RPG Game Design: Andrew Ragland

In order to inform RPG Bard design and development, we have been interviewing pen-and-paper roleplaying game (RPG) companies and independent developers on their game design process. Back in March 2015, I had the opportunity to interview Andrew Ragland, a line developer for FASA Games, Inc. and lead for their 1879 product line, currently under development.

RPG Game Design with Andrew Ragland of FASA Games, Inc.

rpgbard-fasa-logoCan you tell us a little bit about FASA Games, Inc. and its RPG products?
FASA Games, Inc. was formed in 2012 and holds the game licenses for 1879, Demonworld, Earthdawn, and Fading Suns. FASA Games is a wholly owned subsidiary of FASA Corporation, and produces pen-and-paper roleplaying and tabletop miniatures games and their associated minis and other accessories. Ral Partha Europe Ltd, formed in 1998, and also a wholly owned subsidiary of FASA Corporation, manufactures our minis.

Didn’t FASA Games also put out BattleTech?
FASA Corporation did, not FASA Games. Besides BattleTech, FASA Corporation released Shadowrun, Crimson Skies, Renegade Legion, Vor, Crucible, and their former licensed lines of Traveller, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. FASA Corporation currently manages and licenses its intellectual properties through FASA Games, Inc. and Ral Partha Europe Ltd to get out the entire line of books, minis, and other accessories.

Can you tell us a little bit about your RPG background and your current role at FASA Games?
I started out contributing to fan magazines and publications about 30 years ago and have been working in the industry ever since. Most recently, I was working as the world builder for the 1879 game system for FASA under Mark Stout, who was the line developer for both 1879 and Blue Planet at that time. In a strategic move to give more attention to both games, Mark moved to Blue Planet full time and I stepped up to take the role as line developer for 1879.

Where do FASA Games’ ideas come from? What about the 1879 product line?
FASA ideas come from line developers and management, filling in spaces in our game world cosmology, utilizing our existing resources, and expanding out to create new ones.

For example, 1879 was created when FASA was looking to create a plausible world for staging the Ral Partha Napoleonic, Victorian, and Demonworld minis together as well as fill the world gap left in the cosmology when the license to Shadowrun was sold off.

The 1879 game (the full intro is available on the Welcome to 1879 page) is an alternate-timeline history of the real world in which the British Empire has a foothold in a new world able to be reached via a portal in London, created after a horrible technological accident two years previously. This other world is technologically advanced and inhabited by the human descendants of the lost kingdom of Babylon as well as a race of bipedal lizard men, both of which settle disputes through wargames and warfare.

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rpgbard-fasa-1879-minis-1

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This world allowed us to expand the cosmology and utilize existing Ral Partha Europe minis, while opening up the opportunity for creating new minis and other resources.

What is your RPG book design process at FASA?
At FASA Games, book story and art run through concurrent processes with two leads that work together (the Line Developer and the Art Director) and coordinate with CFO Ross Babcock on the financing. The Line Developer leads a team of Writers to develop the story and all other copy for the book, while the Art Director leads a team of artists to create the artwork for that book.

The general workflow is:

  1. Concept (Management/Line Developer)
  2. Writer
  3. Editorial
  4. Layout
  5. Editorial Proof
  6. eBook (PDF)
  7. print (usually hardcover)

The artwork is developed concurrently. Filler art is in place by the time the book moves to Layout and is fully replaced with the final art by the time it goes to the Editorial Proof, which is created using Adobe InDesign.

Is the design process the same for your minis?
For our custom miniatures, our development process starts with custom art that then goes to the sculptor. Photos are taken of the model from all angles and, once approved, the miniature makes the final move to production.

What formats do you release your RPG books in?
We produce both print and PDF books. We are also looking into ePUB, but have not started releasing in this format yet.

How do you distribute your products?
Distribution is primarily through the FASA Games Online Shop, RPGNow.com, and the Ral Partha Europe Online Store.

Have you ever done a Kickstarter? If so, how did you handle rewards?
In 2014, FASA Corporation did a successful Kickstarter for Earthdawn 4th Edition with a goal of $10,000. We were very successful, with over 1,000 backers and $100,000 pledged.

rpgbard-earthdawn-kickstarter

Our most popular rewards for individuals were our PDF Bundles and Hardcover Bundles, which gave backers a complete set of the Gamemaster’s Guide, Player’s Guide, and all the sourcebooks unlocked through the Kickstarter stretch goals. For retailers, we offered Retailer Bundles, which had sets of hardcover and softcover books at half the cover price.

As for our release schedule, we decided to release the Earthdawn Player Book first as that would have the largest audience.

For aspiring RPG authors, do you have any recommending reading or resources?
For more about our design and development process, I’d suggest the FASA Games Blog. Other online resources would be the game designer communities on Google+ and the Paizo Blog, especially if you’re making Pathfinder compatible material.

For books, Strunk & White: The Elements of Style for writing and The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, by Jesse Schell, applies to video, board, card, and roleplaying games and has spiffy tools throughout that you can use.

Any other self-publishing words of wisdom?
Layout is expensive, often running $400 for 16 pages. If you’re self-publishing, it’s usually too expensive to hire someone so you will probably need to learn how to do this yourself.

Keep your work in your word processor for as long as you can. This makes it easier to review and edit and, if you’re working with more than one person, you can use “Track Changes” to leave comments and see the before/after of each other’s work.

Create a galley proof PDF before you send anything to the printer. Make sure everything is exactly how you want it before you pay to have it printed.

Before you pitch an idea to a company, make one of your own happen so you can build your skills and confidence, as well as demonstrate your ability to deliver, which is very important. If you have cherry ideas:

  1. Develop them yourself
  2. Do indie work
  3. Release
  4. Build street cred
  5. Then bring them to the big company

INTERVIEWER’S NOTES FOR RPG BARD DEVELOPMENT
Based on Andrew’s interview, the need for multiple users to be able to contribute to a single book is important (such as to review, modify text, or contribute art). In addition, role-specific contributors that would limit access to certain types of content, such as an art director being able to contribute art but not be able to accidentally modify or delete text or an editor to be able to provide feedback but not modify the original document, also appears valuable. These have been added to our RPG Bard future enhancements list.

If you’d like to learn more about Andrew Ragland’s work and the 1879 game world, check out Andrew’s 1879 blog and the 1879 Minis Corebook.

Shyloh Wideman
Creative Director
Trusty Sword Entertainment / RUXED LLC
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