About this time last year I conceived the idea of A Game of Thrones Edition of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. We were running low on core rulebooks and also on the Peril at King’s Landing adventure. With a new season of the Game of Thrones TV show scheduled to debut in April 2012, I wanted to make sure we had core books ready to sell. I also wanted to get the phrase "Game of Thrones" on the cover, so people not familiar with the novels would make the connection between the show and our game. The solution seemed simple enough. Take the original core book, update it, and append Peril at King’s Landing. That’d put a full length adventure right in the rulebook, which would be useful to new GMs. I explained the plan to George and asked if we could call the new rulebook "A Game of Thrones Edition" and he said sure. Simple enough plan, right?
Coming Soon: The Night’s Watch
Happy Friday, folks.
Well, we’ve got one more episode of this season of Game of Thrones, and it’s been a heck of a ride. But don’t despair—with HBO wrapping up the current season, and Mr. Martin working steadily on the next book, we here at Green Ronin will help keep your appetite sated for All Things Westerosi.
We’ve already revealed the cover for our next presentation for the line, Night’s Watch. This sourcebook details the history of the Night’s Watch and the geography of the Wall, along with rules for creating those brothers who’ve taken the Black. It also details the wild lands north of the Wall, with a chapter on wildling tribes, cultures and characters. Finally, it includes an appendix that takes a look at the Lords of the Long Night: the Others. In fact, as a bit of an appetite-whetter, we present the Child-Taker, one of the many terrifying legends the hearthwives and storytellers among the wildlings use to frighten their children into behaving…and to warn one another.
If you’re curious, it was reading about Chris & Nicole’s ongoing at-home game night that’s got me wanting to talk about my playtest game night. I get to play a few different games on good weeks. I try to play board games like 7 Wonders or party games like Celebrity with my regular potluck group. Some nights I get to play RPGs for straight-up fun, no work attached, and sometimes I play them for a mix of entertainment and study.
In 1999 Nicole and I decided to start hosting a game night at our place to play RPGs. While we’ve moved from that apartment, cycled many friends in and out of the group, and changed the night of the week several times, game night has been going on as close to weekly as we can manage for the last 13 years. It’s a key social activity for us and one that we always try to maintain. Even last year, when I spent 10 months in Austin working on the Warhammer 40K MMO, I Skyped in for at least part of the night to keep that connection. Maintaining a game group is not without its challenges though, and we’ve faced many over the years. I know we’re not alone in this either. How many of these sound familiar to you?
Many Players, One GM
For many years, I ran nearly every RPG on game night. In the early years we played a lot of d20 games, as Green Ronin was one of the leading d20 publishers during that era. I had a long running D&D campaign, ran Freeport adventures, and playtested V for Victory, the World War 2 mini game I designed for Polyhedron Magazine. Later I ran a playtest for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd edition, and even a short-lived Lord of the Rings game when it seemed like we might get to design a LotR game for Games Workshop (not getting to design that game still makes me sad). Later there was Dragon Age, of course, but game night is not all about playtesting. I also ran stuff like a Savage Worlds Day After Ragnarok game and a weird mash-up of Feng Shui, Underground, Delta Green, and Deadlands. Once in a while, someone else would volunteer to run and I’d enjoy just playing, but those campaigns never lasted. We’d do 3 or 4 sessions and then I’d be back in the GM’s chair. I do like to GM but a certain point I started to get burned out. We got another GM when Ray Winninger joined the group, but ultimately Ray decided he preferred running longer sessions on weekends than working within the constraints of a week night that includes dinner and socializing (and hey, Ray, you can start those up again any time!).
Some groups have one glorious campaign that lasts for a decade or more but in my experience those games are the exception. Most campaigns seem to last six months or less. That is certainly true of our group. We’ve had maybe two that have lasted longer than a year. Naturally then, a common question is, “What are we playing next?” This isn’t always easy to answer. Tastes vary widely among our group and what we ended up playing was often a matter of compromise. In all our years of game night, I’ve never run one of my very favorite games, Pendragon, because I knew we had players who just wouldn’t be into it. That game requires a group of players who really buy into the setting and concepts, and I didn’t want to frustrate myself by trying to force it on them.
I look back fondly on my teenage years, when I had way more free time for gaming. Everyone in our group (with the exception of my step-daughter Kate) is a grown up and of course we have all sorts of responsibilities. Almost everyone who has ever been in our group works in either the tabletop or video game industries, so there have been many times that we lose people for months of crunch time. Convention season is another difficult time, as many of us travel for weeks in the summer to attend this con or that. Marc “Sparky” Schmalz, GR’s Director of E-Publishing, also went back to school a couple of years back, which sometimes limits his time. Mitch Gitelman, an old friend who joined the group while I was in down south, is one of the guys behind the recent Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter and we’re pretty sure that’s going to keep him busy. So while we try to meet every week, it isn’t always possible. Sometimes it has seemed like the whole thing will unravel, but we’ve always pulled it back.
The game industry can be volatile so we’ve had to watch many friends move away for new jobs, but we’ve also filled empty spots with friends who have moved to Seattle for a new gig. Sometimes the same person has done both those things. The most famous example is Bruce Harlick of the old Hero Games crew, who moved here to work on the Matrix MMO, was part of group for many years, and then moved back to California for several other video game jobs (ending with his current gig at Zynga). We still call him “Bruce the Traitor” for leaving us but he’s far from the only one. Jim Bishop left to go work at BioWare, Patrick Swift for a job at Upper Deck and now Cryptozoic, Tim Carroll for a job at Apple, Jess Lebow for a job at Ubisoft (and the distance record by moving to China!) and hell even me for a while when I lived in Austin last year. Every time we gain or lose people, the dynamic changes a little bit. This isn’t always bad, but it’s another thing that makes long term campaigns hard. GR’s webmaster Evan Sass gets bonus points for being the one person outside the household who has stayed with us through thick and thin.
For many of the reasons outlined above, we’ve found it harder and harder to maintain campaigns. While the group was originally conceived as RPG focused, a few years ago board and card games started to overtake that. Since the group often varied week to week, depending on who was traveling or crunching or what have you, it seemed better to play games we could finish in a night. And as I mentioned, I was also burning out on GMing and I wanted a break as well. So we’ve ended up playing games like Ticket to Ride, Dixit, Thurn and Taxis, Small World, Formula Dé, Dominion, and recently Miskatonic School for Girls (a Kickstarter that Nicole backed).
As you can see, we’ve had our ups and downs. Some nights we don’t even game at all. Nicole Lindroos, in addition to being Green Ronin’s General Manager, is a fabulous chef, so she always cooks and we drink, talk, and catch up. Those nights are fun too and even if we only talk about gaming (which is pretty much inevitable for us), I’d rather get together than miss a game night. It’s gaming that keeps us bonded together, keeps us coming back week after week to socialize, and keeps our friendships strong. Of course, it’s better when we actually play something but now my step-daughter Kate (who is 16) is part of the group and she’s helping to keep us honest. Last week she basically told us that game night without games was bulllshit and she wanted to play a superhero RPG please. I think we raised that girl right!
Advances in technology are always changing the process of publishing, from the advent of desktop publishing to the development of electronic publishing, print-on-demand, tablets, and fundraisers like Kickstarter. We at Green Ronin work to keep up on the latest innovations and how they can help us to bring you new products in new ways.
One of those ways was producing smaller, focused products we could deliver electronically in PDF format to provide support for our games. We started with the launch of Mutants & Masterminds, Third Edition, figuring the most useful support for that game out of the gate was villains for the heroes to fight. So we came up with what we initially called "Villain of the Week": a single bad guy, written up with game stats, background, and adventure hooks, with an "app price" of 99 cents, like buying a song on iTunes. We worked on getting at least a month’s worth of releases prepped and ready to go before we launched the series, which we eventually named "Threat Report" making it a weekly update from AEGIS, the super-agency dealing with villains in the setting.
Threat Report was well-received. It didn’t do as well, sales-wise, as a print product, but it also didn’t need to: the overhead costs for the individual issues was lower, so we could sell to a smaller audience. Some villains did better than others, but all of the issues at least broke even, and continued to do well afterwards. It proved to us that a weekly series of smaller products was viable, and a good way to provide continuing support for a game that didn’t involve producing a large book. As a plus, we could compile the smaller products and use them to produce a book eventually, as we’ve done with Threat Report.
Of course, the weekly publishing process was also a learning experience. We had to greatly compress our usual production timeline. Even getting a month or so ahead of the publishing dates, we needed to produce and develop text, art, and layout quickly. Having a standardized layout helped, something we carried over to the Power Profiles series. We needed to make sure our art orders were planned well in advance. Even then, art did not always keep pace with the text, leading to occasional hold-ups or reschedules as art came in late or in a different order. We also learned to standardize our art: in Power Profiles, each issue has the same art specs in terms of size and placement, allowing finished art to fit into the layout quickly and easily (unlike the character pieces in Threat Report, which often involved reflowing and adjusting text and layout).
On the other hand, the weekly schedule made our products more responsive: we got regular feedback from fans on our forums about what they liked and didn’t about the format and content. Threads began devoted to speculation and wish-lists on future releases as well as reviewing the current ones. So later issues in the series benefited from information we would not have gotten if they had all been chapters of the same book.
After we completed a full year’s worth of issues for Threat Report, we decided to wrap it up and launched the Power Profiles series. Fans of Threat Report were initially uncertain but Power Profiles has proven, if anything, to be more popular than Threat Report, allowing us to provide another type of regular support for M&M. The smaller electronic format has done so well that we’ve expanded it to our other games lines, offering similar (although not weekly) products for Dragon Age (and, eventually, A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying). The format has also allowed us to provide more "generic" support for the Adventure Gaming Engine, which has met with great fan approval.
As new innovations continue to change how publishing happens, you can expect to see us continue to experiment with new formats, new kinds of products, and new ways of delivering them to you for your gaming enjoyment. With the popularity of Kickstarter as a funding and marketing mechanism, who knows, there might be an offering there in the future…
Have a type of product or publishing you think we should be exploring? Hit our forums and let us know!
As summer convention season approaches, we in the game industry also find ourselves in the midst of "award season" where the previous year’s releases are judged, sometimes by a group of our peers, sometimes by jury, sometimes by no-holds-barred popularity contests open to anyone who has an opinion. I’ve been involved in game industry awards over the course of my career, including serving on the Origins Awards committee for several years (including serving briefly as Chairman) and I’ve seen how the sausage gets made, so to speak, but I still love and appreciate the awards efforts that take place in the hobby game industry, gristly bits and all.
Awards can be a contentious and passionate affair regardless of how the they are determined or what organization hands them out. Controversy and impassioned critique springs up around award nominees and winners; whether Nobel or Pulitzer, Origins or ENnies, it makes no difference when passionate people have strongly held opinions on their interests. In the wake of seemingly annual arguments over awards and their results I’ve seen people become disheartened and disinterested, cynical even, but I was reminded the other day why I still care and why, at least in the realm of the hobby game industry I think you should, too.
The ENnie awards ask nominees to submit a sound file or a song that they would like to play during the few seconds between when the award is announced and when the winner (should that be you) makes it up to the stage to accept the award. A few years ago I got my turn to pick something and I chose Pump It from the Black Eyed Peas, which just happened to be an upbeat song that I personally liked. As it turns out, songs that get right to the groove within the first few seconds are rarer than you might think but Pump It started off with a blazing sample from Dick Dale’s Misirlou and fit what we needed to my satisfaction. That year we were honored with several nominations in the ENnies and the whole company turned out for the ceremony to see if we’d make it past the final cut.
As it happens that year at the ENnies was rather a high point for Green Ronin and to our genuine surprise we were honored with several silver and gold medals. It was an emotional night for many reasons, not the least of which because the company had been hit hard by the catastrophic failure of a key business partner that lost our little company (and many others) a staggering amount of money (search "Osseum debacle" if you’re curious). Some of the books up for honors that night were things we’d released to critical acclaim and then never seen a penny from sales. We’d had a very real fear that the company wouldn’t survive at all, let alone be attending Gen Con and reaping awards. That night things went our way and time after time as the award was announced and our "theme song" began to play, the gathered crowd started clapping along *clapclap* *clap* *clapclap* *clap* as our people made their way to the stage. That night wasn’t about "winning" and was NEVER about "beating" our esteemed competition but was all about validation (in spite of our troubles, we’d reached people with our products), inspiration (people were essentially asking us to keep doing what we were doing), and, most movingly for me, camaraderie (fans and colleagues alike were happy for us, were cheering with us, were clapping along and singing our song and the message was loud and clear that we were all in it together). At that moment nobody gave a whit about how the awards were calculated or whether there was sufficient evidence that a body of unholy neutrality had empirically calculated the page density per dollar value of each nominated product or whatever the annual complaints about the process might have been. That night the ballroom resounded with a crowd of people cheering and clapping along, enjoying our surprise and glee, gracious and giving and celebratory.
I realize I’m beginning to sound like Sally Field ("…I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!") but bear with me. That night at the ENnie Awards has become one of my cherished memories. Although Green Ronin as a company was still pretty young, everyone in the company (and several of our most valued freelancers) had been working in the industry for many years. For some of us it was the first time in more than a decade of work or more that we’d experienced that kind of reception. To this day I can’t hear that song without breaking into a huge, nostalgic grin. I’ve had many other similar nights since, though few of them have involved Green Ronin. In the years since our awards blow-out experience we’ve had the pleasure to see numerous other colleagues share our experience from center stage. I clapped my hands sore for our friends at Paizo one recent year and watched our colleagues at Evil Hat accept some well-deserved awards brimming over with goodwill because I remember how I felt and I’m so pleased they’re getting a chance, too. Creators of websites I’ve never visited, designers of games I’ve never played (and sometimes would never play), podcasts I’ve never listened to, I just can’t help myself but be happy for everyone who gets a moment of recognition for the hard work, dreams, and inspiration they’ve poured into whatever it is they’ve done. In a job where it’s much more likely that you’ll hear from someone who can’t believe you’ve "screwed up" Superman’s stats or some such, a little positive feedback goes a long way. I can’t bring myself to be stingy when it comes to these fleeting awards. I hope you’ll join me in resisting the cynicism that can surround awards and join hobby game fans in offering a few kudos to your favorite game companies, designers, and systems this awards season.
The Ronin Roundtables have concentrated on the business side of things a lot since we launched, but now that we’re a couple of months in, let’s have some fun! Steve Kenson talked about how he was introduced to gaming last week and that got me to thinking about the games I’m currently running or playing, so I’m going to tackle that important subject this week!
My first experience with mutants in an RPG wasn’t a superhero game (except by the broadest possible stretch of the term). No, my first gaming mutants were the inhabitants of the ruins of TSR’s Gamma World. I happened upon the grey boxed set of the first edition of the game in a local Hallmark store (of all places) when I was in middle school. Fascinated by the cover illustration of explorers at an ancient ruin and the map on the back of post-Apocalypse North America, I was hooked. I was already a fan of post-apocalyptic novels like Andre Norton’s Star Man’s Son and Sterling Lainer’s Hiero’s Journey, so I grasped the concepts of Gamma World right off. The intro text about the Apocalypse (the mysterious organization that brought about the end of the world) sent chills down my pre-teen spine: "We have the power… the choice is yours!"
I’m Green Ronin’s Director of Electronic Publishing. That’s a resume-inflating way of saying I deal with PDFs. I came to Green Ronin in 2004 by way of The Game Mechanics (where I was part owner and jack-of-all-trades) and Wizards of the Coast (where I started in customer service and ended up managing the company’s Web site). When I’m not working on Green Ronin’s books, I’m a grad student at the University of Washington. Or slacking. I’m a big fan of slacking.
I want to share some of our thinking about how and why we make PDFs, so I volunteered to take a seat at the Ronin Roundtable and forsake my slacking and studying.
What’s In Store: A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, Game of Thrones Edition
We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from the rare folks who’ve had the opportunity to take a look at the Game of Thrones Edition of our Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying system, and had even more enthusiasm from folks who are looking forward to seeing what’s in the new edition. So, in the interest of both answering questions and whetting appetites, we thought we’d talk a little about what you can expect in this upcoming book.
Presentation: First and foremost, the Game of Thrones Edition is a big, fat hardcover book, weighing in at 320 pages. We’ve updated some of the layout to better accommodate the material, and even changed out little things like the title font.
Errata: One of the great things about producing this edition of our core rule-set is the opportunity to make some corrections and additions to the system. A couple years worth of heavy play by a fantastic fanbase has provided us with plenty of things that needed correcting, clarifying or just plain revision. What the various ratings in Status mean exactly, for instance, and clarification on the use of certain Abilities and Benefits. Additionally, we’ll be offering a free PDF with a full listing of the errata we’ve updated so that those who are using older rulebooks can still have access to these changes.
Updating: We’ve also taken this opportunity to update some of the rules, based either on later designs that we feel work better, or new revelations to the way things work from further books in the series. For instance, the jousting rules from Peril in King’s Landing not only make for a more in-depth reflection of the excitement and variety of techniques in jousting, but helped us better reflect some of the setting’s assumptions about jousting, as seen in both A Song of Ice and Fire series as well as the Dunk and Egg stories.
Likewise, with the release of A Dance of Dragons, we got a better perspective on how "warging" or "skin-changing" works, and so we’ve updated our own Benefits that cover those techniques. As part of this, we’ve gone back and redone some of the Benefits to more accurately reflect those sorts of changes. As an example, we’ve changed Ward from a Benefit to a Drawback. For those who are curious, here’s the new Ward Drawback:
You were given over to your foster House by your birth House, as surety against future aggression.
You were sent to your foster House by your birth House as part of either a pact against aggression between the Houses (in which case there is likely a member of the foster House who is a Ward of your birth House), or as part of the defeat of your birth House. Your Status is based on your position in your birth House, not on the foster House.
You take a –1D on all Persuasion tests with both your birth and foster Houses; each assumes that you speak from a position of favoring the other, and is therefore less likely to heed what you have to say. Additionally, should your birth House take any kind of overt action against your foster House, you may be slain in retribution.
New Art: We’ve got some great new art for this edition, starting with the fantastic new cover piece by the amazing Michael Komarck. There are also some great surprises inside, as well, including a fantastic piece of Balerion the Black Dread, one of the last of the great Targaryen dragons. If you’re interested in that, check out the cover image over at the Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Facebook page.
Ready-to-Run Adventures: Finally, we’ve also gone ahead and incorporated not one, but two adventures that Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying fans love: Journey to King’s Landing and Peril at King’s Landing. We’ve taken the steps to make sure they’re just as solidly updated and corrected as every other piece of this book. The inclusion of these two pieces means some neat additions to the core book, even for those who don’t necessarily want to run the adventures themselves (or have already done so), because we’ve added all the additional stock Narrator characters that were originally in Peril at King’s Landing to the selection of Narrator characters in Chapter 11, for instance. It also means that the corebook now includes a map of King’s Landing, as well as a description and map of the infamous Inn at the Crossroads.
Of course, don’t take my word for it. You can see all these changes and more for yourself when the PDF goes live next week, right alongside the print version pre-orders. We look forward to seeing what you folks think!