Sunday, April 12, 2015

3PP Interview: Alex Abel, Flaming Crab Games

In today's interview, Alex Abel talks about Flaming Crab Games.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure can! The name's Alex Abel. I'm a young chap in my early 20's currently hanging out in the Midwest. Ten years ago to this month I was introduced to D&D 3.5. Since then, Friday nights have become the center of my week.

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

Since becoming the group GM several years ago, I’ve slowly worked my way into the world of design without realizing it. I found that I was never truly happy with every rule in 3rd edition/ Pathfinder nor the construction of any published campaign settings. Through these years I’ve fleshed out a couple campaign settings, created standard sets of homebrew modifications, introduced a couple of new feats, classes, etc.

When it comes to projects, I tend to be an idealist. If an idea for a fun project arises I immediately jump on it. I don’t plan on constraining Flaming Crab Games to any specific type of project because I want to have the flexibility to work on many different types of products as inspiration arises. The only significant long term project for me at the moment is my campaign setting, Ren, that I’ve been working on for over five years now.

The best experiences for me so far have been working with others to turn exciting ideas into marketable products. It's been especially great to work closely with our very talented illustrator – Allen Morris ( – on the artwork for many of these projects.

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

That’s a difficult question. If I have to pick, I think the two most important things for me are balance and lingo. To elaborate, it’s incredibly important that a product be balanced so there is no fear of it being easily abused. Being OP is not a good thing. Additionally, products that use language and lingo similar to that of Pathfinder RPG’s will be easier to read and be seen as more professional. In short, I think 3rd party publishers should be held to the same quality standards as Paizo.

When and how did Flaming Crab Games get started?

I can't say I have a particularly romantic story about the inception of our company. I've got about a bookshelf’s worth of tattered notebooks that I've been scribbling and doodling in for years. After notebook number 20, I decided that it might be time to try my hand at sharing my passion with others.

As far as the name of the company goes, that is a very long story involving summer nights in basements, copious amounts of Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper, and a group of adventurers turned pirates.

What can you tell about the products of Flaming Crab Games?

Flaming Crab Games focuses on creating products that fill holes in the system. The first product, the Priest Base Class, was created simply because I could not believe Pathfinder didn't have a clothy divine caster available for players. In fact, every product that I’ve personally created has resulted from a moment in one of my campaigns where I’d find myself thinking, “Gee, there aren't any rules for this?!”

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

Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been working on a campaign setting (Ren) for multiple years now. I’m hoping to get a Kickstarter campaign going for that sometime this summer. One of the most unique things about Ren is the way in which standard races have been reimagined, as well as the number of brand new races that populate this world. For instance, there is a vast empire of Brenguar, who are a combination of man, bear, and cat, and I promise it’s a lot less weird than it sounds! The structure of this empire has both Roman and Middle Eastern influences that I think will make for a very rich and interesting race.

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

We pride ourselves in professionalism and taking feedback to heart. Additionally, we strive for that balance that I talked about earlier. We work with illustrators to create art that weaves intimately with the material we've created. It may be a bit ambitious and expensive, but I avoid the use of stock art except in our Once Upon an Encounter series where it seems appropriate.

I can't recommend our products as a whole to a specific audience simply because we will continue to bounce all over the place. But hopefully we have a PDF for everyone!

What are the current goals for Flaming Crab Games? What are the biggest challenges?

The current goal for Flaming Crab Games is to become successful enough that this can become my day job. After that, I hope to get my campaign setting Ren off the ground. That book (yes, book!) is going to be huge and chock full of gorgeous art.

The biggest challenge for me personally is promotion. Even if I'm very proud of something I've created, I have a tough time showing it off for fear of coming off as rude and pompous. That being said, I’m working on getting news and product release announcements to our followers through Twitter (@Flaming_Crab) and Facebook (Flaming Crab Games).

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

There are a couple ways I have gotten in touch with freelancers. Liz Courts set up a nice page on the Paizo forum for publishers to post and look for freelancers at ( cer-Open-Call). Additionally, I've been getting emails occasionally ( from people that wish to pitch us a product.

As far as applications goes, I expect the freelancer to send me an outline of what they have in mind for a product. Then I want them to send me a writing sample, preferably some crunch showing an understanding of the system, so that I can deduce if they would work well for the company.

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

There are several key things I like to see in a freelancer. Mastery of Pathfinder lingo is extremely important. A freelancer should be able to write a product in the style of Pathfinder’s writers. Additionally, I expect to see an attention to detail. It is difficult to take a piece of work seriously if the author hasn’t bothered to look for spelling and grammatical errors. I want to see that a freelancer has spent time on their piece prior to sending it on to me. Finally, it’s always nice if a freelancer has already worked with a publisher before, but it is by no means necessary. I love to see ideas from both old and new people in the field.

What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers?

Number one, make sure you have a complete understanding of the system you're working with. Your submission needs to be something people are willing to buy. Also, pick up a copy or two of products written by a publisher to get an understanding of what they might expect.
Number two, don't expect publishers to find you even if you have an impressive blog. You need to reach out and contact the publisher personally and let them know you have some cool ideas. Even if a company doesn't say they're looking for writers, don't be afraid to contact them. This sort of ambition is impressive and translates very well.

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

Promote. Promote. Promote. When you're first getting started, it's going to be difficult for anyone to see your work. Big name publishers are going to be releasing products that will drown out your own if you don't speak up. Post on boards, use Facebook, tweet, whatever. Just don't passively create products and expect buyers to come to you.

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

Time management is an important skill. I say skill because if you're someone like me, it's something you've got to work at to master. It's easy to do nothing for hours. You've got to sit yourself down and actually put in the hours just like a nine-to-five job.

Make sure you know your tools in and out. It doesn't matter if you use Scribus vs. InDesign, GIMP vs Photoshop, or LibreOffice vs Microsoft Office. What matters is that you can use these tools well. There's nothing wrong with using free programs while you work yourself up to use the more expensive software. And if you're like me, you'll eventually love the free “alternatives” more than the pricey big boys.

What do you find most rewarding about self-publishing? What about least rewarding?
Every little piece of feedback you get from a product is very rewarding, whether it be positive or negative. My skills as a writer, publisher, and designer have grown exponentially since I've started. It's fulfilling to know that I'll continue to make better and better products as time goes on.

To be frank, the least rewarding thing is money. Self-publishers don’t make the consistent money you can expect at most 9 to 5 jobs. Additionally, we produce for a rather small audience. While it’s very possible to eventually live comfortably with self-publishing, it’d be dangerous to assume you can quit your day job when you start out.

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

To grow you must be able to take criticism. And you've got to put in the hours. There's a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in this strange profession.

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