Ronin Round Table: Blue Rose
At the risk of boring the audience with back-to-back Ronin Round Tables focusing on Blue Rose, I really wanted to have a chance to say a few words before the Kickstarter for the new edition with the AGE rules goes up. Very soon now we’re going to be in the middle of Kickstarter craziness and, for the first time, I’m personally going to be managing the Kickstarter project on behalf of Green Ronin instead of our illustrious president Chris Pramas. Chris is eyeballs-deep in finalizing Fantasy AGE and tomorrow (assuming this posts as planned) will be the first episode of Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop RPG show Titansgrave: the Ashes of Valkana, which Green Ronin helped put together (and which Chris is also eyeballs-deep into finalizing for the accompanying sourcebook that Green Ronin is publishing). It seems only fair that someone else take up the management duties under current circumstances.
Knowing this duty was in my future made me introspective; more so than usual. In 2005, when the True20-powered edition of Blue Rose came out, I was very much in favor of doing it but it wasn’t a particular pet project of mine. I saw the value in creating a game that catered to the tropes and themes of the less-served side of fantasy literature, the “romantic fantasy” branch dealing less with battle prowess and conquest and more with relationships, alliances, striving for goodness, and creating community. We were already doing the grim and gritty-style of fantasy with our Black Company license, Chris’s ever-expanding Freeport setting, and our design house work on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition for Games Workshop. Touching on this other style of fantasy just seemed to make sense! A rich fantasy life can take shape in a myriad of ways.
I really wasn’t prepared for the response we saw. We got a lot of positive feedback, people embraced the setting and wanted more, reviews praised the system and the beautiful art in equal measure. Another subset of people really, really liked the system work Steve Kenson had done with the True20 system and wanted THAT and only that, to the point of making ever-escalating demands up to and including threats to use the Open Game License that True20 was based on to strip the setting from the rules and release it with or without our involvement and whether we liked it or not. While certainly within the letter of the “law” of the OGL, it really seemed to violate the spirit of creative expression and sharing that had been largely respected by the community. It’s also around that time that Green Ronin underwent (and barely survived) what we’ve come to refer to around the office as The Osseum Debacle, which resulted in our fulfillment partners rather spectacularly going out of business and leaving their clients (Green Ronin being the largest) out to dry and out many, many thousands of dollars. It was not an ideal situation, to say the least.
Because of the Debacle, and the competing forces demanding our attention (while seeming unconcerned about the fact that these game releases were our livelihood) we didn’t get to do a lot of the things we’d hoped to do with the line. Even our best efforts at the time resulted in some cringe-worth mistakes and oversights in retrospect, though not necessarily the ones critics of the original setting harped on. Ten years along the landscape has changed quite a bit. Game companies and personalities have come and gone. Dungeons & Dragons itself has had two complete redesigns (the most recent under the editorial guidance of Jeremy Crawford, who coincidentally also edited and helped develop Blue Rose). “Romantic Fantasy” as its own literary genre is virtually nonexistent in comparison with young adult dystopias and paranormal romances springing up in its place.
And yet the tropes and themes of that branch we called “Romantic Fantasy” are more current than ever! Relationships and community, finding your own authenticity in the face of bigotry, presenting your best self and working for a better world? Those issues are in my news feed every day. Heroes fighting for the greater good are not the sole providence of comic books and they’re going to be taking their place in the new Blue Rose release. My abiding concern as we move ahead is to make sure we improve on our prior presentation. Happily, I can say that our working relationship with BioWare over the evolution of the Dragon Age property has been educational and inspiring and has definitely affected my attitude towards the Blue Rose reboot. The evolution from Dragon Age 2, where we saw trans characters as elven prostitutes played for laughs to Dragon Age: Inquisition where a significant NPC is revealed as transgender in a much more sensitive, and more importantly organic, manner was not only the right way to address a prior misstep but a deft handling of the issue that rippled through the development of the culture of the Qunari and resulted in a much richer background for the world of Thedas as a whole. That is what I hope to see from a Blue Rose reboot as well.
Of course, the world now also contains Tumblr mobs, irate Gamer Gate aficionados itching to move beyond name calling on forums to DDoS attacks, doxxing, and other direct forms of harassment, and people willing to strike up a call for boycott if your response to “sea lions” * on Twitter doesn’t meet with their approval. A decade ago I was probably brash enough that I would have flipped them a couple of birds and cursed like Chuck Wendig. I’ll try to maintain slightly more appropriate behavior this time around but mostly, I’m just eager for the chance to do this again and to do it even better. The Kickstarter launch won’t be long now and I can hardly wait to see who is going to join us in Aldea.
*please see http://wondermark.com/1k62/ for more on “sea lions” if you haven’t already.