The True Story of True20, Part 5

The summer of 2005 was a time of highs and lows. On the upside, we made deals with Alliance and Diamond that took care of our hobby and book market penetration respectively, we had excellent summer convention sales (including sell-outs of Blue Rose at both Origins and GenCon), Mutants & Masterminds 2nd edition blew the roof off GenCon, we sold over 100 of a con special POD of the original True20 PDF, and GR came home with a pile of ENnie Awards, including Best Game for WFRP and our second year in a row as Best Publisher. Blue Rose picked up three silver awards, for Best d20 Game, Best Rules, and Best Cover Art. On the downside, the owner of Osseum fled Seattle and any hopes of getting money from him receded into the distance, we were carrying a lot of debt thanks to that situation, and as we released new d20 product that summer we discovered that the market for it was even worse than we suspected.

What to do about d20 became a big topic for the summer. We still had a lot of projects underway, ranging from drafts to completed and edited manuscripts. We also had the Thieves’ World books all either done or nearing completion and the first two books debuted at GenCon. We figured the license would carry those books but our other d20 stuff didn’t have a 20-year literary tradition to fall back on. Was this simply a marketing problem that could be overcome with a clever PR campaign or was this a permanent market shift?

Naturally, we had to start thinking about D&D; 4th edition too. When it might come out, how it might impact the marketplace, and whether 3rd party companies would be able to support it. In addition to talking to my staff about such things, I also had conversations with other of the surviving d20 publishers that summer. I was talking to the owner of one such company at GenCon and I said, “You know, what’s to stop us from designing our own 4th edition? What if the remaining good d20 companies teamed up and put together a new iteration of the rules together? We could split the profits of the core books and then each of us would support the game with supplements. We’d then have a solid core to build on that was ours to control and the combination of all our fanbases would hopefully allow us to strongly establish the new game in the marketplace.” It was intriguing idea and before the end of the show several other publishers came to talk to me about it. Ultimately, the idea never moved forward for three reasons. First, division of labor and profits on the core book would be a bear, never mind what vision would lead the design. Second, for this to really be attractive, we’d need to get Monte Cook involved. Since Monte is the exception to about every rule in d20 publishing and he already has a variant game in the form of Arcana Evolved, I just didn’t see it happening. Third, we already had plans for True20 moving ahead and there was a good possibility that True20 could follow in the footsteps of Mutants & Mastermind and break out. Were that to happen, we wouldn’t want to undercut our own success by taking part in a venture to bring out yet another OGL variant.

In the fall we began getting Setting Search entries. The overall standard was pretty high, so much so we decided to do a follow-up book to feature more of the entrants. That would put the four winners in the core book and four runners-up in a book we dubbed True20 Worlds of Adventure. We also decided to add one new setting, “Razor in the Apple” by Rob Schwalb, to the book as well. Soon we were planning True20 support books for the rest of 2006. If True20 was going to establish itself, it would need several good support books to follow up the game’s release. We wanted both retailers and fans to understand this was going to be a game with legs.

In this same period we began marketing the game in earnest. True20 Adventure Roleplaying was promoted at both of the Alliance Open Houses that fall. We also made arrangements to do a preview in Alliance’s Game Trade Magazine. The best news on the marketing front came from Dragon though. When I told Dragon about the True20 Setting Search, they asked if they could reveal the winners exclusively in the magazine’s pages. While it would mean delaying our announcement by about a month, the marketing value was too high to pass up so I happily agreed. Everything was now falling into place for the game’s debut.

End, Part 5.

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