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.
From time to time I get e-mail from people visiting the Seattle area, asking if they can swing by our headquarters. The requests sometimes come from game industry colleagues and other times from gamers interested in seeing where it all happens. Some seem to expect to see desks covered with miniatures and action figures, a dedicated gaming room for playtests, and an employee lounge for kibitzing and parties. While that does sound great, the truth is that we’ve never had an office and it’s unlikely we ever will.
When I started Green Ronin back in 2000, it was just Nicole and I working nights and weekends out of our apartment in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle. I was still working at Wizards of the Coast and Nicole was at Cheapass Games. Hal started by doing freelance cover design and then layout for us, but soon came on as a partner. He was on the East Coast though, so even when I left WotC in 2002 it didn’t make sense to get an office.
As we’ve added more staff over the years, most also lived out of state. Some companies will demand new hires move, but we’ve never made that a condition of employment. Hobby game jobs do not come with a big paycheck, so we try to make up for that by offering our staff flexibility. Employees don’t have to move, can set their own hours, and can take time off when they need it as long as they hit their deadlines. That has helped us recruit the right people, regardless of where they happen to live.
We are up to 11 full and part time staff people now. Steve Kenson is in New Hampshire, Hal Mangold in the Washington DC area, Bill Bodden in Wisconsin, Joe Carriker in Georgia, and Will Hindmarch in Illinois. We’ve previously had employees in Tennessee, Colorado, Minnesota, and California, and I spent 10 months living in Texas (working on the Warhammer 40K MMO in Austin) over the past year. When I returned and we brought Rich Redman aboard recently, that actually tipped the scale in favor of Seattle locals for the first time in a long time. Now Nicole Lindroos, Marc Schmalz, Evan Sass, Jon Leitheusser, Rich, and I all call the Emerald City home. And still, it isn’t worth it for us to get an office. We’d rather take the money that’d cost each month and invest it in new products. In our business and in this economy, low overhead is a good thing.
By and large our system works well for us but there are downsides. I can’t grab Will and Steve at a moment’s notice to confab about Dragon Age design. We don’t get to have group lunches or holiday parties. We do get the team together at least twice a year though. GenCon is always all hands on deck, and nothing builds camaraderie like surviving four manic days of sales, seminars, meetings, and award ceremonies. We cap it off with a team dinner on Sunday night. Then in October we do our yearly summit here in Seattle. That’s when the whole staff gets together to plan for the coming year and enjoy many lively debates (these became slightly less raucous when we instituted the no wine before 3 pm rule).
Our company culture isn’t for everyone but it works for us. So no, you can’t visit our headquarters, but we hope you enjoy the games we work hard on in home offices across the country. Happy holidays!
My name is Bill Bodden, and I’m the sales rep for Green Ronin. I’ll be revealing part of the secret world behind your favorite game store in this installment of Ronin Roundtable. First, a little about myself: I’ve worked in the game industry in some form since 1984. I’ve worked extensively in the retail end, have worked for a major distributor for more than five years–in marketing, purchasing, and as Head Buyer–and have worked for Green Ronin for over six years. I’m also a freelance writer both within and outside of the game industry.
As Green Ronin’s sales rep, I have a lot of little jobs. I tell distributors about new products and pass their orders along to be shipped. At open houses or trade shows aimed at retailers, or at GenCon, I’m pretty likely to be there, flying the Green Ronin flag. I also co-ordinate between the company and conventions and other events and charities, making sure product gets to the right people who get word of our products out to the gaming world.
From talking to consumers at shows, it’s clear that many people don’t understand how distribution works. Distributors serve as clearinghouses for products, allowing your Favorite Local Game Store to get all the games they need in one place. Imagine a department store; they have books, food items, clothing, sporting goods and toys, so basically you can get everything you need in one place instead of running from store to store. More to the point, buying product from individual manufacturers often isn’t feasible for stores; most manufacturers have a minimum quantity they require to process orders. If a store only needs one copy of Barking Bloodhounds: The Game, it doesn’t make sense to order 12 from the manufacturer–especially if the store only sells a few copies a year. While there are some exceptions, stores can generally get all the product they need from distributors, saving them a great deal of time and trouble. While we do make our products available to retailers directly, it’s generally cheaper and more convenient for stores to go through a distributor.
Dealing with distributors is a major part of my job. Like everyone else, distributors have a budget to work with. They can’t always order as much of our products as we wish they would, and rarely this means there are brief shortages of product, but usually they are just that; brief.
When conventions contact us to ask for door prizes or other give-away items, I am often the person who handles these requests. We can’t honor every request for free stuff, but we do what we can, weighing the number of people the event reaches vs. our expenses in items given away plus shipping to get the stuff there. We like helping out with conventions and charities in this way, and are happy to hear from event organizers, but we can’t afford to give away everything that is asked of us – we wouldn’t have any product left to sell, and even though we’re a small company our bills pile up too, just like everyone else.
Reviewers are a key vector to get the word out about our new products. Part of my job is to make sure we ship products to fill reviewers’ requests; I also follow up with them to answer any questions they may have pertaining to their review.
Over the last year I’ve had another task to fulfill; I am the liaison between retailers and Green Ronin for our Pre-Order Plus program. The way it works is simple: when we release a new book, we offer a special promotion wherein consumers can get a code allowing them to get a $5 PDF of the book when they pre-pay for a print copy. This offer is now available through participating retailers. I handle these stores’ requests for codes and keep stores in the loop regarding which books are coming out and when the codes expire. It’s been a bit time-consuming, but usually only for a couple of weeks when the book first becomes available.
The Green Ronin Pre-Order Plus program is available to any retailer wishing to participate; any store owners/managers who want more information on this program should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org; I’d be more than happy to email them a brief summary of the program and answer any questions they have.
Anyone reading this probably already knows that Green Ronin is a great company. I’m thrilled to work with such a fantastic bunch of people who are dedicated to publishing quality games and books. We’re grateful we have such a tremendously loyal group of fans who support and encourage the work we do.
My name’s Jon Leitheusser* and I’m the Developer for Mutants & Masterminds and DC Adventures. I’m here to talk about what a developer does. It’s a little hard to explain because if I’m doing my job correctly, it should be mostly invisible to the outside world. The people who have the best idea of what I do are my writers, because I tell them what to write and help them to fully develop their ideas.
But wait, let’s take a couple of steps back, because the writers don’t actually get involved until a bit later in the process and it’ll be easier to explain things if we start at the beginning.
First, I’m the one who determines how we, as a company, want to approach my game lines. So, I’m the one who pitched the idea that we should make M&M 3rd Edition as easy as possible for people to get started playing right away. That’s why we set this edition in a new city unburdened by the history already fleshed out in previous editions of the game. That’s also why we released the GM screen with a random character generator that made it easier for new players to create characters and start playing without reading a 232-page rulebook. For the GM, we also wanted to make running games easier, so we released the weekly Threat Reports and the
ongoing Heroes Journey adventure series. All of it is an attempt to make it easy to jump into the game.
Second, I’m the one, with the rest of the company’s input, who determines what books we’ll be releasing and in what order. This is also the stage in which we decide which ideas have merit and which don’t. Some projects make it onto the schedule because they need to be released (like the core rulebook). Other ideas make the list because we know the fans want them. Still other ideas are slotted for "further development," which means they need some more think-time before they’re ready to hit the schedule. Sometimes those books make it onto the schedule, sometimes they’re shelved permanently.
Once I have the schedule I create an outline for each book, though any given outline could be written by me or Steve, or whichever writer has a good handle on what that book is about. The outline breaks down each chapter, what needs to be covered in those chapters, any sidebars or specific topics that need to be included, and the number of words for each section. Sounds fun, eh?
When the outline is finalized, usually after I’ve read it over and bounced ideas about how to improve it back and forth with the writer (one could say, further developed the idea), it’s time to hire the writer or writers and break the book into sections for each writer to tackle. This is the time of contracts! Administrative work is fun!
Then, in theory, the writers write and turn their work in on time! More likely the writers eat bon-bons and watch the latest super-hero cartoons and call it research until I email and ask them how the manuscript is looking, then in the last couple of weeks before deadline they write like caffeine-powered madmen and ask for a couple extra days on their deadline, which I kindly grant.
With the completed manuscript in hand, I give it a onceover to make sure it looks correct. If I feel the writer didn’t do exactly what was asked of them, or didn’t cover a section in-depth enough, or if something he or she wrote gives me an idea for something to expand upon, I ask the writer to dive back in and re-write, add, or expand. I play the role of editor and critic. At this stage, and all the others, I try to make the product better. Not to imply that the writers aren’t trying to do that, but they’re often so down in the weeds trying to crank out words that make sense together, that they forget to look up and consider how each piece fits into the larger whole.
When the rewrites are done the book goes off to editing. Editors further improve upon the state of the manuscript. Like the developer, the editor’s job is to make the writer look good. I often say, if there’s anything wrong with a book it’s my fault, and if there’s something great about the book it’s because of the writer. Not because I (or the editor) don’t want to take credit, but because we’re there to catch the writer’s errors and let the writer’s ideas shine through.
We’re in the home stretch now! Somewhere in the last couple of steps, I work with the writer to come up with art descriptions for the interior art (cover art was taken care of in the early stages). Art descriptions are fun but also challenging because you need to come up with images that help illustrate what the nearby text is discussing. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes not so much. Descriptions for these tend to be a short paragraph with an image or two as reference for the artist. Hal Mangold, who I’m sure you’ll hear from in a future Roundtable, uses these descriptions to commission artwork. Hal, the writer, and I see early sketches and give the artist comments on what (if anything) needs changing before he or she finishes the image.
With the final manuscript and art in hand, it all goes to Hal for layout. When it’s done we do a final proofing run to find anything obvious that needs fixing. When the book is in an acceptable state we release the PDF and collect any corrections we missed from our fans on the Atomic Think Tank provide us (thank you so much!), which Hal makes to the files before the book goes to press.
And then it’s onto the next book!
There it is. My job as Line Developer. It’s not as fun as writing and designing all the time, it’s also not as detail-oriented as being a full-time editor. Hopefully now that you’ve read about what I do, you can see the hand I’ve had in the last few years’ worth of M&M products.
That’s more than enough reading for now… Go play a game!
*It’s pronounced “light-houser.”
Welcome back to the Ronin Round Table! My name’s Steve
Kenson and my official title at Green Ronin (in as much as we have them) is “Designer.” What does that mean? Well, I initially started out working for
Green Ronin as a freelance author, writing d20 System books like The
Shaman’s Handbook. After I designed the first edition of the Mutants
& Masterminds superhero RPG, I came on-board as developer to manage the
line. (You’ll probably be hearing more about the development process from guys
like Jon, Will, and Joe in future Round Tables.)
Although I enjoyed development and shepherding numerous game
books from conception to completion, a couple of years ago I wanted to step
back from development and focus on what I really got into the game industry to
do: namely write and design games! Since then, my work for Green Ronin has
focused on just that: writing and designing products from the DC Adventures
game (using the third edition of the Mutants & Masterminds game
rules) to parts of the Dragon Age RPG or the Threat Report series
of villains for M&M. I either pitch ideas to our developers, or work
with concepts they have originated to craft the text for different products. I
also do a touch of editing and development here and there, as we tend to wear
many hats at Green Ronin.
My latest project is a new series coming up for Mutants
& Masterminds, called Power Profiles. Like our Threat Report series
(wrapping up at the end of 2011) Power Profiles is a series of weekly
electronic products, published in PDF format. Each Profile takes a look
at a type of super-power and the various game effects that fall under that
power. They offer numerous worked examples of how to build powers to suit
concepts and, as with Threat Report, M&M players and
Gamemasters can pick-and-choose the ones that look the most interesting to
For example, the premier Power Profile looks at Fire
Powers, one of the more common comic book super-abilities. It talks about fire
descriptors in general, how to handle things like igniting fires and getting
burned, and offers sample fire powers organized into Offensive, Defensive,
Movement, and Utility powers, from Fireball and Flame Aura through Fire Form,
Rocket Flight, Fire Shaping, and Pyrokinesis, to new a few. Each Profile
also looks at ideas for Feature effects for the power such as creating tiny
match-like flames, spot-welding, or fireworks displays, as well as suitable
Complications like pyromania, fire-related accidents, power loss due to
smothering or dousing, or a truly “fiery” temper!
Power Profiles take the basic “toolbox” from Mutants & Masterminds and use things
from it to build all kinds of toys you can use in your own games, or just use
as examples when it comes to creating your own powers and characters.
We have dozens of Power Profiles planned over 2012,
and we’re looking for your thoughts and feedback as to what you’d like to see. I hope you get as much fun out of the new Power
Profiles as we do bringing them to you!
Of course, I have design projects other than just Power
Profiles planned for this coming year (and even beyond!). Check back in
here at the Round Table–chances are I’ll be talking about them as well
as time goes on.
In October we had our yearly Green Ronin Summit. This is when all of our far-flung staff members rendezvous in Seattle for three days of debriefing, planning, and camaraderie. We look back at the previous year and plan for the coming year, with a lot of discussion and debate along the way. The Summit is the one time of the year we’re all together in the same room in a non-convention environment, so we try to make the most of it.
One of the topics discussed was communication with our customers. Everyone at GR has an active web presence. You can find me on Twitter (@pramas) and Facebook and of course we have forums. Many of us travel to conventions throughout the year where we meet people and talk about Green Ronin. Over the past year, for example, I’ve been to conventions in London, Brazil, Las Vegas, Olympia, Indianapolis, and of course Seattle.
Despite all that, we decided at the Summit that we could do better. From the number of times we got asked the same questions, it was clear that our message was not always getting out there. One of the ways we’ve decided to address that is with a weekly company blog. Each Friday a different member of our staff is going to write about goings on at Green Ronin. You’re reading the first of these Ronin Round Table posts right now. Topics will be eclectic, for such is the nature of our Ronins, but the overall effect should be to keep you all up to date on what we’re doing and what to expect in the future.
I thought I’d kick things off with an update on what’s happening the rest of this year. The long-awaited Chronicle Starter for A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying just hit stores for the first time. We also announced the hiring of a new staff developer for SIFRP, Joe Carriker. He’s already hard at work on next year’s products, and we hope to get a lot more material out for the game.
The Gamemaster’s Guide for Mutants & Masterminds is at print and should be out in early December. Though an M&M book, it’s also well worth it for DC Adventures GMs. Since the games share a rule set, all the material inside is as applicable to DC Adventures as it is to M&M. Speaking of DC Adventures, Heroes & Villains Volume 2 is in the approvals process. We’ll provide an update about the book’s release when it comes out the other side of that.
Dragon Age saw the release of Set 2 a couple of months back, and that led to Set 1 selling out again. We have a reprint underway and that should also release towards the end of the month. Will Hindmarch recently came onboard as our new Dragon Age developer, and he’s working with me on a playtest document for Set 3. We intend to do another open mechanics playtest like we did with Set 2. We’ll have more to say about that before Xmas.
Longtime fans know that I write a message each January about what’s coming up that year, and I will maintain that tradition. For now though I will say that our short term plans are to concentrate on the games we have and regularize their release schedules. We are not taking on any more licensed games, as we already have plenty to do with Dragon Age, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, and DC Adventures. Don’t take that to mean we have no surprises coming up, however. We made a lot of plans at the Summit, and there is coolness aplenty in the works.
Thanks for reading. Come back next Friday for a look at the exciting world of Steve Kenson.
Green Ronin’s staff photo, taken at our 2011 GR Summit in Seattle. Back row: Bill Bodden, Marc Schmalz, Intern Kate; Middle row: Chris Pramas, Rich Redman, Hal Mangold, Nicole Lindroos, Will Hindmarch; Front row: Jon Leitheusser, Steve Kenson, Evan Sass; Not pictured (since we hadn’t hired him yet): Joe Carriker.