Ronin Round Table: Chris Pramas on GAMA Trade Show

Last week Hal Mangold and I were in Las Vegas for the GAMA Trade Show (AKA GTS). GAMA is the Game Manufacturers Association and it runs the only real trade show in tabletop gaming. It’s a chance for us to talk to our partners in retail and distribution and promote the company and our upcoming releases. It’s also a show that has changed some over the years.

I went to my first GTS in 1996. It was in Atlantic City that year, and as I was living in NYC at the time it was a short ride to attend. I was getting my first company going and it was a learning expedition. This was a time when the internet was becoming more important, but most retailers were not getting their publishing news from it. There was thus a lot of key information being transmitted at the show. It was also a great place to make big announcements. New games and new licenses were commonly revealed and promoted at GTS. You often saw new games announced at GTS in March and then released at GenCon in August.

GAMA Trade Show also used to move around the country from year to year (as did Origins, the summer convention that GAMA also runs). The idea was to give various regions of the country a chance to host the show, so local retailers would have an easier time attending. This went wrong at the notorious 1998 show in Miami, which was a ghost town. The show might well have died after that, but in 1999 it moved to Las Vegas and has stayed there ever since. This gave the show some much needed stability, and the allure of Vegas as a destination has certainly not hurt.

In the early 2000s GTS regained its luster, and the d20 boom saw a lot of new companies attending. By 2003 nearly every other booth was selling d20 books of some sort. Things continue to change though, and the show we attended last week was different than those of a decade ago. For one thing the number of RPG publishers in attendance was much smaller, since so much RPG publishing is focused on electronic distribution, POD books, and direct sales now. The number of big announcements has also decreased. With news sites, social media, and blogs, info now travels so fast that there just isn’t a lot of oomph in timing an announcement for a show with a few hundred attendees.

At this point you may be wondering why we still attend GTS. Some of my colleagues have asked me the same question. The answer is that we still find it valuable to have face time with retailers and distributors. I do see them at shows like GenCon but such conventions are hectic and not conducive to sorts of discussions we have at GTS. I get sales numbers from our distributors but that doesn’t tell me how things are going in individual stores. I want to get sense of how things are on the ground in gaming communities all over. I want to know what’s working for them and what’s not working for them, from Green Ronin and other companies as well. And of course we want to promote our game lines and our upcoming releases, and doing this can give us some valuable feedback as well. I discovered at GTS, for example, that A Game of Thrones Edition of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying was the book retailers seemed most excited about. I answered more questions about that than anything else, and showed off the printer’s proofs continuously throughout the show. (We had hoped to have advanced copies of the finished book to display, but naturally they showed up two days too late.) I had figured that with the release of A Dance with Dragons and the second season of the HBO show coming soon that our new core book would do well, but it was nice to see that reinforced.

GTS is also a good place for deal making, networking, and brain storming. Whether it be in formal meetings, casual drinks, or dinners out, a lot of business and collaboration happens at the show. There’s something about being face to face that cuts out a lot of the bull. I came back from the show with several fresh prospects that should lead to good things for us. I don’t know that they would have happened via e-mail when I’m in my head down, day-to-day mode at GR HQ. I should also add on a personal note that it’s just nice to see my friends in the game industry and have a chance to hang out after hours and catch up.

At the end of the show, I signed up for a booth for next year’s show. It is different than it used to be, but it’s still a valuable event for Green Ronin. The enormous caipirinhas I make sure to enjoy on every trip are just a bonus!

Ronin Round Table: Joseph on Licensing

Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying: A Games of Thrones EditionOver the past couple of weeks here at the Ronin Round Table, we’ve been giving a look at some of the hard work and creativity it takes to successfully make and market an RPG based off someone else’s IP.

(For those who are just now getting caught up, Chris Pramas talked about licensing in general, Jon Leitheusser discussed making games in the DC Universe and Will Hindmarch touched on Bioware’s Dragon Age setting for table-top games.)

For those who may not know me, I’m the developer for the Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying line, another of our games set in a licensed setting: in this case, the world of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

A Song of Ice and Fire is, in many ways, perfect for a game universe. It is sprawling, both in terms of actual geography, but also in its politics, its cultures, its history and its opportunities for bravery. Individual heroes can and do make a difference here, on every scale you care to look at the setting, and that’s a recipe for great gaming.

Probably the trickiest part of this whole creation process is what I like to call “dancing with canon.” Every setting has a canon of some kind, that body of lore that reflects what has decisively happened in the setting. As time goes on, these settings develop fan-bases who know this material as well as they know real-world history (better, for some of us).

This is a good thing, generally: capturing the imagination of those who partake in the setting’s media to such an extent that they seek out and remember elements of history, small traditions and cultural nuances, interrelationships between characters and all the other aspects of a setting so clearly make that setting feel real, to some degree. This provides immersion for that fan, who becomes even more invested in the setting.

Working with A Song of Ice and Fire requires, on some level, being one hell of a dancer. There is plenty of wonderful canon to be absorbed and interacted with. In fact, when it seems like there’s possibly “too much” for any one person to keep track of, we are fortunate to have wonderful resources like the Wiki of Ice and Fire, for instance, a place where a dedicated core of fans have taken it upon themselves to make a record of the setting: an incredible boon not just for those of us who create the RPG, but for those who run and play it.

Of course, one of the difficult places in interacting with such a complicated and nuanced canon lies not in what has been said, but what explicitly hasn’t. Certainly, there are always aspects we haven’t seen, just because they haven’t shown up in the narrative: the “words” of some of the Houses of Westeros, for example, or full geographical details of the continent of Essos.

The other sort, though, are the setting’s mysteries, things left unsaid because there will be a time and a place, important to the narrative, to speak of them. They are often the keys to major plot-lines and characters. A Song of Ice and Fire has plenty of these sorts, covering historical events, character backgrounds, unrevealed motivations and allegiances and even the metaphysics of the setting itself, such as how various forms of magic work, how magic influences the land itself and the creatures that can be found in it.

Though I’ve been a developer for other game lines before, those elements were often left to my discretion as the developer. I’m sharpening a whole new set of skills here: walking the gauntlet of settings with active mysteries in them whose solving is not up to me. In an effort to provide the maximum utility for our players, our preference is to skirt those sorts of issues when we can. To do so often means focusing on the elements that come directly into game play while avoiding the origins or implications thereof.

As an example, with the publishing of A Dance with Dragons, we learned more about the “warging” ability some characters in the series have, to greater or lesser degrees. We have since updated aspects of our rules set to better reflect those narrative revelations (in the forthcoming Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, Game of Thrones Edition). While sharpening how they mechanically impact the game, we have tried to remain as hands-off as possible when it comes to the implications of some of those revelations, particularly with regard to the background involving the Children of the Forest, how those powers interact with other seemingly supernatural abilities in the setting, and the like.

For a lot of our setting work, we try and focus on “filling in the blank spaces.” There are many areas of the world that are still described in broad strokes, without much detail. Such areas provide some creative playground for our design work. As we did for the Chronicle Starter, if we decide to create a few new minor Houses, we have a good idea of how such Houses work, in the various realms of Westeros. As such, we can fill in some blanks, making assumptions that provide us just enough of a frame-work to construct something that is useful to our game’s narratives without necessarily strong-arming an already-existing House into that role.

Of course, part of the allure of playing in this setting is the fact that the Narrator is under no such restrictions. We as game designers and publishers may carefully skirt areas of uncertainty, the individual stories told at the gaming table by the group playing this game can go in any sort of directions its players are interested in taking it, which is one of the major appeals of playing in this or any licensed world.

In the end, though, this process is more fun than it is work. As a fan of Mr. Martin’s setting and writing since I picked up A Game of Thrones a double-handful of years ago, the opportunity to help bring that world to other gamers is a delightful challenge, one which those who created our Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying system rose to capably. I look forward to plenty of chances to do the same.

Ronin Round Table: A License For A Newer World

Green Ronin’s shogun, Chris Pramas, recently wrote a Ronin Roundtable about licensing in the hobby-gaming business. Developer Jon Leitheusser, of Mutants & Masterminds and DC Adventures fame, followed that up with a post about his licensing experiences. I’m here to talk about the unique circumstances of working on the Dragon Age RPG, which is, of course, also a licensed game. I’m Will Hindmarch, the ronin who develops the Dragon Age tabletop RPG products.

Dragon Age is a unique property to work on in a lot of ways. It spans many media—from video games to novels to comics to a web series to a forthcoming animated movie and beyond—yet it’s still fairly young, having debuted just a few years ago. Dragon Age isn’t the decades-old sprawling universe of the DC Adventures game but neither is it the focused vision of a single writer, like the novels that A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying are based on.

Thedas, the world of Dragon Age, is a big, dynamic place designed to accommodate stories, games, and other adventures of many different styles without surrendering its particular atmosphere and themes. Like a lot of the worlds that appeal to us gamers, it’s built to have room for many stories.

This kind of fictional universe is sort of like a compilation album, with lots of different voices singing songs in the same key, with some shared instrumentation. Individual songs can strike out in new directions, and no one song is necessary to understand all the others, but every song should sound like they belong on the same album, more or less. So it’s our job to harmonize with what makes Dragon Age distinct and compelling without just imitating what’s come before.

We don’t make books of lore, reflecting what’s happened in other media, we make a game for players who want to capture or recreate their own Dragon Age-style adventures. My job, as developer of the tabletop RPG, is not just to capture and contribute to the Dragon Age vision, it’s also to deliver an experience that builds on Chris Pramas’ vision of gameplay and supports the kind of adventures our players want to create in their home campaigns.

That’s three different visions at work together: BioWare’s, Green Ronin’s, and yours.
This would be an impossible job if it wasn’t for the cooperation and creativity of all the parties involved. BioWare’s vision for Thedas is clear but also diverse—they know that a tabletop RPG needs a lot of room to wonder "What if?" and to explore its own adventures. Many of the people at BioWare are familiar with tabletop RPGs, too, so they know what they like in a paper RPG and easily understand our need to serve not only BioWare’s vision but the needs of home campaigns. We can’t just mimic BioWare’s work all the time, we need to adapt the material to our game. BioWare gets that.

The Dragon Age RPG isn’t just a port of the Dragon Age video-game rules to the tabletop. Neither BioWare nor Chris Pramas wanted that. Tabletop RPGs have their own customs, demands, and ambitions—they do different things well—and we want to focus on what makes our game work. One example of this is the brilliant stunt mechanic that Pramas designed for the Adventure Game Engine, giving a bit of a tactical element to every combat and making each character suitably adventurous and dynamic without bogging things down. (I love the stunt mechanics a whole lot.) Likewise, consider things like specializations. The tabletop game is less granular than the video games, so all those branches in the various talent trees get translated into three distinct degrees—Novice, Journeyman, and Master—for easier reference and more direct game balance. That kind of balance plays a different role in the multiplayer environment of the tabletop RPG than it does in the single-player video games, after all, where a player can reload a saved game to try out a different character spec.

The Dragon Age universe is a source of inspiration we share in common with the video games and the novels and everything else. Rather than try to match the video games percentage point by percentage point, we take the lore and the mechanics as inspiration for our own game rules and develop mechanics that exist in parallel to the video games, rather than descending directly from them. It’s more art than science. When designing the Shapeshifter specialization for our game, for example, should we model the legendary lore of these beings or the game mechanics put forth in Dragon Age: Origins? Should a PC Shapeshifter be able to adopt more forms than Morrigan? How does that change the role of the specialization (and our notions of Morrigan’s power) within the game world? It’s a complex question. We seek solutions that satisfy you and us and BioWare, all at once.

Thankfully, BioWare has been wonderfully open with regard to the lore and philosophy behind Thedas’ creation. Talent at BioWare, like Mike Laidlaw and Mary Kirby, have happily answered my questions about the writing and design behind certain characters and monsters, helping me understand and adapt their vision for tabletop play. You saw this in action in our Tallis RPG DLC, which looked not just at the lore of that character but at Felicia Day’s vision for her as a fictional character. This is a luxury not all licensed games in our hobby have and it’s been a great boon.

The approvals process for the Dragon Age RPG, while sometimes complicated when our busy schedule collides with BioWare’s, goes beyond fact-checking. The designers at BioWare look over our material at the early stages of design (when the project’s about 10% done) and at the late stages (when the project’s got about 10% left to go), giving us creative and constructive notes that help us sharpen our projects and align with the voice of Dragon Age.

With the Dragon Age universe expanding, it feels to me like there are many more ways we can tie our RPG into the larger game world, making it easier for you to weave established threads into your campaigns. We’re exploring some of these options in the coming weeks, with new tabletop DLC in the works (featuring the faces of familiar friends and foes) not just for Dragon Age but for the Adventure Game Engine, too. In the meantime, I’m also wrangling a few new adventures for Set 3 and beyond, to bring various regions of (and underneath) Thedas to life in your campaigns.

Coordinating the many visions and voices of a licensed world can be tricky and time consuming. This was, in fact, my greatest fear when I took on this gig. Surrounded by people, both in Green Ronin and BioWare, with a passion for this game makes it all feel much easier—and hearing stories of your adventures makes it all worth it.

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

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.

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.

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.

Ronin Round Table: Nicole Lindroos

If you’ve been following along with our installments of the Ronin Round Table, you’ve gotten a glimpse at what several of our creative staffers do on a day-to-day basis and how we go about moving ideas into rules, stories, and pictures that fire the imaginations of our fans. Today I’m here to reveal a little more about what goes on behind the scenes of a company like Green Ronin that functions without a central office and spans several time zones. My name is Nicole Lindroos and I am Green Ronin’s General Manager.

In a larger company a General Manager might oversee a lot of other people and coordinate between different departments while tossing off industrial-strength buzzwords but, thankfully, Green Ronin isn’t that kind of a company. My duties can best be described as taking on those inspiration-dampening tasks that might weigh down our creative staff, keeping an eye on strategic development and greasing the cogs and wheels of the business.

One of my favorite duties, and one that is particularly on my mind at this time of year, is convention planning. This is the season of convention deadlines, many of which overlap and it’s my responsibility to make certain they don’t get overlooked lest we find ourselves without a booth or locked out of the hotel reservation system for an out of town show. The king of convention appearances for Green Ronin has always been Gen Con because we bring in every employee (and some of our most trusted freelancers) and believe it or not, deadlines for the show in August are already flying past by the time January rolls around. Booth payments are due, badge request deadlines are coming up, event registration is open, reservations for hotels will have to be made in the next few weeks and to meet those deadlines I need to have answers to questions. Since we have to pay for the booth, we must decide how big a space we’re going to need. That means we have to have an idea of how much product we’re going to have on hand, how many tables we’re going to want for demonstrations and which games we’ll be demonstrating in the booth. Will we have company-sponsored games listed in the program book? If so, we need to know which games and who will run them. What will our slate of seminars be and which staff members will be participating? For Gen Con in particular there are a lot of little pieces that all need to be fit together to make sure the whole thing comes off as planned but we’ll have to do essentially the same thing for several events on our schedule every year.

In the same way that our creative staff puzzles over the right stats for The Joker or whether those new Dragon Age backgrounds unbalance character creation, I’m the Ronin you’ll generally find hiding out behind the scenes “statting out” our convention attendance. And making sure payroll is covered. And helping track down that mail order that never made it to Norway. And banning spammers from our message boards. And adjusting the inventory reports to account for products damaged in shipment. And… well, you get the idea.

Ronin Round Table: Steve Kenson #2

“What’s it like working in the RPG industry?”
This is a common question. It’s also one that’s difficult to answer, since the experience of “the industry” varies from company to company and working for Green Ronin is different (one imagines) from working for Wizards of the Coast, Paizo Publishing, Steve Jackson Games, or any number of other publishers.
For one thing, those companies all have centralized offices where people come to work, whereas Green Ronin (as Chris Pramas discussed in a previous Ronin Round Table) is a distributed company, operating primarily online and collaborating across the country and four time zones. Green Ronin also has both full- and part-time employees, unlike many RPG companies which are either full-time or strictly part-time endeavors.
So what does a typical work day for me look like? I get up fairly early to go over my morning emails and messages with my coffee, answering any that require an immediate response, and flagging others for later while putting together my to-do list for the day.
Then it’s off to the gym, since I find working out in the morning keeps me on-schedule and helps me to focus during the day. Once I’ve worked out, showered, and changed, I’m back at my desk by mid-morning to begin digging into the actual work of the day. I tend to start with writing time, when I’m at my freshest and I’ve had time to mull things over. (I find I get a lot of ideas at the gym or even in the shower that have me eager to get to work by the time I’m back at my desk.) I’ll typically write or design through to lunchtime, when I’ll take a break, although I’ve been known to eat my lunch at my desk while going through emails and such again, or just reading Facebook and message boards (not the best eating habit, I’ll admit, but I’m working on it). Finished drafts go into our company Dropbox for the developer to look at and mark up for revision.
In the afternoon, I’ll keep writing, if that’s the priority for the day, or I’ll shift gears to do some editing, either going over previous drafts or entering corrections. Editing is one of the only tasks I still do with paper and pen, since it’s the most effective means for me to notice corrections and note them. I’ve done some proofreading of PDFs on my iPad, which is the closest virtual experience to editing hardcopy, but I still tend to work with stacks of printouts when it comes time to do serious revisions. So much for the “paperless office”! Rather than editing my own work I might also do an edit pass or development on another piece, particularly if one of our developers needs a hand.
Afternoon tends to be time for phone calls and such as well, if they’re necessary, just because other parts of Green Ronin are on the opposite coast and hours behind East Coast Time. Still, we do most of our corresponding via email, which is easier to manage unless there’s need for a lengthy discussion or an immediate response.
As the afternoon wears on towards dinner-time, I tend to “wind down” with the more mundane “paperwork” tasks, including things like data-entry (putting stat blocks into Hero Lab for M&M products, for example) and answering low-priority emails from earlier in the day. This is the sort of less intensive stuff that makes a good wrap-up, although my days don’t always end at 5:00 PM. More often than not, after dinner I’ll be back at my desk for an hour or so, either putting in a bit more writing or editing work, or handling follow-ups from communications earlier in the day. Remember, my West Coast colleagues are just getting into the most productive parts of their afternoon when I’m wrapping up for the evening! The occasional evening or weekend afternoon, I’ll be on Skype for a company-wide conference call where we can catch up on what’s going on and talk over things more easily than back-and-forth emails.
Of course, that’s just a “typical” day and one of the advantages of telecommuting for a company like Green Ronin is there’s no time clock and fairly few scheduled meetings. So if I need to take off to run some errands in the middle of the day, I do. Likewise, if I need to work late to ensure something gets done in time for a hand-off to development or production, I do that, too. So long as things get done, there’s very little of “management” looming over our shoulders. I think it’s an arrangement that suits me and my fellow Ronins; like the name says, we’re independent types who like being our own “masters”!

Ronin Round Table: Will Hindmarch

Hindmarch.jpg
So, here I am, neck deep in manuscripts for the Dragon Age RPG’s third boxed set. We affectionately call it, simply, “Set 3.” Wherever I look, I see new spells and monsters, new player character options, and the shadow cast by still-in-development new mechanics.
I can hardly wait to get all this new material into your hands, but I have to wait. We need to hone these things, need to sharpen them to finer points, before we can put them out in the field for this set’s upcoming open-beta playtest. Truth be told, though, I can’t wait that long. The new year is right around the corner and the open-beta playtest looms in January.
This part still makes me anxious–I love that it makes me anxious–even after years of developing RPGs and print products. Set 3 burgeons, taking on the clear and distinct shape of a Dragon Age RPG boxed set, and as it does the truth starts to sink in for me: I’m not just playing with the Dragon Age RPG anymore. I’m working on it. I’m a ronin now.
In last week’s Ronin Round Table, Chris shared some details from behind the scenes at Green Ronin HQ. It’s true that Green Ronin doesn’t have a dedicated loft space somewhere where we gather for lunch-time gaming sessions, miles be damned, but the Green Ronin HQ and the culture that infuses it do reflect the dedication and the joy of the company.
It was clear the first time I visited GR HQ, as a friend and a fan. Inspirations for Green Ronin work and play were on every shelf: familiar games, classic games, history books, more. Awards earned for earlier projects were displayed on a stairwell landing, just as they’re displayed in the foyer of dedicated office spaces. We played a session of the Dragon Age RPG at a kitchen table packed with friends both local and out of town, crowded with character sheets and glass tumblers, the room alive with laughter and rich descriptions of fantastic heroics.
I knew these were people I wanted to work with. We didn’t just share a love of good food and great games in common, we shared something that sometimes feels rare in creative workplaces.
I saw it on my first visit to HQ, I saw it at my first Green Ronin summit, earlier this year, and I saw it in a flurry of emails last week. Hal Mangold sent around a quick photo of prerelease copies of the Mutants & Masterminds Gamemaster’s Guide that the printer had sent him. Another email popped up from another ronin admiring the look of the book. Another email popped up from another ronin, eager to get the book in hand. Even after all the books Green Ronin has produced, all the games and all the worlds, enthusiasm still shines when new works come out. The people of Green Ronin still love the moment when books become real, when our projects reach the audience, when our work becomes your play.
It’s easy to be jaded. We’re all sort of jaded, here and there, about this or that. We all have calluses where we’ve been burned before. But the enthusiasm of my fellow ronins is undeniable.
This is why I still get anxious–and why I love getting anxious–as projects become ever more real. It means I’m invested. As the files become a book or a box, my anxiety becomes joy. I love that transition.
Now, though, it’s time for me to run. New files have come in for Set 3 and I can’t wait to read them.