Al Seeger is the mastermind behind Point of Insanity Games Studio. The studio, which Al modestly describes as a ‘one man band’, is responsible for some innovative RPG work. Point of Insanity Game Studio’s “MADS” or Mental, Attack, Defense, Skill system began life as a character conversion system but evolved significantly over the years, even adding a character generation system of its own.
Al’s kindly agreed to be interviewed by Geek Native to talk about Point of Insanity Game Studio and his experiences as an RPG publisher.
Q1. Before there was Point of Insanity Game Studio there was Lasalion Games. Can you talk a little about those days and how Point of Insanity Game Studio came to be?
A: Lasalion Games started out as a venture between me and three friends of mine from high school. We started developing the game “Demon’s Lair” around 1994 and began selling it around ’96. Our early books were comb bound and assembled by us. So while we had the advantage of being able to print up books whenever we needed them they were probably the ugliest looking rpg products ever made! We had a small but devoted following and exhibited at Gen Con a few years. Unfortunately business slowed down around 2003. I left the company for financial reasons and the next year the company went out of business.
It was around that time I started developing the MADS character conversion system because to my knowledge a game meant to convert characters from any game into a new system hadn’t been done before. I also wanted to give the fans of Demon’s Lair a way to continue playing their characters with others since our system was very obscure. I first started publishing MADS around 2007 when I discovered this wonderful new thing called print on demand. I came up with the name “Point of Insanity Game Studio” because whenever I thought of a name for my company and did an internet search I found there was either a company with that name or one that was very similar. I said to myself “coming up with a name is driving me to the point of insanity!” So I came up with the name Point of Insanity Game Studio, searched the internet, and found no one else took it.
Q2. You seem to favour producing universal roleplaying supplements, the sort of additions that can be used with more than one RPG system, is that a coincidence, business plan or do you believe universal RPG supplements offer something unique?
A: A little of all of the above. One of my main motivations for developing universal supplements is that with the huge variety of RPGs out there universal supplements can be of use to anyone. Universal supplements also can help a game master by finding new ways to use their existing system. For example, my Afterpeak systemless setting combines aspects of fantasy and post-apocalypse with a little bit of science fiction. Thus, with a little modification it can be easily used with an older system like AD&D or a newer system like any of the various d20 system products.
Q3. If you had to give a whirlwind tour of your favourite Point of Insanity Game Studio products what you pick, why and what would you say about them?
A: I’m happy with the way all my products have turned out so far but I’d have to say my favorite products are my two systemless settings and the Action Planet role playing game.
I briefly mentioned Afterpeak before. In a nutshell it takes place after an event known as peak oil. The shortage of this resource pretty much ends the world as we know it. So while it has some elements of the post-apocalyptic genre it doesn’t follow the typical clichés of nuclear blasted landscapes and mutants with four arms and three eyes.
Afterpeak also contains elements of fantasy and science fiction. It has been described as similar to Rifts but more grounded in reality-there aren’t any mecha or cyborgs and high level magic is extremely rare. There are alien creatures on Earth but they are not numerous. So while it incorporates several genres it was carefully done. I didn’t want Afterpeak to become a hodgepodge of everything under the sun allowed without limit. Really though the underlying theme is about community and how people adapt to a changing world. I included several pages devoted to different types of communities and incorporated my home state of Wisconsin as a sample setting to give a game master an idea of how he might develop his own local region into an Afterpeak setting.
My other systemless setting is Elemental Cross. I have a degree in religious studies and part of the game world’s cosmology and mythology was inspired by things I learned while in college. The old AD&D Dark Sun setting was another one of my inspirations. I didn’t play many games that took place in this setting but I enjoyed reading the books. I especially liked what they did with the races; a halfling from Athas is a far cry from the standard D&D halfling! There are five PC races in my setting. The original races are orc, dwarf, elf, and gathor (a race of cat-men). Each is associated with an element and has abilities that fluctuate with the seasons. Then there are the humans. The setting’s opening story explains they were created by demons and are not influenced by the changing of the seasons. Thus, humans are seen as unnatural and many people distrust them even though they are not innately evil. The afterlife plays an important role in the setting as well and the book includes guidelines for role playing what happens after a character dies.
Action Planet is another product I’m very happy with. This was one of my most challenging books to write, at least from my perspective. From my experiences with MADS and Demon’s Lair I am used to writing systems with a lot of “crunch” but Action Planet was intended to be a rules-light system from the start. I wanted to make a game that made it easy for the GM to make on the spot rulings without having to worry about whether a specific action should have a +1 or a +2 bonus. I also wanted the game to be easy to learn and allow players an equal amount of flexibility. The story behind Action Planet is in the far future an extremely wealthy businessman decides to retire and follow his one true passion-making movies. So he turns his private planet into a large movie set. The players take the role of actors who are starring in his movies. At the start of a game session each actor is assigned a role to play during the movie and is allowed to make up his dialogue. There is a heavy emphasis on role playing because unlike most games you’re not always going to be playing the same type of character. You might play a daring action hero one game session and a quiet and cowardly scientist the next. Since Action Planet’s emphasis is on telling a story that has a definite start and definite end it’s a good product for a gaming group that like to do the occasional one-shot adventure in order to take a break from the main campaign.
A: The original Dragonlance stories have always been a big inspiration for me. A lot of that has to do with the characters. I think just about anyone who has read the Chronicles series can find a character they can relate to. I also like J.K. Rowling’s work with the Harry Potter series. I’m more familiar with the movies than the books but I like the way the series introduces things that seem minor at first but have greater importance later on.
Q5. How has running an RPG studio changed over the years? Has PDF publishing made much of an impact?
A: It’s a lot easier to get started in the RPG industry today. Royalty free stock art is great because it gives a prospective publisher a way to get artwork for his products without breaking the bank. Print on demand is great too but I’d have to say PDF publishing may be the best thing to happen to small press companies. For starters it is infinitely reproducible. All you have to do is upload a copy to an online store and it is possible to sell as many copies as people will buy and you won’t have to pay a cent. Compare that to print copies-if you were to order $1000 worth of books and they get lost or ruined or nobody buys then you’re out a lot of money. That’s what happened with Lasalion Games. PDF publishing is great because since it doesn’t involve making a physical product a small press company can sell their products at a lower cost than they could a print product and still make money. It is also easier and cheaper to send complimentary copies to reviewers, friends, or customers.
If anything the rise of PDF publishing shows how the RPG industry can adapt to changing technology and times. Two interesting concepts I’ve seen are paper miniatures and build it yourself game scenery; both beneficial for the person willing to take the time to print out and assemble these accessories. In addition to electronic books I’ve heard of programs that allow you to run simulated table top games over the internet. While I still prefer the old school feel of sitting around a table with books and dice and lead miniatures it is still exciting to think how we gamers and game publishers might find uses for new technology.
PDF publishing has also been a huge boon to artists as well. By being able to sell their work as royalty free stock art they have the potential to reach customers they otherwise would not be able to. Who knows-maybe one of the small press artists I’ve bought art from today will be tomorrow’s Larry Elmore!
Q6. Does piracy hurt RPG publishers or do you subscribe to the suggestion that copied games shared with friends spark interest and therefore more sales?
A: Remember how I said before one of the nice things about PDF publishing is the fact that it is infinitely reproducible? That benefit can work against us as well. Once a customer has bought a PDF of a game there’s nothing to stop him from giving a copy to everyone he knows. Is this a bad thing? Not entirely. The ease of PDF distribution does allow gamers to be exposed to systems they may have otherwise not been able to play.
I’m not sure if there have been any studies to determine if people who get free or pirated copies of game PDFs end up buying products from the company later on but it certainly has the potential to generate future sales. To draw a parallel with the music industry, several years ago a friend introduced me to a band named Therion and I liked it so much I copied one of the band’s CDs he had. That was about 12 years ago. Today I not only own a store bought CD of that same album but I’ve bought every other album they’ve released. I’ve also gotten my sister and a friend of mine into them as well. So yes, I believe it is possible sharing files with friends does have the potential to generate sales in the long run.
Q7. I’ve heard some people argue that the hobby side of roleplaying both harms and hurts the professional side. As long as there are talented amateurs who would be delighted to write something for their favourite RPG setting or system, even to the point of doing so at a cost to themselves, that professionals will struggle to make a living in the area. Do you agree?
A: I can see how some people might conclude it will make it tougher for small companies because the RPG industry is already saturated with products of nearly every genre you can imagine (and maybe even a few you haven’t imagined). However, I don’t see amateurs necessarily harming the industry simply because they offer free game material. If anything the material they produce may even inspire people who publish game products for profit.
Q8. How do you think Point of Insanity Game Studio and the general RPG scene will evolve over the next few years?
A: Point of Insanity will continue to grow, though slowly. I’ve learned a lot over the last two years but my main obstacle as of now is advertising and getting my name out there. I suffer the same problem many independent game designers do: I have more ideas than time and money to develop them! But since I’m not doing this with the intention of making a million dollars or to become the next Wizards of the Coast that isn’t an issue for me. My main concern is developing quality games because I enjoy designing RPGs and writing supplements for them. Most of the money I’ve made from my products has gone into buying more art for future books.
I think the RPG scene in general will continue to evolve with technology. We’ve already seen that with the proliferation of PDF publishing and companies that develop products to bring a digital touch to an industry that started with books, GM screens, and character sheets. As I said before I think it is exciting to see how the industry will evolve with technology. Now if only Hollywood could make a decent Dungeons and Dragons movie!
Check out the comments below to see what other Geek Natives think.