Monday, July 26, 2010

Sneak Attack: 10 Questions With Rogue Games

Today, we have an interview with Richard Iorio, one of the two minds (along with James Maliszewski) behind Rogue Games. Rogue Games recently celebrated an ENnies Honorable Mention (Best Rules) for their Colonial Gothic Revised RPG.

They also have two much-anticipated releases coming up, both with Thousand Suns Revised and the brand new Shadow, Sword & Spell (which, I have to tell you, is as exciting a fantasy RPG as I've read in a good while). Rich was kind enough to answer 10 questions about their upcoming products, Jamie Mal's Dwimmermount, and more on this small press publisher's philosophy and future.

Rich, first, congratulations on the ENnies recognition. Is this your second time being named in the awards announcement? Not too bad for a relatively "small-press" company, I'd say.

Thanks. Yes, this is the second time. Our first nomination was for the cover of Thousand Suns, and that was a surprise. The second nomination was another shock. James Maliszewski (business partner and co-Rogue) and I never thought we would be here when we started in 2007. Hell, we never thought people would notice us. It is humbling to see that we are not only still doing this, but gamers like what we do.

Shadow, Sword & Spell (SS&S) is up next for Rogue Games, right? Why will people wanting to check out this fantasy game versus the others on the market?

Yes. Shadow, Sword & Spell is the next game for us. When we started James and I wanted to do games that applied to us. That is why we went with Colonial Gothic and Thousand Suns. We love fantasy and when we worked together at Zeitgeist Games when they had Dave Arneson's Blackmoor, we had lengthily discussions on what we liked and did not like about fantasy. For the longest time we held off on pulling the design trigger on the game, but eventually, we realized we had a different vision for the game, and a clear goal in what we wanted to create. This leads me into the second part of the question.

I think one of the appeals of Shadow, Sword & Spell is the approach. From day one, what we really wanted to do was create a fantasy game that was humancentric and inspired by pulp fantasy. The three writers, for us, who are important for the genre, and the inspiration for the game is Howard, Lovecraft and Smith. What we really strived to do is create a game that would allow you to run a fantasy game similar to how these three wrote. It is fantasy filtered through the Three's lens.

The first release of SS&S is the Basic Game, right? What will be included in that, and what are plans for the "Expert" followup?

To be honest, Basic would be the only book you need. In designing and writing the game we wanted a game that was complete. Everyting from a setting to monsters is in the book. Basically "Basic" is all about the early years of being a hero. Think of Howard's Conan stories of a youth. He is still learning about the world. Basic takes this approach. It stands alone.

Expert is the End Game. Using Expert you will find rules and guidelines of running games when a hero becomes powerful and gains their own domain. Expert, in many ways, is influenced by Howard's Kull, in that the Kull stories are about a hero who gains a throne. So Expert is the end game, but it introduces more powerful topics and rules that do not fit with Basic. You will find Relics, as well as rules on creating items of magical power, monster design, and a mass combat system which will allow you to run battles easily.

Expert and Basic is all you will need and using them you could easily create a campaign that is either focused on a small area or allow you to have a world spanning game.

You've released the Revised version of Colonial Gothic, and are also working on Thousand Suns Revised. What can purchasers/users of the original Thousand Suns expect from this?

James has said that Thousand Suns Revised is being done because he wants the game clearer and cleaner. We have learned a lot since we've released the game, and we want to take those lessons and make the game better. Nothing is changing when it comes to the rules. If you like the original book, that is still valid and anything new we add will be given to you for free. Yet, if the denseness of the game puts you off, we hope that a cleaner version invites you to take a second look.

Basically, we do not want anyone to feel as if they are getting ripped off. The game is the same, and the Revised is being done because we want to make the game cleaner and clear up a lot of over writing.

So in short, expect a clearer game that is not as sprawling as the first.

OK, I have to ask, for all the grognards, and Grognardia fans: what's going on with Dwimmermount?

I do not know what you are talking about. :P

Dwimmermount, as many know, is James' sandbox megadungeon. We never thought we would release it, but demand for it became to much to ignore. The plan is, at least currently, is to release the first five levels at the end of the year. James is writing the book now, and it is moving fast. Eventually the whole thing will be released, but we are starting small. What James wants to do is create a supplement that shows you how megadungeons work.

I know you'll be at Gen Con this year (booth 1539). What will Rogue Games have going on at Gen Con?

Selling games. :)

Every year Gen Con grows more and more chaotic for me. I am running a pick up game the night before the con starts, and I might be running another pick up game on Friday. Basically when I am not in the booth, I am in a meeting.

Paizo Publisher Erik Mona has said some extremely complimentary things towards Rogue Games. That had to feel pretty good.

Yeah. Here comes the word many people hate that I use, but I was humbled.

This hobby and business is such a thankless thing sometimes. You design in a vacuum, and sometimes you wonder if people realize what you do. When someone like Erik Mona mentions you and complements what you do, it is nice, but it is humbling. We just try to design games that are fun and are games we would want to run. We hope we live up to all the good words people say about us. In the end, however, it is about the games. If people play them and have fun, then we did our job.

If you could, talk about community and fan support. What can a small press publisher to offer a better or different experience than some of the larger companies? What can you do to stand out in those areas?

This is a good question. My rule of thumb with Rogue Games is very simple: Treat people they way you want to be treated.

This hobby is so small, that it is very easy to forget that without a community of gamers, we could not do what we do. Smaller companies have one advantage that the larger ones do not have, and that is our size. Because we are small, we can interact directly with the customer. James and I answer all emails within 24 hours. I reply to messages via twitter and IM. It is important to keep the channels of communication open, and we really strive to let people know what is going on. Customer Service is the key, and many forget this. For us smaller publishers, this is the one area we can really stand out.

The big way we can stand out is our approach to selling our product. We can be more personal.

Back to the ENnies for a minute: as a publishers, have you noticed an uptick in interest or sales on products nominated or mentioned by the ENnies?

Somewhat. What I notice more, however, is the uptick whenever we release a new title. What is more noticeable is web traffic post announcement. When the ENnies nominations were announced I did not know until I checked my daily webstats. I saw a spike, and that clued me in something was up. Nominations and awards a good, but for us, releasing new product is our biggest uptick.

What else is coming up for Rogue Games?

A lot. :)

This year we have Dwimmermount. Next year three will be three new Colonial Gothic releases (New France, French Indian War, and Flames of Freedom: Philadelphia), at least two Shadow, Sword & Spell releases (Expert and either city or a campaign), and Thousand Suns (two releases). There might be some other things, but these are big ones.

In short, we're going to be busy.

EDIT: Wanted to add that Shadow, Sword & Spell will be available at Gen Con Indy!


Gabriel C. said...

Why didn't you ask for a release date of Shadow, Sword & Spell? Or is that so widely known that it doesn't warrant mention?

And the following is not your fault but it might be of interest to anyone who wants to find out more about SS&S:
The interview contains a link to the Shadow, Sword & Spell homepage. That page is extremely sparse on info, and in addition the download link for the character sheet is broken.

Richard Iorio II said...

SS&S is out next month. In fact it will be at GenCon. Once GenCon is over the pre-order goes live.

The SS&S page will be filled out once GenCon is over.

Zachary The First said...

@Gabriel: Sorry, the sheet link worked ok for me. Thanks for the feedback!

PetWerewolf said...

errata: The honorable mention for the ENnie Awards of Rogue Games' Colonial Gothic Revised was in the "best writing" category, not "best rules". Not that there's anything wrong with their rules, mind you ;-)