Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Interview: Marc Tassin & the World of Aetaltis Kickstarter

In my second Kickstarter interview, Marc Tassin discusses the World of Aetaltis: The Temple of Modren Kickstarter. There's three more days to go, so read on to learn more about it and go check out the official webpage.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I started gaming when I was in 7th grade, and I’ve never stopped. I love the unique qualities of RPGs, primarily the ability for a group of people to collaboratively create their own stories. By day I work on the management team of a software company. I also run the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium (www.genconwriters.com).

How did you get into RPG design and what kind of projects have you been working on? What have been your best experiences?

When I started gaming, I immediately gravitated toward the role of GM. Assembling a creative framework for a story and handing it over to my friends to see what they do with it is extremely fun for me. You have a rough idea of where it will end up, but you’re always surprised by the outcome. It’s great. Designing RPGs was the natural next step for me.

I’ve done work for Dragon magazine and Shadowrun, and I’ve also published around a dozen short stories. My very best RPG design experience is the Kickstarter I’m running now. The team of people I’m working with are so supportive and positive about the project, that it’s a joy to work with them.

In your opinion, what makes a good Pathfinder RPG compatible product?

First and foremost it has to be a good gaming product. That means it needs to strike the right balance between creative and functional utility. Cool ideas, gorgeous pictures, and great writing are all awesome things, but you need a product that provides a well-designed, fun set of game elements as well.

As for Pathfinder compatibility specifically, I want to see balance and familiarity. I do like to see new ideas, but I don’t want to wonder if it’s going to mesh well with my official Pathfinder products. I need to know that if I drop this product into my weekly Pathfinder campaign, it’ll mesh seamlessly with what we’re already doing.

When and how did the World of Aetaltis Kickstarter get started?

I started designing the World of Aetaltis more than ten years ago. The goal was to create a fantastic world that embraced all the things people love about fantasy games and fiction where creative people could collaboratively shape its future.

I started planning the Kickstarter around two years ago. Again, with collaboration as the heart of our hobby, working with everyone out there right from the start to launch the world made perfect sense.

What can you tell about the World of Aetaltis?

When I set out to build Aetaltis, I went around and collected up all the old tropes, clichés, and stereotypes that other fantasy worldbuilders chopped out and tossed away. I sorted them all out, cleaned them off, recharged them, and then handed them over to the best creative minds in the industry. The result is this project, where people like Larry Elmore, Ed Greenwood, Michael A. Stackpole, Larry Correia, David Farland, Dave Gross, James L. Sutter, and Mel Odom are helping to build new legends in a world that embraces everything we love about fantasy.

The reality is that the fantasy elements we're all familiar with became clichés because they got used a lot, and they got used a lot because so many people LIKE them. The problem isn't that these fantasy elements get overused, but rather that they get used poorly. I believe that we can have a compelling world filled with fantastic stories without sacrificing our stubborn dwarves, evil dark lords, fireball spells, and heroic champions on the altar of contemporary revisionism.

You'll need to judge for yourself, but based on the response both from backers and contributors, I think we got it right!

Can you give us an exclusive teaser about the World of Aetaltis Kickstarter?

Absolutely! The World of Aetaltis is just the beginning. It represents your doorway into an entire universe that I plan to reveal as we launch more products over the next few years. In other words, Aetaltis is just a stepping stone on the way to even larger adventurers.

What are the best things about the World of Aetaltis and what type of players or GMs would you recommend it for?

Since I already talked about the great creative people involved and the type of world we’ve created, I think what I’d like to reinforce is that our goal is to produce a steady supply of top quality products. This isn’t a one off for us. From the artists to the designers to the editors, I’ve assembled a team of industry veterans to put this product together. Many of these people are the best at what they do.

Aetaltis is a great choice for gamers that love classic fantasy, want to see it done right, and want the confidence that the product they are getting is top quality and continuously supported. That’s what we’re setting out to do, and I’m excited to have folks that want a part of this backing the Kickstarter.

What are the current goals for the World of Aetaltis Kickstarter? What are the biggest challenges?

Our goal is to unlock every stretch goal. That means $50,000 by the end of May. It’s a tall order, but it’s within reach if we people continue to support the project and spread the word.

The biggest challenge is getting the word out! That’s where we really need help from people right now. I’m working tirelessly to promote the project as are our contributors, but we need the gamers out there to help us. Otherwise, we all lose a fantastic opportunity to bring a new world to life.

Is there anything else people should know about the World of Aetaltis?

Have questions about Aetaltis? Just ask! I personally respond to every email and comment about the project, and I’ll continue to do that no matter how many I get. The email address is contact@aetaltis.com.

How do you generally find new freelancers to work for you? What is the application process like?

I approach either people I know or people whose work I’m familiar with. This means the application process is more of an invitation than an application. That said, the door is open to anyone who is especially good at their craft. The application process is organic, so just send an email and we’ll talk.

What are the main requirements for a freelancer to work for you? What other skills and/or experience are useful?

The ability to produce top quality, clean work in a timely fashion is vital. If we have to spend a lot of time editing, if we’re tidying things up due to a lack of care, or if work is coming in late, it’s not going to work. If a freelancer can deliver these things and has great ideas, they have a good chance with Aetaltis. Previous publication credits are a good way to prove you can do the job, but they aren’t a requirement.

Can you describe a typical assignment you give to new freelancers? What steps does the process typically include from the freelancer's point of view?

When I assign a project there are a few key things I’ll share. The first is the context, that is, where and how the piece they are working on fits into the larger story. The second is the goal. What is the big picture objective this piece needs to achieve? Finally, I’ll give some broad details about my expectations, things like tone, special requirements, and the like. Beyond that, I work very hard to leave lots of creative space for freelancers to work in.

After they have the assignment it’s a back and forth. The freelancer provides a summary of what they plan. I sign off on that. They then provide the first draft. We go back and forth a little to polish the work. When it’s done, I sign off on the final piece and they get paid!

The process is nearly the same for art, short fiction, game material, large components, small components, and anything else on a project.

What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers?

Always turn in the very best work you can produce presented in the best way you manage and always turn your work in on time. These two things are more important than almost anything else. If you have even a small amount of talent, you can be successful by following those two rules.

In your opinion, what are the most important things to consider when starting a Kickstarter?

Run your numbers. Go into a Kickstarter knowing exactly how much the project will cost and exactly how much financial wiggle room you have. Go over those numbers, have an accountant go over the numbers, then go over them gain. Kickstarters are stressful business, and that becomes MUCH worse if you hit money problems. Get your financial pieces solid, and the rest is a LOT more fun.

What skills, tools or other resources do you consider to be the most important in running a Kickstarter?

A pool of talented people that you can rely on to help you get the job done is vital. Look at every aspect of the project and say, “Who do I know who could help.” In the end, you may have to pay a bit more than you would have, but it’s worth it to ensure that your project is the best it can be and is delivered on time. Most importantly, it will help you to maintain your sanity throughout the process.

What do you find most rewarding about Kickstarter? What about least rewarding?

I love running a Kickstarter for the same reason that I love running role-playing games. Working with a group of people, from the artists and authors to the backers, to create something incredible is just a fantastic thing.

I’m not sure that there is anything that is “least rewarding”, but one challenge I ran into and didn’t expect is that there is far less of a feedback loop than I’d like. You know people watched the video, but you don’t know what they thought. You know people looked at the page and didn’t back the project, but you don’t know why. This is a tough thing to get used to.

Is there any further advice you would give to someone interested in running a Kickstarter?

Plan to live and breathe Kickstarter for the entire campaign. People told me this before I started, but I didn’t really believe it. It’s true! It’s like an extremely fun 30-day marathon!

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