There have been some recent changes at Vigilance Press. At the start of the month Chuck Rice, company founder, launched the Vigilance Blog. Over on Facebook Chuck Rice also announced that James Dawsey had not only joined the company but had taken the position as owner and publisher.
Rice is expected to stay on both a writer and a consultant. So what’s going on? Geek Native was lucky enough to grab some of Dawsey’s time and although I can’t yet quiz him abount upcoming products (there’s a poll at RPG.net), there is scope for more general questions.
Q1. Can you tell us about yourself, your RPG background and business beliefs?
As a writer and an artist, I could probably talk about myself all day! Seriously, though, I’ve been fascinated by role-playing games since my father brought home a copy of the original blue-box D&D set from a toy store when I was very young. Some time in the 70’s, as I recall, though it might have been 1980. I have played games since then, with very little break in my pursuit of the hobby. I have written my own games and spent endless hours diving into my imagination to find something to share with others. I have only recently begun working professionally in the hobby, doing some freelance work for Green Ronin on their DC Adventures line as well as a little bit of writing for their Emerald City sourcebook. Nothing major, but it was a thrill to work with them. I’m a big fan of super-hero gaming, point-buy systems like HERO or M&M in particular, and creating my own settings using those kinds of rules.
Q2. How did you come to pick up Vigilance Press?
It all began with Vigilance, actually. Last year, Mike Lafferty invited me to host a demo game of DC Adventures on the Vigilance Press podcast after I starting working with Dan Houser (another Vigilance Press freelancer, and the line artist for ICONS). The Demo Podcasts were such a hit, and Jon Leitheusser at Green Ronin was so generous in letting us give “Previews” of unreleased characters in the show, that Mike kept asking me to come back and do more! Eventually, I got to speak to Chuck Rice about some projects I wanted to publish, and we laid tentative plans for doing so as I started working on them.
Then, on my drive up to Gen Con this year, I got a call from Mike Lafferty. He let me know that Chuck was looking to sell Vigilance, because he was tired of the business angle and wanted to get back to what he really loved: the writing. The very thought of Vigilance Press disappearing made my heart sink, so I got in touch with Chuck right away, and we discussed things. Anyone who met me over the course of that Gen Con weekend will probably have noticed how distracted I was! It was constantly on my mind… taking on a business like this is no small thing, especially when you have so many freelancers working under your banner!
In the end, Chuck and I ironed out a deal, and I made the leap. What he’s excited about is my dedication to improving Vigilance Press and taking us further than we’ve gone so far. I love our properties, but I want to see more people playing our stuff, and I want to see books printed, something we haven’t done under Chuck’s guidance yet. What I’m excited about is the chance to work with a group of amazingly talented people who are so much in love with what we do.
Q3. How do you see yourself and the company working with Chuck going forward?
Chuck is staying on to help me learn the ins and outs of Vigilance, he’ll be acting as a co-manager for a while. It’s not a sudden transition (at least, not from my perspective). But now that I’m there to worry about the day to day stuff, he can go back to writing things he’s had on the back burner for years! As far as I’m concerned, he started this train, I’m just stepping in as a new conductor.
Q4. Of Vigilance’s current titles; which do you see as the most important?
That’s a hard one to answer just yet. “Most Important” can mean different things to different people. What do the fans want? What do the artists like to draw? What do the writers like best? Whose “Pet Project” is the most precious to them? As company owner, I have to look at our sales figures and see what I can do to improve those… but it’s not a cold, calculated decision. There’s a lot of heart in these projects, and sometimes they miss an audience because they were created with the wrong fan group in mind, or just the wrong game system. Going forward, I plan to try and design our projects to give people more options, and a better avenue of feedback so the fans can tell us what they like. Shorter projects allow us to react more quickly to the interests of the market, and longer projects allow us to give more value to the customer, so you’ll be seeing both. People know me as a Mutants and Masterminds guy, so you’ll be seeing my name on a lot of those products, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore the ICONS lines or fail to present some ICONS variations on the M&M supplements.
I think I have to occupy this seat for a few months before I can really give that question a fair answer, but I will say that I’m looking back to some of our older properties to see what I can breathe new life into, in addition to nurturing the stuff we’re working on currently. I’m also listening, so anyone who wants to let me know what’s important to them are welcome to do so!
Q5. Can you shine any light on the relationship between RPGObjects and Vigilance Press?
RPGObjects is really before my time with Vigilance, that’s something you’d need to ask Chuck about.
Q6. How do you think the RPG industry is doing? What trends can you identify?
I see a lot of people working very hard to get noticed! As with any industry, if you can make a reputation for yourself, you will tend to get more work. Very few people are able to make this a full-time gig, though, so there’s a lot of part-time rock stars out there!
As far as Role-Playing Games themselves, I think a lot of excitement is swirling around the FATE system due to the popularity and quality of games like Evil Hat’s “The Dresden Files” licensed game. That’s a gorgeous set of books, by the way, I love ’em! We’re looking to launch our own FATE-based Supers rules soon. I think FATE and games like it remind me a lot of the White Wolf boom, when RPGs suddenly opened up to a whole new audience, people who weren’t just number-crunching fiends(that’s not an insult, by the way, I consider myself to be somewhat of a numbers player). Narrative-focused systems like FATE help broaden our appeal, and I certainly want to do the same for Vigilance Press. Production Values also go a long way towards enhancing the life expectancy of a game or product. What games do you remember from 10 years ago? Did they have great art? Lousy art? Good layouts?
Lots of people will pick up a book based on the cover art alone, but supplements and other kinds of third party support products are driven by how much people actually use those products, so fun gameplay is also a must. I’m making it a priority for Vigilance to concentrate on presentation going forward. That means which game systems we choose, how our products are laid out visually, and how art direction can improve the product lines in general. We already have some of the best and most creative writers in the business, now it’s time to make sure everyone gets a chance to read them.
Q7. What sort of product you do think buyers of tabletop RPGs want these days?
Again, this comes down to ‘what people take off the shelf.’ ICONS is a great example of a game I didn’t pay attention to at first, but I’m very interested in now. When ICONS first launched, I read an article in which Steve Kenson, the game designer, mentioned that it had random character generation. Old James shrugged and moved on to the next thing without giving ICONS another thought. Random character generation in a Supers game? Eh, been there, done that.
Wow. Okay, wait, people are buying this? And playing it? And buying third party supplements? A lot of them? Amazing!
Steve touched on something that had laid dormant in our industry for a while: the simple delight of rolling up a character in 10 minutes, and jumping into the thick of things right away. Superhero gaming had mostly turned away from that idea a while ago, but here it was again and people were loving it!
Cortex, Green Ronin and Evil Hat have all made strong entries recently, delivering licensed products: Smallville, Dresden Files, and Dragon Age are all good examples of publishers looking to deliver a tabletop experience of something people are fond of from another medium. Smallville from TV, the Dresden files from the popular novels (and sadly unpopular show), and the amazingly popular video game Dragon Age all represent a way of speaking to specific subsets of the RPG fan base and cross-marketing to the often larger fan-base outside the RPG market. I think those kinds of games have a lot to offer when done well, both in the fun gameplay and the merits of a setting everyone instantly understands.
Q8. Can you share any hints on the likely future direction of Vigilance?
“More but Better” is the phrase I’d like to say. I’m focusing on imitating the successful tactics I see employed by other companies and trying to develop the relationships I’ve made with the other freelancers. I’d like to give our people the chance to continue doing what is popular, and also encourage them to try some strange things from time to time. As an artist, I have a very critical eye for visuals, so you can certainly look forward to some ‘sprucing up’ of things in that department. You should start seeing a new Vigilance Press logo very soon, for example. I can’t show it to you yet, as it’s only in sketch form, but I think people will be happy to see the company taking a more polished approach to presentation… without sacrificing the talents of the amazing freelancers we already work with. Oh, and just to tie everything together, I must say that we will be trying very hard to open up lines of communication with our fans and listening to what they have to say! We will, most assuredly, “Stay Vigilant!”