Saturday, September 6, 2014

3PP Interview: Eric Morton Presents

In my second blog post for today, I'm interviewing Eric Morton, whom many people on Paizo messageboards remember for his 200+ monsters available on Today he talks about his new Animal Races product line, self-publishing, and other things!

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Let me start by saying I appreciate the opportunity to participate in your blog.

My name is Eric Morton, also known on the Paizo messageboards as Epic Meepo. I learned to play RPGs when my father gave me a Dungeons and Dragons boxed set he picked up at a demo in the early days of the industry, and I've been an enthusiast ever since. I have been gaming for twenty-seven years and working as a freelancer on-and-off for seventeen.

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

My first design credits were several articles I wrote for Dragon magazine back when it was still in print. I have since written a dozen or so stand-alone products, and contributed to a few more. In addition to my paid freelance work, I have also written several hundred pages of free online content, including over one-hundred archetypes and two-hundred monsters appearing on

Some of my best experiences as a designer have actually come about as a result of my unpaid work. I never cease to be amazed by the goodwill I earned from that content, especially among the Paizo messageboard community. Long after I moved on from those projects, readers were recommending me to publishers looking for freelancers. Needless to say, I am grateful for their every recommendation.

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

Pathfinder is a game with many interlocking parts: races, classes, archetypes, feats, traits, skills, spells, etc. This degree of complexity results in an interesting situation where players (and GMs) can interact with the game on multiple levels. On one level, players actually play the game: they roleplay characters, explore imaginary worlds, and tell compelling stories.

On another level, players can experiment with the mechanics of the game while not actively playing: they can build hypothetical characters, test strange combinations of rules, and otherwise explore game mechanics outside of (or in tandem with) events occurring within a particular game.
Sometimes, a campaign works on both of these levels, with the players' agency in the game world impacted by the rules they investigate between sessions. Time spent studying rules may, for example, represent training a player's character is undergoing in-game. Just as often, these two layers of interaction are separate. Players in a game may handwave or houserule away some of the game's more complcated rules, for example, while players without a game may still have fun tinkering with rules.

I think the best products provide value in all of these situations and more. When possible, a product should include enough story elements to inspire in-game events, along with enough rule elements to entertain players who are exploring the rules for the sake of the rules. More importantly, the story elements and rules elements of the best products compliment one another and the game as whole; they fill a particular niche in a way that is logical, consistent, and easy to use at the table.

When and how did Eric Morton Presents get started?

Eric Morton Presents released its first three products last month.

I had not originally planned on starting a long-term publishing venture. My initial intention was to self-publish two large, one-shot PDFs and leave it at that. As I worked on those, however, I realized that a series of shorter products could be better accomplished with the resources I had at my disposal. Any larger projects I work on in the future will reach a wider audience if I first attract readers with a series of products that are focused, affordable, and fun.

What can you tell about the products of Eric Morton Presents?

Animal Races is the first ongoing product line from Eric Morton Presents. Each product in this series presents a new, playable race based on a different animal or group of animals... with a twist.

Unlike a bestiary or a typical book of player character racial options, the Animal Races product line ties every new race it introduces together with a shared history inspired by real-world evolution. Each animal race can be used as a stand-alone player character option, if desired, but any combination of animal races can be included in the same setting without their diversity feeling forced.

With the appropriate combination of Animal Races products, for example, boggards, catfolk, gnolls, lizardfolk, and orcs can all be related to one another through a combination of genealogy, history, and mythology (with some heraldry thrown in for good measure). What started in the bestiaries as five unrelated humanoid races are now playable races that are tied together by a common thread.

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

I can answer a question you might be asking after reading my previous answer: how do orcs fit into a product line devoted to animal-themed races? In the early days on tabletop gaming, orcs were often depicted with pig-like snouts. Animal Races: Clan of the Pig uses that old-school orc imagery as inspiration, adding new options for porcine orcs and half-orcs.

Which, I suppose, is more of a spoiler than a teaser. So I will add this: expect some new dhampir variants in the not-to-distant future. That probably qualifies as a teaser.

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

I have designed the Animal Races product line for players who enjoy having a wide range of nonstandard races at their disposal, both for mechanical reasons and for story reasons.

On the mechanical side of things, each animal race has customizable ability score modifiers, racial traits, and racial feats. Many can be either Small or Medium (player's choice). Two members of the same animal race can be remarkably different, and may diverge even further as they gain new feats and new racial traits.

On the story side of things, I make an effort to touch on the roleplaying aspects of nonstandard races that many players enjoy. Each animal race has its own psychology, religion, and society to help set it apart from other races. When appropriate, I call attention to motivations and personality quirks that apply specifically to adventurers of a given race.

At the same time, the Animal Races product line is for GMs who like consistency in their game worlds. Too often, product lines present a hodge-podge of unrelated character options whose place within the same setting is not immediately obvious, especially when those options are new races. At best, you get an approach where each character option comes from a different, distant land.

In contrast, products in the Animal Races line suggest numerous, in-game connections between the various animal races they describe. If you can find a way for your campaign to incorporate even one animal race, any of the other animal races can be smoothly incorporated into that same world through the various relationships which tie those races together. 

What are the current goals for your company? What are the biggest challenges?

My current, short-term goal is to release at least one new product each month. I want to establish myself as a publisher who regularly releases new content while also creating a backlist of available products. I want to have enough older products available for sale that supporters of my publishing efforts can regularly revisit my backlist to grab products they may have missed.

The biggest obstacle I face is, oddly enough, my day job. If not for the forty hours a week I have to put in at another job, I would be able to work that much harder to grow my business. One of my longer-term goals is to grow my readership and reduce my reliance on other sources of income. That way, I can spend more time creating fun and interesting game supplements for other gamers to use. 

In your opinion, what are the most important things to consider when starting self-publishing?

In my limited experience, the most important things to consider when self-publishing are your target audience and your pitch: who will want to purchase your products and how are you going to pique their interest? In most cases, having an amazing idea for a product and having the design chops (or freelancers) necessary to pull it off will probably not be sufficient, on its own, to attract readers.

Someone with more industry experience than myself may come along and correct me on that at some point in the future, but until that happens, I am going to operate as if the above statement is true. Based on that, I would recommend that new publishers come up with ideas for more than one potential product line. When it comes time to get started, pick the one product line that best stands out from the crowd. Be flexible enough to find and fill niches that are being underserved by other publishers. 

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

If you are looking to publish a regular series of products, the most important skills you will need are good planning and good time management. You will have to juggle writing, editing, layout, illustration, and marketing for multiple products at the same time. I can only imagine that print-on-demand publishing adds even more layers of complexity to the task. Good planning and good time management will reduce (but not necessarily eliminate) unexpected headaches and delays.

The most important resource you can have when publishing is access to other publishers. When other publishers make themselves available on public forums, ask questions. Look for publishing-related groups you can join. Participate in public conversations where publishers are talking about publishing. Independent research is no substitute for advice from someone who is already working in the industry. 

What do you find most rewarding about self-publishing? What about least rewarding?

To me, the most rewarding thing about self-publishing is the creative freedom I enjoy. While it can be fun making contributions to shared worlds and product lines controlled by other publishers, there are many times when I simply want to do something my own way. As a self-publisher, nothing is stopping me from doing that. The only people I answer to are my readers.

The least rewarding part of self-publishing, as with any business: taxes. 

Is there any further advice you would give to someone interested in self-publishing?

Check back with me in a few years. As I get more experience in the world of publishing, I hope to expand and refine my efforts. If I manage to do that, I will likely have more and better advice for self-publishers than any insights I can offer today.

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