For You 4E Freeport Fans

Once Green Ronin had made its final decision not to sign the revised Game System License, my thoughts turned immediately to licensing. While Green Ronin could not do a Freeport Companion for 4th Edition D&D;, a company that had signed the GSL could. One of the points of doing the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport as a systemless setting book was that mechanical support for different RPGs could be provided. Since it had begun as a d20 setting, I knew there were Freeport fans amongst the 4E community and I wanted to support them with a companion if I could.

So I started thinking about companies who could publish a 4E Freeport Companion. I wanted a company with a reputation for quality products who would treat the property right. It didn’t take long for Expeditious Retreat Press to bubble up to the top of my list. I contacted Suzi and Joe and asked if they were interested in licensing Freeport for a 4E companion. It took us less than a week to hammer out a deal and a contract. They announced it today.

I’m glad we were able to work this out. There are already Freeport Companions for True20 Adventure Roleplaying, Savage Worlds, Castles & Crusades, and D&D; 3.5. Warriors & Warlocks, a sword and sorcery sourcebook for Mutants & Masterminds, has a section on Freeport and acts as a default M&M; companion as well. That’s heading to print any day now and the PDF will be out next week. Once XRP gets the 4E version out, the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport will have mechanical support for six different game systems.

I look forward to seeing how XRP models the Freeport setting with the 4E rules.

Frak You, Apollo! [BSG Finale Spoilers]

I hope someone reads this someday. I’m going to carve it into a cave wall if I have the strength. Or maybe I’ll just carve one thing: Frak you, Apollo!

It’s been 10 years since we arrived on “Earth” and now I know why Lee Adama’s call sign was Apollo. He obviously thought the sun shone out of his arse.

Oh sure, his plan sounded great. We’ll fly our ships into the sun and live off the land. We won’t bring our petty squabbles to this pristine new planet. After the hellish journey we had just finished, we probably would have agreed to anything. I ask myself daily why we listened to Lee Adama. We should have remembered that he was the guy who defended the traitor Baltar (who still isn’t dead, by the way; what the frak!).

It was a beautiful day when we landed, but winter was a different story, especially for those of us lucky enough to be sent north. A quarter of us died during that hellish freeze because we didn’t have enough food, warm clothes, or medicine.Or say the shelter of a landed spaceship.

We could have stayed together and used our technology to tame this planet. Our numbers would have counted for something. Our ships could have scouted out the best places for new cities. Instead we are scattered across the world, weakened and divided. We must deal with predators, the savage natives, and the breakdown of our culture and laws.

When we were on the run from the Cylons, at least there was a hope that some day things would get better. Now thanks to the high handed Adamas we’re trapped on this hellhole forever. It’s only a matter of time before we start frakking the natives and ultimately we’ll lose everything that made the Colonies special. But what does Apollo care? His wife killed herself, his best friend was a frakkin’ ghost, and he’s off climbing mountains somewhere. I wish I had gone with the Centurions instead of staying here.

So frak you, Apollo. I hope a moutain cat eats your whiny ass. Oh, and God, if you exist, frak you too for your great divine plan. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to starve to death.

The End of My Grim and Perilous Adventure

I thought I was done with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay after Black Industries closed and Fantasy Flight licensed it and other properties from GW. Then one day I got an e-mail from Jeff Tidball asking me if Green Ronin would be willing to do ease the transition by doing some final work on the line. My initial reaction was no but then I thought about it some and changed my mind. Rob Schwalb had left Green Ronin by this point, so I would be handling development duties myself. This made it a double return; WFRP to GR and me to development.

I pitched several ideas (including a Career Encyclopedia, which I guess FFG liked because they did it later) and we settled on a book of organizations. I sent out an e-mail entitled “Getting the Band Back Together” to some of our most reliable WFRP freelancers (Jody Macgregor, David Chart, Andy Law, Steve Darlington, and Eric Cagle) asking for pitches on flavorful organizations. I worked out a format for each organization, and made clear that I wanted each one to be a group PCs could join, as well as being suitable for GM use in adventures and intrigues.

I also decided to write up an organization myself. I hadn’t done any WFRP writing since Children of the Horned Rat, so I thought I’d take the opportunity. The group I chose to do–the Knights of Magritta–had their origin in a proposal I wrote for James Wallis at Hogshead around 1995. It was for an adventure in which the PCs went looking for a legendary group of knights who had left Estalia centuries before. I took the basics of the group but then changed their history after leaving Estalia, turning them into a secret society more like the Freemasons than the Knights Templar. It was fun taking something I had created at the beginning of my professional work on WFRP and reinterpreting it for the end of my WFRP work.

The finished book, Shades of Empire, came out a couple of months ago and for a project that had to come together quite quickly I’m pleased with the results. WFRP stuff is so often centered on cults and Chaos, it was nice to do a book that explored some other aspects of the Old World. Cheers to my co-authors for helping GR leave WFRP in style.

For now it seems my professional connection to WFRP is at an end. It remains one of my favorite RPGs and I’m glad I had the chance to help bring it back for a new generation of gamers. While the road was sometimes dark and perilous, I only really regret the products I most wanted to do that never happened. Here are the top three.

A Proper Starter Set: My initial product proposal for GW included a boxed starter set to recruit new players into roleplaying. I argued that most roleplayers got their start with D&D; and then other companies had to win them away. Wouldn’t it be nice if we recruited them directly so they bypassed D&D; entirely? I proposed using single piece plastic minis already developed by GW for other products like Warhammer Quest. With the molds paid for, producing the minis would cost very little. As it was to go throughout our relationship, any suggestion of mixing roleplaying with minis was a no go. That was a real shame.

The Age of Sigmar: I wanted to do a series of campaign setting books that explored the Empire in different historical periods. The Age of Three Emperors was high on the list, but the one I wanted to do the most was the Age of Sigmar. This would allow a campaign to take place at the very founding of the Empire as Sigmar united the various tribes under his banner. We’d replace Renaissance trappings with brutal barbarians, doing WFRP Conan style. GW was reluctant to do this book because so little had been written about the era and basically if anyone was going to detail it was going to be them. It’s their IP so fair enough, and subsequently Black Library did some books about Sigmar so there’s more info now. I should probably just do this as a home campaign some time.

Orks and Blackfire: There was a point where we were pairing a sourcebook with a tie-in adventure. We had an Ork book on the schedule for awhile, planning to do for them what Children of the Horned Rat did for Skaven. The tie-in book was to take place in Blackfire Pass, allowing us to detail that out as an adventuring area. These two books got pushed back several times for various reasons and then went off the schedule altogether. The Orks haven’t gotten a lot of love in WFRP and it would have been nice to have that chance.

I will be interested to see how the line develops under FFG. I also hope that GW itself explores other areas like Araby and Ind some day. For now I can just go back to being a WFRP and Warhammer fan and that is pleasantly liberating.


Whenever a new Harry Potter book came out, Nicole would get it right away and plow through it in a day or two. She said she felt like she had to do that before the internet ruined the book for her. It was defensive reading in a sense. Now watching practically everyone I know talking and writing about the Watchmen movie, I know how she felt. I could not go to the movies this weekend. I had too much writing to do, and with my current schedule I figured I’d wait a few weeks before checking it out. I’m starting to feel like I either need to see it or stay away from the internet until I do.

America’s Lost Decade

There’s a really good post today on Daily Kos on America’s Lost Decade. I’ll quote the penultimate paragraph because I think it’s spot on, but the whole thing is worth a read.

“We have spent a decade — and yes, it should be said, under the proud banner of conservatism — doing nothing, as a nation. We have wasted our advantages, and put our own infrastructure in hock, and allowed the greediest and most crooked among us to dictate how the rest of us should live. We were told that giving money to the rich was good, and giving respite to the poor was sinful. We were told in supposedly serious books by supposedly serious men that giving up our jobs and industries would make our nation rich. We were told that our companies knew more about how to govern a nation than our citizens — and we let them draft our laws, and lobby our government, and we squeezed the middle class at every possible opportunity. We were told many, many stupid things by people who now, by any rights, should end up on street corners wearing nothing more than rags made out of their own past pronouncements, but who sadly will never be nearly as inconvenienced by their actions as you or I have been.”

Once More into the Breach

I didn’t want to write this post.

The revised version of the Game System License, which allows third party companies to publish support material for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, came out this week. I dutifully looked it, noted a couple of improvements, but quickly realized it wasn’t enough to get me to change my mind about using the license. An e-mail discussion with my Green Ronin cohorts confirmed that they felt the same way. I didn’t really feel like talking about it public though, so I was going to let it lie, but then queries started rolling in. Lots of folks wanted to know what GR’s plans were regarding 4E with the license change. I realized then I was going to have to say something, so here we are.

The reason I was reluctant to get back into this discussion goes back a couple of months. I was trying to remember something I did last year and went back to look over the entries in my blog for 2008. Paging through my entries I realized how much time I spent thinking, writing, and analyzing D&D4E;, the OGL, and the GSL. And the upshot of all that was that we did one product, the Green Ronin Character Record Folio. It’s an awesome accessory but ultimately the time I spent on all this was not well spent.

Now you will see people on message boards say that GR never seriously considered supporting 4E because I hate WotC, blah, blah, blah. While our ultimate decision is to go our own way, that was in no way predetermined. We had discussions about what 4E could mean to our various lines as far back as 2005. After it was announced, we brainstormed a bunch of ideas. I started doing some research and taking notes for a potential new campaign setting. We look at what sort of adventure support we might provide. We considered a 4E Freeport Companion to join the four we had already done. I even commissioned a conversion of an unpublished 3.5 adventure so we’d have something to release if the license looked good.

Had the rollout and the terms of the license been better, perhaps things would have ended up differently. The fact that it took 10 months from the announcement of 4E to the actual release of the GSL was in itself a problem for a company of Green Ronin’s size (never mind the fact that the announced plans changed several times throughout that period). GR sells into the book trade, and that means that ideally we want to solicit new books 9 months in advance of release. Well, I certainly wasn’t going to solicit books for a game I hadn’t even seen using a license who terms I didn’t know. Nor was I going to start designing blind in the hopes that it’d all work out.

It became clear during this period that there was a faction with WotC that wanted to close the door to third party publishing all together. There were also advocates, most notably Scott and Linae, but it seemed they were in a constant battle to make anything happen at all. The resultant license, the GSL, looked like an attempted compromise between the factions within WotC that probably pleased no one. It certainly pleased few of the established third party publishers. So within two months of the release of the original GSL, a revision was announce to address some of these concerns. It took over six months for that to happen, and while the revision has some improvements the core of it is very similar indeed to the original.

Now while this was all going on, Green Ronin was by no means standing still. We had existing lines like M&M; and True20 to support, a new game line in A Song of Ice and Fire to launch, and new deals to negotiate. The company had begun diversifying away from d20 material many years earlier so it was really just a case of continuing that momentum. While d20 was good to us and we published some great books in that era, we ultimately got to a place where we controlled all of our own lines and were beholden to no one.

So when the GSL revision came out, I had to ask myself if I wanted GR to get pulled into WotC’s orbit, even a little bit. The answer had to be no. I don’t ever want to have to wonder again what a new edition of D&D; means to my business. I don’t want to worry about whether 5E or 6E is going to be open to third party publishers. I don’t want to live with the spectre of the wrong person becoming an exec at WotC and wrecking my business with the stroke of a pen. It’s just not worth it, particularly for the level of sales we’d be likely to see doing 4E support. (The best anyone has been able to say about sales of third party 4E stuff is that it’s better than late era 3.5 sales, which is like saying that Friday the 13th Part 13 sold more tickets than Friday the 13th Part 12.)

And even leaving aside all the business talk and analysis for a moment, it might still be tempting to publish something for a game that we were excited about. I spent the second half of last year both running and playing 4E. I would play it again, but I have no burning desire to design for it. Nor do my GR cohorts. It has been my experience in the game industry that you don’t do great work on a game that you aren’t passionate about. You may recall during the d20 boom, a bunch of established companies jumped into the pool once they realized there was money to be made. They didn’t really know or care about the rules and that was clear in the resultant products. Fans quickly sussed this out too. Well, I don’t want to be one of those guys who is designing through gritted teeth because that’s what he thinks “the kids” like these days.

I know there are some GR fans who were hoping we’d end up doing some 4E support. I’m sorry to disappoint you but I know that I’m making the right decision here. We can be much more successful working on games that excite us and that we control. Creatively and financially, it just makes more sense for us to chart our own course.

Thrilling Tales of Retail Hell, Part 3

I had moved to New York City to go to college and ended up staying there for 9 years. I loved the city and still do. Before I moved to Seattle thogh, I had a brief detour back to the Boston area where I grew up. After several years of freelance writing for roleplaying games, I had decided it was time to move into publishing. I started a company called Ronin Publishing with my brother Jason and an old friend named Neal who was also from my home town. We decided that we really had to all be in the same city, so we got a place in Somerville, MA and I moved up from New York.

Overall, that year was pretty dismal. I had some savings when I moved up but that wasn’t going to last. I needed to find a day job because selling the Whispering Vault RPG was certainly not going to pay a livable salary. After four years slinging coffee in NYC, I desperately wanted to do something else. I signed up with a temp agency and did some horrible office jobs here and there, but kept looking for something steadier. My resume at this point was a bunch of retail jobs and RPG writing credits that meant dick to anyone outside the game industry. I sent out resumes and went on interviews, but could not find anything decent. Then one week I saw in the paper that a new coffee place was opening in Kenmore Square and it needed an assistant manager. I bit the bullet and applied. I thought at least being an assistant manager might not be so bad and Kenmore still had some life in it at that time.

With all my coffee experience, they of course offered me a job. They said, however, that the new cafe wasn’t going to be ready for several months. In the meantime, I could work at their other location and get trained in to their way of doing things. And where was this other location? South Station, the main train station in Boston. And when I say South Station, I mean right in South Station. There’s a series of doors that lead out to the tracks and their coffee stand right in the middle of that wall. Thousands of commuters pass right by it every day as they rush for their trains.

So I had to get up around 5 am to be there for 6 am opening. For the next four hours it was sheer pandemonium. Endless commuters wanting their coffee now, now, now. Things would slack off a bit around 10 and then rev up again around noon. There was no time to get to know my co-workers, no time to interact with customers,no music to listen to, nothing. It was, at best, soul crushing.

Management, of course, can always make a situation worse that was the case here as well. During my first week when I was racing to fill orders, the manager stopped me as I was lifting up a carafe of milk to pour it into a customer’s coffee. She said, “Didn’t anyone tell you about our signature tip?” I had no idea what was she was talking about and feared to find out. “No,” I said, bracing myself. “What’s that?”

“We don’t pick up the carafes and pour. We hold them by the top and tip them to cream the coffee. It’s our signature tip. Customers expect it so you have to do it.”

I can only imagine what my face looked like in that moment. This is the sort of mindless coporate bullshit that makes me seeth. Still, I needed the work, so while I thought that not one customer in a hundred had any fucking idea about their signature tip, I grunted something noncommittal and went about my business.

A few days later I had another run-in with the manager. She had noticed that I had a nose ring. Yes, she was a perceptive one; I had gotten it in France a couple of years before. “Well,” she said, “You can’t wear a nose ring while you’re at work. It’s not sanitary.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. “It’s not like I’m dipping my nose into the coffee as I serve it.

“Sorry, it’s our policy.”

I desperately wanted to give her my signature fist at that moment, but I held back. I took out the nose ring and tried to find a way to make working at that hellhole palatable. I kept hoping the Kenmore location would beckon so I could escape, but that didn’t seem to be moving at all. In the end I lasted at that place for less than a month. The money was not worth the aggravation and work was mind-numbing. The manager was not surprised when I quit. She didn’t think I was fitting in too well on their team. No shit, lady.

The funny thing is that now I cannot even remember what the place was called or the manager’s name. Just as well.