Interview with Simon Berman and Doug Seacat of Privateer Press (Part 2)

Continued from part one.

Dan: What is it about the Iron Kingdoms RPG that makes it such a fan favorite?

Doug: I think it’s a couple of things. I think it’s our unique blend of magic and technology. Sure there are a lot of genres that have done that, but not like Iron Kingdoms did. There’s some steampunk, there’s some high fantasy, and there’s always that grittiness to it. Not to mention the artwork. I think that the success of the setting has been determined by the vision of the artists that have taken it to task to visually create the Iron Kingdoms, people like Matt Wilson, Brian Snoddy, Andrea Uderzo, Chris Walton. I think that look has really captured people. They see the covers and then they browse through the books and they know that there’s some serious substance in them and not just a really great cover.

Simon: I’d have to agree with everything Doug said. I think it’s also because the world is set on the verge of an industrial revolution. Plus, the setting pulls elements from actual history. Elements from medieval times, World War I – there’s even a heavy Napoleonic influence in our setting. The designers who came up with the Iron Kingdoms originally did a great job of combining complementary elements from different time periods, and that’s created a totally unique fantasy world.

Dan: What I think that Iron Kingdoms succeeds at that other RPG systems fail at is setting up guidelines in the setting itself, and having a strong cannon for DMs to rely on. Too often companies are worried that having any cannon or guidelines would make life too difficult for RPG players.

Doug: I definitely think it’s a good idea to have some defined boundaries. There another vital element of the Iron Kingdoms that I want to mention, and that’s the steamjacks and warjacks. ’Jacks have really captured the imagination of people. It’s not like they’ve never seen robots or steam powered robots before, but jacks like this in the context of ‘we also have these guys running around with swords’ and other familiar fantasy elements really grabs people.

Dan: A lot of the books for the Iron Kingdoms RPG are available as downloadable PDFs. Are there any plans to re-release the books in a physical form?

Simon: No, probably not. When we get ready to work on the new Iron Kingdoms RPG, our efforts will be devoted to that task.

Doug: One of the issues there is that even though things have gotten more reasonable to produce small print runs of books, it’s still a sizable investment to do a limited print run. Plus, we wouldn’t want to reprint what we worked on 4 years ago without wanting to go back and take the time to rework things, and fix the little mistakes that just drive us crazy. So really, selling them as PDFs is a middle ground that we’re happy with.

Dan: Good answers. So are either of you two active at all on the Iron Kingdoms RPG forum? Do you go in there on a pretty regular basis to talk with players and help out on rules questions?

Doug: Yeah, I was answering questions today. You see I’ve got Compulsive Posting Syndrome. If someone posts something erroneous or as if it were a ‘fact’ I feel the need to get in there and correct it. I think the fans appreciate it when we post on the forums, so I try to get in there pretty regularly. I don’t necessarily answer a lot of rules questions, but I try to as much as I’m possible. If there’s a new player who’s trying to get a feel for the system I try to get in on the thread and give them some pointers.

Dan: This one is a hypothetical question. Let’s say that it’s 2011 and you’re working on the new Iron Kingdoms RPG. What are you looking forward to writing about? What are you looking forward to including in an RPG book that didn’t make it in the last one?

Doug: I’m looking forward to with the new system is setting up a new system of magic that fits in with the feel of how we visualize magic in our setting. That was always a difficult fit for us with d20. Don’t get me wrong, I like the d20 system, and I appreciated having that huge list of spells that we didn’t have to invent and balance.

Simon: Also a lot of people wanted to use some of those spells that just don’t work in Iron Kingdoms. Not all of those spells exist in our setting. There’s the ongoing question of ‘how do I work teleport in the Iron Kingdoms.’ And the answer is ‘you don’t, and if you do there are dire consequences like infernals.’

Doug: We don’t view our wizards and priests as the equivalent of their d20 counterparts, that’s just an approximation that lets you simulate playing a priest in the setting. So being able to avoid all of that, dive in, and present the magic as we want it to be is something I’m really looking forward to.

Simon: As for me, I’m hoping we’ll get a chance to really explore western Immoren. I’d like to see more done with the nation of Ord.

Doug:  Yeah, Ord’s got a rich history and it’s one of the kingdoms in our setting that’s not represented as a faction in the miniature game. It’s a nice little neutral area between the warring nations, and is an ideal place for adventuring.

Simon: I’m also looking forward to having a much more robust mechanika system. Like Doug was saying with the warjacks, mechanika is a key of the setting. It’s the cornerstone of everything. The d20 mechanika system is pretty clumsy. I think someone on the forums has a whole excel spreadsheet on how to best manipulate the mechanika system.

Doug: In that regard, I think there are two types of gamers. There are those that like getting into the nitty-gritty and the excel spreadsheets, and then there are the gamers who do not want that at all. Having a more streamline system that still conveys the flavor that we want out of it… that would be really great.

Dan: Will elements from HORDES make it into the new Iron Kingdoms?

Doug: Yeah, in fact we had some plans for that right before we found out that 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons was coming out and we stopped doing the d20 books, one of the next books that we were going to work on was going to be more about the wilds and the wilderness.

Dan: That does it for our questions specifically about Iron Kingdoms; let’s get back to some questions about you guys. Simon, you said that you have two titles, writer and community manager. Which is the most fun?

Simon: Both! I love doing the world building and creative writing for our books, the interest there is obvious. While at the same time, it’s a lot of fun to work with our community. Better community interaction is one of my goals for Privateer Press. I’ve had a lot of fun exploring the different ways we can do that. I can’t say too much now, but we have some announcements planned for GENCON for ways we’re going to involve the community more and what we do at events.

Dan: Doug, as a writer for games, what advice do you have for people trying to get into the industry?

Doug: ‘It’s not a good idea, you probably shouldn’t.’ Haha, what I mean by that is that it’s difficult to get a job as a writer in the industry. Simon and I are lucky. It’s really hard to find a paying gig that will cover the bills. But if your heart is set on it, Freelance writing is probably the best way to get started. You get your name out there and prove that you’re reliable. Prove that you can understand a company’s intellectual property. Prove you’re able to meet deadlines.

Simon: That’s probably the point to hammer home for anyone who really wants to get into the industry. Be reliable. Even if you’re not the greatest writer, if you’re making the editor happy and your stuff is on time you’ll have a friend for life.

Doug: Also, ask questions. If you’re stuck on something let someone know. They’d rather hear ‘Hey I’m having a hard time with x’ rather than utter silence. From what I’ve seen, you have approximately one chance. If you blow off an assignment, then that’s probably it for you at that company.

Dan: So what do you do during a typical day at the office?

Doug: Right now it’s really intense with the Mk II books-

Simon: Doug is actually manacled to a desk.

Doug: Haha, yeah basically. Our project director gets nervous whenever anyone walks into my office or if he sees me leaving my office. The Mk II deadlines are very challenging, but very rewarding.

Dan: One a month is crazy fast.

Doug: It is crazy fast. You know, we’ve talked to people in the industry about it and they said ‘I don’t think it’s possible’ to which we responded ‘We’re not sure if it is possible, but we’re doing it anyway!’ We really wanted to avoid the problem that happens in some other war-games where one guy will get his army book one month, but it takes years for the other guy to get his. While it’s understandable that it happens, we don’t think that it’s fair to the players. As Matt said, this is the fastest we can get these out. It’s probably a little unhealthy for us, but we’re doing it as quickly as we can for the players.

Simon: As for my day, I spend the morning wearing my community management hat. I manage the forums, I post things to Facebook and Twitter, and lastly I update our new Privateer Insider blog series. We’re still in the ‘getting to know you’ phase, but once we’ve introduced everyone, we’ll spend more time talking about individual projects. And that’s how I spend my mornings. Then around lunch, I settle in and start writing. Right now I’m putting together the last portions of the Mercenaries Mk II book together, so I’m writing a big introduction to the Mercenaries of Iron Kingdoms.

There you have it, Adventurers! Our thanks go out to Simon and Doug, two very dedicated (and very busy) writers from a fantasic game company. 

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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