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Journey to Jonstown #20: FAQ for community creators

Posted by Michael O'Brien on 11th Feb 2021

The Jonstown Compendium at DriveThruRPG is our thriving community content platform for RPG material set in Greg Stafford's mythic world of Glorantha. New content is being added every week, with more and more independent creators taking the plunge of creating their own work. 

To help everyone in that process, our Jonstown Compendium community ambassador Nick Brooke has put together this helpful FAQ. It consolidates some answers we've previously given to creators, and some messages we wanted to share, into a hopefully digestible format:

Q: Is there something helpful I can read that might answer my questions?

Nick: I’m glad you asked me that! Before asking any questions, why don’t you read the Jonstown Compendium Content Guidelines.

But if that doesn’t have the answers, read on!

Q: I want to publish something for Glorantha, but I’m not sure what’ll be best? Should I be aiming to write scenarios, or sourcebooks, or something else?

A: We want more people to write and share scenarios for our tabletop roleplaying games; that’s really why the Jonstown Compendium was set up. The deep and fractal nature of Glorantha makes it easy to toss off a lore article (you’ll see Chaosium team members doing this all the time, on mailing lists and in forum posts); writing stuff that’s directly useful in games sets the bar higher. Which is what the Jonstown Compendium rules are intended to do.

So, as you read the other categories below, note that we are incentivising community content creators to package any rules-expansions or fiction or lore-dumps or theory-posts within playable scenarios and campaign settings, so the webstore has lots of useful stuff for players of our games. Our ideal is that your community content titles should be thematically linked to playable content, rather than dry academic tracts.

Q: What’s the best level of detail to work at?

A: We would advise you to work at a local level, to make your original creations easy to plug in to other people’s campaigns. So aim to detail one city (Glamour), district (The Dregs of Clearwine, Citizens of the Lunar Empire), town, village, temple, fortress (Temples & Towers), clan (Red-deer Saga), etc., rather than covering a whole region, kingdom or empire at a stroke.

It’s better to describe one tribe or oasis in playable detail – saying what’s typical and what’s unusual about this detailed example – than to write a Prax Book covering all of them in broad outline. (Yes, writing playable details is harder than painting in broad brushstrokes; yes, we’re encouraging you to learn how to do the hard stuff)

If your sourcebook covers a single clan, you honestly don’t need to define all of their neighbours at the same time – and doing that may make it harder to insert your work into anyone else’s campaign.

Paint in broad, consistent strokes outside the area you’ve chosen to focus on. If you want to introduce e.g. a rival clan chieftain, why not do it in a scenario, rather than a setting book?

And if you’re describing a faraway land about which little is known, we would urge you to include a playable setting for homebrew adventures along with all the top-down cult and culture stuff, so people can hit the ground running and use what you’ve written? The Kralori Primer for RuneQuest and the two mediaeval Western kingdoms for QuestWorlds are good examples.

Q: RuneQuest has big stat-blocks. How many do I need to include / can I get away with including? Can I publish a book of random stats?

A: “Nobody can make you do anything,” but here are a few friendly tips about stat blocks.

Please don’t make “easy-printing” versions of stat-blocks from published Chaosium books. We’ve seen one of these (the Woods of the Dead Play Aid), we don’t want any more. And don’t take that product as a precedent: we have advised the creator not to do it again.

  1. Please don’t pad your books with reams of mostly-useless RuneQuest stats for e.g. non- combatant villagers, or bandits without names or descriptions but with different armour and weapon combos, or trollkin with varying hit points and strike ranks, taking up half a page each. We can’t stop you doing it, but this is not particularly useful content. 
  2. If you have to do this, at least give them descriptions – “The last trollkin is much quicker than the others, and wields a rapier”; “The bandit leader wears looted Lunar bronze armour, but his followers wear linens and leathers.” Gamemasters hate looking through a sea of numbers to find the interesting details; Chaosium had learned by the early eighties that for undistinguished masses of nameless combatants, generic statblocks work best.

Some good examples of statblock-based products are Legion (customised broo stats inc. Rune level leaders, with short descriptions even for the grunts) and Heortlings of Sartar (generic Sartarite statblocks, so gamemasters don’t have to create their own).

Q: I’m an artist, not a writer – can I sell maps, plans, artwork, tokens, etc. without writing any scenarios or setting books?

A: We are delighted when artists and cartographers create maps, including redrawn versions of published Chaosium maps (perhaps optimised for use on virtual tabletop platforms) and sell them (which includes giving them away or “Pay What You Want” pricing) via the Jonstown Compendium. The same goes for original artwork and custom “virtual tabletop tokens.”

Three things you can’t do:

  1. Sell Chaosium’s original maps. They have to be your own versions, recognisably your own work. (Change the style, the font, the labels, add new details: don’t mechanically reproduce something that already exists)
  2. Sell unpublished Chaosium maps (e.g. draft or preview versions), unless you obtain permission from their creators first, which is unlikely to be forthcoming.
  3. Sell apps or software (including e.g. Roll20 plugins) via the Jonstown Compendium. Graphical assets intended for use on digital tabletop platforms (tokens and maps) are fine: code isn’t. There’s one exception to this: see the next FAQ.

In general, if you want to create and sell your awesome new Gloranthan video game, board game, card game, software app, symphony, novel, comic, or just about anything else that isn’t straightforwardly a scenario, sourcebook, art resource, map etc. for playing our tabletop games, email someone from Chaosium with a proposal. You’ll need some kind of license, and the Jonstown Compendium agreement won’t cover it.

If you want to sell community content for Chaosium’s Gloranthan tabletop roleplaying games, that’s what the Jonstown Compendium is for: use it. (But we know it isn’t for everything)

Q: Can I develop Gloranthan content for Virtual Tabletops?

A: Astral is the Virtual Tabletop Partner for OneBookShelf, which owns DriveThruRPG. Astral VTT content is permitted on the Jonstown Compendium. This can include fully prepared adventure scenarios with maps, tokens, dynamic lighting, handouts and so on. Creators get the same share of royalties from Astral products as for other community content (50%) (there is a different split of revenue between Chaosium, Astral and OBS at the back end, but that doesn’t affect us creators).

If you are interested, a number of free pre-packaged scenarios for other systems are available on Astral now: you can see these by creating a free account there and going to the Home page. (They are free to access for all accounts, so no pay wall or anything)

You cannot distribute applications or software for other VTT platforms via the Jonstown Compendium, including modules for Foundry, Roll20, etc.

Q: Can I update RuneQuest/QuestWorlds stat-blocks from an older book to the current edition of the game?

A: Please don’t spend any time converting stat-blocks from older RuneQuest Classic or Hero Wars / HeroQuest products to the current edition of the rules. Just like creating “easy printing” stat-blocks from Chaosium books, this could set unwelcome precedents, so we don’t want you to do it.

Give a cross-reference to the older book (most of them are available in print and/or PDF format from Chaosium), and discuss any specific changes/updates worth noticing in your scenario (e.g. “So-and-so’s printed SIZ and INT were too low, because this was a really old book and those stats used to be rolled on 3D6, so raise them to X & Y”). But honestly, don’t ever bother sweating the small stuff: you are better off learning to convert on the fly.

Q: Can I update RuneQuest Classic books to the current timeline and canon?

A: Please don’t plan on “updating” older RuneQuest Classic books (set during the Lunar Occupation, 1610-20ish) to the current RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha timeline / “rebooting” them to be more in keeping with the “Bronze Age” look and feel of current Gloranthan canon. In a sense, that’s Chaosium’s job, not yours.

Chaosium is primarily a book publisher: we’re in business to sell our books, and we created the Jonstown Compendium to support that core business, not to supplant it. So write any “update” or “reboot” as a supplement to our books, not a replacement for them. Anyone who buys your community content title should need our book to make use of it. Give copious cross- references to our book. There should be no need for you to duplicate any significant amount of text from our book, because you can simply point people to the original text.

If there’s a key paragraph you want to quote (because it’s perfect, and your publication is expanding on it), ask for permission. Don’t expect to be given permission to quote large amounts of text from older books that are still on sale. We want to see original, creative, transformative, derivative works based on our Gloranthan setting – not cut’n’pasted copies with a few words changed.

We don’t want the Jonstown Compendium to become a marketplace for slightly “revised” / “enhanced” versions of published Chaosium statblocks, and will update the guidelines shortly to make this clear.

Q: Can I sell a fanzine containing a medley of short articles about different subjects from different creators on the Jonstown Compendium? That sounds easier than writing a scenario, or a setting pack, or other playable content.

A: We don’t think the Jonstown Compendium is the right place for a retro/OSR eighties- or nineties-style fanzine with a mix of different content (editorial, rules, reviews, rumours, lore articles, comics, etc.). We would recommend that instead you focus on producing the sort of things other community content creators are writing – adventures and campaigns, detailed settings, new monsters, treasures, characters, adversaries and the like.

If you insist on creating something “fanzine-like,” try to keep everything in each issue thematically linked to playable content – you can’t use a fanzine wrapper to sneak out material that wouldn’t otherwise be permitted (fiction, comic strips, rules conversions, etc.). We’d suggest you aim to produce standalone, thematically-consistent products, rather than compilations of unrelated material. A Rough Guide to Glamour is a good example of what we mean: it’s a mix of setting, background, lore and cult writeups with game rules and supporting fiction, but it’s all been designed to hang together, it isn’t a grab-bag miscellany of stuff.

Q: The rules say fiction is banned. That’s a bit harsh! Isn’t there any kind of fiction I can include in my works?

A: Short fiction that’s thematically linked to playable content is fine. Don’t try to create a short story collection, novella, or literary journal: the Jonstown Compendium is not the right place for that (bear in mind Chaosium publishes its own paperback fiction). But if you want to include some short fiction (inc. myths or in-character narration) in a title to showcase your settings, characters or monsters, that’d be absolutely fine. The fiction must support playable material.

Q: The rules say comic strips are out! What have you got against Dark Troll jokes?

A: Short comic strips that are thematically linked to playable content are fine. Don’t try to write a standalone comic or graphic novel: the Jonstown Compendium is not the right place for that (bear in mind Chaosium has marketable comic / graphic novel rights, and can’t allow competing products). But if you want to make something that looks like a comic-book page to introduce your scenario or give a character’s back-story, that sounds wonderful! Keep things tight, and don’t go creating multi-page or serialised sequential narratives.

Q: What’s the best way to present new or expanded rules for your tabletop games in a Jonstown Compendium title?

A: The Jonstown Compendium isn’t meant for new rules systems and subsystems that aren’t thematically linked to playable content. That means that if you write a scenario or campaign and include some expanded rules (e.g. a rollicking Wolf Pirate adventure including ship/crew management and naval combat rules; a clan-based Sartar campaign including trading or clan resource management rules; a scenario set in Prax with detailed rules for wilderness survival), that’d be absolutely fine. Six Seasons in Sartar has original ideas for handling NPC stats, battle resolution and a clan character sheet, and they’re all integrated with the campaign.

Q: So can I adapt rules from other games so they work with one of your tabletop roleplaying games and sell them on the Jonstown Compendium?

A: No. Don’t copy or adapt rules from other games (including other Chaosium games, or previous editions of RuneQuest) into your Jonstown Compendium titles. You need to confirm that a title is your own original work and conforms to the community content programme rules when you upload it to DriveThruRPG for sale. If we subsequently become aware of any concerns, we’ll let you know what’s wrong, remove the work from sale, and take other actions necessary to protect the programme.

Q: I don't like some of your game’s rules, so I’ve house-ruled my own replacements. Can I publish those on the Jonstown Compendium?

A: The Jonstown Compendium is not the right place for replacement or standalone rules systems, such as a Seafaring Supplement with ship rules but no immediately playable content, or a drop-in replacement for any rule system in RuneQuest / QuestWorlds / 13th Age Glorantha, such as an “improved” combat or sorcery system. Please write for our existing rules systems, don’t replace them wholesale.

Q: Can I publish something that isn’t written for one of your tabletop role-playing games on the Jonstown Compendium...

A: The Jonstown Compendium is not the right place for standalone games (e.g. board games, card games, miniature war games), and you would need to discuss those separately. It’s intended to host playable stuff that can be used in Chaosium’s own Gloranthan role-playing games, not (a) Glorantha hacks for existing rule systems or (b) complete rule systems for playing other types of games set in Glorantha.

Q: I know everything about RuneQuest / QuestWorlds / 13th Age Glorantha, and would like to sell a book of my clever rules exploits and interpretations...

A: If you want to present your own rules interpretations, or argue over minutiae, we’d politely suggest you should do that on the BRP Central forums rather than try to sell them on the Jonstown Compendium. You will probably have more luck over there.

Q: Do I have to use Chaosium’s templates? If I do use them, am I allowed to change them at all?

A: The Jonstown Compendium templates are provided if you want to use them. You aren’t obliged to use them, and can change them in any way you want (fonts, sizes, margins, pages, etc.). If you don’t use the template, please ensure you copy all of the required legalese from the Community Content Agreement into your title. If your title is mostly graphics (e.g. maps, art, tokens, etc.), mock up a cover wrapper that includes the required legalese and bundle it with the real content.

Q: Can I reference things from previously-published works set in Glorantha?

A: You don’t need to ask for permission to use the names of people, places, species, deities etc. from Chaosium’s published Gloranthan books in your Jonstown Compendium titles: that’s the point of the community content programme!

Q: OK, so does that mean I can copy all of the details about those things into my books?

A: You need to ask for permission if you want to quote descriptions of people, places, species, deities, etc. at any length in your Jonstown Compendium titles. So mentioning “Jorjar the Quick, Constable of Pavis” is fine; expanding on previous descriptions of him with your own non-canonical inventions is fine; copying every word previously written about Jorjar the Quick into your own work, while not adding any original content of your own, is probably not fine and would certainly need our specific permission. Instead, consider providing page references to the Chaosium books where those details can be found.

Q: Can I copy things I find on forums/social media into my books and sell them?

A: Don’t copy material posted to forums or social media into your Jonstown Compendium titles, whether it was shared by the Chaosium creative team or by third parties. When you upload a new title to DriveThruRPG, you need to confirm that it’s your own original work and conforms to the community content programme rules. You can’t share or sell other people’s work without their permission. And you need to include accurate copyright notices (with authors’ and artists’ names, not their forum handles or email addresses), plus the required permission statements for any Chaosium or Moon Design Publications-owned text you have received permission to quote in your community content titles.

The only Jonstown Compendium product removed from sale (so far) was taken down because it copied text and maps – previews from a forthcoming publication – shared on social media by Chaosium’s creative director. It did so without his permission, and permission probably wouldn’t have been granted. (After all, what’s the point of us sharing previews of stuff we’re working on, if other folk can just cut’n’paste them into their own books and sell them first?)

If we become aware of any concerns, we’ll let you know what’s wrong, remove the work from sale, and take other actions necessary to protect the programme.

Q: Can I publish a big book of miscellaneous Gloranthan Lore? Isn’t that what the “real” Jonstown Compendium is all about?

A: If you want to create dry, academic Lore Articles or God Learner Theories of Everything, we’d urge you to include playable content. An article about trade could include price lists for different markets, valuable trade goods, or details of a caravan’s routes, guards and treasures: stuff that’s directly useful in games, rather than dry academic overviews.

Q: Can I publish guides to running different kinds of adventures?

A: While “meta” guides to running different types of adventures in Glorantha sound nifty, we would suggest instead that you write a playable example of an adventure in your favourite genre: so instead of talking in vague and general terms about how to run Gloranthan murder mysteries, why not write a murder mystery scenario and talk us through how e.g. detection spells and divination work (or don’t) in that situation?

Q: Can I publish in languages other than English on the Jonstown Compendium?

A: We know the Jonstown Compendium guidelines currently say only English language titles are allowed. But as you can see, we have already allowed French and Spanish language products, and we know of a Japanese title in the works. Zany, huh?

If you’re thinking of writing something that isn’t in the English language, get in touch with me (Nick, community ambassador) and I’ll make sure you’re good to proceed.

And if you’re publishing something that isn’t in English, please make sure the product’s title begins with [French], [Spanish], [German] etc. - that is, the English name for the language your title is written in – for example, [Spanish] La banda de patos de Yozarian. This helps inform customers about what they’re buying, and helps us sort community content titles by language on Chaosium’s internal reports.If you got your product’s title wrong or need to update it, it can easily be changed using the “My Account” menu.

Q: Can I waste your time asking hypothetical questions about the sort of thing that might or might not be allowed on the Jonstown Compendium?

A: We know some gamers love to nit-pick and niggle away at game rules and legalese: you can’t help it, that’s the way you are, and to be honest we find it quite charming. (But draining)

Please don’t waste our time and yours with time-wasting niggles, e.g. imagining edge-cases or weird potential violations and asking if they’d be allowable. If you aren’t actually planning to create illustrated Gloranthan erotic poetry*, don’t ask; if you are, though, please submit copious samples of your verse and artwork along with your questions.

(*Preliminary interpretation: this will not be allowed as a standalone work, but would be permissible if it’s thematically linked to playable content, so long as it doesn’t violate our Extreme Adult Content standard; also, please send more art samples; you can hold the verse).

Q: What does “thematically linked to playable content” mean?

A: As US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said when asked to define ‘hard-core pornography,’ “I know it when I see it.” In this case, we like it, and encourage you to produce more of it. (Material that’s ‘thematically linked to playable content,’ that is; not the other stuff). Essentially, we want people to be able to run tabletop roleplaying games using your community content and our rulebooks (RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha & RuneQuest Classic, HeroQuest Glorantha / QuestWorlds and 13th Age Glorantha).

Q: What does “Extreme Adult Content” mean?

A: Again, we will apply Justice Potter Stewart’s test. For example, we have determined that a scenario which provides rules mechanics for raping player characters in combat would be in violation of the Jonstown Compendium rules for containing “material that the general public would classify as extreme adult content, such as pornography or extreme violence.” (I’m frankly disappointed that I have to write this, but it’s a genuine example)

If you think you’re creating Extreme Adult Content, please stop and take a good hard look at yourself. If you’re writing about child abuse, rape, genocide, etc. in our game world, in a manner that we feel is detrimental to its reputation (e.g. “All Orlanthi initiation ceremonies are ritual child abuse”), we will tell you to stop, remove your work from sale, and take other actions necessary to protect the programme.

And don’t try to be “edgy,” either. One Jonstown Compendium title has won plaudits for presenting hordes of disgusting chaos broo without ever mentioning what they get up to with their (un-described) genitalia.

Q: What does “a reasonable person” or “the general public” mean?

A: Ask a lawyer. These are technical terms capable of being interpreted by the courts.

Q: What does “time-wasting niggle” mean?

A: You want to go home and rethink your life. (Makes Jedi hand gesture). 

Jonstown Compendium FAQ - version 1.2, 11 February 2021
Prepared by Nick Brooke and approved by Michael O’Brien.

You can also find this FAQ at the Jonstown Compendium Creators Circle on Facebook.

Jonstown Compendium releases cited in this version of the FAQ:

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Take part in the Jonstown Compendium Community Content Program yourself...

Under the Jonstown Compendium community content license, fans of Greg Stafford's world of Glorantha can sell and share their own material on DriveThruRPG.

Interested in submitting content? Go here to see the guidelines. No extra license is required. Get started and download the templates (MS Word and InDesign) for Jonstown Compendium submissions.