Green Ronin: The Early Years

It was a decade ago this month that Green Ronin released its first product at the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio. I remember getting that first box of games and cutting it open on the convention floor. I could have no idea that the company would still be going 10 years and well over 100 products later.

In the beginning it was just Nicole and I. I was working at Wizards of the Coast in the company’s first attempt to do miniatures games. I had previously worked in Roleplaying R&D, mostly on Dungeons & Dragons, but moved over to the new minis division because it seemed a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor of what could be a major new part of the company. By early 2000 I had been working on the game that ultimately came to be known as Chainmail for a while, and I found I missed doing RPG work. It would also be fair to say that I was frustrated with my job and WotC’s corporate backstabbing environment.

In February of 2000 I decided to go ahead and start my own company on the side to do roleplaying games. The goals were modest. We’d try doing two books and see how it went. Having previously been part of a small press RPG operation (the original Ronin Publishing), I was under no illusions.

Our first release was Ork!: The Roleplaying Game. Back in college my friend Crazy Todd had run this fun and totally zany campaign in which we all played Orks. It was in theory an AD&D game but really the rules amounted to Todd saying, “Roll some dice,” at appropriate moments. I suggested to Todd that Ork could be a fun beer and pretzels RPG and that I’d design a set of rules if he wrote up what was dubbed “The World of Orkness.” We aimed for a short, punchy game and succeeded in bringing it home in 64 pages of wackiness.

At the same time the Open Game License was under development at WotC and with it the idea of D&D3 as the “d20 System.” I remember sitting in a meeting with most of R&D about the OGL and d20. Many folks were dubious about the whole endeavor. One argument made at the time was that third party companies could do products that WotC itself had trouble doing profitably. In other words, adventures. And I thought, “I bet I could turn a profit selling an adventure when D&D3 hits the shelves.”

That thought led to Death in Freeport, our second product. It debuted at GenCon on the same day as the third edition D&D Player’s Handbook. Atlas Games also had a short adventure out that day by John Tynes. If you wanted to play some third edition D&D on August 10, 2000, there were exactly three books you could buy. That’s how I justified doing a print run that was, by any normal standard, insane. A gamble certainly but one that did actually pay off. Death in Freeport was a hit, we sold gobs of it, and soon the d20 market exploded.

If I was rash, I wold have quit WotC right then and gone full on with Green Ronin. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had. I tried to be sensible, however, and still believed that we could make a traditional miniatures business work at a company that simply didn’t understand it. So I stayed on after the Hasbro buyout, but ultimately was laid off in 2002. By that point Green Ronin was thriving and I just stepped into doing the company full time. Hal Mangold, who had helped us out with cover design early on, came on as well and the core of the company was set.

Since then we’ve had highs and lows, successes and disasters, great times and dire times. I never thought we’d last as long as we did, but now that we’ve hit that 10 year mark, I can look back at what we’ve achieved and feel proud. Next week at GenCon we’re launching the DC Adventures RPG and starting another new chapter of our history. How many more will there be? Hell if I know, but as I said back in 2000, “Let’s put out good games and see what happens.”

Originally published on LiveJournal on July 30, 2010. 

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