Every year the same question appears: “What am I going to make to give back to the community?”. And every year, that question becomes more and more difficult to answer since so many things have already been made for the community by other creators and by myself. Players won’t really have a need for a fifth First Player token, and other things are way beyond budget. Sometimes, you just have to keep an eye out on the forums and different groups to see what the people want, which has finally led me to this year’s loot: A playthrough notebook!
This idea was sparked by my yearly playthrough articles, where I give a brief summary of my win/loss ratio as well as the X number of quests I have played X times. Other statistics, like the percentage of quests played, and what my most played heroes are, are also interesting to track. I have received several comments requesting my spreadsheets, so I thought: “Why not make this the loot for 2021?”. The idea was sparked in January, and I wrote down my first thoughts on paper on what to include in the notebook. Another request I have been getting a lot is for my collection tracker, with which you can check off what expansions you already own. Players who have accidentally bought a scenario twice will know the frustration that comes with it, so I hope to alleviate the problem by giving everyone a checklist.
Other ideas also quickly formed, like a campaign tracker. I know that several players have made their own spreadsheets for this, but I wanted to make a written version so that you don’t have to bring a laptop to your games to see what Boons you need to bring. With all of these ideas forming in my mind, I presented my idea to the VotP Discord channel, and we went to work to hammer out the ideas and try to make this a reality. Some pages were added to help people understand how a round is structured and when there are Action Windows to take advantage of. I also added grids to the book with which you can easily tally up how many times you have attempted a certain quest. While these grids couldn’t be too long, players are encouraged to use different colored pens and pencils to write in these grids how many attempts they have made at a certain quest. Black ink could, for instance, denote Nightmare attempts, and different colors could be used to signal different years.
With all of these ideas taking shape, I began prototyping the book in March. I used software from one of the studios where I could have the books printed. The software was free and didn’t require my limited knowledge of Photoshop to use. While the first draft was pretty rough, the book was functional in my eyes, and thus I continued to explore ways to improve the book. One of the first things I wanted to use external help for was the cover. Not only did I want the cover to look nice, but it should also be sort of functional. As such, I approached Beorn from Hall of Beorn for his interactive map of Middle Earth, where the different quests are placed on the map. This map hadn’t been updated to include the final two cycles of the game, but after I requested the update, I was free to use the image on the books. I spread the art over the spine and both covers (front and back). Luckily, there was some space in the Bay of Belfalas for the mandatory IBSN number and barcode so that it didn’t really obstruct any notable landmarks. I also wanted to have the title be in a relatively empty space on the front cover and found a nice spot in the Northern Wastes that I could use. One downside of the map art was that the resolution wasn’t ideal for the book’s format that I chose. To ensure that the art wouldn’t look as blurry as it would if I stretched it all the way, I filled up the rest of the cover with a dark blue-purple border. This is neutral enough that the map still remains visible and allowed me not to risk losing a part of the map if I stretched it to the borders of the cover.
After the cover and the inside of the book were finished, in my eyes, I had to order the first prototype. This would allow me to see if the font was the right size and how much extra space I had left over on the sides of the book. I was also curious to see if the size of the book (13 x 20 cm) was sufficient for use with the game. I didn’t want the book to be too small; else, there wouldn’t be enough space for the pages. But make it too large, and the book would be difficult to ship or to bring to conventions if you intend to use it. So I settled on this format, and I think the size is a nice balance for what you would use the book for.
The number of pages was also a point of debate. The program only allowed the book to have a number of pages divisible by 12. And since you pay for how many pages your book has, it was a real toss-up between going for 96 or 108 pages. In the end, I went with 96 pages, as it saved over $200 on the final bill (and a few dollars on the first prototype). This still gave people over 400 playthrough logs and kept the costs low for me. With that all figured out, I ordered the first prototype in June.
It arrived a few days later, a few days earlier than expected. The book’s quality was nice, especially the glossy cover and the paper used for the book. This isn’t that regular notebook paper that tears easily. I found a few mistakes soon after using the book, mainly concerning spacing for the playthrough logs. I tend to have small handwriting, and even I could barely fit the name of a quest on the pages. There were also other errors, like me straight-up forgetting to add Lothiriel to the list of heroes in the book… So with all that done, it was time to go for the second revision of the book and get some more help.
That help came in the form of Thaurdir, who does a lot of the graphical design for A long-extended Party and is one of the Valar-level supporters of the blog on Patreon. I had contacted him earlier to make a collection log for the book. But thanks to AleP and his work requiring a lot of time, it wasn’t finished for the first prototype. Luckily, we got together in August online to get most of the work done. Almost all pages got a redesign, with better-looking font and nicer spacing for the grids than I could get for them in MS Excel. The campaign log especially got a decent upgrade, where encounter set icons replaced my previous wall of text. All of this work did mean that some parts of the book now stretched more pages than the initial prototype. Since I wanted to keep the book at 96 pages, I opted to remove a few pages of the playthrough section.
Because of my fear that I wouldn’t finish everything on time, a second prototype was scrapped. It would take too long for it to arrive, do a redesign, and then order the large batch of books. So I made the call to go straight to a big batch, and I placed the order in the second half of August. The books again arrived earlier than expected, and I was able to ship the first few packages in the final week of August.
Overall, the second revision of the book looked a lot nicer, though I do regret not going for a second prototype. Some pages have a border that is too wide, and the playthrough logs could have benefitted from being 5 per page instead of 6. Right now, I should be handing out microscopes or magnification glasses with the book, like the font on the final pages is ridiculously small. I hope people don’t mind and can still fit their playthroughs on there. On a positive note, you do get a lot more playthroughs per book this way!
The final product
The final book consists out of 96 pages of regular paper, covered by a glossy cover of the art you saw earlier in this article. The contents of the book are as follows:
- Page 1: Intro and thanks
- Page 2-3: Collection tracker
- Page 4-5: List of QR codes for useful community resources
- Page 6-9: Grid to mark down played quests and space for additional quests
- Page 10-13: Grid to mark your favourite heroes and space for custom heroes
- Page 14-15: Campaign overview and list of Boons and Burdens earned
- Page 16-27: Full campaign log for 1x LOTR Saga campaign, with POD scenarios added
- Page 28-29: Breakdown of a round, including all action windows
- Page 30: Instructions for the playthrough logs
- Page 31-95: Playthrough logs
- Page 96: Empty because it had to be for the program to work.
Of course, the main loot for this year is the notebook, but that isn’t the only thing I am sending out. What good is a notebook if you have nothing to write it with? Because of that, I quickly went to look at what options I had for pens or pencils. I wanted to have some decently fancy ones, but not that it would cost me too much per pen. So I settled on a nice blue, metal pen with the blog’s name engraved onto it. To save on shipping, I also ordered a lot more of them than I really needed, still with the intention to hand them out during conventions. They arrived pretty quickly, and their quality was nice enough for the price I got them for. They are regular blue ball-point pens that should last a decent time. If I had more time, I would also have engraved some pencils myself and given that to everyone as well. Sadly, the new laser engraver didn’t arrive in time for that, so you will have to find a pencil yourself if you want to use it.
Because I had made so many pens, some of the supporters may have received some extra pens. I will also save some of them for later distribution and for my own personal use!
When all the items for this year arrived at my house, the distribution step of this process could begin. I sent out a form a month earlier to request everyone’s shipping address and whether or not they would go to Con of the Rings that year. I was still under the impression that I would participate at the convention as well, but sadly the border was still closed to tourists by the time I had to consider distribution. All in all, I had the shipping addresses of over 70 people worldwide that supported the blog through Patreon or through writing articles for the blog this last year. The most tedious part of the entire distribution process is writing the hand-written letters I include in everyone’s package each year. I like to do this for a bit more of a personal touch, though it does cost more time to do. It is also something that my hands aren’t used to doing since I generally just type emails instead of writing long paragraphs of text by hand. So I had to take it slow and work through the list of recipients one at a time.
As for distribution orders, I wanted to do the UK and EU parcels first. These are the easiest to ship for me, and it gives me the feeling of having a lot done early on in the process. They are also the cheapest packages to send out, which helped me to save some money until my paycheck came in. After those easy packages were shipped out, the most difficult ones are up next. These were the Asia and Latin America packages. Luckily, there weren’t that many of them this year, but the cost of shipping them is high, and the addresses aren’t in any standard format, which can get confusing when switching between countries.
Next up was a large box of packages that I will be sending to Con of the Rings. While I cannot attend the convention, I did find a way to send out many packages at 0 shipping cost. My mother, who is a cabin attendant for KLM, had already requested a flight to MSP under the assumption that I could come. She is still going to Minneapolis, allowing me to send a big box of loot with her for pickup by Thaurdir. He will then deliver the box of goodies to the convention, allowing everyone to pick up their loot without me needing to send everyone individual packages to your home address like last year.
After the Con of the Rings people have had their box prepared and ready to be shipped, I will start looking into preparing parcels for the North American supporters who aren’t attending the con. The packages will be shipped out in several batches because I can only carry so much to the mailbox. I will let everyone know when their package is in the mail, expect 2-3 weeks of delivery time.
How can I get one?
Immediately after I posted some pictures of the books and their contents, my inbox became flooded by people requesting the book. This is usually the case when content creators show off their Patreon loot, and we usually have to point to the site and the deadlines that we posted a few months ago. If you want to secure yourself a book or other loot in the future, your best bet is to start pledging to the blog (link). You can also pledge to other creators that will be releasing loot every now and then. For a full list, see this article that I published earlier this year: https://visionofthepalantir.com/2021/03/04/community-support-and-swag/
This year though, you may get lucky. After everyone on the list has gotten their notebook and pen, I will have a look and see how many books I have left over. I ordered a total of 120 books, thinking I would be handing out a couple during Con of the Rings. And since I don’t have a use for any of the leftovers, I might as well get my money back. First of all, the people pledging at a lower tier on Patreon will be given the offer first, along with people who joined after the deadline. Only after those people have given their answer will I offer the chance to buy the books to everyone. This will be at cost ($20 per book+pen) plus shipping. I will also limit buying multiples to just 3 books per person, in case people want to buy them for their playgroup or something. I wouldn’t want someone buying them all up. Should this prove to be so popular that I have way more requests than spare books, I might order some extras, but I won’t do it for fewer than 10 extras. I am also considering releasing a second version of the book next year, so you will have to be patient in that case.
Leave a comment or contact the blog directly if you want to be on the list to receive the leftovers. I cannot make any guarantees but will try my best to send everyone a book and pen. First come, first serve, though, unless the queue will be so large that I have to order some more books. If you are reading this after October 2021, I am not taking any more requests, just pledge to the blog on Patreon, and you will be in the running for next year’s loot. It’s that easy.
And with that, I hope I have given you all the details behind the production of the loot. It has been a wild ride to me, showing how fast time can fly by if you are designing fun things. As the scope keeps expanding, I am not 100% convinced that I will continue to do this every year. This year I had to get some help from people, for which I am grateful. I don’t even have any idea what I will do for next year, but I would love to hear some ideas. I can always expand this book to fix some mistakes and do a second run.