Saturday, June 28, 2014

3PP Interview: Bret Boyd of Tricky Owlbear

This time I'm interviewing Bret Boyd, who discusses his company Tricky Owlbear Publishing, freelancing, and more!

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure! My name is Bret Boyd and I live in a small town in east-central PA. I'm 39 and have been gaming since I was...hmm, I guess since I was 10? Started out, like many, with the Red Box and then scraped together monies when 2e D&D was released in '89 to buy the PHB, etc.. I've had nothing but good times with roleplaying and don't plan on stopping any time soon. My dominantly creative side pretty much demands that I'm the DM almost all the time (and I've always seemed to be the only person with enough time to write/prep adventures ahead of time).

By day, I'm an independent contractor for a courier service (i.e. I drive drugs around to different facilities). I love to drive, so the job is fantastic. However, I drive so much that it really does interfere with my night job of running Tricky Owlbear (as well as the random freelance writing that comes my way).

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

Back when DRAGON magazine was still under the TSR banner I submitted a couple of articles that never flew. But the opportunity and desire to be published (whether in the RPG arena or not) have always been part of me. When 3e and the OGL were introduced, the market was wide open for new writers who had even a marginal grasp of the rules at the time. My entrance to the RPG design field happened when I won a contest with Mystic Eye Games in 2001 for their first "Foul Locales" book. On the strength of that submission, I continued to write for MEG while taking on other freelancing gigs over the years with such companies as Goodman Games, Ronin Arts, Bastion Press, and many other d20 entities.

I think one of my best experiences was penning the very first Dragonstar adventure (the fantasy-space setting published by Fantasy Flight Games in the 3e era) for MEG's "Raw Recruits" mega-adventure. It allowed me to blend my two favorite genres into a fun adventure that was, as I recall, favorably reviewed too! Another great opportunity was being able to write an adventure for Green Ronin's Freeport setting (via Ronin Arts). "Vengeance in Freeport" followed up where the original trilogy of adventures left off and finds the PCs racing against time to stop bombs from ripping the city apart. I had the outline ready for another Freeport adventure entitled "Invasion: Freeport" where a dragonfly-race from another dimension invaded the area but it never came to fruition. And then there's my d20 time travel book "Temporality" from Dark Quest Games which I'd call a "best experience" too. Heh, there's so many awesome moments that I can't list them all here, I guess.

Currently, I'm working on simply getting products out the door for TOP. It's rough to balance a schedule to allow this but we've recently partnered with Fat Goblin Games to easier facilitate the process (my job now being to either write/edit or just edit a product before going to FGG for layout and art). It's nice to have this pipeline of production in place and I hope it can allow TOP to produce a better product in a more efficient manner.

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

A good PF-compatible product is one that brings something not necessarily new but interesting (fills an unusual niche) to the table. And it has to be balanced with the existing rules. Of course, "good" is a very subjective term. One player's "awesome" is another's "meh" when it comes to product topic so I'll stick with balanced and interesting as my answer here.

When and how did Tricky Owlbear Publishing get started?

TOP started officially on 7/7/07 (the "mark of the owlbear" as I like to call it) after my brother suggested we start a company together the year before. I would pen products and he would handle layout and technical concerns. Regrettably, my brother grew increasingly busy with family and work concerns over the 7 years since then so production has slowed on products (see above). I seemed to have some name recognition by that point and thought that total creative control would be fun. I wasn't wrong but I had no idea what went into bringing a product from conception to release. I still probably don't know everything I need to but that's why you make friends in this industry to help you out. :)

What can you tell about Tricky Owlbear's products?

Our biggest feature, I think, is that we generally produce smaller products that fill niches no one is aware of. I'm proud of the Behind the Spells series which has its roots in 3.5 and has since ported over to Pathfinder. Who made the spells these characters use and why seemed like a question that needed answering. The resulting pdf series was produced originally through Ronin Arts once a week for the better part of a year to critical acclaim. The "Behind the Spells: Compendium" remains one of our best-selling products even though it's not "officially" PF-compatible. You can find the few notes needed for compatibility here:

Our one mega-release that's done extraordinarily well for us is the monster book "Forgotten Foes" which is available in in both pdf and print formats (see the Paizo store). Mark Gedak (Purple Duck Games) and Stefen Styrsky came to me with the writing and then Axel Carlsson (Headless Hydra Games) offered to handle the art side of things to create, in my opinion, one of the best monster tomes available from PF-compatible publishers. A lofty claim, I know, but have a look at it and you'll be impressed at the outcome of the team.

What are the best things about Tricky Owlbear's products and what type of players or GMs would you recommend them for?

Our products are for any GM or player looking for something a little different. TOP doesn't do "Giant Book of New Spells/Feats/Items" because other publishers already fill that void very well. Does your rogue want to do a little side job while the party is having down time? Try out our "Rogue's Guide to Capers." Want to multi-class your PC at 1st level? Then "Learning Curve: Apprentice-Level Characters" is for you! Our catalog may not be vast but we are proud of its quality and well-reviewed whole.

What are the current goals for Tricky Owlbear? What are the biggest challenges?

Honestly, the goal at TOP is to simply knock out more great products. That's it! We're happy with what we've accomplished so far and wish to continue doing the same but at a faster pace. The biggest challenge is to keep up that faster pace. We're also keeping an eye on what 5e might be bringing to the table (if you'll pardon the pun) but that's another discussion.

Is there anything else people should know about Tricky Owlbear or its products?

We've been quiet lately but we're very accessible. If you have a question or concern about anything we've produced just send an email my way or contact us via our Facebook page. Reach me directly at:

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

Since TOP isn't my day job, I like to keep things informal. New freelancers generally send me an email with a query (or a link to their work if an artist). That's fine! If someone has a cool idea that they're passionate about and they've demonstrated a decent knowledge of the rules, then I'm willing to talk about bringing that product to the market if I share an interest in it. 

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

You've got to know your rules. Whether or not you're writing for Pathfinder, you must always be very familiar with the rules. Being previously published is not a deal-breaker but it obviously helps publishers like myself know you're not only capable but reliable. Besides system knowledge, please be communicative. If I send you an email and you don't respond for a week, chances are good that I'm not going to continue working with you. Communication is key in any business and RPG design is no different.

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?

I don't give assignments to new freelancers because, honestly, I don't have time. A writer will pitch an idea, I'll "yay" or "nay" it, and then they will send me a few pages of the product which include rules so I can give the project a final "go" or not. Pretty simple, really.

What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers?

If you're not serious about working diligently on a product, don't submit an idea in the first place. Everyone has ideas but it's the special few who see them through to the end that publishers want to speak with. And, of course, don't give up! If you're willing to work and have the ability, you will get your idea to the market. There are many PF-compatible publishers and someone is very likely to work with you if your idea is fresh and you are dedicated.

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