Chris Pramas
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Chris Pramas

Chris Pramas is an award-winning game designer and writer, and the founder and president of Green Ronin Publishing. He is best known as the designer of the Fantasy AGE RPG, the Dragon Age RPG, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd Edition. He has been a creative director at Wizards of the Coast and Flying Lab Software and a lead writer at Vigil Games. Most recently he worked with Wil Wheaton on the Titansgrave web series from Geek& Sundry. Green Ronin continues to thrive under his leadership, publishing roleplaying games like Blue Rose, Mutants & Masterminds, and A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying.
Chris Pramas
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Ronin Round Table: Breaking into the Game Industry

In 1982 I was given a subscription to Dragon Magazine as a gift. I had started playing Dungeons & Dragons a few years earlier when I was 10 years old and it was my favorite game. Getting a new issue of Dragon every month was a huge treat for me because I didn’t have much money to buy game stuff, as I wasn’t old enough to work yet. I would read each issue cover to cover, often more than once. Seeing all those different articles by all those different writers made an impression on me. When I was 13, my big aspiration was to one day have an article in Dragon Magazine. It was the first time I considered writing and game design as something I could do.

When I was in college, I started pursuing this seriously. I tried to become a line reviewer for White Wolf Magazine. A friend and I submitted some material to White Dwarf. I got some articles published in an Ars Magica fanzine called Redcap. I wanted to break into the industry but other than blind submissions I didn’t really know how to do it. When I did get my first professional work in 1993, on Mayfair’s Underground RPG, I was lucky in two ways. First, another freelancer had flaked out and they needed people who could take on a job right away. Second, my friend Aaron knew the developer and talked him into giving us the job. That was the foot in the door I needed.

People often ask me how they can get started in in the game industry and I used to have a standard patter about it. In the 90s I would tell writers to start with magazine articles. Dragon and Dungeon were always on the lookout, and there used to be options like Shadis, Valkyrie, and Arcane. So sell a few articles, I’d say, and then go to GenCon. The whole industry is at GenCon, so it can be a cost effective trip to meet publishers and developers and try to get freelance work. You could also meet other freelancers and get to know your peers. Many stories, tips, and leads were shared in Milwaukee bars at GenCon I can assure you.

Times have changed though. Gaming magazines, always a tough business, have largely gone by the wayside. It’s more than that though. The internet, electronic publishing, print on demand technology, the rise of crowdfunding—all these things and more have changed the landscape. Answering the question is a more complicated endeavor now and that’s what I’m going to discuss in this Ronin Round Table.

One caveat before I go on. I’ve written this from the point of view of a game designer and publisher because that is my experience. Some of this will apply to other things like art and editing, but those are not my areas of expertise. Artists and art directors have plenty of opinions on such topics, so do seek those out if you want something from that point of view.

Tell Me the Options

So what are your options for breaking into the game industry? Let’s take a look.

1) Blogger

One easy way to get started is to create a blog and write about games. This costs virtually nothing and even if you don’t have a lot of readers at first, writing regularly is good practice. If you want to parlay this into something more, I suggest writing actual game content. I mean sure, it can be fun to rail about company X and their money grubbing ways but that’s not going to make anyone look at your blog and think you can do game design. So pick a game or two that you like and start writing material for it. These don’t need to be lengthy articles either. Design some monsters or magic items. Write a short adventure. Make some NPCs with adventure hooks. If you start creating useful content, you can develop a good reputation in the game’s community. This may eventually lead to freelance work. At the very least you are developing a body of work that is easy to show off. If a developer asks you for a writing sample, you’ll have ready material for that. Writing reviews can also be useful. It can show that you can think critically about games. Checking out a wide variety of game material is never wasted time either.

2) Demo Person

Game companies, and particularly roleplaying game companies, are always in need of good demo people. There is a constant demand for demos at stores and conventions all over the world and the staff of most companies is small. Demos are important but finding volunteers for this sort of work is difficult at best. For these reasons reliable demo people who show up on time and do a good job are really valuable to publishers. If you can do those things, it’s a great way to make yourself known. There are usually perks to joining a demo team, like free badges at cons and free or discounted game material, but there’s more to gain if you are diligent. You may be asked to write demo adventures, for example. If you do a good job at that, it can lead to freelance work. In some cases, you may be able to turn your volunteer work into an actual job.

3) Freelancer

The path of the freelancer is the one I followed. I’ve mentioned a couple of ways to break into freelancing already but there are others. Some companies do open calls from time to time. You will end up in a big slush pile but it’s a chance at least. You’ll also find game design competitions out there. You may not win—you probably won’t, in fact—but good work can get you noticed and may result in freelance opportunities. Once you get a gig, the most important thing to do is hit your deadline. If your developer asks for revisions, do them in a timeline fashion. It is better to do solid work on time than produce something of sheer genius months late. Understand that the game industry is small and developers talk to each other. The more good work you do, the easier it will be to get more work. The converse is also true.

An important thing to realize about freelance work is that much of it is what’s called work for hire. That means the publisher pays you a fee and buys all the rights to the work. This is common because companies want to own all the pieces of their intellectual properties.

If owning the rights to your work is important to you, you need to either find the right publisher or become one yourself. And speaking of that…

4) Publisher

If none of this sounds appealing, you can always just start your own damn publishing company. As an old punk rocker, the DIY ethic is near and dear to my heart. There was an Austin band in the 80s called the Big Boys, and they’d end their shows by exhorting the audience to go out and start their own bands. If you are a stubborn SOB like me who tires quickly of other people’s idiocy, being a publisher may be for you! This will almost certainly start as a part time venture but can turn into a full time job in the long run.

The good news is that it’s never been easier to publish roleplaying games. When I got into the industry, you had to do print runs of at least a thousand copies of a book. That meant having the money up front to pay for the printing, and somewhere to warehouse those books. Electronic publishing barely existed at that point. You had Hero Games selling books on 3.5 disks but that was pretty much it. Now things have changed entirely. E-publishing is a standard practice and there are plenty of places to sell your PDFs. Even better, electronic books require no warehousing. If you do want to make hard copies available, print on demand technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. Customers can order your books and the printer will ship directly to them. Again, no warehousing required. And you can do small print runs before you attend conventions if you want to sell there. All of this means it’s possible to start a company with little money and run it with just a few people or even just you.

The main downside of this method is that there are hundreds of small press companies out there now, so competition is fierce. It’s also harder to get your stuff into distribution and thus game stores if you are primarily a PDF/POD shop. Not impossible, however. There are a few companies that work with small publishers to get them into distribution. The biggest game changer though is crowdfunding. Now I can and indeed have talked at length about that topic but I’ll just note here that sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo make it possible for game companies to overcome the biggest hurdle most of them face: funding. One successful campaign can take your company to the next level. Just do your homework before trying your first crowdfunding campaign. There is much to absorb about the process and the best practices of crowdfunding, and you can learn a lot from the successes and failures of other companies.

5) Staffer

Finally, you may be able to get a staff job at an existing company. I put this one last for two reasons. First, there are not all that many staff jobs available in the game industry. Second, you are unlikely to get your start in the business with one of those jobs. It’s most likely that you’ll start as a demo person or freelancer and then get hired on once you’ve proven yourself. At the larger companies it is possible to work your way up the ladder though. When I worked at Wizards of the Coast, for example, it was common to see aspiring game designers take jobs as customer service people.

The logic is that once you are inside a company, it’s easier to hear about opportunities and get yourself noticed. And that is true. A bunch of people who went on to write for D&D got their start in customer service. Breaking into the business with a staff job is a rare occurrence though.

So those are the primary suggestions I have for breaking into the game industry. However you approach it, you’ll find it useful to maintain an active social media presence. If you can avoid the pitfalls, it’s a powerful tool. I also still recommend going to GenCon if you can because it’s a great place to meet industry folks and to see the sheer breadth of hobby gaming. It has gotten a lot more expensive to attend though, so it’s not practical for everyone. One freelancer I know slept in his car this last GenCon, which is either dedication or craziness depending on how you look at it. There are conventions all over though and there’s value to attending any good con.

No matter what route you take, realize you have to be your own advocate. There are no game design gods who will come down from Olympus and bless you with a career. That’s something you have to make yourself.

Now go out there and design your own games!

Note: This was original written as a speech I delivered at the Great Falls Gaming Rendezvous in Montana earlier this year. Thanks to GFGR for having me up!

Crystal Frasier

Crystal Frasier

Crystal Frasier is the developer for the Mutants & Masterminds Roleplaying Game, as well as a comic book fan, RPG geek, and corgi aficionado. She has played a variety of roles within the tabletop and video game industries, and has lent her talents to companies including Green Ronin, Paizo Publishing, Palladium Books, Onyx Path Publishing, Rogue Genius Games, and Kobold Press.
Crystal Frasier

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Ronin Round Table: Not Another RetCon

Last week’s Ronin Round Table brought tears to a lot of eyes, and not without good reason. Jon Leitheusser has been the developer for Mutants & Masterminds even longer than Steve Kenson. He was the motivating force behind the DC Adventure Roleplaying Game (now available at a great savings as part of our holiday sale!) and the creator of Emerald City, not to mention some of my personal favorites like the Cosmic Handbook and the upcoming Atlas of Earth Prime. And just to finish out his legacy, he brought the iconic Freedom City into 3rd edition. No one would want to follow that tenure, so where could Green Ronin find someone asinine enough to follow that performance?

Hello, I’m Crystal Frasier. Read more

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson has been an RPG author and designer since 1995 and has worked on numerous book and games, including Mutants & Masterminds, Freedom City, and Blue Rose for Green Ronin Publishing. He has written nine RPG tie-in novels and also runs his own imprint, Ad Infinitum Adventures, which publishes material for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevekenson.com.
Steve Kenson

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Ronin Round Table: Blue Rose Draws the Six of Swords

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-9-20-41-am

Artist Sketches for Cover

The much-anticipated new edition of Blue Rose Romantic Fantasy Roleplaying is wrapping up in production, soon to go off to print, with the final PDF edition released to Kickstarter backers, and then available with pre-orders of the book. On the design and development side, we’ve moved well past the core book for the game and into some supporting products, including a Narrator’s Kit with sturdy reference screen and pre-generated heroes to get you playing quickly and easily and something every tabletop roleplaying game can use, namely adventures!

Six of Swords is a forthcoming anthology of adventures for Blue Rose. As the name suggests, the book will contain six different adventures set in the world of Aldea, suitable for different levels of characters, and intended for Narrators to use as inspiration and resources for creating their own Blue Rose adventures as well. Authors Jaym Gates, Steven Jones, Kira Magrann, Alejandro Melchor, Malcolm Shepherd, and Rebecca Wise each present a tale where your heroes can make a difference.

The anthology includes ruined mansions, masquerade balls, vampiric curses, mysterious masks, sorcerous secrets, ghostly hauntings, lost loves, looming threats to the Kingdom of the Blue Rose, and tragic quests where heroes are called upon to make the right choices. As the initial cover concept sketches by artist Nen Chang show, the adventurers are expected to delve into some dangerous and inhospitable places, like the depths of the Veran Marsh, in pursuit of their goals.

Six of Swords is finishing up in development and editing and moving on to production and layout right after the main Blue Rose book and the Narrator’s Kit are complete. We’re looking forward to bringing you stories of adventure in the world of Aldea for you and your players to tell and enjoy.

Owen Stephens

Owen Stephens

Owen K.C. Stephens is a game designer who has worked on a number of products for Pathfinder, the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, and more. He is our Pathfinder Line Developer when he's not working full-time Developing Pathfinder at Paizo, or running his own company, Rogue Genius Games.
Owen Stephens

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Ronin Round Table: Monsters in Freeport, pt II

In the second part of this article, we look at the remaining monster types within the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, and where they fit into the dynamic Freeport setting. Find the first part of this article here: Monsters in Freeport, pt I.

monsters-of-freeport-pt-2-illoOne of the things players and GMs alike love about Freeport is its blend of fantasy genres and flavors. It’s a pirate city, but it’s also the site of an ancient serpent people empire, a location for cultists of mad gods, an escape from a continent that waged a war with a series of necromantic warlords, and the center of a trade route that can include sea-travel to alternate realities. Its tone ranges somewhere near “pulp swashbuckling Lovecraftian horror,” which is a neat idea but can be hard to maintain. There’s an introductory adventure in the Freeport City of Adventure hardback to help get GMs started, and the Return to Freeport adventure series currently being released in pdf, but a GM wishing to expand beyond those may find it difficult to maintain the “Freeport tone” of other encounters.

In short, some GMs could use some guidance on what Pathfinder Roleplaying Game monsters fit well in Freeport… and which don’t. Luckily, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game has a number of useful tags and categories that can be used to help determine if a creature is going to feel out-of-place in a Freeport campaign.

While it hopefully goes without saying, I’m still going to note that all of these are suggestions only. There’s no “wrong” way to run or play in a Freeport campaign as long as everyone is having a good time. If you and your players love telling the story of the open war between androids and devils fought publicly in the city’s streets, have at it! To a much lesser extreme, a Freeport campaign may well have less “typical” encounters from time to time as examples of unusual occurrences, and there’s nothing wrong with that. These ideas are just guidelines for how to try to stay within the existing feel of Freeport products, so if you vary from that feel you do so intentionally, rather than by accident. Read more

Owen Stephens

Owen Stephens

Owen K.C. Stephens is a game designer who has worked on a number of products for Pathfinder, the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, and more. He is our Pathfinder Line Developer when he's not working full-time Developing Pathfinder at Paizo, or running his own company, Rogue Genius Games.
Owen Stephens

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Ronin Round Table: Monsters in Freeport, pt I

P107_Gitch-&-Smoke__vpcorbella_1One of the things players and GMs alike love about Freeport is its blend of fantasy genres and flavors. It’s a pirate city, but it’s also the site of an ancient serpent people empire, a location for cultists of mad gods, an escape from a continent that waged a war with a series of necromantic warlords, and the center of a trade route that can include sea-travel to alternate realities. Its tone ranges somewhere near “pulp swashbuckling Lovecraftian horror,” which is a neat idea but can be hard to maintain. There’s an introductory adventure in the Freeport City of Adventure hardback to help get GMs started, and the Return to Freeport adventure series currently being released in pdf, but a GM wishing to expand beyond those may find it difficult to maintain the “Freeport tone” of other encounters.

In short, some GMs could use some guidance on what Pathfinder Roleplaying Game monsters fit well in Freeport… and which don’t. Luckily, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game has a number of useful tags and categories that can be used to help determine if a creature is going to feel out-of-place in a Freeport campaign.

While it hopefully goes without saying, I’m still going to note that all of these are suggestions only. There’s no “wrong” way to run or play in a Freeport campaign as long as everyone is having a good time. If you and your players love telling the story of the open war between androids and devils fought publicly in the city’s streets, have at it! To a much lesser extreme, a Freeport campaign may well have less “typical” encounters from time to time as examples of unusual occurrences, and there’s nothing wrong with that. These ideas are just guidelines for how to try to stay within the existing feel of Freeport products, so if you vary from that feel you do so intentionally, rather than by accident. Read more

Joseph D. Carriker

Joseph D. Carriker

Joseph Carriker is developer for A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying and the Chronicle System. He has worked in the gaming industry since 2000, and intends to keep doing that for the foreseeable future. He's an avid proponent of diversity in gaming spaces, and regularly runs LGBT-oriented panels at gaming conventions, including GenCon's "Queer as a Three-Sided Die." He recently sold a novel, Sacred Band, available this winter from Lethe Press.
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Ronin Round Table: Cybernetics in Valkana

lemlee-z_hero-characterWhile working on the outline for Titansgrave: World of Valkana, I’d finally hammered down (with an incredible degree of aid from Ryan Wheaton) the various political structures, historical weirdnesses, and generally rich tapestry of the setting’s major landmass.

Then, I turned my attention to some of the cool stuff that the PCs can and should have access to as heroes in Valkana. Naturally, thought turns to the heroes of the Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana webseries from Geek & Sundry. In particular, Lemley’s cybernetic arm which, among other things, houses Dr. Lobotomy.

Cybernetics can get problematic in game design sometimes. Obviously, a game that includes them must include a way for player characters to have them – it’s half the fun! But designing cybernetics as pieces of equipment with all sorts of great bonuses usually ends up with characters who are as close to full-body-upgrades as they can get, ending up with groups of nearly complete-replacement cyborgs instead of plucky heroes with a piece of chrome or two.

To some degree, that’s a natural outgrowth of character advancement and equipment rules: player characters want effective characters, and when cybernetics all provide benefits of some sort, the more cybernetics your character has, the better they are. Read more

Jack Norris

A writer and game designer since the mid 1990s, Jack Norris has worked on numerous award winning and critically acclaimed publications over the last two decades, including products for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, DC Adventures, Scion, Mutants and Masterminds, and Feng Shui.He is currently working at Green Ronin developing Dragon Age, as well as co-developing other projects such as Blue Rose. Outside of his work for Green Ronin and others, Jack also designs and writes Tianxia, his own line of wu xia/kung fu action rpg products published through Vigilance Press. When not writing and designing, Jack is an attorney and consultant at the Vidar Law Group, a small Chicago-based litigation firm.

Jack also hates writing bios...

Ronin Roundtable: Aza (Fantasy AGE Iconics 1)

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-9-40-15-amHey folks, Jack here.  So in coming months we’ll be delving further into various setting elements for Fantasy AGE.  While the game is consciously designed to be used in a variety of fantasy setting and campaigns, we at Green Ronin are working to build and develop our own unique world for the game.  You can see some of this in the fiction and concepts we have introduced to date in products like Fantasy AGE Encounters and the Bestiary.  While you don’t ever need to use our setting materials to have fun with Fantasy AGE and use it in your own games, we do recognize that building such a setting is useful for many customers, as well as for us internally.

One thing we haven’t detailed yet though are any of our iconic characters.  We don’t have big metaplot-heavy characters in Fantasy AGE, but we do have some PC-like heroes who feature into some of our art throughout the books. Chief among them are the three class examples, a trio of characters who also show up on our covers of the core book and Bestiary.  Who are these folks? Well, I’m glad you asked…

We begin with Aza, seen as the brave warrior woman more than willing to tackle ogres, ghouls, and other threats for the right cause or the right price. Here she is presented as a level 5 character. Read more

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson has been an RPG author and designer since 1995 and has worked on numerous book and games, including Mutants & Masterminds, Freedom City, and Blue Rose for Green Ronin Publishing. He has written nine RPG tie-in novels and also runs his own imprint, Ad Infinitum Adventures, which publishes material for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevekenson.com.
Steve Kenson

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Ronin Roundtable: M&M Style

grr5510e_mutantsandmastermindsthirdeditiondeluxeheroeshandbook_1_1024x1024Our recent yearly Green Ronin summit covers a lot of ground, including plans for all of the company’s current game-lines moving forward into the coming year. The remainder of 2016 and the start of 2017 are a bit of a turning point for Mutants & Masterminds, reflecting the maturity of the third edition line. In particular, by early to mid-2017, we’ll have covered the essential rules and game materials for M&M with the Hero’s Handbook, Power Profiles, Gadget Guides, and the Gamemaster’s Guide, the essential setting material for Earth-Prime with Emerald City, the Cosmic Handbook, the Atlas of Earth-Prime, and the new edition of Freedom City, plus plenty of foes in Threat Report, Rogues Gallery, and the Supernatural Handbook. Add to that a complete and compatible summary of the DC Universe in our four DC Adventures books, and that’s quite a collection!

So, we want to revisit how we present Mutants & Masterminds products in addition to what types of products we’re offering. There’s a lot of material out there for the game (and will be even more in the months to come) so the big question on our agenda is: How do we make M&M easier to use and friendlier to new readers going forward while retaining the great library of material we already have? A lot of the answer to that question is not just what products we do, but how we do them, the style and presentation of the game.

In particular, I’m looking at the stat blocks for M&M and finding ways they can be more user-friendly, informative, and attractive while still conveying everything you need to know about the character in game terms. This goes for our full-size and detailed stat blocks as well as our smaller formats, presented in-line with text. Everything is on the table here: the way things are arranged, the order in which traits are presented, use of color or icons, and so forth. The key limit is that it has to convey essentially the same information and remain compatible with our other third-edition material. Ideally, we also want the presentation to require only the Hero’s Handbook—while we could certainly save space by pulling powers and gadgets wholesale out of supplements, we don’t want you to have to have Power Profiles or Gadget Guides to understand and play the game!

You’ll likely be hearing more about this process as time goes on and ideas percolate but, for now, we’d also like to hear from you. Visit our forums and tell us ways in which M&M products can be more useful, user-friendly, and easy to reference during game-play in your own games, keeping in mind the guidelines that we’re sticking with the current edition and we want the new products we publish in the coming year to be compatible with what we’ve done thus far. You can also drop us an email at custserve@greenronin.com or send us a message via our Facebook page.

I’m looking forward to showing everyone all of the plans we’ve made for Mutants & Masterminds and to giving it the look and style that will last it for years more to come!

Barry Wilson

Born of Hippies in the uncharted backwoods of the Pacific Northwest, Barry Wilson was literally raised by wolves. He is often found in the company of cats, and is known to be handy with tools of all sorts. Among his passions are games, sharing his love of gaming with others, and general shenanigans. He currently resides in Greater Pugetopolis, equidistant from sea, mountains, forest, and the hustle and bustle of city life.

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Ronin Roundtable: Finding a Gaming Group

Greetings! I am Barry Wilson and I’m Green Ronin’s Boatswain of the Booth at Gen Con. I talk to quite a few people who come to our booth at Gen Con. One thing that I’ve heard people say over and over to me is: “I really want to play this game, but I can’t find a game group to play with.” I’m here to help. (Note: because Green Ronin primarily sells RPGs that’s what people are talking about when they tell me this. This advice is applicable to every type of game. )

Step One: Define Your Goals

The first thing you need to do is define what you’re looking for, and what you’re willing to accept. Maybe you’re really looking to *run* a Titansgrave campaign. But, you’d be willing to accept *playing* in someone’s Dragon AGE game. Or, maybe you can only find people who really want to play Fantasy AGE but don’t want blasters in their fantasy, thank you very much. Is that acceptable to you? Read more

Chris Pramas
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Chris Pramas

Chris Pramas is an award-winning game designer and writer, and the founder and president of Green Ronin Publishing. He is best known as the designer of the Fantasy AGE RPG, the Dragon Age RPG, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd Edition. He has been a creative director at Wizards of the Coast and Flying Lab Software and a lead writer at Vigil Games. Most recently he worked with Wil Wheaton on the Titansgrave web series from Geek& Sundry. Green Ronin continues to thrive under his leadership, publishing roleplaying games like Blue Rose, Mutants & Masterminds, and A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying.
Chris Pramas
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Ronin Roundtable: GenCon GMing for Green Ronin

GR-Gameroom1If you are a publisher, you of course want people to have the opportunity to play your games at GenCon. You can run demos at your booth but the exhibit hall is no place for long form RPG adventures (it’s super loud and booth space is limited). Those are better handled as scheduled events. Finding good and reliable game masters for your RPGs can be challenging though. In past years we’ve had mixed success with our GenCon events. What I really wanted was a dedicated area filled with Green Ronin games. To get that, you have to have a certain number of events. Coordinating that is a job in itself.

Enter Donna Prior, Green Ronin’s events manager. I told her what I wanted and wow, did she deliver. We had over 90 scheduled events this year and GenCon gave us a dedicated room for them on the second floor of the convention center. Going into that room and seeing tables full of gamers playing Fantasy AGE, Dragon Age, Mutants & Masterminds, and A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying was amazing. Read more