Monday, August 30, 2010

Interview With Frog God Games, Part 1

Today and tomorrow, we'll be featuring a Q&A with Frog God Games, the new publishers of Swords & Wizardry (and they of the late most recent online hobby dust-up). I asked them about their associations with Necromancer Games, their plans for Swords & Wizardry, their attitude towards the OSR, and much more.

Editor/Developer Bill Webb, Writer Greg Vaughan, and S&W creator Matt Finch took turns answering my questions. Enjoy, and we'll be back with Part 2 tomorrow.

First off, thank you for agreeing to this Q&A. Frog God is a spinoff of Necromancer Games, right? Why the change in names, and what’s the history there?

(Bill) FGG was created to separate my interests in Necromancer Games (owned jointly with Clark). Greg Vaughan and I started the company in May. Clark and I talked, and since he no longer has the time to devote to this, we agreed that I should start a new corporation to ensure intellectual property and finances were separate. No hostility or anything, it was for purely legal reasons. Since he was Orcus, and I have always been “froggie”, the name made sense.

(Greg) Bill told me I wasn’t cool enough to get into Necromancer. Just kidding. Actually, FGG came as a total surprise to me, one of Bill’s sudden bouts of genius. He and I and Paizo and everyone have been talking for years about how to get the Slumbering Tsar mega-adventure into publication. I wrote it six years ago for Necromancer, but it was slated to release right when the 4e crash occurred. It sat for years waiting a way to reach press, and then Bill had the idea to start FGG and release it as a serial. With the proceeds from it, it enabled us to look at more options for publication of some other unreleased materials and even new materials. And that’s how we got to where we are today with S&W.

What do you think Frog God Games will “bring to the table” in terms of product? Where are your strengths as a publishing concern? What can you “do” for products such as Swords & Wizardry, which is already available in another edition?

(Bill) Old school feel modules. We specialize in adventures. We do them well. I was the creative director at Necro; so if folks liked Necro they should like us. We may do other stuff like DM utilities (see Mother of All Encounter Tables by Necro etc.), but we do modules as a preference; just like Necro did. Our strengths are that we are, and continue to be guys who have always listened to our audience, involved fans in writing projects, and helped people publish their own “magnum opus”.

From the Pathfinder perspective, the objective remains very similar to what we were doing with Necro Games. It’s to provide solid adventures and resources with an old-school feel.

From the Swords & Wizardry perspective, it’s obviously different. Swords & Wizardry is already about as old-school as you can possibly get. It’s a project that has been built up over the last couple of years by a large and creative base of writers and artists at the various messageboards dedicated to preserving the rules, the feel, and the playing-style of out-of-print D&D editions.

What we bring to the table for Swords & Wizardry is a larger slate of products, not a change in the way they are being done. We help pull together the authors, the layout art, the illustrations, and all the various resources Matt needs, and that means he has more time to write and to oversee the titles we’re producing for S&W.

The other big benefit we bring to Swords & Wizardry is a larger market, and the benefit we bring to that larger market is Swords & Wizardry. It’s probably not news to any of the old-schoolers out there that the old school message boards, in particular, can be scary places for newcomers who aren’t completely familiar with the older material. There are a lot of people out there interested in playing 0e who don’t frequent the old school message boards and can’t afford an expensive boxed set that’s now a collector’s item. Swords & Wizardry will get people playing 0e. In fact, it’s a good introduction to 1e as well. There’s going to be a lot of overlap across a lot of games, but S&W is a very strong focal point to get that moving.

In terms of our internal structure, we also have a stable of artists that have stuck by me personally for many years. Rick Sardinha is perhaps the finest cover artist in the industry. His awards (including several GenCon best of Shows) are numerous. His maps rock too. Rowena Aitken is nothing short of spectacular.

(Greg) Adventures, adventures, adventures, and some stuff to help DMs with their adventures. We’re not looking at devising new rules systems here, we just want people to be able to make the most out of the ones they have whether that be S&W or Pathfinder.

(Matt) From my standpoint, Frog God is going to make it a lot easier for me to keep doing what I do, which is to write. Swords & Wizardry has always depended on volunteers to fill in the gaps where I can’t do something at top level; Verhaden and Jim Kramer have stepped in to help with layout, Marv Brieg helped adapt my highly-supplement-based 0e game into a WhiteBox version, many artists have contributed phenomenal art to the rulebooks, the modules, and Knockspell Magazine. But there are difficulties in organizing volunteers – not everyone has free time available right when it’s needed, and also I’m not very good at getting out there and asking for help, to tell the truth – I hate asking for favors, even when there’s a whole messageboard full of people offering to help. It’s just a thing about me. Maybe it’s the anxiety/bipolar disorder, I don’t know. But I find that difficult. The team at Frog God makes it easier for me to hand off the more difficult parts of a project to people who are good at handling those parts. I am definitely not saying anything negative about the volunteers, here – it’s the volunteers who built this game – but in order to pull it forward into a larger size/scale, which is what we’ve always wanted to achieve, it helps to have a team “on tap,” if that makes sense.

Projects from the player base, whether they are one-person productions or a collaborative effort like the monster book, are still, ultimately, the guts of S&W. When people on the boards want me to help organize that sort of collaboration, I am all for it. Working with FGG is more like a new layer that creates an underpinning for the activity – this material is targeted at bringing new players into the fold, and for those players who aren’t into internet messageboards, it gives them support resources that are easier to find. Because Bill has the high profile that will raise the visibility of S&W. Hopefully there’s a feedback loop that benefits the messageboards, the fan community, and even any DIY gamers out there who happen to hate the internet. It’s a broadening of scope on all fronts.

Let’s talk some more about the “Complete Edition” of Swords & Wizardry, which is what you are working on publishing. What’s in it—rather, what makes it a “Complete Edition”?

(Matt) The heart of the Complete Rules is the inclusion of the full set of 0e character classes (with one exception – the illusionist from the Strategic Review isn’t in there). To emphasize the “make the game your own” side of things, we added two more alternative ways to order the melee round; one of these is the Holmes Blue Book system, and the other is based on, but isn’t identical to, the optional system included in Supplement 3 of 0e. There are a few other additions from the later supplements; ability scores have slightly more effect for high scores than they do in the Core Rules – basically as in Supplement 1.

It should be emphasized – this is not intended to supersede the Core Rules. It’s an alternative or a resource, depending on how you want to use it. Swords & Wizardry now has what I think are the three main iterations of 0e. There is the WhiteBox, published by Brave Halfling, which covers the game when it’s played with the extremely low power levels – hit dice are all d6, spells go up to level 6 only, monsters inflict a standard 1d6 damage (except ogres and a couple of other exceptions). The Core Rules are the middle ground, representing the step upward to the Supplement 1 power levels where there are variable hit dice, variable damage, and higher spell levels. The Complete Rules represent the game as played not only with the Supplement 1 power levels, but with several character classes.

Each of these three approaches to 0e has a very distinct and characteristic feel. Of the three of them, the Complete Rules may actually represent the greatest shock to players who are expecting 1e out of this, because so much is familiar on the surface, but there are weird, wonky undercurrents below that surface appearance.

Are you still working with Clark Peterson (from Necromancer Games) in any capacity on your new projects? I know he had earlier raised some concerns about the legality of one of the retro-clones titles (OSRIC). Obviously you wouldn’t be supporting a product (Swords & Wizardry) you felt was illegal; is this just a difference of opinion?

(Bill) Nope—Clark is not involved not on anything FGG. I have no opinion on the legality of any other OSR system, but I had S&W vetted through my lawyer, and he agreed that it was compliant. That is one reason we will not have an illusionist (from Strategic Review) in our rulebook.

(Greg) I still want to meet Clark, but Bill tells me I have to become a fourth order frogzletyte before I can. I’m still just a junior tadpole (sigh).

OK, I have to ask, otherwise someone will bring it up: there was a bit of a flap the other day about the quote on the “About Us” part of the website that seemed to be read, well, dismissive of DIY efforts on and places of that sort. Bad copy?

(Bill) I am a “not so careful guy” when it comes to this stuff. I think I write better adventures than I do ad copy, yes. That’s why Clark always did the web postings and I did creative. Oh, and I took the quote off. But anyone who lived through d20 knew what I meant I think. I am a straight talker and not what one could term…well, PC.

The quote (may it rest in peace) was not related in any way to DIY folks—the target was a couple of larger guys who I think make junk and charge a bundle for it. I personally, and FGG and Necro before it, have and always will support DIY publishers.

It’s worth mentioning that I’m one of the fanboy buyers from Brave Halfling, NOD, Fight On! and some others who are well known publishers in the old school.

From the very beginning of this, Matt and I have been kicking around different ways to support the various old school conventions and also the guys who run out-of-print games at the bigger modern conventions. We’re definitely making a commitment to sponsor NTRPGCon already, since it’s in driving distance of Matt’s house, and he can bring stuff there. GaryCon is a bit more difficult to get to, so that’s definitely one of the areas where we’re accepting suggestions.

About the flap over my comment: I am the first to admit I am wrong and make amends. I pissed a few folks off because they did not understand the context of what I was saying, and I apologize. That being said, it’s over now and if they still are mad, so be it. Our products will speak for themselves.

Stay tuned tomorrow as we tackle D&D 4e, support for Pathfinder, future plans for Frog God, and more!


Anthony Emmel said...


I'll admit that I was a little miffed when I first read the quote on the FGG board, but, savvy internetz pwner that I am, I waited before blasting off with all cannons. I'll admit that I'm glad I did.

To me, your explanation does not seem like "backpedaling" or "spin" and is fairly and reasonably stated.

That said, I'm looking forward to the Complete S&W book.

jaerdaph said...

Nice interview - thanks for doing this and thanks to Frog God Games for participating.

In the interview, Greg Vaughan said "I wrote it six years ago for Necromancer, but it was slated to release right when the 4e crash occurred."

What exactly is the 4e crash?

Theodric said...

Interesting interview, though it's a shame the verbal kerfuffle is still a topic of conversation. I wish the best to all involved in this venture, which I will watch with interest!

Greg V said...

By 4e crash I was referring to the the time after 4e was announced when many 3.5 products and lines were killed. Tsar in particular was stopped at the printer just before production. It was a crash from the standpoint of the 3.5 industry as many distributors dried up.

Tim Shorts said...

I'm very interesting in what FGG comes up with. I read the statement and sure it was a bonehead thing to say even in the context it was used, but I have and will again say something no so bright.

Bring on the adventures.

Rowena Aitken said...

Very nice to be described as spectacular :)