The Path to Published: Part II - Deciding what to create

This is Part II of a series about publishing my first TTRPG supplements.

The Path to Published: Part II - Deciding what to create

This is Part II of a series about publishing my first TTRPG supplements. You should start at Part I.

Now that I have a goal (publish 3 TTRPG projects on the popular marketplaces) and a budget, I need to figure out what I will create.

To make this decision, I asked myself four questions:

  1. What is already selling well on my target marketplaces?
  2. What is currently underrated?
  3. What do I already have that I can leverage?
  4. What do I personally want to create?

Let's go through them in order.

Table of contents

What is already selling well?

DMs Guild bestsellers

To keep things simple, I did a quick scan of the top selling items on Dungoen Masters Guild and DriveThruRPG. I do not have a solid data set to work with, nor do I have an interest in developing an elaborate research methodology right now.

I went to the bestseller pages on DM's Guild and DriveThruRPG. I scanned through the products and made a note of things that interested me as I went. My notes tried to highlight the breadth of options of supplements. I ignored larger products like full game systems because I want to start small.

My scrappy approach does not concern me. I could have spent weeks doing market research but I think it would be a waste of time when just starting out. I believe in biasing to action. It is far better to give yourself a limited time to think and then just start trying things. You will learn more quickly by doing and putting your work out there.

Here are the notes I took for a few products:

  • The Tortle Package. More info on a region in a DnD campaign called Tomb of Annihilation and a playable character race. Interesting because it clearly connects to a popular official campaign.
  • Several OSR titles/systems. This is a trend right now. Here is an Orr Group report from Q1 2020 with data showing the OSR trend on roll20. Would it be possible to give an OSR spin to a game I'm interested in like Quest RPG?
  • Puzzle Master. A collection of puzzles with handouts. Puzzles are valuable assets in RPGs but crafting good ones at the right difficulty level is difficult. I can see why this would be popular.
  • Monster Manual Expanded. More monsters and more options but this is based on an existing popular title. It Also specifically calls out options to add a nostalgic feel which capitalizes on the OSR trend.
  • Ancestral Weapons. A system for upgrading and creating magic weapons that have a heritage.
  • The Malady Codex. A guide to diseases that includes rich lore and mythology. It is advertised as being made by medical students which is an appeal to expertise. Good sales tactic if you have some expertise to share!
  • 100 Monster Hunts. Collection of short monster-themed quests based on monsters in core supplements. Again I notice a clear connection to an official published product.
  • Banquet of the damned. A one-shot adventure. I'm not sure if one-shots are generally hot sellers or if this product managed to hit a nerve. It's also possible the creator has built an audience for their work. It seems like the creator put extra time and care into graphic design and layout.

In addition to these notes, I'll add a personal belief. The basic building blocks of adventure will always be in fashion. There are so many creative ideas to pursue but people will always need the basics. I'm talking about things like NPCs, adventures, fantastic locations, magic items, and monsters. Those will never go out of style.

What is currently underrated?

I want at least 1 of my projects to target a new game that has the potential to rise in popularity. This is a high risk strategy that has a high possible reward. Let me explain.

Imagine you walk into this digital store and go to the D&D 5e section. My work will be one amongst thousands. Standing out will be very difficult. Creating something that doesn't exist yet will be equally difficult.

Now imagine you go to the section for a new RPG that hasn't had decades to gain traction. There will only be a few things on that shelf. My project will be much easier to see. It will likely provide something no one else has even produced yet, making it more of a must have than a nice to have.

The downside to this approach is that significantly less people play games that are not D&D 5e. This is where the risk comes in. I am making a bet that the new game will grow in popularity. Creating great work for a game in the early days is like planting a flag on a hill. Newcomers to the game will continue to purchase my work as I will have established myself as a top creator. I'd rather be a big fish in a small pond.

At the time of writing this, my favourite pick is Quest RPG. The product is top quality. They are appealing to a new generation of gamers. They have demonstrated that they intend to continue making big investments in the game and those things will be created over the coming year. These marketplaces have almost no supporting material for it yet. I think it's a great time for creators to get on the Quest train.

What do I already have that I can leverage?

As Barley said to his brother in the movie Onward:

Look, on a quest, you have to use what you've got. And this is what we've got.

Although this is the first time I'm creating RPG supplements, I have already created other things. In my inventory, I have:

It would be crazy not to consider these assets and think about how they could connect to this project.

What do I personally want to create?

Here is one of the simplest frameworks I have ever come across for deciding if you should work on something:

  1. Will I enjoy it?
  2. Can I do it?
  3. Is it likely to work?
  4. Is it okay if it doesn't?

In desperate times, compromise on #1. In good times, emphasize #1.

Thankfully, I am enjoying good times in my life right now. I am grateful for that every day.

If I think something will sell like hotcakes but I have no interest in creating it, I will not create it. In such a creative industry I believe this a good way to work when you can. People can tell when creative products have no love in them.

The projects

DnD Monster Manual, Mork Borg, and Quest RPG

With the above questions in mind, here is what I have decided to make.

Creatures from Norse Mythology

This project clearly connects to my existing asset: Novus Bestiary. Even if it fails to sell, it adds even more value to my growing bestiary. I already have a few articles I can rework to jump start the content. I am passionate about monsters and norse mythology.

In addition, I'd say that norse myth is in the current zeitgeist. God of War, Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, Vikings TV show, Valheim, MTG Kaldheim… the list goes on.

Mörk Borg Creatures

Mörk Borg is a new game that is smack dab in the middle of the OSR trend. It has received a lot of praise and for good reason. As a new game, there is still very little third party content for it, so I have a chance of standing out. The core book is fantastic but only contains 12 monsters.

This also perfectly connects to Novus Bestiary. Why not double down on creatures? Like the norse myth collection, every creature I develop can be featured in the growing bestiary and make it better.

NPCs for Quest RPG

For the final pick, I really wanted to do something for Quest RPG. I believe that a collection of illustrated and interesting NPCs could be a perennial favourite.

Quest RPG has already funded a kickstarter to develop more characters and items this year. They will also be releasing their first official adventures. I believe I will be able to share in some of the hype that grows as they release their products and invest in marketing their game.

As a bonus, I find myself constantly needing character art for my projects. By doing an NPC project I'll be able to commission art that I can use in many places. As an example, I could release a collection of NPC tokens on roll20, or add beautiful illustrations to my upcoming guide for new DMs.

Next steps

With my three projects selected, the next step is to build the project teams. I can't possibly do all this work myself. In the next post I'll share my process for hiring freelancers.

Until next time!

Read Part III - Finding TTRPG Freelancers

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