It’s a Hell of a Town

Two things are making this New Yorker smile today.

First, there’s a glowing review of Pirates of the Burning Sea in the New York Times, on the front page of the Arts section no less. One line cracked me up (“The very reason people play any sort of role-playing game — Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, Doctor and Patient — is to explore a fantasy”), but overall it’s a very positive review and great exposure for the game. Also, I can’t wait for Doctor and Patient 4th Edition!;=arts&oref;=slogin&oref;=slogin&oref;=slogin

The other bit of joyous news for me is that Rudy Giuliani dropped out of the race for the presidency. Fuck yeah! The rest of the country may think of him as “America’s mayor”, but actual New Yorkers know he is a morally bankrupt thug and bully who would have been a disaster as president. I think 8 years of disaster is quite enough for America, so see you later, Rudy. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

End of an Era

Today Games Workshop announced that it is shutting down Black Industries, its roleplaying wing. Green Ronin worked with BI for many years as a design house and put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the products we created for them. Getting to design the new edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was in many ways a dream project for me and seeing it become the #2 fantasy RPG on the market was pretty gratifying. It is sad to see WFRP come to an end yet again, though I’m sure the fan community will keep it going for many years to come.

Many people have asked me what this means for Green Ronin and if the closure of BI will adversely affect us. There’s nothing to worry about on that score. Our contract with them concluded last year and we turned over the files for Thousand Thrones last month. We knew this transition was coming and were ready for it. We just didn’t realize that WFRP itself would not be moving forward. At least the line is going out with a bang though. Thousand Thrones is a huge adventure that’ll take a long time to play through. It seems like an appropriate way to send things off.

Best of luck to the GW folks affected by this. I’ve been through similar days and they are never fun.

Dark Ages Setting

A few months ago I started thinking about developing a dark ages fantasy setting, either for gaming or for fiction (or both I suppose). Gaming settings tend to be more medieval or renaissance in flavor but I felt there was a lot you could do with a dark ages set-up. Even when I’m doing fantasy, I tend to start with history and/or mythology, so I picked up two books: Roman Britain and Early England 55 BC to AD 871 by Peter Blair and An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Brions AD 400 to 600 by Christopher A. Snyder. The latter was quite detailed but very dry. Blair’s book wasn’t as focused on what I was interested in but it was more engaging and provided a nice overview. Both did a good job of getting ideas percolating in my head. Originally I had thought of creating a fantasy setting from whole cloth, but I soon became taken with the idea of doing an alternate history Britain in which Christianity had never become more than a small sect. The continent would be there in the background but the setting would really be about the struggle for sub Roman Britain.

Last week I picked up the recent Age of Arthur supplement for the Warhammer Ancient Battles miniatures game. It’s a nice book that summarizes a lot of the material I’ve read about the dark ages and the historical King Arthur with the wargamer in mind. It covers Romanized Britons, Welsh, Scots Irish, Picts, and Saxons, providing many army lists and variants. As one would expect, there’s also photos of beautifully painted miniatures that provide visual stimulation for just the period I’m looking at. I did not pick it up as a research book per se, but it’s really quite useful in developing my ideas. It also makes me want to collect yet more armies, though I think sense will prevail in the end there.

As for the setting itself, I’m not sure if I’m going to move forward with it or not. I had thought it of possible use with 4E if we decide to support the game, but I don’t know if alternate historical fantasy is a great fit with the direction WotC is taking the game. I’ll have to think about it more once I see the new rules.

Double Your Fun

Today is launch day for not one but two things of coolness.

Thing #1 is Pirates of the Burning Sea, the MMO I’ve been writing for the past year and a half. Folks who pre-ordered have been able to play for a couple of weeks but today is the officially launch for everybody. Boxes are in stores and as we speak new forces from Britain, France, Spain, and the Brethren of the Coast are gearing up for a battle royale in the Caribbean. If you fancy brutal ship battles and swashbuckling swordplay, check out Pirates of the Burning Sea, mateys.

Thing #2 is the new Wild Cards book, Inside Straight. This “mosaic novel” edited by George R.R. Martin releases today and provides a new starting point for the series. I was lucky enough to get to read a draft of this last year and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable book. As you may or may not know, Green Ronin has licensed Wild Cards and will be releasing a Mutants & Masterminds campaign setting based on the series this summer. The Dabel Brothers are also doing a comic starting in April, so it’s a great year for Wild Cards fans.

Jess, the head of my department at FLS, has procured a 9 liter bottle of beer for the Pirates launch. I don’t know how much work is going to get done on Queen Anne today.


Last year I wasn’t able to make either of the Game Developers Conferences. The one in San Francicso is next month and I had resigned myself to not making it once again. For the hell of it though I entered an online contest last week hosted by Mary-Margaret and then I promptly forgot about it. Who actually wins online contests? The answer: me, baby!

I got a call at work today and I thought it was a solicitor or something. Turned out to be a woman from Mary-Margaret, telling me that I’d won their VIP prize. They are giving me an all access pass to the show, two nights at the Marriott, and a year’s subscription to Game Developer Magazine.

2008 is shaping up to be a pretty good year!

Old School Orc Minis

So there’s this small minis company in England, Otherworld Miniatures, that has released some new orc minis. Oh sure, there are a million orc minis and I already have plenty, but these are cool because they are done in the pigface style of the original D&D; orcs (and also of Ork: The Roleplaying Game). They are also sculpted by Kev Adams, who has been doing cool orcs and goblins for over 20 years now. The problem? With the exchange rate so terrible these days, each mini is between $6 and $8 and that’s without shipping. Ouch. I’ll have to resist them until the exchange rate improves or I get a big bonus or something.

Piggy orcs are here:

What Poor Gods We Do Make

You may recall me blogging about seeing Naked Raygun back in December. They were touring in support of a new DVD called “What Poor Gods We Do Make: the Story and Music Behind Naked Raygun.” I picked up a copy at Easy Street Records on my Friday lunch break and had a chance to watch it today. Short review: a must for any NR fan.

Longer review. This is a two disc set. The main event is a documentary that chronicles rise, fall, and return of one of the great Chicago punk bands. There is very little archival footage of Naked Raygun but the film makes up for that in two ways. First, it features interviews with the band itself and other Chicago scenesters like Steve Albini (Big Black) and various members of the Effigies. Second, it has good footage from two 2006 reunion shows. These provide clips for the band doing many of their best songs. Back in the day, Raygun used to do a blistering cover of “Suspect Device” by Stiff Little Fingers. Jake Burns of SLF lives in Chicago now and he agreed to come out and sing it with Naked Raygun at one of the shows. That moment is captured here, along with a rough bit of rehersal footage. Overall, the documentary is well done, and features some fun stories and great music. The only real downside is that previous members, most notably long time guitarist John Haggerty, do not appear. I don’t know if they were asked and refused or if the band itself preferred to focus on the current lineup.

The second disc is an audio CD. It has about 20 songs recorded at the 2006 shows. The percussion is a bit loud and the production isn’t as good as the previous NR live album Free Shit, but as it’s hard to complain about such a nice DVD extra. The whole thing cost all of $18, which is a bargain for a documentary and a CD full of music.

I’ve heard there is another documentary in the works called “You Weren’t There”, which covers the Chicago punk scene at large. It looks like it’s going to cover bands like the Effigies, Strike Under, Articles of Faith, Big Black, Bhopal Stiffs, Pegboy, and more. If it’s anything like “What Poor Gods We Do Make”, I am very much looking forward to it.

Some Further Thoughts

My previous entry sparked some lively debate over on EN World. I posted the message below earlier and figured I might as well add it to my blog. Here it is:

Running a hobby game company is a curious thing. Nearly everyone gets into the industry because they love games but at a certain point you have to face the realities of doing business. Now a part of me will always be a D&D; fanboy. I started playing when I was 10 years old and it really did change my life. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if I hadn’t cracked open that white boxed set all those years ago. Tapping into that passion is an important part of being an effective game designer, but it takes more than that to run a successful business.

It is tempting to just say, “Wohoo, it’s D&D;, let’s go for it!” That is in fact just what I said back in 2000 when I started Green Ronin. At the time though the company was a side project and the only money I stood to lose was my own. Now I have seven staffers relying on me to make the right decisions for Green Ronin and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I thus have to be a little more sober in my assessment of what’s going on and what will be good for GR.

Right now Green Ronin has four important lines: Mutants & Masterminds, Freeport, True20, and the upcoming A Song of Ice and Fire RPG. We could easily keep ourselves busy handling just those four lines and we don’t need to rely on any other company to do so. M&M; and True20 are stand alone games and they won’t be changing because of 4E, A Song of Ice and Fire has its own brand new system and doens’t use the OGL, and the new Freeport book is systemless and can be used with any fantasy RPG. So really none of what we’re doing at the moment is reliant on what WotC does or doesn’t do with the new OGL.

The question we are now wrestling with at GR is what to do with 4E. Should we support it or just keep doing what we’re doing? If we do support it, should pay the 5K to become a phase 1 publisher or wait until next year? My blog post took a short look at some of the factors in play. We are giving this serious consideration but we are not ready to finalize plans yet. First we must see the new OGL. I have to know under what terms we’d be doing business before I agree to anything.

There are absolutely some great designers at WotC. Hell, many of them have done work for Green Ronin. Jesse Decker, Chris Thomasson, Rodney Thompson, and Matt Sernett all worked on d20 books for us. I have a lot of respect for 4E’s lead designer, Rob Heinsoo, who has been a friend and collegue of mine for over a decade. I know these folks can kick ass, but having worked at WotC for four years I also know that it’s an environment that doesn’t always get the best out of its designers. I hope 4E is a real step forward, but the question is whether or not I’m willing to bet $5,000 that it is? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wish I could see what I was buying before I write a check, though I do understand why WotC is handling things this way.

I’m heartened that so many of you want to see GR keep its place in the d20 world. I hope that we’ll be able to and that it’ll be a win/win for everyone.

To 4E or Not to 4E

After the announcement of Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons back at GenCon, I wrote in my blog about what would need to happen for this to really benefit Green Ronin. Today WotC announced the new terms of the Open Game License and how publishing would work under it. I was part of a conference call yesterday with nine other companies in which WotC gave us the skinny, so I’ve at least had a day to chew over the news. Back in September I said six things would need to happen for 4E to work for us. Let’s take a look at these again in light of the new info.

1) The new rules need to be good.

Jury is still out on this. More to the point, I can’t find out if they are good any time soon unless I’m willing to shell out $5,000 to get early access. That’s a big leap of faith.

2) WotC needs to convince the lion’s share of their fanbase to make the switch.

The marketing of 4E has not been stellar to date. This is still an open question.

3) The new rules need to be more successful at recruiting new roleplayers.

This remains unknown.

4) The d20 brand needs a new iteration that sheds the bad connotations the original took on.

We now know the d20 logo is dead. There will now only be the Open Game License, but it is going to include the type of strictures that previous only appeared in the d20 System Trademark License. The new OGL apparently will allow the use of some kind of compatibility language that includes a variant of the D&D; logo. This may remove some of the onus of the d20 logo, but it is going to make it harder to solicit books to retailers and distributors.

5) WotC needs to get us the new rules in time to learn them well enough to design good product and to make strategic plans that can capitalize on the game’s launch.

If you are willing to pay $5,000 up front, this can happen for the hobby market at least. It doesn’t help the book trade business of companies like GR and Paizo, since we needed to get info on our summer releases out this past October. One hopes that six months of lead time is enough to learn the rules and design for them, but without seeing the rules it is still hard to say.

6) WotC needs to do something to prevent a second d20 glut.

They have done something but perhaps not enough. The six months of exclusive time for those that pay for the Designer’s Kit will prevent a huge rush of stuff from small companies. This plan does nothing to prevent well funded and established companies from flooding the market with junk though and that was just as much of a problem in the original d20 market.

Naturally, people want to know what Green Ronin’s plans are for 4E. All I can tell you right now is that we are still debating internally. When WotC gets us the new OGL, we have to review it and see what we can and cannot do under it. So while I was hoping that this news would make our decision easier, our path is not yet clear. It may be that the smart play is just to put all our muscle behind a A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplay and push that like mofos. We’ll see.