RPG publisher

Founded in 2009

Engine Publishing is dedicated to creating insanely good gaming products. We're part of Bits & Mortar, so all print books include a DRM-free digital copy.

Our products

Over 15,000 copies sold

We've sold over 3,000 books through our online store, and over 12,000 more online and at retail stores worldwide. Happy gaming!

Connect with us

Email, Google+, Twitter

You can reach Engine Publishing via email at martin (at) enginepublishing (dot) com. We're also on Google+ and Twitter (@enginepub).


2015 EU VAT regulations and the Engine Publishing store

A substantial change in European Union (EU) VAT (value added tax) regulations has been put in place beginning on January 1, 2015, and despite being based in the United States this change impacts Engine Publishing. The new rules are explained on the European Commission website.

I’m not a lawyer or an accountant, but here’s my understanding of the new rules: If you sell a digital product to a customer in the EU, you have to verify their location, charge the appropriate VAT for that country, and remit VAT to all countries where you made even a single sale. It doesn’t matter where the seller is based, only where the customer is based. It’s an accounting nightmare that is too expensive, both in time and money, for Engine Publishing to handle.

The only legal, financially viable option for me is the one that impacts the fewest customers: Effective today, Engine Publishing will no longer sell our products directly to customers in the EU. I’ve agonized over every possible solution, and I wish there was a better option. Choosing from a menu of shitty options has been a stressful process, and this new law makes no sense to me as it applies to small businesses. I apologize to all of our customers in the EU for making this change to our online store. It sucks, and I’m sorry.

The rest of this lengthy post lays out the new rules, the options I considered, and what this means for Engine Publishing and you.

The new VAT rules

Direct digital sales, such as sales of PDF RPG products from our online store, must comply with the new rules. Because Engine Publishing has always provided a free digital version with every print product, the new rules apply to the digital “portion” of those sales as well. This means that for every sale to a customer in the EU I would have to:

  • Charge VAT based on the customer’s member country. There are currently 28 countries in the EU, all of which have their own VAT rates and laws.
  • Collect very specific data proving that the customer lives where they say the do, and retain that data for 10 years.
  • Remit VAT payments to each member country where I’ve made any digital sales, with no minimum threshold.
  • …or face fines and other penalties from any EU member country for not following the new law.

The crazy part is the lack of a minimum sales threshold. By way of example, that means that if I sell a $10 PDF to one customer in France in 2015, I have to remit VAT to France for that sale. Add a threshold, and the law wouldn’t impact me — or most small-press RPG publishers — at all, because I don’t make enough money from EU sales to meet a reasonable threshold.

What this means for Engine Publishing

This presents a big problem for Engine Publishing.

Engine Publishing is a small business with one part-time employee, me, and I run it in my spare time. Like a lot of small-press publishers, I have a full-time job that pays the bills, and I also have a family. I handle direct order fulfillment (shipping), accounting, customer service, advertising, and other “publisher stuff” like finding new sales venues on an ongoing basis. Alongside that, I do the stuff that goes into publishing our books: lining up freelancers, handling contracts, making payments, editing, indexing, etc.

Adding complex VAT remission on a regular basis isn’t something I can handle. There are products and services available that will handle the tax stuff, but they’re too expensive for me. That leaves a few options, all of them bad.

  • I can just ignore the law and hope no one notices, but that’s not how I roll. I pay my taxes and run my business on the books and above-board, and doing otherwise isn’t in my blood. It’s a shitty law, but I’m going to follow it.
  • I can rely on the Internet’s advice regarding complex tax law and employ a loophole, such as manually attaching a PDF to an email and manually sending that email to customers in the EU. I’ve read as much information as I can find on the automated aspect of the new law, which is also pretty weird, and — setting aside the time and effort costs involved — I’m not convinced that this manual workaround is legit. So I’m not going to do that.
  • I can stop bundling free digital versions with print products in our online store. This goes against one of my deepest-held beliefs about gaming books — that buying the print book should give you access to all available formats — and it impacts all of our direct print customers. This isn’t an option.
  • I can close the Engine Publishing store entirely, shifting all sales to third-party marketplaces. This would impact 22% of our sales (both print and PDF, overall) in some way. Exactly how is hard to calculate, because some direct customers would be willing to buy our books elsewhere and some wouldn’t, and I don’t know how to guess that. This option isn’t economically viable for Engine Publishing as a business, and on top of that it would remove an important component of the company’s present and future development. I can’t do this.
  • That leaves only the least-shitty option: I can stop selling books to the EU. This will impact roughly 25% of our direct customers (roughly 6% of our customers overall), though some EU-based folks will likely buy the books through other channels. This, unfortunately, is what I’ve decided is the best option.

From setting fair prices, to providing free digital versions with print sales, to bundling multiple digital formats at no extra charge, to customer service, I’ve always tried to run Engine Publishing as a customer-focused business. No longer selling books to the EU is a crappy, customer-unfriendly thing to do, but it’s the legal, financially viable option that impacts the fewest customers and I can’t see a better choice.

What this means for our customers

Effective today, our online store will no longer sell products to customers in the EU. Again, I’m very sorry about this.

If you’re in the EU and want to buy digital versions of our books, I recommend DriveThruRPG.

If you’re located in the EU and want to buy print copies of our books, I recommend your local gaming store or an online retailer (Amazon, Noble Knight, etc.). Our books are distributed worldwide, and your local store should be able to use one of their regular distributors to order you a copy.

Our PDF guarantee (Bits & Mortar) still applies to customers in the EU. (I may send PDFs through DriveThruRPG or via email; I haven’t figured that out yet.)

The future

I’ll keep tabs on these regulations, as I have done for the past several months, and if a sensible exemption for small businesses or some other change makes it feasible for me to start selling books to customers in the EU again, I’ll go right back to doing that. However, I’ve heard that these regulations will also apply to physical products — i.e., printed books — starting in 2017, so it’s entirely possible that this change will be a permanent one. I just don’t know.

Thank you for reading this, and my apologies again for making this change.


Sortable Masks NPC matrix

Inspired by Ville Makkonen’s sortable plot matrix for Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters, Masks fan Adrian Thornton created a sortable NPC matrix for Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game. You can download Adrian’s matrix (and Ville’s, and other freebies) on our Free Downloads page.

We put four indexes in Masks for a good reason: With a thousand NPCs, it can be a challenge to find the one you need at the right moment, and we tried to make that as easy as possible. But there’s no substitute for Excel when it comes to sorting, filtering, and drilling down to see exactly what you need, and Adrian’s matrix is an awesome tool for doing just that.

Thanks, Adrian! We appreciate the time and energy you put into this, and we hope other GMs will get great mileage out of it.


Our 2014 Black Friday/Cyber Monday starts now!

For Black Friday/Cyber Monday, we’ve knocked 25% off of all of our titles on DriveThruRPG. This discount applies to single products only, not bundles, but it’s essentially the best bundle discount we offer…except you can mix and match whichever products you’d like. This is also the first time we’ve offered a discount on our newest book, Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters.

This sale will run from now through sometime on Tuesday, December 2.

Happy Thanksgiving, and happy gaming from Engine Publishing!


Unframed goes Gold on DriveThruRPG

Two months after it went on sale at DriveThruRPG, Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters just became a Gold bestseller on DTRPG — one of around 400 Gold products on a site with about 40,000 titles (top 1%). Many, many thanks to everyone who has bought, reviewed, or talked about Unframed, and to all of the authors who worked on the book!

You can read more than 10 reviews and download a free PDF sample of the book right here on its product page.

And of course, as with all of our books, every purchase, print or digital, includes a DRM-free, bookmarked PDF plus bonus epub, mobi, and text versions of the book.


Please vote for Odyssey, Engine Publishing, and Gnome Stew in the ENnies

Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management, Engine Publishing, and the “blog behind our books,” Gnome Stew, were nominated for three ENnie Awards this year, and I’d like to ask you to vote for us online.

Voting doesn’t require an account or login, and it only takes a few seconds (you don’t even have to vote in every category):

  1. Head on over to the ENnie Awards voting booth
  2. Scroll to Best Aid/Accessory and rank Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management a “1”
  3. Scroll to Fans’ Favorite Publisher and rank Engine Publishing a “1”
  4. Scroll to Best Blog and rank Gnome Stew a “1”
  5. Click the big “Submit Ballot” button to cast your votes

That’s all there is to it! Thank you very much for voting for us!

Why your vote matters to us

There are two big reasons why the ENnie Awards matter to us — “us” in this case being me, Martin Ralya (the fellow behind Engine Publishing), and the authors and designers and artists and other folks who work on our books.

The first is that your support is a big part of what motivates us. We’ve been writing Gnome Stew since 2008, and working together to publish books through Engine Publishing since 2009, and knowing that fellow gamers get good mileage out of what we do is what makes it worthwhile. It sounds corny, but it’s true! Voting for us in the ENnies is a quick, simple, but very meaningful way to show your support.

The second is that these awards, and the others we ask you to vote for us in from time to time, open doors for the gnomes. Recognition via the ENnies leads to more work in the RPG industry, new career paths in our day jobs, and other new stuff that matters. We write the Stew, and work on GMing books, because we love to do it; that’s never changed. But speaking as the owner of Engine Publishing and Gnome Stew, I view one of my main jobs in both places as being an opener of doors for the awesome folks I get to work with.

Every vote truly makes a difference

Gaming isn’t a huge industry, and the ENnies are sometimes decided by just a handful of votes — less than a dozen votes, on at least one occasion! The field this year is one of the strongest I can remember; competition is fierce. Your vote — yes, yours! — makes a difference.

Now that we’ve been nominated, which is an honor we appreciate unto itself, it’s all about “ground game” (a term from politics that applies equally here) and getting out the vote. If you’re so inclined, asking your gaming group, friends, and even family to vote for us would be awesome. We do this ourselves; my mom’s rowing team all voted for us last year. It might sound silly, but it helps.

Thank you!

Thanks for reading this, and more importantly for reading the Stew and our books. You rock, and I look forward to bringing you more useful gaming content for years to come!

And if you do vote for us, thanks! That’s totally awesome of you.


Unframed is now available on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow

If you’ve been waiting for Unframed to be available on DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, your wait is over!

Head on over to Engine Publishing’s publisher page to buy Unframed (and the new bundles which include it) on DTRPG.


Odyssey is nominated for a 2014 ENnie Award!

The 2014 ENnie Award nominations have been announced, and Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management is nominated for Best Aid/Accessory!

I’m also thrilled to see the “site behind our books,” Gnome Stew, nominated for Best Blog.

Congratulations to all of the nominees!


All products are now in stock in our online store

100% of Unframed preorders, contributor copies, and comp copies have been shipped out as of this afternoon! It took me several days to get everything boxes up and labelled, followed by three days of trips to the post office (and around $1,500 in postage), to get everything out.

As promised, I’ve also issued refunds to everyone who ordered Unframed with a book (or books) that now exists in discounted bundle form. (I calculated the difference between what you paid and the new bundle price, and refunded that difference.)

Many thanks to everyone who preordered Unframed! When I did the final tally, it shook out to 259 copies sold, a company record and more than double the preorders for our very first title, 2010’s Eureka.

The store is fully stocked and ready to rumble

With the warehouse (my office closet) fully restocked and plenty of shipping supplies near at hand, I’m ready to start selling all of our books again — including standalone digital copies of Unframed, new discounted bundles, and of course all of our previous titles. Everything we sell is now back up in our online store, ready to ship.

I updated the layout (hopefully it’s cleaner and easier to navigate), added two new bundles featuring Unframed, included Unframed in our monster “all the books” bundle — a great deal at $99.95 — and tested everything behind the scenes. (If I broke something, please tell me!)

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments (or via email: martin enginepublishing com). I love questions!


A quick note about bundles and Unframed

Preorders for Unframed have ended, and I’m blown away: Based on day-one sales, I predicted we’d sell 212 copies.

We sold 259 copies.

Unframed more than doubled the number of preorders placed for Eureka back in 2010 (125 preorders), and we sold over 50% more preorders than our previous bestseller, Odyssey. Thank you to everyone who preordered Unframed!

Online store overhaul

With preorders closed, I’ve overhauled our online store. I think the new presentation is cleaner and easier to navigate, and I hope you like it. In the course of that overhaul, I also made some changes to our bundles. Many items are listed as out of stock until I get the boxes in the foyer up into the office, organized, and ready to ship out.

New bundles, and proactive refunds for “would have bundled” preorders

If you preordered Unframed along with Odyssey, or with Odyssey and Never Unprepared, I will refund you the difference between what you paid and the bundle price.

For example, if you preordered Unframed and ordered a copy of Odyssey at the same time, you paid $44.90 and the new bundle price is $35.95; I will refund you $8.95 — just as if there’d been a bundle to buy during the preorder period. You don’t need to contact me or request a refund — I’ll do this automatically as I package up preorders.

Why didn’t I create bundles containing Unframed before now? Because I wasn’t sure what to bundle it with, and whether the bundle pricing structure made sense now that we have five books in print. With a month of thinking about it, listening to customer feedback, and playing with pricing, I was able to come up with bundles that make sense.

Thank you again for preordering Unframed! The standalone digital edition will go on sale soon, likely in early July, once I get the preorder shipping process underway.


Today is the final day to preorder Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters

I think of myself as an experienced and veteran GM, but this book had new, exciting, and most importantly useful things to teach me.” — Age of Ravens review

Twenty three short essays from twenty three exceptional Game Masters and creators that will invariably aid you in your quest to make your games better because they reflect what happens, rather than what you have planned.” — Sean’s Pick of the Day review

If you’ve been waiting to preorder our latest book, Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters, time is almost up: Preorders close today! I’ll be closing them after work, sometime in the evening (U.S. Mountain Daylight Time).

Preorder Unframed now!

Unframed is our bestselling preorder yet, with 223 orders as of June 26 — 30% more than our previous bestseller, Odyssey, and about 5% over my prediction based on day-one sales.

It has also been well-received so far — you can check out seven reviews of Unframed to see what other folks think about the book. You can also download a free 10-page PDF preview (we’re big believers in “try before you buy.”)

What you’ll receive

When you preorder, you’ll immediately receive the digital edition of Unframed; your print book will follow. This package includes a DRM-free, hyperlinked, bookmarked PDF, plus bonus ebook (epub, mobi for newer devices, mobi for older devices, and Kindle) and plain text versions of Unframed. Engine Publishing believes that all print purchases should include digital versions, and all digital versions should offer multiple options, and we back that belief up with our time and money.

Why preorder?

Preorder because you’re excited about the book! If you love improv, you’ll find plenty of new ideas and refinements to things you may already be doing in Unframed. If you want to improvise more often in your games, Unframed will get you rolling and give you plenty to chew on.

On my end, as the publisher, preorders are the primary way I recoup the costs that go into producing a book like this: writing, editing, layout, artwork, proofreading, printing, digital versions, etc. (This is the biggest financial gamble I’ve taken as a publisher: Unframed cost considerably more to produce than our previous four books.) If you like Engine Publishing and what we do, preordering is a fantastic way to show your support.

Have a peek at the author list and you’ll see why the manuscript was our single largest cost:

  • John Arcadian
  • D. Vincent Baker
  • Meguey Baker
  • Wolfgang Baur
  • Emily Care Boss
  • Walt Ciechanowski
  • Stacy Dellorfano
  • Jess Hartley
  • Kenneth Hite
  • Jennell Jaquays
  • Eloy Lasanta
  • Robin D. Laws
  • Michelle Lyons-McFarland
  • Don Mappin
  • Scott Martin
  • Alex Mayo
  • Jason Morningstar
  • Martin Ralya
  • Kurt Schneider
  • Ken St. Andre
  • Monica Valentinelli
  • Phil Vecchione
  • Filamena Young

I’m not complaining — I thought this book needed to exist, and I knew the caliber of authors I wanted to feature in it. I think you’ll be happy with the results!

Print books ship in early July

Copies of Unframed arrived at my house yesterday, and I’ll be working on packaging them, double-checking order info, and getting them shipped out over the next several days. I anticipate shipping all preorders in early July, as originally planned.

Got questions? Ask away!

If you’re curious how our preorders work, want more info, or want to see what questions other folks have asked, the original announcement has all of that and more. And, of course, you’re welcome to ask me questions here as well!

Many thanks to everyone who has preordered the book so far! If you haven’t and you’re ready to now, preorder Unframed today!