Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Interview Time: D3 Games (Mark Carroll + Jason Yarnell)

Greetings, readers!

I'm taking a quick break from covering the Champions System as I do some additional research on 5th edition. Plus, I've been working hard on the Gamer's Tavern, a podcast I'm hosting along with Darryl Mott (the Abstruse One), the AICN Tabletop coordinator for Ain't It Cool News.

Today I have a great double interview for Rogue Warden: I'm talking to both Mark Carroll and Jason Yarnell of D3 Adventures, an independent game publisher that I've mentioned before here on the blog.

Mark happens to live here in Austin, and we've chatted several times about various kickstarters (especially right before the launch of Accursed). Jason's the man with the plan behind D3 Adventures.

Mark and Jason are involved in a bold new adventure with Aethercon, an online gaming convention taking place this November. In addition, they're also working on an interesting project called the Infinite Dungeon, a former kickstarter project that D3 Adventures is now taking to fruition.

Jason Yarnell, part-time Superhero, full time gamer.
Aethercon features quite a few interesting panels and a lineup of cool-looking games, so I highly suggest you go check it out!

As always, my questions are in red text.

RW: Can you tell me a little about yourselves as a gamer and as a game industry professional?

JY: Man, I am horrible at talking about myself. I’ve been a gamer since ’77 when I got my first Atari. I was exposed to D&D in ’78 and created my first RPG the next day from notes my friend and I cribbed from his brothers books (he wouldn’t let us play, saying we were too young). In ‘81 my mom bought me the Basic D&D box set as a graduation present from 6th grade. I’ve been modifying, playing and running games ever since. I have a knack for finding a niche game system, falling in love with it and then realizing that nobody else, or a very small number of folks, enjoys it. My fav systems are Hero System and Rolemaster.

MC: I've been gaming since I was nine - I started with the old Mayfair CHILL RPG, and I was lucky enough to have a group of experienced gamers to get me familiar with roleplaying; I've been hooked ever since. I've been writing about as long, so combining the two seemed a natural match for me.

I know a lot of amazing people in the industry, and I feel pretty humbled to be counted among their number.

RW: How did you get your start in the RPG industry?

JY: In 1999 my roommate at the time and myself created a Mod for Tribes called Chivalry, a fan gave us some money as an angel investor to begin a video game company. In 2001 we formed Sojourn Development and started working on an MMO. That whole process fell apart in 2003 but I retained ownership of the design. In 2006 my wife convinced me to start up a new company and D3 Games was born. In 2010 we moved back to Houston and had to remake the company as D3 Adventures and that’s where I am today. 

MC: I actually sort of lucked into it - my wife was doing some copyediting for AEG's 7th Sea line at the time, and mentioned my name to their line editor. I was asked to submit a writing sample, passed the initial round of scrutiny, and found myself writing for 7th Sea and, eventually, the World's Largest Dungeon. From there, I wrote some books for Mutants and Masterminds, a bit nof Pathfinder stuff, and the Infinite Dungeon, natch.

RW: Tell me about D3 Adventures – what should people know about your company?

JY: We’re small…very, very small. It’s just myself and my wife, who handles all of the dollars. Our tagline pretty much explains our goals, “Forging Better Worlds For Better Games”. My passion is in setting design and my goal is to create, either full cloth or through idea seeds turned over to other authors, settings that are interesting, unique, playable and, most important to me, believable. We have an erratic release schedule due to myself and all of my contractors having day jobs, but we’re working on getting better at consistent release dates with upcoming product lines.

MC: First and foremost, we're doing what we do because we just flat-out love gaming. We work on our products as long as it takes, and we make sure that what ends up in peoples' hands is the best we can offer. We're a small, tight-knit shop, and that really helps us with that goal.

RW: Tell me about Aethercon – for those who don’t know about it, what is it? What’s awesome about it?

JY: Aethercon is an online convention. Started up by Stephen Holodinsky. It seems to me to be a natural outgrowth of the online gaming community, from play-by-post (my personal savior) to electronic tabletops, gaming is moving more and more towards the digital kitchen table. Aethercon is a great way to celebrate this and is able to do it for free. We’re all volunteers who love the concept and want to see it grow into an international phenomenon. 

MC: Aethercon's an online convention - you don't need to leave the comfort of your computer to attend. We're aiming to provide everything an in-person con can - we've got a dealers' room, panels, and lots of gaming. Oh man, we have got a *lot* of gaming! And thanks to the magic of the Internet, we're running events 24 hours a day for the length of the convention.

RW: What do you think gamers are looking forward to most about Aethercon?

JY: Hm, that’s difficult for me to say. I’d like to say that the mix of panels and a chance to meet and socialize with a wide variety of online gamers would be the pull, but that doesn’t exactly limit it to a specific thing…it’s pretty much the entirety of Aethercons existence.
MC: Just from my perspective, it's going to be the gaming - we've got several different types of virtual tabletops available, and tons of different systems being run.

RW: I’m very pleased that D3 Adventures is helping keep the torch burning for the Hero System with several products and upcoming releases (my good friend Michael Surbrook has written some books for you on this!). Can you tell me about what you love about the Hero System, and what else may be in the works for fellow HERO-philes?

MC: This is more Jason's wheelhouse, but I'll admit that the Champions big blue book was one of the first RPGs I bought with my own money and ran for several years. It's solid stuff, and the HERO folks have done a bang-up job of updating the system. It really is one of the most flexible ones out there.

JY: Oh man, I love Hero System. It can do anything. It allows me the freedom to create the mechanics for whatever I want to represent and remain internally consistent without having to turn to houserules or shoehorn my concept into a rigid architecture. Most other game systems do their game systems well, but break as soon as you want to represent something else. Hero doesn’t do that. It’s a toolkit as they say and it freakin’ rocks. Unfortunately, it isn’t as popular as I would like so releasing more products for it is secondary at this point in time. I released Kamarathin as a 5E Hero System setting, got an award for Best Writing, and released a conversion for 6E for it. Everyone that has picked it up have said good things about it, but even still, it didn’t sell enough to cover the costs of its manufacture. That hurt the pocket book. So right now I’m focusing on releasing system agnostic mini-adventures and I have several Pathfinder product lines in development. One of which, Irshaa, will be kickstarted and one of the goals will be to release a Hero System version as well. I bought the IP for USA-50 and I want to re-release it for M&M3 as well as Hero System with new art and better layout, but that’s going to have to wait until after the release of the Infinite Dungeon, Irshaa and the Campaign Toybox lines. 

RW: How has your perception of working professionally in the RPG industry changed over the last 5 years?

MC: Wow, good one! For me, the industry's shift towards accepting digital products has been a huge thing; it's really changed the landscape. I've primarily worked in digital products, though I've got plenty in print as well. Even more, we're looking at Kickstarter and other crowdfunding as viable methods to bring games that otherwise would never see the light of day to the gaming folks. That's utterly changed the landscape in a good way, despite the bumps in that particular road.

JY: I did not know what the hell I was doing. Pure and simple. I originally got into this to release Kamarathin and focus exclusively on it. Thinking I could just settle into my little fantasy setting and with Hero System and be profitable or at least break even. HA! Man, I cannot even remember the amount of things I didn’t know back then that I should have before I began. Every single month has been a brand new learning experience, some shocking, some incredibly disheartening, but most have been fantastic. For someone with zero experience in the publishing industry it has been one heck of a rollercoaster and our earlier products and present erratic releases are all prime examples of this. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Right now, I’ve got to the point where I need to focus. I’ve tried to do too many things in the name of diversification and it has held us back. I’ve left the world of idealistic system niche’s and will be expanding into the world of the popular market place until I get this company in a financially stable enough place that I can revisit my love of niche systems. 

RW: If you could change one thing about the RPG industry, what would it be?

MC: I'd say that creators would be paid what they're worth, as opposed to what I call 'app pricing', which for my money has seriously devalued the work being put out there.

JY: Hm, if you had asked me this a few years ago, I would have said takedown the big corporations and keep it a craftsman industry. But after seeing the rise of Paizo and the consistently quality work they release (despite my misgivings about the D20/3.x systems) and the new iteration of D&D Next; I have to say, that maybe the industry is actually listening to its fans again and that is a good thing. Will wait and see if this trend continues, and I really hope it does. 

RW: What does the future hold for you guys? For D3 Adventures, Aethercon, or your own personal gaming projects?

MC: Well, we've got the Infinite Dungeon coming up, and that's going to be a hell of a thing. We'll continue putting out our top-selling Tangents line of systemless adventures, too. Aethercon's always improving things, working toward a better experience so we can grow the convention as a whole, too.

For me personally, I'll contiue writing for RPGs - I've got a horror setting coming up called Stalking the Nightmare, for FATE. I'm also working on a series of short stories that the setting springs from. It's a good time to be writing for me. 

JY: Professionally I’m focusing focusing D3 Adventures on five product lines; Irshaanic Confluence, Infinite Dungeon, Tangents, Spectral Earth and Campaign Toybox. Keeping the priority on Pathfinder and Mutants & Masterminds 3E as well as systemless releases. I’m keeping Hero System possibilities in the background as finances allow. For Aethercon, I’m focusing on my minor role as prize monkey and making sure those that participate receive their just desserts. Personally, I’m trying to get into face-2-face gaming more. I currently have three play-by-post campaigns and one face-to-face game (every 3 weeks or so) that are all using my bastard creation of Rolemaster, Pathfinder and Houserules that I call Jasonmaster…because, well, I’m humble. But it’s a fun exercise in refining, massaging and creating game rules, a practice I had stopped once I got back into Hero System. I have ideas for a game system in my notes that I touch upon every now and then and may, in the far distant future release. 

RW: Can you tell me more about the Infinite Dungeon?

MC: The Infinite Dungeon started as a cocktail napkin idea over some Chinese at a local restaurant. From there, the idea continued to develop - we came up with the concept of the Cursed Isle, the dungeon there that went on forever, and the surrounding environs, all in one feverish afternoon.

From there, we dug into the history - how the Isle and Dungeon came to be, the history of the Wardens that sent adventurers to explore both, and then Ross Isaacs stepped in as line developer to bring it all together. Ross, by the way, is awesome, and really helped us achieve a voice for the project.

With Ross on board, we had solid direction, and that brought some major talent to the fore - Chris Harris wrote some incredible stuff with ruins and worked on our monsters; Alyssa Faden developed some outstanding, stunning cartography and provided us with a creepy plot twist for the nature of the Dungeon; Jennifer Baughman, who worked on 7th Sea for AEG, wrote up Valek's Landing, which is the first village that adventurers on the Isle go to...and sometimes never escape from. I wrote a lot on the history of the Wardens and the ecology of the Cursed Isle, which was tons of fun.

It's a hell of a project - the first book in the Infinite Dungeon line covers the huge outdoor dungeon that's part of the Cursed Isle. Tons of NPCs, plot hooks, weird, horrific stuff going on; you could play out an entire game just on the island alone. With Book 2, players and GMs will see the first of the underground levels of the Dungeon...and it's nothing that's been seen before as far as I can tell. It's the Dungeon as not just an ecosystem, but a living, changing thing; what the players do will affect how the whole thing plays out.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Interview Time: Richard Lee Byers

Greetings, Readers!

This week I've got an interview with Richard Lee Byers, a fantasy novelist and gamer. Richard's got a large body of published work, including several books set in the world of popular D&D setting, the Forgotten Realms.

Richard Lee Byers. Writer. Fencer. Secret Agent.
Richard's list of novels is pretty impressive: my personal favorites are The Shattered Mask, the Haunted Lands Trilogy, and the Enemy Within--but my all-time favorite of his has to be the Scarred Lands Trilogy. He's written novels for several RPG universes, including Vampire: the Masquerade, Pathfinder, the Scarred Lands, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. He's recently written some comic book material as well.

Thanks to the success of its kickstarter, Richard has also agreed to write a novella set in my very own dark fantasy RPG setting, Accursed! In addition, Richard is an award-winning fencer and poker enthusiast in his spare time.

I'm very glad to have Richard on the blog today because I think that compelling game fiction can be a big driving factor in the success of an RPG setting beyond just the core books, sourcebooks, and adventures.

As usual, my questions are in red text.

RW: Can you tell me a little about yourself as a gamer and as a novelist?

RLB: As a gamer, I’ve been playing RPG’s since D&D was three beige pamphlets in a white cardboard box (plus that copy of Chainmail I had for the sake of completeness even though my group never got around to running army vs. army battles.) Over the years, I’ve played every edition of D&D, Pathfinder, Champions, DC Heroes, Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, GURPS, and no doubt others I’m forgetting. Currently, my friends and I play Pathfinder about once a month; unfortunately, that’s about as often as we can manage to get together. I’ve also played various card and board games over the years and am a recovering Magic: the Gathering and Heroclix player/collector. Recently my friends and I have been playing Hex Hex, Castle Panic, High Noon Saloon, En Garde, and Elder Sign.
As a novelist, I’ve done around forty horror and fantasy novels, some set in worlds that are all my own, others based in franchises like the Forgotten Realms, Golarion, the original World of Darkness, and the Marvel Universe. I’m possibly best known for my Realms novels. My recent works include Blind God’s Bluff: A Billy Fox Novel, which is the first in a projected urban fantasy series, and The Impostor #2: The Blood Machine, the new installment in the post-apocalyptic superhero series that is my grand experiment in self-publishing.

RW: How did you get your start writing novels set in RPG worlds?

RLB: I started my professional writing career in the ‘80’s as a horror author. Then the horror market crashed, and I needed to find something else to do. I had noticed the existence of RPG-based fiction, and since I was already playing the games, I was pretty sure I could write it. I queried Wizards of the Coast and White Wolf, and editors at each company gave me the chance to submit a short story to an anthology. They liked what I turned in, and the relationships evolved from there until they were offering me the chance to do novels.

RW: I see that you’re interested in fencing and playing poker – do these hobbies help inform your writing?

RLB: I write a lot about swordplay and other forms of close combat, and what I’ve learned fencing helps with those scenes. Even though modern sport fencing is stylized and, well, sportsmanlike, there’s still quite a bit you can bring across, both in terms of specific sword moves and more general concepts of blocking, distance, trickery, etc.

First in the fantastic trilogy!
Overall, poker hasn’t come into my fiction nearly as much. Blind God’s Bluff, however, is about supernatural creatures competing in a No Limit Hold ‘Em tournament, so naturally, it’s full of poker.

RW: What is something great about writing novels set in RPG worlds?

RLB: If it’s a good RPG world, it has a fascinating mythology that’s fun to play with.

RW: What is something not-so-great about writing novels set in RPG worlds?

RLB: It’s been my experience that most of these books earn money, but they rarely do so spectacularly well that they’ll make the author into a big name. This particular form of fiction doesn’t seem to launch a Salvatore, Hickman, or Weiss very often.

RW: What are your favorite things about writing superhero fiction?

RLB: I like the anything-goes nature of superhero universes that allows the writer to do throw in whatever he likes, including superpowers and super science that make a mockery of real-world science and even the overtly supernatural.

RW: What do you see as the most significant differences between writing fiction and writing for comic books?

RLB: I’ve written a total of one count it one graphic novel so far, so no one should take my opinion as especially authoritative. But for what it’s worth, I think that while it’s a good idea to be precise and economical with one’s words when writing prose fiction, it’s essential in comics. It’s pointless, clumsy writing to say anything with words that the art can present visually, and in any case, you can’t use so many words that caption boxes and dialogue balloons are going to cover up the art.

RW: How has your perception of writing for RPG worlds changed over the last 15 years?

RLB: I suppose my perception has changed in the sense that I’m more aware of how things can alter over time with various IP’s. I’ve been around when the decision makers wanted to use the novels to make major changes in the setting and when they wanted the novels to tell smaller stories that absolutely didn’t change it. I’ve been around when the game developers and fiction writers communicated well and when communication was nonexistent. I’ve been there when the in-house people were eager to bring in freelancers whose work they respected and when the staffers thought, hell, why should we pay outsiders to write this fiction when I can write it myself on my lunch hour and pocket the extra cash? (My disgruntled interpretation, there, obviously.) To some degree, it all runs in cycles at almost every company.

RW: What’s your opinion on the ascension of the ebook format?

RLB: The triumph of the eBook is inevitable. EBooks simply have too many advantages over the paper-and-ink variety. I know some people love traditional books. I do myself. But let’s face it, all those guys are going to die, and kids who think it’s the most natural thing in the world to get their prose entertainment off a phone or a tablet will inherit the earth.

RW: How would you do things differently now as opposed to the first couple of novels you wrote?

RLB: The only way I know to answer that is to say that I write better now. I’m a better craftsman (or at least after forty books, I hope so!)

RW: What do you believe is the most important aspect of professionalism in the book industry from the viewpoint of a writer? What about from the viewpoint of an editor or publisher?

RLB: Truly professional writers turn in the best work they’re capable of, work that also meets the needs of the publisher as defined in a contract or submission guidelines, on time.
Truly professional editors and publishers respond to queries, outlines, and drafts in a timely manner and deliver on their commitments, both express and implied, to writers. Among other things, this means they pay on time based on an honest royalty accounting and that they don’t have writers invest work and time on a project and then send it forth into the marketplace with a lack of support that makes success unlikely.

RW: If you could change one thing about the RPG industry, what would it be? What about the book industry?

RLB: This is totally self-serving, but if I could change the RPG industry, every game with a substantial following would have an associated fiction line with effective marketing support.

If I could change one thing about the book industry, I would reverse the tendency to dump the midlist writer whose books turn a profit but fall short of bestseller status.

RW: What do you feel is the best way for a fantasy/sci-fi novelist to engage with customers and fans?

RLB: That’s the question we all ask ourselves, isn’t it? How should we market our work in this rapidly changing marketplace in the electronic age? I wish I knew the answer, but I don’t, so I do several things. I attend conventions, I’m active in social media, and I guest on podcasts and do interviews like this.

RW: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

RLB: Judging from the communications I receive from readers, it’s my contributions to the Forgotten Realms.

RW: What do you feel is your greatest setback as a writer?

RLB: My greatest setback is every time a publisher has stopped wanting my work. The first time was when Zebra Books fired my editor and stopped publishing horror, and for various reasons, it’s happened a few times since. You’d think I’d have learned to be philosophical about it by now, but in the moment, it always feels like a mortal blow to my career.
RW: What is your favorite part of a gaming-related convention?

RLB: I love talking to people who’ve read and enjoyed my work whether I’m speaking on a panel, doing a signing, chatting with someone who approached me in the dealer’s room, or whatever.

RW: If you were a fantasy adventurer, you’d be a… ?

RLB: Probably a wizard, at least if I wanted to survive. Ideally, I’d be a swashbuckling swordsman, but the reality is that despite all the years I’ve spent fencing, I’m smarter than I am athletic.

RW: What’s your favorite RPG? What about your favorite fantasy novel (that you did not write)?

RLB: My favorite RPG is still original D&D. Well, maybe with the Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, and Deities and Demigods supplements added in. RPG’s have become more sophisticated since then, but I’ve never had more fun with one than I had with my original gaming group way back when.

My favorite fantasy novel is The Swords of Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber.

RW: If you could pick up the dice and play an RPG right this very instant, you’d play…?

RLB: Right this second as I’m writing this, I could really get into a rousing session of DC Heroes.