The True History of True20, Part 1

True20 Adventure Roleplaying, Green Ronin’s latest RPG, is hitting stores this week. The game has an unusual history, so I can understand why there is some confusion over its origin and development. This seems like an opportune moment then to set the record straight. I had hoped to do this in one big post but it’s a long story so I’m going to have to get all Dickens on you and serialize it over the next few days. A caveat before I begin:

I’m going to talk about some of the strategic issues Green Ronin dealt with over the past few years. Some of these involve WotC and D&D;, which only makes sense considering GR’s long history with d20 and the OGL. I want to be clear, however, that these details are not the main thrust of this essay and I’m not interested in sparking or participating in more debate on them. I bring them up because they relate to GR’s publishing strategies and I want people to understand some of the contributing factors to our decisions. Here endeth the caveat.

Our story begins over three years ago. We had begun developing what would become the Blue Rose RPG. The initial proposal came from a freelancer, John Snead, and he had assembled a team to put the game together. John’s pitch had been that there was a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, Romantic Fantasy, which had never had an RPG. The industry had seen endless games inspired by Tolkien, Howard, and Leiber, but none by Lackey, Pierce, and Duane. While Romantic Fantasy was not a personal favorite of mine, I thought John’s argument made sense and a game pitched at readers of this kind of fiction might bring some new blood into the industry. I greenlit the project and John and his team went off to work.

During this initial phase, two important things happened. First, WotC released D&D; 3.5, which (intentionally or not) adversely affected sales of 3.0 era books. Second, Mutants & Masterminds turned into a monstrous hit. One of the key’s to its long term success was that I had decided that M&M; should be a stand-alone game and not a d20 sourcebook. This was originally done to make the game complete on its own and thus make it a more attractive purchase. A fortuitous side effect of this decision, however, was that M&M; proved immune to the effects of 3.5. Since M&M; was its own game, what WotC did with D&D; did not affect it.

Now Blue Rose I had always envisioned as a stand-alone game. I did not want to tell Romantic Fantasy fans to go spend $90 on what they didn’t want (D&D;) so they could then give us $30 for what they did want. Never mind the fact that the current D&D; rules were way more complicated than I thought appropriate for Blue Rose. The 3.5/M&M; double whammy only reinforced my feelings on the matter. Blue Rose needed to stand alone and it needed to be a lot simpler and easier to learn than core D&D.;

When the initial drafts of Blue Rose came in though, they were problematic. What I was given was essentially a d20 System campaign setting, not a complete RPG. I tried bringing in a freelance developer to flesh it out into a full game, but that did not go in the direction I wanted either. In 2004 two key people joined the project. First there was Jeremy Crawford, a freelance editor we had begun working with who came on to flesh out and edit Blue Rose. Second there was Steve Kenson, the designer of Mutants & Masterminds, who joined the Green Ronin staff that Spring. I had hired Steve to run the M&M; line, but I also asked him to shepherd Blue Rose to completion. He was the first Green Ronin staff person other than me to be involved in the Blue Rose project.

When I gave Steve the job, I must admit I underestimated the task before him. I was thinking of it terms of a development job. By summertime though, after talking to both Steve and Jeremy, it became clear the mechanics side of Blue Rose was going to have to be started again. At this same time we acquired the Thieves’ World license. Since the new Blue Rose rules were just getting started at that point and Thieves’ World seemed a great match for d20 anyway, we opted to make the Thieves’ World line d20. Rob Schwalb became the developer of the Thieves’ World line and he and his team worked on that project at the same time Steve and Jeremy were working on Blue Rose. Both Thieves’ World and Blue Rose were conceived and promoted as limited lines. Thieves’ World would be four books (Thieves’ World Player’s Manual, Murder at the Vulgar Unicorn, Shadowspawn’s Guide to Sanctuary, and the Thieves’ World Gazetteer) and Blue Rose would be three (Blue Rose, Blue Rose Companion, World of Aldea).

Steve and Jeremy worked hard the rest of 2004 to finish the Blue Rose core rulebook. Late in the year Hal Mangold took the text and turned it into a gorgeous finished product. In February, 2005 we released the PDF of Blue Rose on RPGNow. It sold very well indeed and provoked a lot of chatter. It didn’t take long for us to start hearing that people really liked the rules system. Some loved the Blue Rose setting and some hated it. No surprise there.

Before the game had even gone to print though, people were asking if we were going to make the rules part of Blue Rose available separately. That was not part of the original plan. We had talked about using the Blue Rose rules to do other limited arc games. Rob Schwalb wanted to do a game called Black Thorn the following year, for example, which would mirror Blue Rose’s three book format and use the same system. Before the release of Blue Rose though, that was speculative enough that it hadn’t made it onto our 2006 schedule yet. In the wake of the PDF’s success, however, we decided that something like Black Thorn was a whole lot more likely. It thus seemed a good idea to name the rules, since “the Blue Rose System” was not exactly catchy.

We revised the Blue Rose files before the game went to print later in February, fixing all the errata that had been discovered. Those who bought the first PDF got a free update (something we always do with our PDFs). The credits also had a new addition. In bold text at the bottom of the page the following text appeared for the first time: Powered by the True20 System.

End, Part 1.

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