Thursday, January 11, 2007

10 Questions Fraser Ronald

Fraser Ronald is a d20 writer and owner of Sword's Edge Publishing. Their three major lines are Modern Medieval, which presents fantasy classes using the d20 Modern rules, Roles and Classes, which present modern military and espionage classes for d20 Modern and Spec Ops, which provides modern special operations and adventure material.

They have also written a book for Blood and Guts detailing the British special operations forces, B&G II: In Her Majesty's Service. They are a contributor to the Modern e-zine, Modern Dispatch.

Finally, he is the host of the Accidental Survivors podcast that I have spoken of in earlier posts.

I sent Fraser the same questions I asked Phil Reed earlier this week.

1. What do you see as the “next big thing” in gaming?

There are games coming out of the Forge and Indie Press Revolution that dispense with the idea of a GM, making the game more cooperative. That idea intrigues me. There is also an espionage game called “Wilderness of Mirrors” which has the players actually dictate the obstacles which they must overcome. This kind of cooperative gaming, as opposed to having an adjudicator or judge of some sort (like a GM or Storyteller), is very exciting. I don't think it's for all tastes, but I think its a natural evolutionary step in RPG gaming.

2. RPGNow and Drivethru recently merged. What do you think this means for the PDF market?

I was one of the people not particularly pleased with the situation. It creates a behemoth that is very tough to compete against. It allows a single organization, based on its market share, to dictate terms to publishers. There was a lot of argument on whether the merger created a monopoly. I think time will tell.

Now, how could that affect the PDF market? Simply put, the actions of OBS (the merged RPG Now and DTRPG) may be seen by many as the actions of the PDF industry as a whole. If OBS creates a negative impression, that could drive people away from the PDF market. Also, one would expect a merger to create savings, but either this has not been the case, or those savings have not been passed on to the publishers, who have actually seen an increase in costs. This could (and in some cases has) drive the price of PDFs up, making them less attractive. With a lower profit margin, many smaller publishers could disappear, and we might miss the next big thing.

We are already seeing new electronic storefronts popping up, the question is how will these e-stores compete against OBS. It seems, for the most part, these e-stores are letting the publishers do that. By offering lower commissions to the publishers, they offer the publishers incentives to direct traffic their way, in essence, advertising for them. Still, I would be surprised if any other e-store offers OBS serious competition, at least in the near future.

3. Related to question #1, where do you see PDFs specifically headed in the next year.

I'm not good at predictions. I would guess that we may see fewer PDF publishers. To some extent, that's already happening. I think a lot of the smaller publishers will either disappear or get swallowed. Is this a bad thing? Well, in some ways yes but in other ways no. Losing smaller publishers means many niche products won't see the light of day. On the other hand, a lot of people think there are too many products already.

4. Now look further into the future. Where do you see PDFs five years from now?

I expect publishers will continue to push the envelope of the digital format, trying to create something other than electronic books. Already Silven Publishing has included sound clips with a PDF. I would expect that we'll see more innovations like that. What about video clips? Maybe even links to online resources only accessible through the PDF link.

Also, as younger people—comfortable with reading off a screen—enter gaming, I expect the PDF market will expand. The big complaint right now is that people don't like to read off their screens. For those who grew up with computers, this is going to become less of a difficulty.

5. How did you get into the RPG business? What was your first job in the industry?

In all honesty, I can't remember how I got in touch with Neal Levin at Dark Quest Games, but my first job was a really short piece of fiction. It never got used, but Neal liked my writing and gave me a major part of Gnomes: Masters of Illusion to work on.

6. If you were just starting out today and were ready to try and break into the RPG business, what would be your first step?

I was lucky because I didn't really have a hard time getting my first two gigs with Dark Quest Games. Neal Levin liked my writing and offered me work. However, when I decided to get into writing for Modern, I had some legwork to do. I would still do what I originally did: put together the best damn proposal package I could and cluster bomb the industry. That proposal got me work with RPG Objects (the original Blood & Guts: In Her Majesty's Service). It also got me a great note from Goodman Games which basically said that they weren't doing Modern but they really appreciated the professionalism of the proposal. Even if I hadn't scored work with RPG Objects, that note from Goodman Games would have told me I was on the right track, and I would have kept going with the same: think up a new angle, get a proposal together and send it out.

7. What was the first RPG you ever played?

D&D, the basic set in the red box. I ran our group (two other guys) through Keep on the Borderlands. Oh man, was that a blast. I still have very fond memories of KoB, even though it really made no sense at all. One of the fun things was I had a whole political thing going on at the keep that was always in the background. The group went back to the keep three or four times during the module, and that was the part I really loved running.

8. What are you playing right now?

Sadly, nothing. I recently moved to Ottawa and my wife and I had a baby girl in November, so I haven't had time to really get a group together. Before that, I was in Chris Groff's (another host at Accidental Survivors) Warhammer Fantasy RPG game, which was a lot of fun. I'm working on two possible campaigns right now, one that's a science fantasy rip-off of Flash Gordon and a military adventure set in Albenistan. Neither are for publication, just for fun.

9. If you could snag any licensed property for an RPG, what would it be?

Since Green Ronin snagged “Black Company,” I'll have to say Glen Cook's “Dread Empire” (which he wrote before “Black Company”). The Dread Empire books includes the usual Western European milieu, but it also includes a desert kingdom--very Arabic and Muslim in flavour--a group of city-states and the Dread Empire itself, Shinsan, which is basically China but with an uber-class of sorcerers called the Tervola.

I also wouldn't mind getting licences for any of Guy Gavriel Kay's books. Each setting is basically a template from our own history, but they've each got a unique twist. I think I'd want the Tigana licence.

10. What’s coming up for you? Sell me something damnit!

Right now I'm working on an update of Covert Forces, imaginatively titled Covert Forces Redux. Through the SEP forums, I got in touch with Dominque Sumner, who works in law enforcement with SWAT. He writes for the special operations and SWAT community, and he was able to get me in touch with a lot of new information. I decided if I was going to update the unit entries, I might as well update the whole book, and expand it as well. Covert Forces Redux will include new classes (a mix of the concept of 'training classes' from B&G: Military Training Manual and the spec ops classes from SEP's Roles & Classes line), expanded 'fluid situations,' expanded discussion on mission types, and more equipment and weapons along with updated unit entries.

I'm also hoping to update our Albenistan series. The plan is to present simply the adventure scenarios, hopefully in one volume. I was never completely pleased with the way Raid on Ashkashem was presented, especially when compared to the Khorforjan Gambit.

There is a military science fiction project that I also want to do some work on, but I have my doubts. A new baby takes up a lot of time.

I'd like to thank Fraser for taking the time to answer my 10 questions. Check back early next week when I'll post my next 10 Questions volunteer, ENWorld's own Russ Morrissey!


Daniel M. Perez said...

Cool series, Charles. Thanks for it.

Chuck said...

My pleasure!

I'm always looking for something to bring you guys and it suddenly occured to me "hey, I know people!"

Hopefully the responses keep coming in and this is a regular feature. I have some feelers out to folks and I'm as anxious to read the responses as you.

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