Friday, June 19, 2015

3PP Interview: Richard Moore of Jon Brazer Enterprises

I interviewed Richard Moore, editor for Jon Brazer Enterprises. He discusses JBE's products, working with freelancers, and more!

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi! My name is Richard Moore. I'm a lifelong resident of North Carolina with undergraduate degrees in both fine arts and science. I've worked in a number of industries over the years, including retail, service, marketing, engineering, and real estate.

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

I started out just designing material for my home games, mostly for the old d20 Star Wars game, D&D 3.5, and Pathfinder. Shortly after joining Jon Brazer Enterprises as an editor, I got the chance to write Book Of Beasts: War On Yuletide, a collection of Pathfinder-compatible monsters for our 2012 winter holiday release that got a startlingly good reception for a niche product. Seeing my first published product pop up on the Paizo Store Blog on Christmas Day was, without a doubt, one of the best experiences of my life!

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

I like products that draw you in without inundating you with irrelevant fluff, which is one reason why I enjoy the short fiction pieces with which our products often open: they're setting-neutral, but still rich with characters and story ideas. A good RPG product should read as well as a comic or novel does, while presenting its mechanics in ways that are accessible to the average player or GM. Most products do one but not the other, and to my mind, if it does both, you're on the right track.

When and how did Jon Brazer Enterprises get started?

Our company president, Dale McCoy, Jr. is a better person to ask than me, but as I understand it, he founded the company in the wake of the D&D 4th Edition switchover in order to continue supporting the 3.X OGL standard he liked so much in his home games. The Book of the River Nations was the first breakaway seller JBE had, because it offered a consolidated set of rules for kingdom building and mass combat at a time when you could only get those rules by buying several adventures you might not necessarily want to run.

How did you join Jon Brazer Enterprises and what is your role or position?

I came on board as a co-editor alongside Kevin Morris in the summer of 2012 after answering an open call Dale posted to his blog. I also design or contribute to several products each year, and I'm cautiously trying on the developer hat for the Deadly Delves line as time permits!

What can you tell about the products of Jon Brazer Enterprises?

We have three main product lines that we continuously support: The Book of Beasts, which are bestiaries built on specific themes; The Book of Heroic Races, which expands upon some less-developed playable races first outlined in Paizo's core rulebook line as well as all-new races by our design team; and Deadly Delves, which is our new adventure line. I had the honor of penning the first entry in the Deadly Delves line last year—Reign of Ruin, a mid-level dragon hunting-themed adventure which is available in both a Pathfinder-compatible and 13th Age-compatible version. We have a few other lines for which we've produced material from time to time, such as Multifarious Munitions (vehicles), The Book of Magic (for players of arcane casters), and The Book of the Faithful (for players of divine casters), but those releases tend to be more sporadic.

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

Hmm... what can I talk about right now? Well, Deadly Delves will have two or three new entries before the year's end, including what is probably our longest published adventure to date: To Claw The Surface, a subterranean exploration-themed module by Adventure-A-Week veteran Michael Allen. I'm also developing an adventure for that line in collaboration with a huge team of freelancers, many of whom are RPG Superstar veterans. Our Book of Heroic Races Advanced series continues to develop as well, and you can expect new installments of that on a more-or-less monthly basis through the end of the year. Currently we have elan (written by George “Loki” Williams of Planewalker and Suzerain), androids, and lizardfolk in the pipeline. I'm writing the lizardfolk supplement, and one request that came up time and again in the feedback threads we started was an option for lizardfolk who have dragon ancestry, so there'll be a solid amount of dragonsired content in that book for folks who want their lizardfolk PC to breathe fire and inspire fear in weaker beings!

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

I think we excel at creating material that is balanced and accessible. We have a minimum of three sets of eyes peer-reviewing every release that goes out the door to make sure that the new rules we introduce aren't going to wreck someone's game if they want to try out one of our products. Dale McCoy is very conservative about using too much material outside of the core rules line in a product unless we really need something exotic to pull off a given design idea, and the main reason for that is that we don't want you to have to own every single thing the first party has published in order to use one of our products at your table. Players who want to get more out of PCs built using the more exotic entries in the Pathfinder RPG Advanced Race Guide will benefit most from our Book of Heroic Races products, while GMs who want immersive and challenging adventures without a lot of setting baggage to use in their homebrew settings should definitely try out our Deadly Delves modules.

What are the current goals for Jon Brazer Enterprises? What are the biggest challenges?

My own goals for the company are to improve our presence on the web and social media, and to push Deadly Delves into exciting new directions. Our first year or so of adventures are new twists on old tropes: draconic conquerors, humanoid raiders, scheming fey, dark underground caverns, nods to mythology, and horrific traps. But after that, I want to really push the boundaries of the format and do some crazier stuff that a lot of publishers haven't—or won't—do.

Our biggest challenge to date has been adhering to a regular release schedule. We've focused on making sure the Heroic Races Advanced installments come out as regularly as we can, since that's a subscription product and we want our subscribers to get new material on a monthly basis and maximize the value for their dollars. Both Dale and I are employed in very demanding fields with unpredictable workload surges, though, and putting food on our tables and paying our bills has to come first, no matter how much we may wish it were otherwise. One thing that will help out immensely on that front, though, is that as of mid-June 2015, I am now a full-time RPG designer and editor. While I'll also be writing material for other clients, my primary focus will be JBE, because it's where I got my start in the industry and I want to see this company ascend to new heights!

Is there anything else people should know about Jon Brazer Enterprises or its products?

We put our hearts into making RPG supplements, because we believe that the best material comes about from having writers work on the projects about which they're most passionate. If you're curious about something we've produced, drop us an email or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter and we'll be glad to answer your questions and help you determine if a given product is right for your game (and let's be honest, not every product is, no matter how good it might be).

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

Typically, what I'm looking for are people who have a passion for whatever it is I want to produce—if I want to do a product about dwarves, I need someone who loves them and knows how to play them inside and out. But everyone come to the table in a different way. I like to recruit people who are fun to work with, and I often reach out to professionals with whom I've collaborated on other products.

There's no formal application process, but strong written communication is a must. If I want to mark-up and edit your first email to me, that doesn't bode well for how much work I'm going to have to do on your turnover—so polish up your grammar! And honestly, if you've got an awesome idea and you want us to publish it, drop us an email. We're always interested in having someone else write cool new stuff, because it gives us time to work on what we've already got planned! Same thing goes for artists and cartographers—if you like drawing hybrid animals, I'll try and find someplace you can exercise that talent. If you've always wanted to map out a massive tank commanded by the Horseman of War, I'll see if that's an idea we can use somehow.

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

For writers, word processing experience is good, especially knowing how to manipulate basic style templates, as is knowing that you've worked in a field where adhering to deadlines and communicating regularly with others are skills you've developed. Above all, though, read everything—read RPG products, of course, and pay attention how material is formatted for the games you want to work with. But read comics and novels and newspapers and blogs, watch good movies and television shows—consume as much media as you can and develop a taste for what's good and what's not. Understand, too, that what you like might not always be good—and that's perfectly okay!—but when you can acknowledge that something you love has flaws, you've taken the first step towards recognizing the flaws in your own work, which is an invaluable trait in an RPG designer.
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?

Usually what we want from a brand-spankin'-new designer is a short, flavorful burst of content. A short 2-page race spread, a small set of feats, 2 or 3 thematically-linked monsters, or two complementary archetypes are good starting projects for newbies. (For artists, it might be a simple black-and-white line drawing for an interior page, and for cartographers, maybe a small selection of rooms like a five-area dungeon level).

Typically you'll be given a pretty flexible deadline by which to create that content, and we'll consult with you along the way as needed (and we might check in if we get nervous because we haven't heard from you in a bit!). Then, your content gets perused by the publisher, Dale, to see if it's workable and if any major changes need to be made. From there, it goes to an editor—either myself or Kevin—and we do markups for grammar and check that mechanics are in line with established best practices for the game system you're working in.

I typically like giving editorial feedback directly to writers, but sometimes what we have to say isn't for your eyes—and we talk about submissions a lot differently depending on whether our remarks are going to the publisher or the designer. More experienced freelancers can, or at least should be, able to take frank criticism, but for a new freelancer we try our best to be gentle—because we all started somewhere, and tearing someone down doesn't motivate them or make them better.

The last step is layout, and then Kevin and I proof the final product before releasing it to make sure we haven't overlooked something or that formatting wasn't goofed during the layout process. After that, it goes to market, and typically our freelancers get paid within a month of the release, give or take.

What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers?
  • DON'T GIVE UP. If one company says no, suck it up and find the company that will say yes. Shop your ideas to different publishers, and don't give up rights to an idea just because you really want to pitch it (RPG Superstar and similar high-profile competitions are a big corner-case exception, but we don't do business that way, and I don't advise freelancers to do so, either).
  • Keep making material and ask trusted friends and fellow gamers to review it and tell you what they think, no holds barred. The bigger variety of backgrounds your advisors have, the better: get to know an editor, a journalist, a technical writer, a blogger—people who work in different aspects of the craft and can offer you multiple perspectives on your work. I'm very lucky to have a seasoned and honest table of experienced gamers to play with every week, and they're some of my best sounding boards for new ideas—they can sniff out the suck and kill it at the root. Those are the people you want on your pit crew!
  • Don't think that just because you didn't advance in a major design competition or a high-profile company rejected you that you won't ever make it. There are lots of ways to enter this industry, and people sometimes get the idea that there's only a small handful. I know because I used to think that, and I only started getting into the swing of becoming a good editor and designer when I unlearned that mistake!

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