Dungeons on Demand creator talks about raising thousands for D&D adventures on Kickstarter
When I contacted Dan Coleman about this interview, he got back to me in minutes. In fact, from first contact to complete interview, I had the material for this article in a matter of hours. This speediness on Kickstarter didn't seem to be a one-time thing either; Coleman is very serious about making this side project a top priority.
This dedication to his campaigns is probably why he's already on his third fully-funded Dungeons on Demand campaign. The first two, which raised nearly $20,000 between them, were successful and complete ventures into the world of crowdfunding. At the time of writing this article, Coleman already has over $11,000 backed for the third installment - and that's a hell of a lot more than his initial $750 goal.
Dungeons on Demand is a series of short adventures for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, meant to be dragged and dropped into campaigns by Game Masters when they don't have time to prepare - or if they just need material on short notice for a one-off session.
Each adventure is for a specific character level and seeks to bring players to a level-up by the end of the session.
Intrigued by the success of the campaigns, we reached out to Dan to ask about his experiences with running a successful Kickstarter presence, iterating on crowdfunding projects, Wizards of the Coast's reaction to his crowdfunded adventures, and more.
GameSkinny: This is your third successful campaign for Dungeons on Demand - what have you learned from your first two campaigns that you’re now implementing in this third one?
Dan Coleman: I don’t have a specific answer for the campaign in general, per se, but the process of writing Dungeons on Demand has become much more community-based. For this campaign I asked my backers what they’d like to see in the new adventures, what kinds of rewards they’d be interested in, and what type of stretch goals I could provide. I’m glad to say I could put a lot of their suggestions to use in this set!
What sort of things have you done to promote your campaign?
Most of my promotions are done directly through Kickstarter itself. My second campaign had over 650 backers, so that’s a huge audience right there I can speak to through updates. I use them to share news about upcoming projects I’m working on.
I’ve gotten a couple bloggers in the industry to review my adventures, which always helps. Of course, I love doing podcasts and interviews like this one!
I have a Facebook page that I use to share news and previews, and a Twitter handle where I tweet a lot about my campaign and projects (…and football, …and Pokémon, …and, well, life in general). Reddit is a fantastic way to reach the community as well.
I’ve never paid an advertiser or marketing team to promote my campaigns. You can’t make a Kickstarter project without spam from those kind of companies flooding your inbox: I just ignore it.
You’ve made it a point to include maps that are easy to pop into online D&D services like Roll20 - would you say Roll20 (or similar) users are a big source of backers? Or would you say most backers take these dungeons to their physical tables?
Actually, the original Dungeons on Demand adventures didn’t include these maps (they all do now, though). The world of Roll20 and online tabletop simulators is relatively new to me; most of my gaming is still done in person at the table. It hadn’t crossed my mind that a resource like this would be valuable, and the backers started asking for them in droves.
I design all my maps in layers in Photoshop, so it was simple enough to go back in and turn off layers with GM-only icons to make a “Player Safe” version. Of course, going forward that means I can be a little more creative with the map differences when I’m designing adventures, specifically for secret doors or dynamic terrain. I really like the depth that affords my product, so these maps are now a mainstay.
It’s tough to say how many users actually play online. I think it’d be fair to say “a lot,” but it’s impossible to tell. I’ve had backers email me photos of their gaming tables dressed for one of my adventures, and they’ve come up with some great stuff. I had one backer print out an entire dungeon on paper, and another 3D print terrain for one, and another transpose everything in wet-erase markers on a gridded mat. There are still plenty of people playing at the table.
"You can imagine I was terrified, but [Wizards of the Coast] turned out to be super swell guys about my adventures."
Has Wizards of the Coast reached out to you at all? What kind of contact have you had with any higher ups (or legal team members) there?
The Wizards legal did indeed contact me during my first Kickstarter campaign! You can imagine I was terrified, but they turned out to be super swell guys about my adventures. 5th edition was only about 6 months old at the time, and I got the impression they were trying to handle a community exploding with content and sharing it through platforms like Kickstarter. I was told I needed to add an attribution for their products, and I needed to avoid using their trademarks (this is why you’ll always see me refer to “Game Masters” instead of “Dungeon Masters”). Also, I couldn’t reproduce any copyrighted rules or materials, of course.
With the release of the Open Gaming License, I got to speak with the Wizards team again about the necessary changes required to keep the products nice and legal. Again, the contact I had with them was positive and encouraging. I’ve ran into parts of the team at Gen Con and other outlets, and I can really feel there’s a big push to get behind the community again with this edition of D&D. It’s really encouraging.
WOTC just announced their Dungeon Masters Guild platform, what are your thoughts about adding your material to that platform?
I have mixed feelings about it, and the best answer I can give is “I don’t know yet.” Certainly there’d be a great market there, but some of the rules and stipulations make it difficult for me; at least with the products I’ve already created. I don’t plan on leaving DriveThruRPG at the moment, so for now I’m going to keep things there.
A sample from Dungeons on Demand 3's level 10 adventure, "Eyes on the Prize."
Follow up: the DM Guild now allows creators to publish content set in the Forgotten Realms. If you were to publish adventures or dungeons set in the Forgotten Realms, where (and what) would you like to explore as settings?
This might ruin my D&D cred, but I am not a huge fan of the Forgotten Realms setting. I know, I know! I played Baldur’s Gate on the PC growing up and I got the chance to peruse the campaign setting in 3rd Edition, but I’m just not familiar enough to give you a good answer. Almost every game I’ve ran or played in has been a homebrew world, mostly using the Greyhawk pantheon of deities.
This is a big reason why I encourage people to make the Dungeons on Demand adventures their own thing. I was never big into boxed adventures,* and I’d hate to think any GM out there feels bound to the limits of my modules, much less the Forgotten Realms or other settings.
*With the exception of The Rod of Seven Parts. I loved the heck outta that one.
What do you think is the key to a great Kickstarter campaign?
"Treat your backers with respect!"
I’ve learned a litany of things about crowdfunding from Dungeons on Demand and MajiMonsters (my first trip through Kickstarter), but I can sum up the best advice in this statement: Treat your backers with respect! Be open and honest with them, communicate frequently, and respond promptly. I make it a personal goal to reply to all questions within 24 hours – but most of the time it’s within minutes. I’ve carried this philosophy from the get-go, and it’s one I employ in every Kickstarter I run.
I’d also recommend starting to promote your Kickstarter early, and being as close to finished as possible before you go live. This gives you all the ammo you need to get a buzz around your project, and you’ll be well equipped to post pictures, answer questions, and deliver on time.
Give us a hint; do you have any other future Kickstarter plans in mind?
Going forward, I’d like to think there’s always a new set of Dungeons on Demand adventures “around the corner,” - I’m currently averaging once every 5 to 6 months. However, I don’t think I have another one in me until late 2016 at this point. Writing these adventures takes months, and I’ve got a full plate with MajiMonsters at the moment. Hopefully we’ll see a new volume by October or November!
"Writing these adventures takes months."
I’d also love to help my brother Kickstart one of his games. He’s put some great board games and card games together, and I’d love to see them get off the ground. You can be assured if he does take one to Kickstarter I’ll be a part of it in some way.
Fun question: What’s the funniest thing you can recall happening in one of your home games of D&D
There’s a certain joy when your players turn the simplest thing into something overly complicated. I was running a game for my brother, Mike, and three of our friends with a classic “troll bridge” scenario; the players needed to cross a river, and the only known bridge was guarded by a troll that may or may not be too strong to confront.
Of the four of them, only Mike voted to fight to the troll.
The other three voted to pass the river by simply swimming across it. One by one, the three jumped into the river and, one by one, all failed their Swim checks. Mike made a dazzling array of checks to save their lives. Once everyone was safely ashore, Mike urged them that crossing the river would be more dangerous than fighting the troll. Still concerned, the other three resisted.
“Mike, there are four of us here, and three of us think fighting the troll is a bad idea,” they said to him. To which he angrily replied:
“Yeah, well, the three of you wanted to jump in the @^%$ing river and drown, was that a good idea?”
Needless to say, I was in stitches. They fought among themselves for a good long while over what to do. I think I got up and made myself a sandwich while they sorted it out. There are some things good planning will never account for, and there are few moments more rewarding to a GM than when your players are so immersed in your game world they’re arguing in character with each other.
We'd like to thank Dan Coleman for his time! If you are interested in Dungeons on Demand 3, you can find the Kickstarter here or check out Dan's past Dungeons on Demand projects on DriveThruRPG. If you have further questions, you can reach Dan via his Kickstarter profile, Facebook page Dan Coleman Productions, or Twitter @sketchedOut.
Author disclaimer: After this interview, I'm probably buying an adventure, if not backing this project.