Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Interview With Frog God Games, Part 2

Yesterday was the first part of our interview with Frog God Games, the new publishers of Swords & Wizardry (and Pathfinder products, to boot). Today, in Part 2, we cover a bit about writing for 4th edition D&D, a bit more on Swords & Wizardry, support for Pathfinder, and plans for the future. Thanks again to Bill Webb, Greg Vaughan, and Matt Finch for all participating!

Going back to Necromancer Games for a minute, because I think folks (including myself) are curious: A lot of people were expecting to see some more releases from Necromancer in support of D&D 4th Edition. What happened there, and why the change in supported systems?

(Bill) I could not write 4e. I assume it’s a fine game, but its not the same game that I play. Frankly its rules confused me and made me want to play and MMO or Warhammer Fantasy Battle. The legal issues w/ 4e were uncomfortable; but I don’t really understand any of that stuff; Clark does. Suffice to say I will not produce 4e, and Clark is on an indefinite hiatus from the game.

(Greg) There was originally talk of me converting Tsar to 4e. While I respect 4e as a game, I simply did not believe it was viable to still be able to capture the heart and intent of what I had written in that framework. I know that sounds weird, but I have written 4e and I have written 3.5 and Pathfinder. I wouldn’t have been able to pull off a translation that did it justice. That said, translating backward through editions is certainly a possibility…

Call it the OSR, Old School Renaissance, DIY Grognards, Neoclassical Gaming, etc.—there’s a big community out there, providing a pretty wide range of homegrown support for classic and classically-inspired editions and iterations of the game. Where do you see Frog God fitting into that?

(Bill) Well, I am one of those guys, just not a big poster on the message boards themselves. I play S&W because my old white box set is falling apart and I wanted to teach my kids to play the same game I learned (my 8 year old is a formidable gamer). I have hosted a Wilderlands campaign since 1978 (maybe 1977—brain is failing me. I never really bought into the “upgrades”. I have played 2/2.5/3/3.5/Pathfinder, and they rock; they are still “the game”, but I like a simpler open format that is OD&D, and I have always come back to it. I was actually awarded the “Golden Grognard” award at the ENnies one year, so “these are my people,” as my wife is fond of saying. (Yes, I know that for the S&W players, the ENnies aren’t exactly the hallmark of old school, but hey, it’s a nice award).

Most importantly, let us know what you want us to do and what we are doing that makes you happy, sad or mad. My email is public knowledge, and I am the guy who takes complaints. I can be found at bill@talesofthefroggod.com or at necromancergames@yahoo.com. I NEVER mind folks giving us feedback; good or bad. That is my job (and why I get $5/hour and why everyone else gets $4—not kidding by much either). We are keeping our forums at http://necromancergames.yuku.com/ , but that may change in time. Matt’s S&W forums will stay open too at http://www.swordsandwizardry.com/forum/ .

(Greg) Wait, we get paid hourly?

If it helps people to understand what I’m targeting, I want to be the Judges Guild of 2010. By bringing higher production quality to the market, we hope to attract more people to the game. By letting Matt write, and not produce and edit, we hope to get more of his (brilliant) stuff out there.

We want to widen the audience, bring more folks back to the game, and produce cool stuff to help that happen. Pathfinder is a great game too—and lots of folks play that. We also want to support that audience and keep people rolling dice instead of clicking mouse buttons. We like to produce fan-written material, and most importantly, modules. I think the term module has been lost to the game in many cases. A module is something that is “modular” and fits in where a DM wants it to fit in. we don’t want to “tie you in” to canon like FR did. I want the community to take or leave our stuff in whole or pieces and make it work for the way/setting in which they play.

That’s part of the reason I never “cashed in” on a Necromancer World setting like about 100 other publishers did. You have your setting, I want to make stuff for you to use in YOUR setting. JG was different for me; I wanted to do that so I could use it. That and the fact that Wilderlands is about as cool a product as I have ever seen.

Frog God will make books to support tabletop roleplaying games, period. I sincerely hope that all the DIY guys will keep doing the same. I also hope that I can help some of these guys get to press. I have to say, there are market realities. Artists, cartographers and printers don’t work for free—so some folks will like or hate prices as they see fit.

(Matt) Okay, let’s use loaded terms like “OSR” and see if we can make Tim Kask mad again. I’m sooooooooooo not touching that one with a ten foot pole. Does FGG “fit in” with the current model of the traditional OSR publishers? No. Clearly. FGG uses a “sales model” that’s quite different and based on how to work in a larger market. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I think it’s neutral. I don’t think marketing models affect gaming one way or the other – it’s the quality of what’s produced.

Bottom line: This will bring more players to the table, and more modules to the table, whether the company itself fits the normal profile or not.

Your company is supporting two OGL games in Swords & Wizardry and Pathfinder that are quite different. How does your philosophy or strategy change (if at all) when writing for one vs. the other?

(Bill) First off, those modules are going to appear for both systems, but the different games mean that the conversion process, whether it’s from PF to S&W or from an S&W module to a PF one, is not a matter of cutting and pasting – the games are very different in the way they are played, and that means a lot of in-depth conversion to align a converted module to match the rules it’s intended for. Chuck and Greg play Pathfinder, Matt and I play S&W. Robert, Rick etc. play 3.5. None of us plays 4.0. We all support both games as a venue for folks to play the game as it was intended. Pathfinder is very complex and rules heavy—some folks love that. S&W is very freeform, and some folks love that. Personally, I have experimented with higher complexity (I ran a game using Balboa Games systems for 2 years), but I keep returning to simple d20/d6 rules. I like being a player in Pathfinder Games but I don’t know how Greg DMs it—its very confusing to this old frog.

My production philosophy is “high quality rules all.” That means content, art and maps. Some folks may not like that, but I will only produce what I consider to be professional looking, quality content stuff. No filler. That is a personal issue for me.

Obviously, not everyone has the same aesthetics. Some people like non-gridded maps like the one in Supplement 2. Some of us prefer the blue maps from B1. I happen to like darker colors (easier to see while gaming) and a more Judges Guild style. I’m willing to spend money to get that style done well.

Most of our profit goes into the next set of art and maps and printing. I guess we will make a bunch on our final book, when that day comes.

Our game philosophy is “old school,” and when I say that I don’t mean with all the theory and brouhaha that’s become attached to that phrase. At Necro, we called it 1e feel. Matt always says it best—“Imagine the Hell out of it” is the motto.

(Matt) Yep. Imagine the Hell out of everything.

(Greg) As a writer of adventures all the way back to 1e (yeah, I know, not 0e, but that was even before my time), I have found that many of the adventure concepts translate extremely well across the systems. In my opinion, 4e was the first D&D system to break with that in that the adventures by necessity began to take very different forms in format and play style. My first published adventure in Dungeon was a 3.5 update of an Expert rules adventure I had written for the Isle of Dread. I understand that the rules are significantly different and can be invasive, but the story still stands and works, which is what I think and adventure is all about: the shared story of its participants painted on the primer of the writer.

Let’s talk Pathfinder-specific for a minute. What products will you be looking at doing in support of Pathfinder?

(Bill) Everything (probably) except rulebooks will be done in both formats—to be clear, NOT dual statted; but as separate books. Slumbering Tsar may or may not be done for S&W because its huge (500k words) and I am not sure Matt and I will have time to convert it soon.

What else is in the pipeline for Frog God Games?

(Bill) Right now about 40 books, with more on the way. Most books will be short (24-32 pages). Our website details what is for sale now or soon. The most exciting are the Complete Rulebook and the Slumbering Tsar hardcover (really 14 modules in a huge book). We will be producing a few other DM utilities for use in both systems, but our real focus will be on One Night Stands and Saturday Night Specials. This is where I am looking for 12k word submissions for writers. I’ll have a guy handle the Pathfinder stats. It’s a great way to have folks get published and for a broad audience to get their work. Share cool stuff around as much as possible is the goal. Matt and I will also be writing for this line. What these are is (from our site):

“Remember when the world was a sandbox and you just inserted modules into your campaign whenever and wherever you wanted to? Remember when companies like Judges Guild and TSR produced short stand alone modules, not tied to any setting or campaign? Remember when the cost 5 bucks (ok we can’t do print books for 5 bucks anymore, but we can do that for the pdfs)? Remember when you directed the action independent of what the “world” rules said was there? We do, and in response we decided to fill the gap with our One Night Stands and Saturday Night Specials series.

These modules are designed to be played over the course of 1-2 nights. Each is a sandbox style short adventure (One Night Stands) or a short dungeon crawl (Saturday Night Specials). Frog God Games knows that in this day and age, sometimes a DM just needs a short trek to take his players on, or to fill those regular gaps and interludes in his campaign. Sometimes its just fun to enter a dungeon and kill things for a night! Old school feel is the trademark of these product lines. Look for easy deaths and tough puzzles. Frog God Games is not made for rookie players.

These series are designed as stand alone modules and are typically between 24 and 32 pages. We have designed just one piece of cover art for each series in order to keep the price point low (though the cover art is rockin’, and the interiors and maps are all of usual Frog God Games quality!). All of these books will be released in both Pathfinder and Swords and Wizardry format.”

We will also be doing some sandboxy min-campaigns, and a very cool temple based series called Splinters of Faith—10 modules with adventures revolving around different aligned religions and temples. Very deadly and very fun.

This really is what is currently written, and art is in process. Lots more as soon as I figure out what we are doing next.

(Greg) I don’t know; Bill passed Creative Director duties on to me and Matt so he could run the company, and I haven’t been allowed to get up from my keyboard to look around since.


Anthony Emmel said...

"That’s part of the reason I never “cashed in” on a Necromancer World setting like about 100 other publishers did. You have your setting, I want to make stuff for you to use in YOUR setting. "

And you know what? That worked out great for me. I reember on theBG boards everybody was pushing for Bard's Gate. I wasn't exactly thrilled...how would I set BG in my Greyhawk game?

Then a fan came out with a map that located some NG modules in Greyhawk (along with Castle Zygag and some others). And you know what? It actually fits well!

("Dunfalcon" is Greyhawk City)

At the time I was running Hackmaster 4E, but I "hacked" several NG modules for my game (W0/1, Abysthor, etc).

Welleran said...

Good interview.