L.F. OSR Pubishing RPG Zines - TRANSCRIPT

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Leo

It was tough on me because I hadn't done a run that big before. That was 1000s of sheets of paper. You know, that was my printers running all day and night. It was a lot of work, but it felt great. This was a moment where I was extremely proud and I kind of decided okay, I really really want to take a shot at this I feel like an old craftsman sometimes from a different culture a different time

Iko

You're listening to the Lost Bay Podcast, a show about and with indie tabletop RPG creators and artists. I'm Iko. This episode is the first on the three episodes mini series about zines, the physical objects, the little paper booklets widely used by the indie RPG communities. And today my guest is Leo from L.F. OSR. Leo is very active in the RPG scene, particularly on the OSR side of it. He writes, makes art, and he even just as released the dungeon synth album called Last Fellow, but he also makes zines, like in crafting and publishing them with his printing shops / publishing house called L.F. OSR. Their publications are quite unique in the scene, 100% handmade bespoke and special editions of indie zines. But before that, Leo had a completely different career. So let's go back to the beginning of Leo's RPG journey.

How did you start playing RPGs in the first place? Or how did you discover them?

Leo

Oh, yes, fantasies always kind of been in my life, my best friend who is a little bit older than I am. And he, he was always really into like, really early Dungeons and Dragons, video games and that kind of stuff. And we were always playing like PlayStation and Nintendo and stuff like that. And so it was kind of always in my life. And then he got into dungeons and dragons, about the time that a third edition was really coming out. And that was like a really evocative time in my life where we were, we were still very young. So we didn't quite understand a lot of the mechanics and stuff. But it was enough to really get our brains going as far as our imaginations and like wanting to explore these new worlds, and he had the books, but I didn't get my own copies until I was more 17 or 16. And my first real book was a setting book, it was Ghost Walk for third edition, that was kind of my first own Dungeons and Dragons book that I could sit in bed and read. And that's why I feel like I'm very setting focused in my work. And just because that was my first book. And my first exposure was really digging into a setting specific supplement.

Iko

So Dungeons and Dragons was Leo’s first contact with RPGs. But one thing really clicked for him is when he started playing, and somehow dungeon mastering an online video game.

Leo

There was a Dungeons and Dragons game called Neverwinter Nights. That was a really, really big deal. For me, it was interesting because it had a campaign built into it. And the campaign was fun, but it had a full toolset, which was encouraged for people to learn to make their own adventures very much like you would as a dungeon master. And so it was easy to pick up. It was easy for my 16 year old brain to translate these ideas into learning little bits of code to make the NPC say what I wanted them to say at certain sections and kind of craft these adventures not knowing that that's how you craft an adventure for Dungeons and Dragons. I was doing it for a video game I was thinking about a completely different, you could host a server, put your module up and then have people join multiple people like 64 people and you could play as a DM and run them through these adventures.

Iko

So Leo kept tinkering with Neverwinter Nights and RPGs and he discovered the OSR side of the RPG community, only years later through Ben Milton's video channel on YouTube, Questing Beast.

Leo

I knew that like zines were coming back and I had the experience of kind of seeing artists do little independent runs like that, but I wasn't really exposed to the RPG side of that stuff until I really discovered the many videos that Ben was putting up about each individual product that he was getting. And you know, I dove into it headfirst something about the art is pulling me something about the format's of these books, something about the creativity that goes into the layout and the general narratives that might be included within I was constantly just being blown away by each new purchase of a zine now that I kind of look back at it I do feel like I was very much waiting to discover something like that, like it's kind of hard to say but I feel like it was always just outside of my bubble and then once it was pushed into my bubble, it clicked and I just grabbed onto it and I've been holding on to it ever since. It was feeling like I was 16 again creating these little bespoke worlds for people to enjoy in groups but now I'm older and you know the there's a prospect even make money while doing that.

Iko

How did you start to print? What was your first project?

Leo

It wasn't necessarily like a big hobby, it was something that was a part of my previous career, I was a director of marketing for a pretty big company, I was involved with creating a lot of marketing assets that need to be physically made and put into people's hands so that a lot of my responsibilities at those companies would be to create these assets and to make sure they were presentable and work with the printing companies and get them made. And that really exposed me to learning the whole traditional printing process. And I was doing a lot of artwork, and I wanted to print it.

Iko

And here Leo is talking about artwork related to some OSR RPG projects, and a series of fantasy illustrations with the pointy least or maybe 1-bit style.

Leo

And I was getting a lot of people asking about, you know, purchasing prints to display on their walls, you know, framed and that was kind of mind blowing. So I didn't do it for a very long time, then I eventually kind of realised that it didn't make sense for me to not offer people physical things if they wanted to purchase them for me. And so I really kind of thought about, you know, how could I do that without breaking the bank or I'm not a big fan on depending on other platforms or other services, I really like to do all my stuff in house. And I really like the personal touches that that allows me to do. And so I really wanted like hand number this stuff, I wanted to be a little bit special, I really wanted to go out of my way to get some really nice papers. So I spent, you know, three months just finding the specific paper I wanted to use. And I did the same thing with the ink that I wanted to use.

Iko

And here Leo started experimenting with inks, papers, and also with printers, modifying hacking tinkering printers, until he was finally satisfied with the printing quality and basically decided to go for it.

Leo

Why can't I do all my own printing what's really stopping me? And then so I kind of got a list together of like, okay, I really want to try zine. And what do I need to do to make the zine? I know how they're done in the big business world, I know how that machine operates, I can't afford $100,000 machine that does this full automated process. So how can I break down these chunks into little bite sized aspects that I can do as one person with equipment that's not going to, I don't need to take a loan out to get this equipment.

Iko

So a big part of that development and research process involved talking with other printers Leo had met during these previous careers and modifying hacking, transforming the printers themselves. And I guess this is one of the reasons why L.F. OSR printing style is so unique in the OSR RPG scene.

Leo

Home printing, quite frankly, is a bit of a racket, especially in the US market from just the way a company's pitch printers at you, the printers end up being cheaper than the ink until they really want to get you in the ink ecosystem. And as a marketer, I understood exactly what that game is about what they're doing. And such I didn't really want to play into that. So I was really pretty early into investing into printers that I could just pour direct ink into.

Iko

And that meant for Leo peeking the ink that he really wanted for his prints and pouring it directly into the printer. But that's not as easy as it sounds.

Can you give us details?

Leo

I mean, what was it that you needed from this printer that pushed you to modify high pigment ink has higher corrosion and the ink line the tubes the ink is travelling through to get to the printhead. And so I would replace the the tubes to make sure they had the certain compound that would allow for these high pigment inks to kind of get bogged up and start clogging these lines and creating bad printing. There's so many different parts of printers that are all kind of working together. And as you push the limits of your printer, you're asking a lot of some of the original parts that come with the machine. So if you're able to replace a part that normally would wear and tear, because you're technically not using it for its intention, you're you're you're stretching this printer out, it's normally just supposed to sit in the corner in an office, but you're trying to do high level printing with it. So they really demand a lot of my equipment. And if it can't do what I wanted to do out of the box, I'm going to try to force it to do it. At that point. If it doesn't work, then I'm moving on, you know, but I've been very lucky with the setups that I have right now. And my printers they're running right now in the other room and they're running hard, you know, they're running pretty much all day. I'm operating out of a tiny one bedroom apartment in San Diego so I only have so much room you know, so it's I have to work around my limitations. And so

Iko

Your workshop where is it? is like in your bedroom? in your living room?

Leo

That's basically my whole house.

Iko

It's your whole house.

Leo

My printers exist in the living room next to our TV and my desktop computer. My girlfriend is also a quilter so she has a whole workstation for her quilting stuff. So like half of our kitchen is basically like a workshop and then here in my room right next to me, I have all my label printers on my packaging supplies. I have all my raw papers sitting next to me it spills over into my whole life. It's everywhere. You know, I have boxes of ink that sit up in a bookshelf you know, so it's everywhere and it's a it's a lifestyle at this point. I'm very happy that my girlfriend is very accepting of that. I spent way too long sourcing paper from all kinds of, you know, different paper mills ranging from the large big guys to the smaller places, I did the same with ink and getting the combination of all these different materials, it ends up creating a really unique product to if you're very specific on the quality and what you want to do and ends up being very recognisable like that people recognise my prints just based on the materials that I'm using. My father was an engineer, so he would always end up having to buy a lot of tools or components or stuff or machines that he was working on. And he would always encourage me that, if possible, try to really go to the countries where that work is done a lot, and they really have perfected those things. And sure enough, Japan has is very focused on creating, they're making the best tools that they possibly can for various hand crafting to the point of like, majority of my hand crafting tools come from, like the origami scene, like my bone folder from Japan is intended for folding paper for origami, but it's the best tool that I've ever used for that application. And I've tried others and quite frankly, it's just there wasn't as much thought put into the tool.

Iko

I happen to travel often to Italy, I'm half Italian, and I go very often back there. And I don't know, Leo is a contemporary paper / printer nerd, but listening to him I couldn't help but thinking to craftsmen and craftswomen I have seen in Italy, people who put an infinite amount of detail in each step of their crafts, like bookbinding shoemaking. I told Leo about that. And that was funny because actually new has Italian ancestry.

Leo

My family refers to me as like an old old soul. It's funny that yeah, it's I feel like an old craftsman sometimes from a different culture a different time, but

Iko

Okay, so you're a zine and craftsmen. But L.F. PSR is also a publisher, the first published do his first work, a Packet of Particular Peaks, an RPG system neutral setting of mountain fantasy, and pretty soon they move down to publishing other authors. Here is how things unfolded.

You worked on this first proof of concept zine. And then what happened? What was the first product that you sold? You know

Leo

I had my first Kickstarter that did really well for Packet a Particular ¨eaks, I got, you know, more funding from that than I was kind of expecting. And it came through at a very dire time in my life, I was transitioning from this career of being a marketing director and kind of transitioning out of that, and not knowing what I was transitioning to, while also kind of trying all this new art stuff and trying this RPG stuff. And once the Kickstarter did really, really well, things kind of clicked and I realised that, you know, I can maybe put myself in a position where I could start crafting my own set of scenes, but maybe also reach out to other creators that aren't so interested in maybe following the traditional path of creating an indie RPG, our space is very unique. It's a very different landscape from any other industry I've ever been a part of. There's a lot of people that really enjoy the decentralisation of indie RPGs. But I was kind of seeing a lot of people say that, but I was also seeing a lot of centralization occurring where there were people were going to the same outlets to purchase certain products, there was kind of like the solidification of a path for an RPG creator to take.

Iko

And that path probably is something like do or don't do a Kickstarter, go to an affordable printer, like Mixam, an online printer. Have your zines wholesale to big retailers or try to sell them yourself. But that's kind of a hard path

Leo

I was considering what I was doing with this money that I received from the Kickstarter. And I kind of wanted to create an option for other creators that was new in the sense that you didn't have to play into this traditional path that was kind of being the number one suggestion of how to be a successful quote unquote, successful indie RPG creator or publisher or anything like that. And I wanted to offer a different option, which is actually more akin to traditional publishing.

Iko

The way L.F. OSR works is basically they cover all the printing and marketing expenses, and they'll give the authors some royalties. The first book LFSR published following that process was an adventure for Yochai Gal’s, lightweight system, Cairn, called Darkness Moves written and illustrated by Perplexing Ruins.

Leo

He didn't have the funds to necessarily produce a run of books to try to wholesale them to a reseller, you know, and you're losing money anytime you're wholesaling, ultimately. And we're both very close. We really got into the scene at the same time and Perplexing Ruins is a great guy. He's very honest. He's got a great heart. And so I was talking to him and just kind of hearing him express his concerns. And I knew I could print his book in a very nice format. And so I did and I showed it to him, and I sent it to him and he was kind of taken aback by the quality of it. And he kind of came back to me was like, you know, it'd be really interested in maybe having this be available to other people via maybe his Patreon or something like that. And so, I did a few test runs and they came out great And then we kind of decided to go ahead and pull the trigger on it and then offer them and and sure enough, it did really, really well it sold out. And he was really happy with the process, I was really happy with the process as well. It sold quicker than we had both really anticipated. And it was from people that I wasn't expecting to have them place orders, you know, it was bigger games. And I was kind of expecting that I've seen roll through the website back end and say that they're making the purchases and stuff and there's kind of a cool moment.

Iko

And by the way, I'm not surprised that Leo and Perplexing ruins clicked because I've interviewed perplexing ruins, and I know that arts and crafts have a special meaning to him. He found crafting ziens sounds pretty damn cool. Hand drafting, a lot of zines can be hard on the body.

Leo

It was tough on me because I hadn't done a run that big before that was 1000s of sheets of paper. You know, those my printers running all day and night. That was me folding and printing and binding and all day like I would wake up at my coffee. And I would do it until I go to bed, you know and ended up sitting back. And it was a lot of work. But it felt great. It didn't feel like work. There were so many other careers. When I came home from doing a full a long day or a hard day, it was too much. I didn't like how I was feeling when I was done with my work. But this was different. This was a moment where I was extremely proud. And I kind of decided, okay, I really, really want to take a shot at this.

Iko

You have more projects coming in and you're printing yourself. So there's like a physical limit of how much one can prints in one day. So how would you imagine like your activity developed? And by the way, I still don't know how I should call L.F. OSR. Is it like a press? Print?

Leo

I don't know, either. At this point, I don't know. It's too many. I guess I am a publisher, print shop. It's hard to say Yeah, it's really hard to say and I want to expand the business in different ways to there's a really want to at this point, I wanted to make my life a little bit easier. As far as production goes. production can be a little bit tough on me, especially when it comes I guess Yeah, I just had the meat grinder from some for mothership. And that was a really, really cool project. And it was such a fun project. But there was a lot of different steps.

Iko

A few words on Meat Grinder. It's an adventure supplement for the Sci-Fi horror rpg Mothership. It's written by Ian Yusem. And it's about hell or a hellish plane to which the PCs are transported.

Leo

Yeah, Meat Grinder was a really, really fun and interesting project in us and came up wanting to do a little bit exclusive of a print on it. And so I was really, I'm really into bespoke things, things that use special materials. Like I said, I've been sourcing paper for so long from so many different companies, I ended up getting a whole bunch of different type of paper that was pressed by a German paper mill in it's a very cotton heavy paper, and then they would dye it and then dry it and then press is like a leather texture into the paper. And I was just like, Oh, that's so cool. I don't know what I'm ever gonna do with that. But I love that idea. And so that's one of these many, many material weird material things that's in the back of my head at all times of like, When can I use that printing on that type of paper is a little bit tricky. And so I was kind of thinking about different ways I might be able to utilise it and Ian and his team, were kind of suggesting that meat grinder had a certain like aged look, because it's like such a demonic book, it kind of looks like a video game manual from like the 90s of like a game like Quake or Doom. And it had this cool, unique look. And I just wanted to do something really special. And so I took that leather paper that I had received as samples from and maybe I couldn't print on it yet, but maybe I could do a stamp. So I spoke to Ian and his team and we kind of thought about it and be pretty, pretty cool if we got a huge stamp of just a pentagram and took white ink and slapped it onto a red dyed cursed looking leather parchment kind of paper, you know, and I got the stamp made locally to me. I tried all kinds of different inks because some weren't doing what I wanted to do. They weren't drying quick enough or they weren't they weren't thick enough or anything. And so I found this really nice ink from Japan and then the hand stamping that hurt my wrist that was 250 Pressing the stamp very hard because I liked the overstamped the over ink, too much ink going onto it. So I press really hard and every single one of them like hurt my wrist because I'm doing this too much you know and so the next steps for the company and this is already happening now is so we're seeing more industrial equipment introducing more aspects of traditional printing into my process and learning okay, they use these type of paper cutters for these reasons they use these other ones which one may be a good fit, it would make sense for me and would lower the amount of time that it takes me to create individuals.

Iko

And in the last year L.F. OSR has published a number of RPG supplements or games, Knave , Azag, Sand and Bone, and also Lost Fantasy, a tribute to 70s Sci-Fi and fantasy imaginary worlds. So I asked Leo, how he does imagine how L.F. OSR activity will evolve.

Leo

I am seeing other small publishers like myself or small creators like myself that are kind of exploring what I was exploring early on of doing really high quality home prints, and maybe doing really small runs with them. And so I've been keeping eyes on these people that are doing this stuff, it's getting to a point where I want to create a system basically, where if I am too busy to handcraft, or run for something, I do really want to handcraft something I do want to see made beautifully. I want to find the people that I could trust to do that in other round different regions of the world and stuff. They may use different materials and may have printed it a little bit differently, but confident that they will do something that the Creator could be just as proud of you know,

Iko

And that would mean a network of small printers doing bespoke handcrafted versions of RPG zines. And that sounds like a great prospect. Yeah, how would you imagine the indie scene is going to evolve? You know, if it's possible to imagine it like in the next months or years?

Leo

Yeah, it's really hard to predict at all very far in the future, as of right now, just because of the looming supply chain breakdown that's occurring in this world. And that is going to have potentially huge impacts on my business, the RPG printing business, one of the biggest shortages right now is on wood pulp, which is required by mills to press paper. And so that's leading to a huge paper shortage ranging from you know sketchbooks to paper cups that are used for coffee to the paper I use, you know, and so,

Iko

Excuse me, what's, what's the, what's the cause of the shortage on the paper pulp?

Leo

It's kind of a sad, perfect storm of things occurring, that kind of was exacerbated by COVID-19. And when everything started to shut down, you know, they weren't creating as much pulp. And so the people that did have reserves of paper, were eating up their reserves. And then they also were aware of this looming shortage. So a lot of companies started to preemptively purchase more than they normally would to try to get ahead of the shortage. And so that basically caused the production line from the the pole production up into the paper production to kick into high gear, because everybody was trying to order additional stock. And so what ends up happening is very quickly, Mills will prioritise the papers that are selling very well. So you see a lot of right now, there's a lot of mills that are only producing their top selling paper, which is usually just printer paper, just white, you know, normal printer paper.

Iko

Here, we spoke probably for 15 minutes about the supply chain disruption and how some for seeds collapse as imminent. But I'm not going to dive into this right now. But another interesting element that came up during our conversation is that probably and paradoxically, one of the effects of these global situation might very well be transition to digital.

Leo

The most obvious change looming right now is the big injection of digital content, you know, it's going to be people focusing purely on digital content, they're not going to be trying to play into the traditional path of trying to have it printed, and then get it onto a wholesale because even just a retailer may be experiencing issues, shipping their products to their customers, because of the supply chain issues that are about to start to get worse and worse. And so they may not be confident in majors only do a digital purely and that's easier for them to handle at this time. So I think that's really the biggest change that we're going to see. I think in terms of what I am offering to people and if I if I am able to continue what I am doing amongst all these shortages and stuff, and I'm doing okay now, but that could change, you know, but what I may end up having to do is kind of alter my intentions and start looking a little bit more digitally as well while being very limited on the physical side of runs, you know, only doing it when I have the material secured only doing it when I know shipping services are gonna be able to deliver these things to my customers, you know, and only doing it at those times, that's really kind of changed my trajectory quite a bit. I was not expecting to have to do this to the point of I had a Kickstarter in the works that was pretty far along like 80% there. It was supposed to be launched last month and I halted it because I very quickly realised that I'm not gonna be able to do what I want to do because of all the looming restrictions and the issues importing stuff and they issue sourcing materials and it's okay, you know, it's one of those things that as I take my attention from that it's allowing me to shift that attention into other things and get really creative with other options.

Iko

That was Leo, author, illustrator and publisher at L.F OSR A few weeks after I've recorded this episode I've talked to again with Leo and he told me that he started building paper stocks, making paper reserves to be able to print his upcoming zine projects whatever happens from supply chain disruptions or paper shortage chaos, point of view. And that's a pretty good news. You can check his catalogue at lfsr.com and also subscribe to L.F. OSR newsletter. I'll put all the links into the show notes. You've been listening to The Lost Bay Podcast, a show about and within the tabletop RPG designers and artists. It's produced by me, Ico supervising editor is Laura Elle, and music is by Avery Isles. I've made a new website it's called thelostbaystudio.com where you can find all my TTRPG shenanigans, podcasts, videos the zines I make so if you want to get in touch or have updates about what I'm doing again, it's thelostbaystudio.com Thanks a lot for listening and stay well.