Saturday, October 12, 2013

Q&A with Jamie Hardy of Perilous Journeys Publishing

I am going to post this now even though I was in the process of brainstorming some more questions for Jamie Hardy of Perilous Journeys Publishing.  As I mentioned in my previous post, an upswing in work commitments is currently eating up a lot of my free time.  Maybe I can do a continuation of these questions at a later time...

Would you mind giving a quick introduction about yourself and your company?  (Whatever you feel is appropriate in this forum)
My name is Jamie Hardy and I am the founder and owner of Perilous Journeys Publishing.  I have always been into games.  My first memories are of board games, in elementary school I moved into AD&D, and most of high school was spent playing AD&D.  I started to get into some other RPGs then, but as many people know, getting players to move to a different rule system after being so used to one system is very difficult.  In college I got into different groups and LARPS that gave me the opportunity to play with those who were fans of different systems and genres. 
The first game I tried to write as a Highlander based RPG in high school.  It was very much in the AD&D rule structure.  I don’t remember much about it, but I am pretty sure it sucked.  I am not sure it really got played either.  Many years later, I now have two RPGs out with SteamCraft being that newest game.  Out first expansion for SteamCraft, tentatively titled Shadows Over Newport will be released soon.  We are also working on some additional products for SteamCraft and have a new RPG in the works. 
With all of the commercial games that are available why did you feel the need to publish your own?
I didn’t think of it that way.  With PJ, it was just putting out the game.  I wasn’t building a company and at best I have broken even with my costs, but certainly not the time I put into it.  SteamCraft was different. 
Years ago, my wife was living in Japan for a while so we skyped.  One day I came across this steampunk stuff.  I read up on it and starting looking at the fashion, its themes, and the people who were getting into it.  So the next time I talked to my wife, I explained to her this steampunk thing.  I told her that since Twilight had killed off the vampire/Gothic thing that I thought steampunk was going to be the next big thing.  I told her that someone should put out a steampunk RPG because it could be huge.  If you could release at the right time, with an easy to use system, you could have a success once steampunk became more popular like the Gothic/vampire stuff did in the 1990’s to mid 2000’s. 
My wife then said that I should do it.  She said that since I had already written an RPG, I had a game system that would work, there should just need to be the need for a setting – and that wouldn’t take too long.  It wasn’t as easy as it seemed at the time.  I built a new system to make things work the way I wanted and world building took a long time. 
Why steampunk? (Have you always been a fan, etc.)
Well, I grew up watching the old Wild Wild West TV show.  I found it awesome at the time.  In that regard, I suppose you could say I have always been a fan of steampunk in some way.  Nevertheless, I think cyberpunk has been a longer direct fascination.  I think some of the most fun I ever had in an RPG was playing Cyberpunk 2020 in high school a few times.  I think after the release of PJ, I started thinking of other genres and was going to put out a cyberpunk version of that.  Then I came across steampunk on the internet and that led to SteamCraft instead.  I am sure what grabbed me at the time was the aesthetics.  I think what keeps my interest is the technology and the type of characters allowed by that technology.  I really like the frontier and individualistic aspect of the steampunk era where scientist and inventors are in some sense the heroes.  Tolling away in a one room shack, they come up with fantastic inventions to help the world or more often, to sell for a massive profit.  I love the idea of needing or wanting something and then someone going into a room, grabbing parts, and then building what is needed.  Steampunk allows that because it harkens to an era where something like that did happen, i.e. Fulton, Edison, Tesla.  It is a much more romantic, compelling, and interesting view of scientists and engineers than what is the case in the modern world. 
I took the aesthetic, technological, and inventor aspects of the steam era and then mix it with the themes I enjoy from cyberpunk and the result is a really interesting amalgamation that is my view of steampunk. 
I noticed the similarities with Gygax’s Lejendary Adventures and how you fixed the frustration I and others have had with that game.  Was that the motivation for Perilous Journeys?
To answer this, I need to put things into context.  I grew up playing 1st edition AD&D and never went on to play 2E.  In the late 1990’s I got onto the internet and found Gary Gygax’s website.  I then went and emailed him and I am sure it was about AD&D.  I know at some point I sent him the Bard as a class and he said some nice things but pointed out because of a settlement he couldn’t offer an endorsement but suggested I post it up on Dragonsfoot. 
Anyway, at that time Lejendary Adventure was in beta.  Gary talked it up, I downloaded it and printed it out.  I got onto his mailing list and we ended up chatting a lot.  I very much had an AD&D outlook on games and talking with him really helped break that mindset.  At some point he decided to let me write a supplement for the setting Lejendary Earth.  The project was much different at that time than what came about.  I started working on a small portion known as the Djarenn Septarchy with a friend of mine.  Anyway, I ended up moving around the time LA was released and I never finished that project.  At that time I think Gary had a lot of people working on various things and I don’t think any of us delivered any of the products. 
Sometime down the road I get back into LA and the old Yahoo Group was replaced by a website.  Prior to Gary’s health decline, I did get involved with a lot of LA potential products.  I wrote up some stuff about necromancers and had an article as well as new spells for the Lejends Magazine ready to be published just as the magazine was canceled.  At another point, I helped a member of the LA community write an adventure.  It was supposed to be produced by Hekaforge, but because LA pretty much failed it was canceled.  Another publisher was going to put it out and I started to write another adventure as part of the deal, and that company went under.  Meanwhile, I was branching off into other games and helping people out for free with writing, editing, and testing things that wouldn’t get published. 
Down the road, Gary died.  Gail Gygax, his wife, pulled all of the contracts she had.  A 2E of LA was planed and then scraped.  At that time, a small publisher wanted to do a retro-clone of LA and get it into print.  I agreed and I started to work.  Well, I was much more productive than he was and plowed through it.  When I was maybe 2/3 done, he contacts me to pull the project.
Around the time I was writing adventures that I thought would be published but new were, I got married.  My wife saw how much time I spent of gaming boards, doing things for other people, and writing projects just to have them canceled.  At the time, I got the impression she was a bit pissed I kept wasting my time.  Knowing this, I decided that I would just do things myself so that I can say at least I got a product completed and done. 
Now that I was not producing a retro-clone, I was freed up to do things how I wanted.  I suppose my overall goal was to produce a skill-based RPG that gave you the openness of original D&D to appeal to those players as well as to the few people who played LA.  That required me to produce a skill-based game around the way people actually played LA. 
I think that Gary was a very smart man, but I believe that what made AD&D great were people around him to challenge him and clean up rough ideas and poor writing.  LA lacked that.  Thus, you got a confusing mess and no one came close to playing it like it was written.  For example, if you play the game as written, you had to come up with the character concept.  Then select the abilities you thought appropriate.  Then you consulted with the GM about what exactly each ability did.  Then, you both had to agree on what the numerical rating of the ability meant.  That is, do you have a broad knowledge of everything, or specific knowledge of one thing?  There were no real guidelines or rules on how to handle any of this.  How did people actually play?  Well, they assumed that whatever the ability covers a PC can do.  Further, you just roll under the rating and the action succeeds. 
In order to create the type of fantasy game I wanted, I thought back on those early conversations with Gary.  One of the notorious things that everyone asked in regards to LA, was what an order is?  Well Gary had imagined that the GM would create a world and that there would be associations that trained people.  If you recall in AD&D, when you leveled up you needed training.  He thought this means GM’s created associations for players to belong to and I got the impression that this was what he had done since D&D. 
What I then decided to do was to take my interpretation of how Gary played D&D and put it into the skill-based system.  Over the years I realized that there is a strong interplay between the game setting and the mechanics and part of LA’s problem was not integrating them.  When doing PJ, I realized I had to integrate the rules with the background assumptions of the setting. 
Along the way, I decided that the sloppiness of the 1970’s style RPG was unacceptable to the modern gamer.  So when creating the abilities list I made sure that each ability was clearly defined to avoid overlap.  I removed nonsensical abilities like Luck and replaced it with a mechanic in the game.  I made sure that you could do whatever was in the list of abilities.  I made changes to the attribute system to solve problems people had. 
I had the LA gamer in mind when I worked on Perilous Journeys.  I wanted a game that they would embrace as well as one that would appeal and make sense to new gamers.  I didn’t want a rule system that contradicted itself.  I wanted to make sure that if there were game world institutions that needed to be incorporated into the rules that it was done.  I wanted to remove the needless restrictions that Gary was fond of putting to games.  I wanted a flexible rules-light system that allowed the freedom of original D&D, but reduced the hand waiving that GMs have to do in that game. 
Perilous Journeys was your first design and it was made available through Lulu.  What have you learned from that experience?  What would you do differently looking back?
I think everyone starts with Lulu, but few stay there.  Lulu makes things very easy for self-publishing.  It breaks everything down into steps.  There aren’t limits to file sizes.  You don’t have to convert your art from RBG, to CMYK, nor do you have to use PDF x-1/a.  They have a great tool for doing covers.  You can do full bleed with Lulu. 
What most people do not know is that Lulu is not a printer.  Instead, they send your files to independent printers.  This is why people do not stay with them.  You can use CreateSpace and save a lot of money and be on Amazon without having to pay Lulu’s fees and higher costs.  DriveThruRPG allows POD now, and their printer is often cheaper.  If your goal is to get your RPG product out there, then Lulu isn’t the place you want to stay.
I am not sure I would have done anything different.  My goal at that time was not to have a gaming company.  It was to see an RPG product I wrote be available and Lulu worked for that.  If there was one thing it would have been to do hardcover instead of perfect bound.  Lulu uses different page sizes for those requiring a different layout.  Since people wanted a hardcover, I would have likely done the layout for hardcover size.  Perfect bound would have still be an option because I can use the layout for the hardcover for the perfect bound, but not vice versa. 
The SteamCraft kickstarter was a success.  I believe you exceeded your goal but, most importantly, fulfilled all backer rewards.  It’s refreshing to see a kickstarter that ends in a positive manner.  Can you tell us about the experience?  (Stuff like did you have SteamCraft completely designed before doing the kickstarter, did you have a plan in place, etc.)
I might be wrong about this, but insofar as I can tell by searching on Kickstarter, SteamCraft is the only steampunk rpg that has fulfilled its rewards and to top it off, we pretty much did it on time.  I believe we were able to do this because of good planning and a bit of luck.  The writing, layout, art, etc were all done and we had the PDF for sale since April of last year.  We used POD to make copies and sold them at conventions. 
It was going to conventions that led us to doing a Kickstarter.  There is another steampunk rpg that was out in the area and they had insane success on Kickstarter.  I started to think about doing one then.  People began to pressure me to just sort of launch it because somehow I was going to be behind.  Instead, I ignored them.  I put a plan into place on how to do a Kickstarter.  I also wanted to know exactly how to do things.  So, I got prices for printing the book.  Got an ETA on how long that would take.  I learned how to get the book into distribution.  I then set a schedule for everything beginning with the Kickstarter.  I then totaled how much money was needed to print the books, fulfill the rewards, and then ship everything.  The only thing that we continued to do was edit the book for a final printing. 
The actual experience of Kickstarter is nerve wracking and a bit addictive.  I found myself constantly checking the totals and waiting for backers.  I was trying to find new places to get the word out.  It was great to be funded and Kickstarter is an amazing way to get your product noticed.  We have fans all of the world because of Kickstarter.  However, the experience was very stressful and having to fulfill rewards personally takes a lot of time.  The current plan is to only do a Kickstarter if we need the money to get a product out.  We have a card game and another RPG in the works, so there may be a Kickstarter for those.   
On the flip side of that question – and you choose to be as specific as you want in your answer – what do you think causes these problems that commonly pop up for kickstarters trying to get a game published?
I assume you mean something along the lines of why successfully funded RPG projects fail to fulfill their rewards or take a long time to complete.  I think that there are many reasons, but I will pick three general ones that I am aware of.  First, is that they do not think about the business side of things.  You need to know how much it is going to cost to print books.  You need to take shipping costs into account.  You need to carefully choose the all too common stretch rewards.  The costs on those can be substantial.  Once you reach you goal and have the money, you need to avoid the urge to splurge the money on upgrades you did not budget for.   
Second, people take on too many projects.  There are at least a few cases of people once they are funded with one project, go and start another one.  Putting out one project is lengthy and expensive, when you add two or three, then things are naturally going to get behind. 
Third, the very nature of Kickstarter leads to delays.  People are there to get money to do the project and have no understanding as to how long things take or how much it costs.  Many people going into Kickstarter have little done.  Some are still “testing” things but have it written.  However, they still need art and to do the layout once the testing is complete.  Of course, the reason why they are on Kickstarter is to get the money for the art, and sometimes pay for layout and editing.  If they could pay for those things, they wouldn’t need to do a Kickstarter. 
In many cases, you are getting in on the ground floor of a project with someone who has never produced a product before.  It isn’t just the inexperience that causes the problems, but how much needs to be done prior to release.  The more that needs to be done and the more people that are involved in getting the project done, the more likely delays are going to happen.  Inexperience and worrying about funding creates unrealistic deadlines.  If someone posted up it would take one year for you to get your book, would you back it?  In many cases I do not think potential backers are intentionally mislead, but I think there is a subconscious motivation to be optimistic about deadlines. 
I think SteamCraft was in a different situation than many other projects on Kickstarter.  We wanted money to do a printing of the book and get it into stores.  Most other people need money just to get their project completed and produce a few copies for their backers.  We were much farther along in the process allowing us to meet our goals. 
As a side note, and I cannot speak to this being a common issue or not, but I believe that many people vastly overpay for art.  Part of it is that people still buy under an old pricing model.  That is they pay by the size of the art in the book.  They pay $40 for a single quarter page, but then have to pay $150 for the same image if it takes up a full page.  That pricing model makes no sense for the modern publishing world.  You should purchase by the piece, not the size it is going to be printed.  Again, that comes back to the first problem I mentioned – not thinking like a business.  But, when you are doing something for the first time you are often going to make mistakes like this.  I was lucky enough to spend time leaning the RPG market before I decided to be a publisher. 
Where do you stand on the retroclones?  (Do you use any of them or don’t see the point at all, etc.  Tell us how you feel.)
Retroclones cover so many different types of games with different purposes I don’t want to lump them all together.  I believe that OSRIC was intended less to be a book for people to use in place of AD&D, but to provide legal cover for people wanting to put out adventures.  That way, the first edition gamer can put out an adventure and say “For use with OSRIC” instead of AD&D.  That makes sense to me.  Most people have never played the original “White Box” D&D.  It is not something you can easily get a hold of.  So, having a retroclone of that makes sense to give people access to that style of game. 
The term ‘retroclones’ can also be used for original but sorta clone products.  People re imagine D&D, but put it in space.  Or I have seen people try to make a Second Edition of AD&D the way that Gary intended it.  These are interesting products and I have no problem with that. 
With that said, I do have some issues.  I see no reason to play a clone if you have access to the original, or if the original is cheaply available.  If you want to play AD&D, then just go play AD&D.  I do not see why people would want to purchase a clone of that.  The books are easily available and pretty cheap. 
What other types of games do you enjoy?
I like most types of games, although a lot of the new German board games I don’t really care for.  I suppose I prefer tactical, simulation, and role-playing games the most.  I like games that involve problem solving, planning, and finding creative solutions.  The medium of the game doesn’t matter.  I enjoy card, board, computer, and PnP RPGs.  This ranges from traditional card games and RISK, to computer games like Civilization and The Secret World.  Of course good old-fashioned slaughter your enemies games are fun, which is why I played Dark Age of Camelot for over 10 years slaughtering Mids and Albs who were invading border keeps in my homeland of Hibernia. 

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