Leap Day Sale and Electrical Powers!

Power Profile: Electrical PowersWhether you were born on February 29th, you think a lot about leaping tall buildings in a single bound, or you wish you could leap in Dragon Age, we might just have a deal for you! In celebration of today’s quadrennial event, we’ve placed three awesome products at five dollars off in our Green Ronin Online Store. For a limited time, you can get the Dragon Age RPG Set 1 boxed set, Mutants & Masterminds Gamemaster’s Guide, and/or the M&M GM’s Kit for $5 off! Happy Leap Day 2012!

And in other news… From the thunderbolts of the gods to the energy sustaining the modern world, electricity is a power to reckon with, and Electrical Powers range from hurling bolts of lightning or stunning taser blasts to absorbing and conducting the output of a city’s power-grid, or “riding the lightning” by transforming into electricity and traveling in the blink of an eye.

Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile: Electrical Powers (PDF)

Ronin Round Table: Jon Leitheusser on Licensing

The Big, Traditional License

DC Adventures: Heroes & Villains, Vol. 2Chris Pramas, our fearless leader here at Green Ronin, wrote an excellent primer on licensing a few weeks ago. He covered the business side of things and hit most of the high points. This time, I’m here to dig in a little deeper and talk about dealing with a license from a "big, traditional" licensor; namely, DC Comics.

I don’t want you all to think I’m jaded and only in the game design biz for the fat wads of Benjamins I make, so let me say right now that it is as unbelievably cool to be working on DC Adventures for me as it would be for you! I’ve been a comic reader for two years longer (32 years) than I’ve been a gamer (30 years), so comics are in my blood. My college years are a blur of nights and weekends playing Champions and our own home-brew superhero game using hacked Cyberpunk rules. So, yes, I’m really enjoying the DC license.

Anyway, how does one handle a license with a giant company like Warner Bros.? The answer is surprisingly simple.

First, I try to be professional. Chris discussed this in the Round Table I linked to above and it’s true. The people who work at DC and WB are doing a job. They appreciate enthusiasm, because they know they’ll get a good product out of a licensee if they’re excited about it, but what they really want is someone they can discuss things with rationally, who understands the business, and who they can rely on to produce a game (or any sort of product) that appeals to the fans and looks good in final form. Another key thing I try to remember is the game is only one of many products the people at DC are working on at that moment. They could have a dozen or more projects to deal with right alongside mine, so if they know Green Ronin is able to handle our end of the deal it makes their job easier because they don’t need to do any hand-holding.

Second, everyone at Green Ronin tries to be persistent without being annoying. Because big companies have a lot of things going on we take it on ourselves to be the ones sending reminder emails about getting text approved, gaining access to art files, requesting help from the editorial side to make sure a character is represented correctly, etc. Some people feel like it’s pestering to send a, "Did you get a chance to check on X" email, but really, those emails are appreciated because they’re reminders of things that may have been forgotten. Persistence is fine because it tells the licensor that we care and are trying to make the product as good as possible.

Third, this is with regards to the work we do on guts of the DC Adventures books… we treat it like we would any other book or game. We’ve done the hard part by acquiring the license, now we have to get to work doing what we do. In my case that’s contracting writers to produce two-hundred-and-some thousand words about 500+ different DC comics heroes and villains. I send out the contracts, find out the writers’ preferences for who they’d like to work on, split up the characters with those preferences in mind, and give the writers a deadline. Just like I do with every other book. Follow up later on, nearer to the deadline, to see how everyone’s doing and see if extra time is needed or if one writer can pick up another writer’s slack. Just like with every other book. When all the raw text comes in, compile it, edit it, and make sure the characters are correct. Just like… you get the idea.

Just because I’m dealing with a license doesn’t mean I do anything different. The process is the process. The only differences are in the beginning and at the end with contracts and approvals.

Fourth, I try to keep in mind that I’m dealing with someone else’s intellectual property (or, IP, in the biz). That means I need to submit what we’ve created for review. When I’m prepping something to send in, I try to give my contact at the company a call and warn them. "Hey, I’m going to send you a 500 page document in a couple of weeks and I thought you might like a heads-up," goes a long way toward making that contact’s job easier—and when they can prepare to receive a giant document like that it likely means they can return it to me that much faster. Approvals can be a bit of a pain because they take time and we often end up reworking small or large sections of what we’ve submitted (whether it be text or graphic elements), but that’s what we’ve signed up for when we acquired the license. And ultimately, any changes the licensor asks for are because they want to make the final product better. So, we make the changes no matter how many long nights it takes.

Fifth, all throughout the process there’s a lot of back and forth. Every time I send an email or pick up the phone, I remember to try and improve the relationship between the two companies and the various people involved. Everything I can do to make the job of the person on the other end of the line’s job easier, the more he or she will be willing to do for me if and when I need it. A good partner in a business relationship is a great thing. I always try to be that person.

Lastly—and this applies throughout the entire relationship with the licensor—we meet our commitments. We’ve agreed to certain things both formally, in contracts, and informally, in phone calls or emails, so when I (or Hal or Chris) say we’re going to deliver on something; we do it. That goes for things like calling when we’ve set up a time to call, all the way up to sending royalty statements and payments when they’re due.

Licenses can be time-consuming and tricky, but I find them a pleasure when working with a good property and company. Marrying the heroes and villains of the DC Universe to the Mutants & Masterminds game system is a perfect fit… and the sum is definitely greater than the parts!

Jon Leitheusser
Mutants & Masterminds and DC Adventures Line Developer

Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile: Weather Powers

Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile: Weather PowersThe flash of lightning, the crash of thunder, and the howl of the wind: the elements are at your command with Weather Powers! Call up fierce storms and strike your foes with lightning, or chill them to the bone with an arctic blizzard. Soar upon the wings of the wind and use it to carry others aloft. Dominate and shape the battlefield by controlling the environment, but beware the heavy responsibility that comes with this power and the opportunity to use it. For M&M Third Edition.

Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile: Weather Powers

Dragon Age Set 3 Open Playtest


The day has come.

Dragon Age Set 3 CoverDragon Age RPG Set 1 was enthusiastically received. Old hands and new tabletop roleplayers leapt at the chance to tell exciting stories of their own in the perilous and compelling world of Thedas.

Dragon Age RPG Set 2 got delayed but, following a robust and open playtest process, was released to great appreciation by fans and newcomers alike.

We at Green Ronin once planned to release two additional sets, that would together cover character levels 11-20, but due to further delays on our end and a desire to get the whole game in front of fans and players sooner, we combined what would have been Set 3 and Set 4 into a single set: Dragon Age RPG Set 3.

Alas, Set 3 isn’t ready for publication yet. We know many of you are eager to take your characters and adventures beyond level 10. We are, too.

If we could publish Set 3 tomorrow, we’d do it. Because we can’t, because it’s not ready, we’re repeating what we did for Set 2 and stress testing this new set by getting your input on it. This is our open public beta test of many of the game-mechanical aspects of Set 3, including rules for advancing Player Characters all the way to level 20!

We hope to use stunt points to strike two birds with this stone, giving Dragon Age RPG fans the chance to resume their campaigns right away while also strengthening the Set 3 rules with playtest notes devised by your sharp eyes and cunning.

Here, then, is the Set 3 open beta package.

Inside you’ll find an assortment of new components for the Dragon Age RPG, from talents to specializations, from spells to monsters. This all represents a sizable portion of the Set 3 manuscript—but still only a portion. Features such as our full-length adventure and our many pages of background lore are not contained in this playtest package. A few components, still on our workbenches for development, are also not here. So don’t fret if you something you were looking forward to in Set 3 isn’t in here—we’ve got a few surprises in store.

Inside you’ll also find text at various type sizes and adorned with manuscript tags and layout notes. This is a manuscript in flux, a molten thing. We’ll get it tightened up while you’re playing.

Remember, please, that only playtest responses emailed to the address in the package, with signed release forms, can be considered. We can’t count forum posts, blog posts, tweets, or similar messages as official playtest feedback. We’d appreciate it if you sent your serious critiques to us directly and remember that this is a work in progress.

Thank you!

Ronin Round Table: Evan Sass

evan.jpgI’m Green Ronin’s IT Director (Secret game industry perk: make your own title!) and in-house editor. Unlike our game designers and developers, I hang out in the background, reacting to problems with our web sites or online orders, or jumping in to edit a manuscript when Chris or one of the line developers lets me know it’s ready. While they plan out a product line’s schedule months in advance, I’m not always sure what I’m going to be doing each week. Or each day.

If we had fancy things like employee numbers here at Green Ronin, mine would be 4. But then, if we had more than eleven employees, that number might be more impressive. How does one get a gig like mine? I’m glad to pretend you asked!

How to Get Started in the Game Industry Without Really Trying, or, The Importance of Bookmarks

Back in about 1994, I had a temp job in downtown Seattle as a file clerk at an Evil Law Firm. (Now defunct.) My friend and coworker Jesse happened to notice that I was using a Magic: The Gathering card as a bookmark (I’m pretty sure it was an Atog, and the book might have been something in Asimov’s Foundation or Niven’s Ringworld series), and we started talking about games. One thing led to another, and before you could say “fired for having too many rubber band fights in the file room” we and some friends and brothers had gone and founded Rubicon Games, Inc.

At Rubicon we had a great company name, a terrific logo, and a sort of vague idea that we should, you know, publish some games or something. We wrote a little collection of twenty dice games called The Die is Cast (see what we did there?) and a fun little card game called Up the Creek, and were still milling about with nothing actually published when the roleplaying game Everway fell off of the back of the WotC truck and landed in our company’s lap.

Okay, it wasn’t quite that simple. We had to ask for it first. When Wizards of the Coast declared that they were divesting themselves of their roleplaying game lines (this was prior to when they reversed course again and bought TSR), Pagan Publishing, Atlas Games, and Rubicon Games all submitted proposals to acquire Jonathan Tweet’s new card-based roleplaying game Everway. Atlas acquired Ars Magica and probably figured that was enough. Pagan Publishing was the clear frontrunner, but decided not to get Everway after all, probably because it was so completely different from their normal Lovecraftian fare. That left Rubicon, and somehow WotC decided to go ahead and send the game line our way instead of just tossing it out or using it to build an obstacle course in the parking lot of their huge office building. By submitting one proposal we went from having no actual products to having to rent space in two different warehouses to store pallet after pallet of boxed sets and art cards.

One important tidbit, to my own future at least, was that Nicole Lindroos had written an unpublished adventure for Everway. We found the manuscripts for that and another adventure on one of the CDs we got with the rest of the Everway stuff, and published them. I met Nicole, Chris Pramas, and wee Intern Kate when they stopped by my house in Seattle so Nicole could get some copies of her adventure. We were, of course, unaware that this was setting the stage for my future employment with the future company Green Ronin Publishing.

Rubicon was not the best publishing company, despite our great name and logo. We diversified into game retailing by merging with the Seattle-area game store chain Games & Gizmos, and I came on full time to create G&G’s online store. I also started gaming with Chris and Nicole, and ended up finally putting my English Lit degree to good use by editing Green Ronin’s first product, Ork! The Roleplaying Game. My mom was so proud.

Soon after that, I started freelancing on GreenRonin.com for Nicole, Chris, and Hal. Meanwhile, giddy with Dot-Com Era excitement, Games & Gizmos over-extended and had to start closing stores, and I moved on to do some contract work for the MSN Gaming Zone. From there I worked at Cranium on the kids’ game Hullabaloo
and also proofread the Swiss-German card set for the Cranium board game. No, I didn’t know the language. Through another contract gig, I proofread a set of Pokémon cards for Nintendo USA, although to my kids’ dismay I have no idea what set it was.

In about 2002 I became Green Ronin’s Employee #4, creating and managing our web sites and proofreading and editing books. I’ve edited books for the d20 System, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay second edition, Mutants & Masterminds, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, and my personal favorite, Dragon Age RPG. Thanks to GR I’ve even seen my own card game, Walk the Plank, on at least two stores’ shelves, and have met literally ones of Walk the Plank fans from around the world. By which I mean Australia.

I’ve been able to live my own version of the dream gamer geek life, minus the great wealth part, and all because I used an Atog as a bookmark. That bookmark also led to me meeting my awesome wife, but that’s another story.

Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile: Tech Powers

Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile: Tech PowersFrom heavy metal to sleek high-tech, Tech Powers takes a look at the abilities of machines and those who control them. Create a hero with a Machine Body and a Digital Mind, or with the power to Interface with computers and communicate over the world network. Animate machines or operate them from a distance, or exercise intuitive powers of invention. The powers in this Profile let you build a better hero, literally! This 99-cent Power Profile PDF is for Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition.

Mutants & Masterminds Power Profile: Tech Powers

SIFRP A Game of Thrones Edition Cover Revealed!

For the upcoming A Game of Thrones Edition of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, we commissioned Michael Komarck to do a brand new piece of cover art. We loved his piece for the SIFRP Campaign Guide and thought it’d be great if both core books featured his art. The new piece shows the epic confrontation between Robert Baratheon and Rhaegar Targaryen at the Battle of the Trident. It is, in a word, awesome.

We’ve also taken this opportunity to add SIFRP: A Game of Thrones Edition to our online store. Note that the pre-order is not live yet. That will happen at the beginning of April when Season 2 of the TV show debuts. 

Ronin Round Table: Chris Pramas #3

This week I thought I’d talk a little bit about licensing. We have several ongoing licensed games right now (Dragon Age, DC Adventures, and A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying) and in the past we’ve done books based on properties such as Thieves’ World, Black Company, The Nocturnals, and The Red Star. I negotiated all of these licenses, as well as the studio deal that led to us designing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd Edition for Games Workshop. I was also a creative director at Wizards of the Coast a decade ago and dealt with companies like Lucasfilm and Blizzard in that time. I think it’s fair to say I have a lot of experience in this arena.

Licensing in our industry happens when one company (or more rarely, one person) owns a media property of some sort (books, movies, comics, etc.) and another company wants to create games based on it. In the early days of tabletop gaming, there was a lot of naivety about trademarks and copyrights. TSR, for example, published a miniatures game called Warriors of Mars based on the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. They had no license to do so, and sure enough the Burroughs estate contacted them. To avoid a lawsuit, TSR never reprinted the game. This sort of thing was not uncommon in the 70s.

Today licensing is both more common and better understood in the game industry. When I first delved into it, there were lots of folks I could talk to who had done it before and were willing to give me advice. I do the same when people ask me. Such camaraderie is one of the nice things about the gaming biz.

So how does it all work? Well, the first thing you need to do is find out the right person or persons to talk to about licensing. In some cases, this is easy. For A Song of Ice and Fire, I just e-mailed George R.R. Martin one day and started a dialog. For small companies you can usually go to an owner or president. Larger companies will have dedicated licensing people.

Once you have the ear of the right person, you need to make a proposal. This is a document that basically outlines the scope of the license as you see it and what your plans are. One thing to understand is that companies slice the rights up into many different component parts. If you try to get a license for just games, the cost would be absurdly high because “games” is far too broad a category. You need to figure out the type of game you want to do (RPG, boardgame, card game, video game, etc.) and ask for those rights. The more different types of rights you try to scoop up, the more expensive the license will be.

Sometimes a company will have standard terms for a license as far as money goes, but more commonly this is something you’ll have to propose and then negotiate about. Typically, a license requires an advance and royalties. The advance is money up front that proves you are serious, and then the royalties are the percentage of your sales you pay to them in exchange for the license. It’s called an advance because you are pre-paying the first chunk of the royalties. Some licenses also have a guarantee. That’s a minimum amount of money due over the term of the license. Guarantees can be dangerous because if the line does not perform to expectations, you can end up spending a lot more than the royalties due.

Another thing to negotiate is the length of the agreement. Most that I’ve seen tend to start with two or three years and then have an additional period of a year or two that happens automatically as long as both parties are happy with the agreement. Some also have limits for how many products are covered. For DC Adventures, our license is specifically for four books. We tried to negotiate a broader license, but the advance involved was simply untenable for a company of our size. It is good to know your limits.

You should expect that negotiations are going to take time. There will be a lot of back and forth about the terms and that is something you don’t want to rush. Key things to establish include the assets you get access to and how the approvals process is going to work. Of particular value in our business is the ability to use existing art assets. The Red Star was terrific because we got to fill a book with Christian Gossett’s amazing art. With DC Adventures we get access to the DC’s mammoth art archive. Art assets like this can save you tons of money down the road.

Approvals are a thorny area and one you need to be ready to deal with. Basically, the licensor is going to want to see everything (text, art, ads) you do before you print or release it. Sometimes this process is short and painless and other times it is long and arduous. It is, however, one of the prices you pay for having the license in the first place. Most boilerplate licenses have a clause in them that stipulates that a work is considered approved if no response is given within a certain amount of time. That clause is usually the first thing the licensors ask to remove as part of the negotiations. They don’t want things they haven’t approved getting out there without their review and it’s hard to fault them for that. This doesn’t make your cursing any less loud when you find out your GenCon release is now going to be a Christmas release though.

Once you have negotiated a deal that you feel comfortable with, make sure you get a lawyer to review the contract. I have learned to parse a certain amount of legalese over the years, but it’s best to consult an expert when your company’s future is on the line. You may be tempted to start working on the game material before the contract is signed. You shouldn’t. Sometimes negotiations drag on and on and the deal never happens, or the handshake deal never gets to the contract stage. You don’t want to sink a lot of effort into writing and designing material that can’t be released because you never did get that license.

Once you have the license, you need to maintain the relationship. This means treating your licensors professionally and with respect. If you want to renew the license or get a good enough reputation to get another one, you need to be a good creative and business partner. Don’t try to sneak things under the radar, don’t throw a hissy fit because your idea got shot down, and don’t talk smack about your licensor. Above all, realize that the money you’re going to make for your licensor in this industry is not going to be some kind of big payday for them. Now most licensors understand this (and if they don’t, you should educate them during the negotiation). Companies license their properties for tabletop games because they think it’d be good marketing, or as fan service, or because they like games themselves. Just remember that you need them a lot more than they need you, so act like a professional, do the best work you can, and be faithful to the property. If you do it right, licensed games can be totally worth it.

Emerald City Knights Chapter 4: Sea Change (PDF)

Emerald City Knights Chapter 4: Sea Change (PDF)This chapter picks up right where Chapter 3 left off, but can also be played as a stand-alone adventure. This PDF is available for just $3.99, and uses the Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition rules.

Emerald City Knights Chapter 4: Sea Change (PDF)

Ronin Round Table: Joseph D. Carriker, Jr.

Joseph D. Carriker, Jr.Hello, all. As the new kid hereabouts, Chris suggested that I take this opportunity to introduce myself to folks who may not know me.

I’ve been writing on a freelance basis in the role-playing game industry for about a decade, give or take a little here and there. I got my start with the birth of the d20 movement. My first published credit was fairly unorthodox, but definitely a sign of the times: Sword & Sorcery Studios’ Relics & Rituals book, an open call sourcebook that was the second in a line of books that would eventually become the Scarred Lands setting (which I eventually ended up taking over as developer).

In the time since, I’ve done tons of work for White Wolf, and dipped my toe in a couple of other places, notably Wizards of the Coast and of course Green Ronin. Four years ago or so, I pretty much dropped off the freelancer map, going to work first for White Wolf as an in-house developer, and then for CCP North America.

Times being what they are, I’m back out in the world now, and happy to have found a home with Green Ronin as the Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying line developer. I have some pretty tremendous shoes to fill, let me tell you: the work that Rob Schwalb, Steve Kenson and Chris Pramas did on this system is fantastic, and I’m happy to be given a chance to help guide the vision of this line.

I admit to being a bit of a Song of Ice & Fire nerd, truth be told. I love George R.R. Martin’s setting: the intricacies of it, the nuanced characters, the rich history that doesn’t just sit there, but rears its head again and again. It is quite literally a dream come true to be able to help shepherd the line for Green Ronin.

My duties are the same as other developers: generating outlines for new books, hiring writers, editing their manuscripts, putting together art notes for the art department, and generally getting the manuscript ready to be handed over to production for layout. Once a pre-print PDF of the book is ready, I help go through it for mistakes, omissions, or just things that looked better as a word processor document, but definitely need tweaking when it’s been put together as a real book.

I’m also pretty active on the Green Ronin forums, answering questions, offering suggestions for game play, and thoroughly enjoying the write-ups our fantastic players provide of their home games. I admit that I’m the sort of developer who gives other industry professionals a bad name: I don’t mind hearing about other peoples’ games, particularly those that are in a setting I’m working on. Fair warning, though: what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I may just subject you to my own home game stories, too.

At the current time, I’m helping get some of the line’s previous products ready for production. Most of the hard work has already been done on these; I’m just helping spot mistakes that need fixing, and implementing errata here and there for new printings. I’ve done the final development work on the Night’s Watch (again, following in the footsteps of a masterful predecessor, in this case the irredoubtable Jim Kiley).

But with the upcoming Chronicle System PDFs, and further sourcebooks (and even a boxed set!), I’m looking forward to moving the vision of the line forward and more than anything else, continuing to create a fantastic system that our players and fans can get hours of fun out of.