With the tabletop RPG of plastic soldiers in a war-torn world, Army Men, by Josh Heath, it’s a great time to publish the April Spotlight.
In the Spotlight this month, as voted by Patrons, is High Level Games.
Josh Heath is the COO of High Level Games, as his bio on the Army Men Kickstarter reveals, but he is also a partner in Reach-Out Roleplaying Games and Inclusive Gaming Network.
If that’s not impressive enough, Josh is also an army veteran, has a Masters in International Peach and Conflict Resolution and ran The Open Halls Project, a heathen religious non-profit. There are podcasts, ENnies and community content too.
Let’s dig in!
A High Level Games inteview
Where else do you start? At the end or the middle? No, let’s be traditional.
Who are High Level Games?
High Level Games is a gaming company based in Edmonton, Alberta. Yes, we’re Canadian, we’re sorry. At least half the company is based there. Half the company is based in the Washington, DC area.
In all seriousness, HLG started as a podcast and blog website that focused on listicles tackling all kinds of cool RPG stuff. We pivoted as a company to focus on content creation, both for our own project and for helping other smaller creators bring their games to market. We’ve helped with community content projects, and things like Snowhaven, and now our game Army Men: A Game of Tactical Plastic.
As part of the partnership that forms the current version of HLG, we have two leadership figures, Quinn Moerike our CEO, and Josh Heath (me) our Chief Operations Officer. When I became a partner in the company I brought in two companies/projects of mine, Reach-Out Roleplaying Games and The Inclusive Gaming Network.
So far we’ve produced a lot of different things for different games, including a series of 1 page adventurers, a few different 5e adventures, and things like Descendants of the Three Sisters, which is a Vampire: The Masquerade book written largely by an indigenous partner of ours, Lisa Ellwood, who helped us create an authentic group of vampires from Northeastern Native American Nations.
How did you get started?
Two different stories there.
High Level Games was started by Quinn Moerike who wanted to create a podcast and journalistic website to support his gaming hobbies. Around the same time, I (Josh) was getting out of grad school and was looking at getting into the RPG industry to help support work around using RPGs as a form of intercultural dialogue. We met in 2016 online and started working together informally and eventually realized we worked really well as a team.
In 2018 we ran a convention in Atlantic City and made the deal formal with us running High Level Games as a team. In that time we built a journalistic team of close to 30 regular writers, had an editing team, and eventually pivoted to working on products much more instead of the website. It was a big shift, to be fair.
And you do a lot with podcasts, too; how did you get started there!
The funny thing was Quinn and I started doing podcast right around the same time with different places and different focuses. He and his friend Joel started High Level Games (the podcast) as a way to geek out over their games and things they loved. I started off by creating a podcast about Werewolf: The Apocalypse because I wanted to do a retrospective review of the game.
Quinn and I met and started working on Leveling Up, which was a podcast about doing better, being better because and through role-playing games. It was really a powerful thing to do, but it didn’t last forever. We’ve gone back and forth on creating shows together, some that published, some that didn’t. Always though, we’ve been working on cool things together and with others.
I’m currently actively hosting a podcast called OpCast: Arms Around the Trinity Continuum with Simulacra studios. The cool thing with all of this is podcasts just require a good microphone and a friend to talk to… but the real struggle is *good* editing, which is super time consuming. If you want to put out a good show, an hour long episode takes 3-5 hours to edit.
Really, that’s the limiter right there. You have to like editing. You have to want a good sounding show, and you have to work at it to make it happen. So only start a podcast you *REALLY* want to see exist.
What have you learned since starting?
Planning, planning, planning lol. That’s the biggest thing to learn about both a website with articles, a podcast, and books. You really have to make a plan, stick to it, and work on it on a regular basis. The worst is when you get out of the routine, and then you have to work super hard to get back into it.
The other weird thing I’ve learned is that creative people undervalue their work.
When we were running articles every day we initial were doing it for fun, and people were on board. The second we started to pay people, people stopped submitting articles. They thought their work wasn’t worth being paid. That was weird and it’s imposter syndrome speaking. If you are being offered money to write a fun thing… that’s ok! It means you are worth it! The same thing happens with books too though. People sometimes try and put their 300 page book up for a Pay What You Want amount… that’s wild! Don’t do that! Your work is worth it. Charge what it is worth. I’ve read *AMAZING* books that someone posted for $1 for like an 80 page book.
Stop this, folks! Ask for what you are worth! The market is there.
What would you like to be best known for?
We’d like to be known for giving new or small-time creatives a headstart.
When I was running my first website, concurrent with HLG, I was the first person to pay several writers. Those writers went on to write for game companies. Some of them for WoTC and other companies. That was super awesome to know we helped get them a platform, build confidence, and go big places. We’d love to be seen as an incubator for talent, supporting, uplifting, and making the community of designers broader and better.
The RPG Industry
With all that experience and insight, I had to ask Josh about his views on the industry. Additionally, with Josh’s social good ventures, I also had another angle to explore.
How important are community content programs for publishers who offer them?
HUGE! Community Content is such a great way to build a stable of writers for your games!
It lets you see who the movers and shakers are that you don’t even know about yet! Every game company with an IP should have a community content program. It helps you by having creators take the things they love and bring them to a bigger audience. It also saves you as a company from investing in a book if you don’t know if it would sell. Let a CC creator pick up a little of the risk, and if it’s good? Help them bring a new official edition of that thing into existence! It’s a super win-win situation.
And on the other side, how useful are community content programs for people who write for them?
Community content is an amazing way to get started writing for games. It builds your name, and your reputation, and it helps you show you can tackle projects.
One of the hardest things in the RPG industry is showing you can work to spec, you can demonstrate you understand the voice of a game, and that you can hit a deadline.
Now, the first two of those things are proven in community content. Deadlines are harder, because you don’t have a deadline as a community content creator. But, proving you can write 5000, 10,000, or more words and it’s decent?
A publisher can look at your work and see that you get it, and see what you’ll need work on and if it is worth it for them to hire you and help you become better. And all through that… you are making money. You are making between 40-70% of the cover price of your book and you get to reinvest that back into games lol.
Most community content creators I know use that money to fuel their hobby, but the best ones help it to build their RPG career bonafides.
You’ve an ENnie to your name and for Big Bads Booklets. Did the award move the sales needle for you? Do awards help?
You know, I don’t think it did. The weird thing is that it was a *personal* milestone, right?
It proved to me that my work was really high-class possible. But, it did not help with sales at all. I didn’t see anything that looked like a benefit there. It didn’t even really help me get new work in the industry. Which has been weird. But, that’s ok.
The really cool thing is I know I won it. I know my work is top class enough to be recognized like that, and that’s more important to me than anything. Now I want to help other folks earn ENnies and any other award they are shooting for. That matters so much more to me, to be a good mentor and supporter of other creatives.
Do you think RPGs can help people with real-life issues? How?
I have been deeply involved with the transformative game side of the RPG industry for the last 7 years. That is what brought me into the industry, actually. I wanted to use RPGs as a tool in intercultural dialogue, and created a program to do so called Reach-Out Roleplaying Games or RORPG (Roar-pig).
This has led me to being highly involved in the academic discourse around RPGs, and there is so much research to demonstrate the impact of these games in therapeutic contexts, in personal development, and in other really serious places.
This year I was invited to speak at the Serious Play Conference, which is focused on things like wargames and education games. Our talk is going to be about the ways to use off-the-shelf RPGs like D&D as tools for creating transformative experiences for people. We are bringing in folks from the history side, the therapy side, and some other angles to demonstrate how games can make a difference. I’m going to be talking about RORPG too, and how these games can help us do intercultural dialogue, and what value that can bring to peacebuilding.
Could you tell us more about Inclusive Gaming Network? It sounds ideal but is High Level Games associated with it?
Yeah! So, the Inclusive Gaming Network is a subsidiary of HLG as I mentioned before. I started this because at the time there wasn’t a lot of stuff that I knew about that was focused on inclusive gaming spaces. I’m queer, so I’m super invested in the value of game spaces for people who are LGBT+ and marginalized gamers from the global majority.
After I kicked it off I saw a lot of other great projects in this space, so I’ve focused more on helping to find ways to amplify other voice from people who are trying to make a name for themselves. I’m working right now with an indigenous creative publisher to create a fellowship program for indigenous RPG writers. That’s all thanks to the work of the Inclusive Gaming Network focus over the years.
How do people or publishers get associated with it?
Email me! I’d love to work with more people who want to get their projects out. We were a really formal program for awhile, but that didn’t seem to work for folks to engage with us. I’d love to see that happen again though, where we had a formal network for pushing out inclusive RPG content.
High Level Games
- High Level Games on DriveThruRPG.
- High Level Games’ website
- High Level Games on Facebook.
- High Level Games on YouTube.
- High Level Games on Twitter.
- High Level Games on Patreon.
Latest High Level Games products
As we’ve seen, High Level Games is on DriveThruRPG, so we can see their latest edits and releases. As we’ve also seen, the team embraces community content.
- 2nd of March 2023, The Price of Iron.
- 2nd of March 2023, A Kingdom’s Edge.
- 24th of March 2021, Dealing With Your Demons
- 10th of March 2021, Snowhaven Savage Worlds.
- 10th of March 2021, Snowhaven.
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