. This is somewhat an extreme case: it’s only possible to move between locations using the tunnels and canyons, digging or climbing to the surface and travelling overland is extremely unwise. A similar set-up can happen in a setting consisting of narrow valleys separated by high mountains, like the Uplands or the Slumbering Ursine Dunes.

Also, portals. A network of portals is best represented as portals and their links drawn over an existing map. The best example is Gorgonmilk’s Dolmenwood map, where the portal pointcrawl is imposed on a stylish hexcrawl map.

PAOLO, YOU MENTIONED GAME MECHANICS

Right. We are going to use villages, cities and neighbourhoods for examples. The game mechanic is this:

  • The locations on the pointcrawl are either simple or complex.
  • Simple locations, like a village, are small enough to show all apparent features after a modicum of exploration: roads going to places, shops, etc.
  • Complex locations are made of a number of simple locations in the same complex, for example a big city of different neighbourhoods. Their relationship is complex enough that when one explore in a complex location, they can only see/afford/interact with what’s inside the simple location, and the locations this is connected to. A pointcrawl in a pointcrawl, pointcrawlceptions, it’s pointcrawls all the way down. It’s possible to simply go to these neighbours as one would do normally in an RPG (the usual “we go to the waterfront” “you meet ill-meaning thugs on your way” “we set their hair on fire” etc etc),  or it’s possible to explore and create one or two of such links to internal neighbourhood at random.
  • At random from what? Cue table, roll 1d6:
    1. waterfront
    2. market quarter
    3. slum
    4. other slum
    5. more slums? yes
    6. citadel
  • You can have one such table for each city, or each city has a number of blank neighbourhoods and each time you find a new one, you randomize from a Grand Table of Neighbourhoods. They come in different flavours, from Crapsack to Fallen Empire to High Fantasy.
  • If you were told that there is a Market in a specific city, pencil in market with a question mark in one of the slots. When you actually get there, roll to find if the information was reliable and the market is in fact there, or erase the market and roll a new neighbourhood if you were told bullshit.
  • for solo play, start with cities full of blank slots. When you hear rumour about them, pencil them in with a question mark. In such cities, if you want to avoid actually making a graph, you can get by with only using the city table: neighbourhoods have no fixed neighbours so you can either explore or go to a known location.
  • if you ask the locals where a neighbourhood is, roll twice and pick the best result.

Status update

Hey y’all,
I haven’t been writing in a while. There are three main reasons:

  1. I’m getting evicted, and I spent way more time than expected to fix the issue. I found a place to stay but its going to be a bit problematic. But long term plans gears are moving. More details as soon as.
  2. my suppliers for box making and binding are taking longer than expected to fulfill their orders. This blows. And the festive season is a’coming.
  3. the next post on the landscape generator has been postponed because it needs a bunch of tiles. But given the relocation, I’ll have to wait until the relocation. So I’ll discuss it in general.
  4. Yale put lectures for some of their courses on Youtube. One that might be of immediate interest for the readers is “The Early Middle Ages, 284–1000 with Paul Freedman“.