Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Interview with a Designer: Jade Ripley

In the Interview with a Designer series, I interview people working in the RPG industry, whether as freelancers authors, illustrators, cartographers, developers, or in other positions. This time I interviewed Jade Ripley who is probably best known for his work with Dreamscarred Press. Welcome, Jade!

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Well, the name's Jade Ripley (born and raised). Been playing RPGs since I followed my dad to a D&D session one day when I was 7 and got to play the heal-bot cleric, fell in love with the idea and kept coming back. Since then I've dabbled in a little bit of just about everything. It's exciting to get to try out new systems and see where they take the hobby I love. 

How did you get into RPG design? 

I suppose it depends on how you want to define that ~_^ I've been homebrewing stuff since before the rise of 3.0, though I didn't really become a dedicated homebrewer until partway through 3.5's run. The community I was part of - Giant in the Playground - had very high standards and some very keen minds, and they taught me a lot of what I know today. 

Professional design has been a new thing in my life. The story makes me chuckle when I remember it: Chris was embroiled in a debate about codes of conduct and their place in Path of War. I'd just noticed that my old friend was getting published and added my thoughts on the matter. A couple of hours later, I had a job offer to handle codes of conduct. Juuuuuuust codes of conduct. Things snowballed quickly. 

What kind of projects have you worked on in the past? 

My homebrew projects were almost all base classes and prestige classes, with a side order of spells, feats, and races that range from horrors I wish I could forget about designing to quirky little guys I still use in my home games. When I came to work for Dreamscarred Press my first project was my involvement in Path of War. I got an offer to edit Psionic Bestiary soon after, though, and that rapidly became re-writing large bits of Psionic Bestiary and the wonderful chance to work on psionic dragons.

Since then I've done some of, well, everything. Co-writing Bloodforge let me play around with races, with a lot of feats, and with prestige class design (I cannot take credit for the spells or items; my co-author did a great job on those). Psionics Augmented: Wilder was my first shot at a more traditional psionics supplement and introduced me for the first time to power design. 

What have been your best experiences? 

The entire process for Psionics Augmented: Wilder was one of my most enjoyable experiences as a professional author. Everything clicked wonderfully, including the flavor, and it was a joy to design for. And despite my (near-constant) complaining and grumbling about this or that, I loved the challenge of monster creation and the chance to stretch my race-making legs. In all honesty though, I'm having a ton of fun with the current project - Lords of the Night - because the chance to create a supplement that transforms campaigns is both rare and fascinating. 

I heard Dreamscarred Press hired two people at the end of February. And you are one of them! What can you tell about that? 

Honestly it was a fairly natural development. I've been working closely with the bosses for awhile now, and I've got my claws in a lot of projects, with contributions or theme work or fluff, or editing. It just seemed like a logical step, y'know? 

What type of projects have you been working on recently? 

The two big ones that still aren't released are Path of War: Expanded and Lords of the Night. The former adds tons of new content to the Path of War line, and has been an interesting experience because of our need to balance it into the meta of our three big subsystems (akasha, maneuvers, and psionics). Subsystems are always an exciting challenge in that regard, and while it's not quite as challenging as if I'd had to build it from scratch it's still really interesting to work in. 

Lords of the Night, with co-author Alex Clatworthy, has been unlike everything else I've worked on thus far. I mean, sure, it has feats and prestige classes and spells and the like, but its focus is transformative in nature; it offers tools to run a campaign where players are vampires. We've had to explore advice and options for both players and DMs, offering tips and mechanics to make the players feel like the pro-active predators of their world and expanding on the worldbuilding consequences of vampires existing. It's been a fascinating exercise, and I hope I can do something like it again in the future.

And we're working on something, ah...different, on the side. I can't reveal any details, really, but Matt & I are chipping away at the edges of it while we get some of these other projects off our plate. 

What do you consider your biggest strengths as a designer? What skills do you seek to improve the most? 

Y'know, this is kinda hard for me to talk about. I'm not the greatest person in the world at self-examination, but if I had to pin a pair down I'd probably say versatility (I've designed some of everything) and the ability to turn themes into functional mechanics that express those themes.

Where improvement goes, item design is a big weak spot of mine, especially in terms of item pricing. I'm still not confident about my spells-and-powers game either, but I'm getting more practice in there. Aside from that? Deadlines. Deaaadliiiines. There's not a thing I've published that wasn't published late. Ask the boss. 

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

I look for three things in my design and the design of others: elegance, clarity, and awareness of the system. No matter what you set out to do, if you can't do it simply and clearly it probably isn't going to get used or used well. Pathfinder RPG has become a very popular system, which means it gets a lot of new or inexperienced players. The best products let those players have cool stuff without having to put themselves through hell and back trying to learn to use it. If you offer something cool in the fluff, make it cool in the mechanics, y'know?

Aside from that, just a general concern for formatting and presentation helps give the product the appropriate 'feel' when you're reading it. It's a little thing, but the little things add up. 

What skills and/or experience do you consider useful for a freelancer to have? 

I've had the pleasure of working with a few freelancers, including two as co-authors (Alex Clatworthy & Matt Medeiros). The biggest thing I'd suggest in a freelancer is system mastery. You can teach someone wording, you can get an editor on their grammar, you can fix formatting, but system mastery can be a toothy little bastard and it's hard to teach in the timeframe most projects take place in.

Beyond that? There are almost no skills that aren't useful. The more you know, the more handy you are to have around and keep around. Every project I've worked on has involved item design, most have included spell or power design, prestige class design, feat design. A talent for knowing how your mechanics will translate into a play experience is highly suggested, and you can practice that at home - after all, everyone has house rules, right? Altering those lets you see how mechanics create a play experience, which you can take with you when you design. 

What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers? 

Sacrifice goats to dark powers on a consistent basis.

Additionally, practice practice practice. The only difference between a beginner and a master is a master has had more chances to fail; can't learn if you don't design. Hang out in a homebrew community. Observe discussions on how players are fitting new mechanics into the metagame. And when you get feedback on your designs, dig and keep digging. The more you can understand about the game you're designing for, the better those designs will be. 

Is there anything else people should know about you? 

I dunno about 'should' but I'm a father of two (hi kids!), possibly terminally addicted to caffeine, and I write various kinds of fiction on the side. You can look forward to seeing some vignettes on the official site (dreamscarred.com), actually! Having a more robust page up has really opened up our options as far as presenting fiction, worldbuilding fluff, articles and even web supplements to existing design.

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