Pelgrane Press received this year many Ennies, “the Oscars of RPGs”. I think they deserved them. Over the last years they released well thought out RPGs, adventures and supplements regularly. Furthermore they published this year the remarkable spy vampire thriller Night’s Black Agents RPG by Ken Hite.
The publisher Simon Rogers is also co-founder of ProFantasy Software. They develop the well-known map-making software Campaign Cartographer for authors and game designers.
Simon Rogers were kind enough to take some of his time to answer my extensive questions.
obskures.de: Welcome Simon Rogers! Please tell us a bit about yourself, your gaming experiences and your companies (ProFantasy Software, Pelgrane Press)?
Simon Rogers: I’ve been playing roleplaying games myself for more than 30 years. I played with friends exclusively as a GM until about 12 years ago, when I formed Pelgrane Press Ltd to create the Dying Earth RPG. This required playtesting, and as I’d not had a game group for a few months I played with strangers for the first time ever. Since then I’ve been playing weekly with a new group, occasionally gathering the old group together to run mammoth three-day AD&D sessions with the original group. ProFantasy I formed with Mark Fulford, an early member of the game group 18 years ago. He was running a CAD business, so we put the two together to create Campaign Cartographer – now the world’s most successful, versatile and widely used RPG map-making software. Pelgrane Press was more of a hobby company until I took Beth Lewis on, and now it’s looking much more serious, but I still devote a full working week equivalent to ProFantasy.
obskures.de: What does a typical working day look like for a boss of at least two companies?
Simon Rogers: Work for me is fun. 20% of what I do is the usual admin and day-to-day business stuff, the rest is software specification, correspondence, marketing for both companies, wrangling programmers, developing, searching out cartographers and other artists, and scheming new schemes. In my Pelgrane time I get to interact with top names in the RPG field, specify new games and more recently, wrangle Kickstarters.
obskures.de: From time to time you provided some information about your own campaigns on your blog. What do you play at the moment, if you have the time? Do you prefer the player or gamemaster role?
Simon Rogers: I play a wide variety of games. I prefer GMing most of the time, but in a group full of GMs, that’s not possible. I’ve grown to enjoy playing and co-GMing. This year I ran a 16-session Night’s Black Agents game – effectively Season 1 of a campaign, which has been my favourite to run for a long time while. I ran three days of AD&D for my old group at ThawCon, which is a massive rush, but I’ve also played Quest (a collaborative RPG in playtest) Tavern (Graham Walmsley’s conflict-free game), Trail of Cthulhu, Fear Itself, DramaSystem with Robin, 13th Age with Rob Heinsoo and Fantasy GUMSHOE.
obskures.de: Do you see any differences between the role playing communities over here in Europe and the US? Do you keep an eye on other companies and markets (like the French)?
Simon Rogers: It’s hard to pick out differences, but from my limited experience of playing with Americans, gamers tend to be more emotionally supportive of each other “your character is awesome!” while UK gamers for whatever reason find such behaviour at the very least embarrassing and much more likely to be subject to mockery. For example, in Prime Time Adventures, you give out Fan Mail tokens – we simply don’t get round to doing that when we play. That said, I’ve not had much contact with trad gamers in the US. French games are much more likely to be cruel, quirky and less politically correct than US ones. It really helps to have a Francophone in the group. We are currently played a game called Monostatos, which I hope gets translated into English at some point.
obskures.de: What is in your opinion the best product in which you were involved?
Simon Rogers: What is this, Sophie’s Choice? The game I’ve published I’ve most enjoyed running as a GM is Night’s Black Agents. Reading it really makes me want to play and it’s got some of the best GM advice I’ve ever read. The most successful and widely run is Trail of Cthulhu; it’s also the game which has built our reputation as a company. If I had to choose a best product, as a product, I’d have to say the limited edition of Bookhounds of London, with its hand-sprayed satchel, 1930s ephemera and most importantly Paula Dempsey’s Occult Guide, done in 1930s style with no trace of modernity.
obskures.de: What is your favorite RPG product done by others?
Simon Rogers: It has to be AD&D. It’s given me and my group years of pleasure. It’s the monster in my attic – the game that I had enough time and interest to practically memorise; and while I’d find the art mediocre, the rules strange and klutzy if it was published now, it’s the seminal roleplaying game. I suspect it’s the way we play the game, the history, the shared setting and the group which is really what I love. For my new group I’ve been running Fantasy GUMSHOE, a game I’ve put together to reproduce that experience without the labyrinthine ruleset.
obskures.de: What do you do or what do you provide that so many living role playing legends like Robin D. Laws, Ken Hite, Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet work with or for you. (Do you put a spell on them?) This name list excerpt alone is impressive and it is far from complete (Graham Walmsley, Will Hindmarch etc.). There must be a secret.
Simon Rogers: I ask the best people politely to do stuff I think they’ll enjoy doing. They generally say yes. Then they write good stuff. Then I publish it. Then I pay them on time, and the amount we agreed. Then I ask the next person, and they go “Oh, look who has worked for Pelgrane. There must be a secret,” and the cycle begins again. Or it might be the use of Quiltar Poom’s Spell of Quiet Inveiglement.
obskures.de: Based on my outsider perspective it seems that you develop your business very carefully. What were the greatest obstacles and risks you have overcome so far.
Simon Rogers: We are very risk-averse with capital. We rarely if ever give credit or accept it. ProFantasy was built up slowly (not through want of trying) with a view on the future. It is and continues to be our source of income, so we treat it with respect. We certainly innovate, and sometimes out innovation fails, but the loss is always factored in to our projections. We’ve started a few businesses; some succeed and some don’t but we’ve never left anyone out of pocket. As a hobby business I’ve been even more careful with Pelgrane – I barely take risks at all, in part because I never want to be in a position not to pay my colleagues and friends for their work. The biggest obstacle for ProFantasy was being accepted into RPG shops through distribution. If you mentioned it was software, even game support software, they just put the phone down. Eventually, we got US distribution through RPG International which was founded by Ryan Dancey. They’d been advertising in Dragon Magazine and were forward-thinking enough to see that utility software was a new category. Behind the scene, negotiating licensing arrangements, even talking to IP owners was the hardest thing – people don’t take you seriously when you start out. From that I’ve learnt to take people seriously myself, however new they are, when they contact me.
obskures.de: What do you think about crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc.) and the future of (traditional) role playing and the distribution of games?
Simon Rogers: Kickstarter has a certain magic and it’s here to stay. Thanks to economies of scale, backers get more and more for the same money as more and more pledges are made, but without the risk for the creators that such economies usually bring. This gives an incentive for backers to get more backers, and so it continues. For Hillfolk, a modest paperback with a single setting became a fat hardback with plethora of choices, at no additional cost. It also stops some people from spending vast sums of money on offset print runs for unpopular products. If I were a subeditor I’d say “Kickstarter kills the Fantasy Heartbreaker” I’ve heard recently that some retailers won’t touch projects which have been Kickstarted unless they are massive; but then retailers used to refuse to stock publishers who sell direct. In the case of Hillfolk, though, retailers will now have two 240 page full colour books with massive buzz, against the 160 page perfect bound book they would otherwise have had. I’m also considering ways in which retailers can be involved in our Kickstarters without committing funds up front (tying up capital which should be in stock) via our distributor, Impressions.
obskures.de: Can we expect a Kickstarter for Eternal Lies or anything else in the near future?
Simon Rogers: We’ll certainly be doing more Kickstarters, but we are going to fulfill the Stone Skin Press fiction Kickstarter and Hillfolk first. Eternal Lies is a mammoth campaign setting, but production costs for a full boxed set with all the components will be massive, and a high risk unless we sell 1000+ very quickly. So, there is a low chance I might KS that on the basis that it would tie up most of the working capital of the company with a risk of negative return if I were to take that risk without a Kickstarter.
obskures.de: You published some game soundtracks for Trail of Cthulhu and Ashen Stars. Did you engage the musician(s) or has someone offered his work to you? Please tell us about the process?
Simon Rogers: I work with the amazing James Semple and his team – he approached me. He should really be scoring HBO series or blockbusters, so we really don’t deserve him. The Eternal Lies soundtrack involved the most interaction between James, the other musicians, me and the writers – it’s specifically designed to set the tone for each locations, and has pieces which can be looped together for chase scenes, fights and background music. There are even themes for events which differ according to whether the PCs are successful or not. I have a modest musical background and I’m able to give some feedback of use.
obskures.de: The upcoming 13th Age is in my opinion your most traditional role playing game. All your other games are either by the game system and/or by the setting special. If I remember correctly, Ken Hite suggested Night’s Black Agents and Robin D. Laws Ashen Stars and Hillfolk to you. Follow all your projects this way, I mean, the designer pitches his game to you and you decide to publish it or not?
Simon Rogers: 13th Age has a traditional setting and will be familiar to D&D players of all editions but it incorporates indie elements, and you have to remember Jonathan Tweet wrote Ars Magica, Everway and Over the Edge, and that this is their home game. Often I’ll ask Robin to solve what I think is a problem (cf GUMSHOE), or in the case of Ashen Stars – “can you do an SF version of GUMSHOE with space ship combat in which everyone is involved.” With Hillfolk, I asked Robin to write a game based on Hamlet’s Hit Points, and it turned out he was doing one anyway. Sometimes they pitch; Night’s Black Agents was all Ken, Dreamhounds of Paris was Robin, and some are mixture.
obskures.de: Will you do more collections (maybe annuals) like Out of Time for Trail of Cthulhu. You announced 3 books for Night’s Black Agents (Dracula Dossier, Agent’s Companion and Dracula Unredacted). What can we expect from your companies in the near future and 2013? Any chance to see a German translation of your books?
Simon Rogers: Out next collection is Out of Space, which follows in the path of Out of Time, featuring previously published PDF adventures plus additional material from the writers. For ProFantasy, we have an all-new Character Artist 3, Perspectives 3 and an update to CC3 in the pipeline, as well as the Cartographer’s Annual. For Pelgrane, we have Mythos Expeditions and Dreamhounds for Trail, a new edition of Esoterrorists, a sequel to the Occult Guide, Eternal lies and lots more fiction for the Stone Skin line. I’d love to see our books in German, but the Chaosium rights holder won’t publish Trail (we’d have to do another Mythos GUMSHOE game called something else if we really wanted to do it) and we haven’t otherwise been able to find a publishing partner. It seems strange to me because it’s our biggest non-English market, and we’ve had no problems even with Portuguese and Thai!
obskures.de: Fun question 1: Cthulhu Mythos or Dying Earth?
Simon Rogers: While I love them both, I prefer The Dying Earth to read, the Mythos to play.
obskures.de: Fun question 2: If you would have unlimited resources and money for one project. What would you do?
Simon Rogers: The Ken Hite basement teleport machine. Beth tells me she has been sinking funds into this for two years. The idea is that it teleports Ken Hite from his basement into the office for chats and food. There are problems in playtest, though, currently it requires Ken to drink a bottle of bourbon before stepping through, which is not a problem for him, and slicing him into inch-wide sections, which is.
obskures.de: Thank you for this interview. Anything else you want to share with the fans?
Simon Rogers: The internal codenames for some Pelgranistas are Cupcake Beth, Wikipizza (also known as Deep Pan), Ginger Diva, Silver Fox, Mystic Moo, Mission Control, Monotone and Boorish One.
I want to thank my reader Kazekami who suggested Simon Rogers as my next interview partner. We mailed about our Night’s Black Agents and Trail of Cthulhu enthusiasm and he liked my first interview attempts. My friend Marcus L. inspired some of the questions. Thank both of you!
So, now get some Pelgrane Press/ProFantasy Software stuff and draw cool maps, hunt down all vicious bloodsuckers (before they kill you) or be a legendary 13th Age hero. Iron age Hillfolk is also coming. Enjoy!
Provided by the publisher on 15 November 2012