Saturday, June 7, 2014

3PP Interview: Jeremy Smith & Andreas Rönnqvist, Dreamscarred Press

This week I interviewed Andreas and Jeremy of Dreamscarred Press. Read on to learn more about publishing, psionics and more!

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Andreas: I'm the proud father of two kids (a son and a daughter), husband to the world's greatest wife and a gamer/nerd of all stripes. I work as a project manager in the daytime and most of my other free time is spent with game design in one way or another. I've been gaming since I was 5 and roleplaying since I was 9.

Jeremy: I'm a software developer by day and a game designer by night. I have a wife and two young children who keep me pretty busy, but manage to find time here and there to also do game design and run a publishing company. 

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

Andreas: It depends, if you mean RPG design in general or professional? In general, I was always a tinkerer, tweaking and changing, understanding the rules so I could take them apart. Professionally, it all started with Jeremy deciding to continue the work he and his fellow authors had begun with Untapped Potential. With a company that showed that fans could produce great material, he showed me the way. Since then I've worked on, in some capacity, every book Dreamscarred Press has released (which is alot!). The best experience is without a doubt meeting Jeremy and getting to know him and his family, then the very friendly publishing industry that we are part of.

Jeremy: I started RPG design doing on the old Wizards of the Coast messageboards, posting new material for 3.5 psionics and participating in the psionics community, until eventually figuring out how to start a pubishing company for those projects. Since then, my projects have largely remained for psionics, for 3.5, 4E, and Pathfinder. Publishing Psionics Unleashed was definitely one of the best experiences - we'd always simply produced expansions for other publishers' psionic rules, so it was nice to put out THE book for psionics for a system. Then getting to create Ultimate Psionics - a book that can stand side-by-side with a Paizo-produced book and not look out of place - was amazing.

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

Andreas: Passion and a respect for the limits the system has. Every product needs to be built with passion for the subject in one way or another, otherwise it becomes bland. Understanding how the system works and what limits it has, allows you to work with those limits instead of against them, making sure your work is both balanced and interesting.

Jeremy: A good product is interesting, useful, innovative, and balanced. Creating products that do things in different ways, that are fun to play, that are WORTH playing in the game, and that don't cause problems with game play are critical parts to making a good product. Unfortunately, most of that is subjective, especially if you come up with something that's extremely innovative. But that's the fun of designing.

When and how did Dreamscarred Press get started? 

Andreas: Jeremy and three others decided, after Complete Psionic was released by Wizards, that they could do better. They wrote a complete book with new material for psionics and released it in 2006, and afterwards Jeremy was the one interested in keeping Dreamscarred Press alive, so he carried the company forward. I joined just after that by approaching him to release my "Mind Blade Feats" - but we grew to like each other and we constantly talked and developed, even though he lived in Texas and I lived in Sweden, we found that we worked well together. My first piece turned into more pieces, I helped out with his projects and over time the books kept coming and we realized that we had become partners. These days, I'm an author, but I also handle some of our freelancers, our non-psionic projects like Path of War, Akashic Mysteries and a third line of products that we haven't had a chance to release just yet. I try to handle marketing, keep an eye on sales numbers, badger Jeremy about new ideas and try to bring in as much project management as I can into the company.

Jeremy: Dreamscarred Press got started in 2006 when I collaborated with several other designers on a bunch of new psionic content and we needed a company to publish it under.

What can you tell about the products of Dreamscarred Press?

We're best known for releasing the unofficial psionics rules for Pathfinder, because that is where our biggest passion is, but we have done and do alot more. Like I said we've released Path of War, which is a "rethink" of the Tome of Battle for 3.5 and the Akashic Mysteries is on the verge of release, a similar "rethink" of Magic of Incarnum. We have our own Campaign Setting, Third Dawn and we've got a few projects that we aren't talking about until we have something people can playtest. We try to do everything we can to keep our material well playtested and in the open and our fans have been nothing but awesome.

Can you give us an exclusive teaser about a future product?

If you want exclusive, well, our Third Dawn Campaign Setting Kickstarter has been something we've been talking about for a while now, and one of the rewards for that is to get to put your mark on the campaign setting by getting to help design portions of it that, until now, have never been detailed. These are extremely limited quantity rewards that let backers get a chance to directly design a campaign world that will be published and distributed to gaming stores.

In addition, we have a product in the early phases named Dawnborn, and, well, the fact that I'm even giving that name is an exclusive teaser, as we haven't talked about it publicly to anyone!

What are the best things about your products and what type of players or GMs would you recommend it/them for? 

Andreas: Everything and everyone! Well, it kinda depends. We naturally think our books are great and we think most players and GM's would enjoy them, but with that said - people who want to try something new, but still familiar. Like we said earlier, psionics, martial disciplines and mysteries are essentially things that existed before that have been given a new chance with us. Third Dawn is a post-apocalyptic world where magic has died and psionics has risen in its place, which too is new, but also familiar. So when you want to bring something new to the table, come see us.

Jeremy: I think the best things about our products, and what I consistently tell people when I meet them at gaming events, is that everything gets publicly playtested. We don't just do internal playtesting - we post things online for everyone to see and provide feedback. It drastically alters the way we design our books, but makes them significantly better in terms of quality and balance, at least from our point of view. Players and GMs looking for something different than the standard options in the Core Rulebook should come and check out our books - we put new spins on a lot of different things.

What are the current goals for Dreamscarred Press? What are the biggest challenges? 

Andreas: Finish everything! Ship everything! We had a very successful Kickstarter for Ultimate Psionics and we agreed to do alot of books, but they take time so now we are scrambling to finish all of them and ship it out to our fans and customers. With Jeremy being the only one physically available to ship items, it has become a huge burden on him that I can't help with, which sucks. So that is our biggest challenge, and at the same time one of our goals. Another goal is to spread our wings a little, and explore new ideas and find new games.

Jeremy: Our goals are to finish up fulfilling our Kickstarters so that we can get started on Third Dawn. We've been itching to work on the campaign for several years, but couldn't start on a new project until we finished the old one. Our biggest challenge is that we suffered from Stretch Goal Syndrome in our first Kickstarter and are just now starting to crawl out from under the mountain of work we made for ourselves. The good thing is that once it's done, we'll have a ton of books in our library, but getting all that work done as a small publisher is very difficult.

Is there anything else people should know about Dreamscarred Press and its products? 

Andreas: Oh wow. Well, that we're just two guys doing this in our spare time - we don't have any full-time employees, we don't have an awesome warehouse - we're kinda small. That said, we are passionate about gaming, and making quality products!

Jeremy: We are always open to feedback on our books AND to potential new projects, so don't hesitate to let us know what's on your mind.

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

Andreas: Either I come across something great a person has written on a forum - which is how Path of War and Akashic Mysteries got started, we get a good reference from another publisher, or we make an open call for something specific. However, that said, if you feel you have a solid idea, do get in touch with us. Same goes for artists - think your style fits us? Send us some example work and give us a ballpark figure for what you charge per image.

Jeremy: Thus far, it's been mostly by keeping our eyes open for people with projects that would be good to publish, or people contacting us. For artists, we'll occasionally find them via online portfolios like Deviant Art, or by checking out products from some of the other publishers in the market.

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

Andreas: Shipping. With that I mean, being able to deliver. Missing a deadline is ok, life happens, making it a habit is not ok. Have a consistently good understanding of the rules and apply liberal amounts of creativity. Having tested out your work in the forums (Paizo, ENWorld, Giant in the Playground, Brilliant Gameologists and so on) is always a good way to garner experience in design. And, being completely honest here - being inside our price range. Like I said before, we're small, most of our profits we pour right back into new books, but that means we can't afford all price levels. If you're flexible, tell us that - otherwise we might reject working with you simply because you shot off with a too high price. I've had fantastic conversations with artists that go out and read blogs telling them to price themselves at a certain range and them ending up with not getting hired. What is true for one industry doesn't make it true for RPG publishing.

Jeremy: Communication is absolutely critical. Life happens, especially when this isn't your day job, but don't just drop off the radar for months at a time. Even if you do deliver that project, it's unlikely we'd want to do another project when we don't know if or when you'll finally finish.

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?

There's not really a typical assignment. We've had freelancers do an entire adventure path, or just 500 words of psionic items to include in a larger work. But generally, if we're approached by someone about a project, we ask for a quick pitch of what they had in mind, then we give them feedback, get their thoughts on the feedback, and do this back and forth until everyone is on the same page. Next is either an initial treatment or outline, or the first draft, depending on the project. Then we go through a round of back and forth feedback on that. This is why communication is so critical. This continues until we hit on something we feel is ready - then we send it off to editing, artists and layout.

What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers?

Be flexible. One of our freelancers started out discussing one project but ended up Lead Designer of another. Another one started helping out, for fun, on one project and then got to lead design on another, related, book. Heck, the same designer has been tapped for various projects since then, simply because he is flexible. Make us trust you is also important - if we trust you, we will come back with more and more projects for you. Try your hand at design in public, and if you get good feedback, come find us. We might even find you!

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

To like work that ISN'T designing or writing. Everything about being a publisher, running a Kickstarter and so on, is about work. Making estimates, contacting people, asking for quotes, doing math, doing more math, shipping stuff, remaking stuff, crying a little inside, crying a little on the outside (often joy, sometimes not), laying things out, editing things, doing customer support, playtesting, revising, finding freelancers, doing taxes, understanding fiscal years, not designing a logo that is too similar to someone else's or get threatened with being sued. Marketing. Social media. Forums. Stuff getting lost. <- All of that is being a publisher or Kickstarter. Either learn to love it, love it from the start or find a publisher that is ready to take you on as a freelancer if all you wanna do is game design.

What skills, tools or other resources do you consider to be the most important in RPG publishing?

Stamina. Willpower. But seriously though, the more you can do "inhouse", the easier your life will be. If you can write, do art, do layout by yourself you're in a good seat. Learn InDesign. Either get good at art, or invest in art. Learn how licenses work (OGL, Creative Commons, Art Licenses) and use that to your advantage. Be passionate - you're going to need that passion to fuel those late nights. Stop watching TV (seriously).

What do you find most rewarding about RPG publishing? What about least rewarding?

The fans. Easily the most rewarding part is seeing the fans, talking to the people who use stuff you write, knowing that the seeds of an idea that was born inside your mind blossomed into something someone else was willing to use. All the fantastic interaction with fans is great too. I love that. The least rewarding? The stuff that HAS to be done or everything else grinds to a halt. It can be heavy lifting sometimes.

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

Andreas: Make sure that this is what you want to do. Publishing or Kickstarting is pretty much the same - like I said before, it's a lot of work that ISN'T game design. It's a lot of work, be ready for late nights and squeezing in answering emails on the cellphone while in the car wash, because that time is efficient time then. :) You're becoming an entrepreneur, with that comes all the hard work, but also all the joys. Have fun - if it stops being fun, stop doing it or figuring out how to make it fun again.

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