Sherlock Holmes RPG and Being Stood up by Commissions

Some of you who know me may know that about a year ago I was commissioned to write a core rule book for a Sherlock Holmes based role playing game.  I had the bones of a core dice system (I like to call it the “Core 8 Engine”) which I still plan to adapt and expand for use in a lot of different possible settings.

The offer/rate wasn’t good– 2 cents a word, plus I maintained the right to use the system for other settings.  For a basically unpublished writer that seemed like a dream.  I talked with the individual over email and had the equivalent of a verbal agreement in email form.  I set to work, and while missing the deadline I had set for myself I eventually turned over a give or take 50,000 word document for review.

And then I never heard back from my client.  Some time went by, I chugged away on some updates and proofing/editing and then. . . crickets.  To this day 8+ months after my turnover I have not received any response.

I stopped bothering to attempt to contact the individual eventually.  I later learned he had done the same thing to at least one artist for the first project which the role playing game was originally supposed to have been the follow up to.  Clearly this person had unrealistic expectations about funding a card game and role playing game (as their cancelled kickspy campaign with less than one thousand of a 20,000$ goal funded will attest to.)    Kickspy is off-brand kickstarter it seems.

So what recourse do I have in this case?  As near as I can tell, not really any.  Did he break a contract?  Yes.  Did he steal my material and publish it?  No, I’ve ferreted the web for any sign of it, but there is none.  This seems to leave my copyright intact, which would make my own publication of the material probably the only real course to recoup the lost opportunity on the project.

Of course, I do not have the passion for Sherlock Holmes material personally.  Nor is this game at the top of my to do list, much less my “to hire artists to fill out for so I can publish” list.  I expect that eventually I will be publishing under the core rules of my Core 8 system, though I am more likely to start with Science Fiction, post Apocalypse/modern military, or dark ages fantasy setting than Victorian England– after all, if its my project again in its entirety, I might as well enjoy it as I toil away.

In the meantime, here is the playtest document for the game. I’d appreciate any feedback you might have for the system, the writing in the game, or discussion about what you would do in a similar situation.

Playtest Document

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