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Places by the Way Design Blog 1.1: I Wanna Easter Egg!

posted Jan 24, 2017, 11:29 PM by Douglas Sun

Two weeks since the last update; so how are things going? They’re going. We’re close to sending The Village of Darkharrow tp Ingram Spark for a test print. March by Amazon seems to have sorted out the worst of its capacity issues from before Christmas, so our original plan for having the t-shirts done up should still be valid. The manuscript for The Bitch Queen’s Prize is close to done, and once it is done the foundation and the load-bearing walls for A Treasure on the Rocks will be in place. In short, everything is still on track.

A month has passed since the campaign ended, so I’ve had a chance to reflect in how I went about it. One of the best pieces of advice that I got about how to handle a Kickstarter came from a friend who has backed a lot of campaigns; he advised me that backers like to get something that they won’t be able to get if they wait until after publication to buy your game — unique material items, like special dice or other such components.

This advice cuts against my argument that crowdfunding is simply a demotic, modern version of the noble patronage system of yore, in which wealthy aristocrats backed the arts both out of genuine interest and just so they could bask in the reflected glory of creativity. After all, Lord Chesterfield famously ticked off Samuel Johnson because he tried to claim more credit for backing Johnson’s Dictionary than he deserved, not because he asked for a higher-level reward than the one for which he had paid. Nor did he expect a special variant cover or different words than je would see if he waited and bought a copy on Amazon. 

But my friend’s point still made sense to me. After all, those of us who are not fabulously wealthy are conditioned to act like consumers rather than benefactors. We expect tangible value in return for our money, so we will always act accordingly. Not even PBS expects its viewers to be pure altruists, which is why they give out tote bags and coffee table books in exchange for your pledge.

But promo cards and custom dice don’t really go with a D&D mini-module. I had already thought to use my autograph as a sweetener. A signed copy might fetch something in the Gen Con auction someday if Places by the Way comes a runaways success. But I admit that at that this point, this sounds like betting on penny stocks..

That’s when the idea hit me to come up with an Easter egg, drop it into The Village of Datkharrow, and create a “limited” edition of the module that would only be available to Kickstarter backers. For those of you who have paid no attention to digital games (or fooled around with a DVD UI) over the last 25 years or so, an Easter egg is an amusing bit of unadvertised content that you can activate by issuing a certain command under a certain set of circumstances. An Easter egg was originally something that the programmers would slip into the release version as a lark. But the concept proved so popular that at one point they were practically de rigeur — couldn’t be a self-respecting PC or video game without them.

At that point, both manuscripts for Places by the Way #1 were finished, and I had no desire to submit The Village of Darkharrow to a rewrite of any kind.  The Easter egg concept suggested that I could drop in an addition to one of the encounters that would differentiate the Limited Edition without any effect on either the encounter or the module as a whole. In other words, I wouldn’t have to go back through the whole manuscript and make sure all the pieces still fit together.

I won’t give out any spoilers about the Easter egg in The Village of Darkharrow Limited Edition, at least not yet. But it’s a doozy, if I do say so myself. It turned out pretty well for something that came right off the cuff. As a result, I feel comfortable laying out the following rules that will guide my future use of Easter eggs in Places by the Way:

1) Every Limited Edition of a Places by the Way module will have at least one such Easter egg in it. This will distinguish the Limited Edition from the version that will be made available for general sale.

2) The Easter egg will not materially change the encounter in which it is embedded, nor will it affect the overall course or nature of the module.

3) But it will have real amusement value all its own, I’ll try not to get too obscure with the references, so that at least someone in your group should be able to say, “Ah, I see what the designer did there.”

4) At the same time, the Easter egg will also provide the party with something of unusual material value. Savoring a clever joke is all well and good, but it just isn’t D&D without treasure. Besides, a special item reminds you of how and where you got it, so it’s all part of creating a memorable moment within a campaign.