In this month’s Echo we’re lucky enough to have an e-View of Dark Quest Games. As an extra bonus both Neal Levin (CEO of Dark Quest) and Darren Pearce (Fantasy Line Developer) will be answering questions for us. GameWyrd’s questions appear in strange blue and Dark Quest’s answers are in typical black.
1) Moon Elves was a great supplement from Dark Quest and now it’s a great supplement from Natural Press. What’s going on there? What’s in it for Dark Quest?
Neal: Dark Quest has solely operated from the stance of a design outfit. We are involved heavily in the game. Developing, writing, and utilizing our own products. Much of the delay in releasing products has been by the fact that I’ve been hampered by having to deal will most of the public business aspects of marketing and promoting awareness of our products. Moon Elves is a suppliment from Dark Quest and Natural Press. Dark Quest acts as the design outfit, while Natural 20 Press handles all our marketing aspects. Its advantage to me is that I get to have more time to write as well as can spend more time to enhance the team interaction. What it means for Dark Quest, is that we spend the time to enhance our products, and it means better things for the public.
Darren: I deal with the actual development and discussion of the ideas of the Fantasy line. While Chris Snook deals with Cyberstyle and as Tensen says (Since he knows more about the business side after all) he deals with the nitty gritty of the more hardcore aspects of the company. It frees me up to write, write, design and write. Did I tell you I like to write? And I’m commited to providing as much detail alongside our crunchy game mechanics people as possible. I’m the psychotic genius behind the Death: Guardian of the Gate for instance. And as Tensen says, having Natural 20 Press doing the marketing frees us up to do more writing/detail.
2) A visit to your website reveals that Dark Quest has as many articles of clothing and jewellery for sale as it has RPG products. We can see you were solely a re-enactment company for over ten years before turning your hand to producing gaming supplements. What brought this about? Was it the arrival of the d20 system that brought this about?
Neal: The physical staff of Dark Quest are medieval re-enactors, we live and breathe faire, you’ll see Ren Mercs, Ren Wenches, and Ren Rogues amongst our regular staff. To say we were long time gamers, would not be emphasizing the fact enough. We’ve had staff writing material for their local games for over 20 years. D20 definitely brought it about. For a long time I had considered the possibility of finishing up one or more of the game systems I have written over the years, but having a solid game system with the marketing behind it, gave us the structure to evolve the gaming aspect of the company around.
Darren: I joined Dark Quest a while ago, a good year ago to be honest, but my background comes from gaming and I mean hardcore gaming. For a while I ran my own RPG course in the UK which lasted 2 years and had the backing of TSR and I’ve been in the hobby in one way or another for 23 out of my 33 years. I wrote my first world and unpublished book at 10 (My parents gave me a healthy love of Fantasy at a very early age). For me the advent of d20 was a blessing and a chance to put forwards ideas that I’ve always wanted to do. And the scary thing is that I did lots of LARP and Re-enactment too, I’m also a sword weilding nutter from the UK. *chuckles*
3) Looking at some of the authors who have worked on Dark Quest products I can’t help but get the feeling you’re rather well networked in the industry. Do you think this is true?
Neal: I’m surprised how many people think this. I guess perhaps we are better acquainted with people then many of the other “small” PDF publishers are, but I don’t believe I am well networked. There are lots of people we don’t know. and would like to. We enjoy working with both well established industry people as well as the unpublished but promising individuals. You can find a nice mix of the two amid our products, and if you can’t tell the difference between the two.. then they are doing their jobs. And don’t be surprised if some of those new names you see, start showing up elsewhere.
Darren: I know a couple of people but I’m only a long distance friend of theirs. As Neal says, we have a mix in the company of very promising writers and artists/designers you name it. I’m really pleased to be able to see a fledgling like this take wing and fly. It gives me a special sense of pride when I see people like the work that I did in some of the City Guides and Moon Elves especially. And also it gives me a sense of pride to see the other authors producing quality content that delights and impresses. I can sit back and say, I was right, I knew X could do that. I tend to do a lot of stories myself and concentrate on finding crunchy game mechanics people to fill in the gaps. Moon Elves for instance was like this, I did a lot of the writeups for the items.
4) In recent weeks we’ve seen quite a few layoffs in the industry. Is this climate affecting Dark Quest? Is it time to tighten belts and review production plans?
Neal: Whether it causes an effect in our operation in any way, is still to be evaluated. We are rather small in the means of things, and sales levels that can effect a corporation the size of Hasbro would still leave a sizable market for us to operate in. Actually it is currently time to let out the belts and ride the wave. I would love to work with some of the individuals that WOTC has been letting go, they should contact us if they are looking for freelance work. As for our production plans, we are currently evaluating our release schedule for the Cyber Style product lines will be going. But our fantasy lines we be expanding rapidly.
Darren: The effect I could see would be that we’d have to hire some of the brightest stars who made the industry what it is, and give them a happy and wonderful home. Either that or at least work with some of them freelance as Neal says – So if you are reading this – the offers there *Wolfy Evil Grin*
5) Where do you see Dark Quest in five years time?
Neal: Where I want to see me in five years. is rolling around in piles of gold pieces with a library of gaming books all around me.. But I’ll settle for a really large library of any sort.
I envision in 5 years you’ll see Dark Quest releasing books in the fiction line, as we are working with many wonderful writers who have great vision.
Darren: I want to be famous, and rich, but still writing and madly designing things. I often don’t see my writing as being any great shakes, and I tend to be quite modest about it. So I’d be modestly rich and famous *grin* But in 5 years, I want to be one of those writers that releases his book in the fiction line and delights a whole new era of fans with stories that I should have told a long time ago.
6) In five years time what state do you think traditional tabletop pen and paper roleplaying will be in? Do you see it succumbing to computer roleplaying games?
Neal: People have been saying this for years. I’ve played on online MU* (Muds/Mushes/Muxes) and they’ve always wondered if the visual computer gaming was going to kill them out, and there are still hundreds if not thousands of those running, along with the handful of decent visual CRPG. Online IRC gaming has occurred, and I’ve taken part in them. Some of the fun is lost by not being there hanging out with the other players. And with NeverWinterNights, I of course wanted to have a hand in that, but I don’t think it will ever completely kill the market. People want to visualize their own things. Forcing a view on people will never be the only way to do things. Just like movies did not kill the written market.
Darren: I see that tabletop RPGs will always win out over computer RPGs no matter what bells, whistles and eyecandy you put on them. It’s a social thing, and for myself I’m a pack animal – I love the feeling of being around other people, having a laugh and seeing that look on a players face when their idea actually works and they get a kick out of being told – they did right. So I agree with Neal on that, as long as imaginations are not stagnated – we’ll be fine.
7) Where did the inspiration for the City Guides come from? Is it holding up well along side all things nautical and elven?
Neal: Inspiration for City Guides comes from what Dark Quest is all about. We love D&D for what it has done in building the framework for gaming. We pride ourselves in being people to help flesh out particular aspects of the roleplaying. The City Guides in particular are fueled by the fact that we’ ve enjoyed the products from older editions, such as City State of the Invicinsible Overlord and Waterdeep. The only problem I’ve had was that they are wonderfully complete cities. But they are too detailed together, such that as a DM I can’t just grab a quick location for a town of my own. They may never need the rest of the town. but I want to have a memorable location they can travel to.
Our City Guides have held up rather well against the competition. As there are likely just as many people in either the complete city market, as the details locales. It is currently our strongest line, and will continue into the future.
Darren: My first work was on City Guide 1, I did the Blue Flame Tavern and Inn, along with the story that introduced the book. That really snowballed things with my relationship with Dark Quest and Tensen. He found out that he’d got himself a writer who could crank out written work at an incredible pace and produce it to good quality. The City Guide line is still selling well, and I predict it will continue to do so. I have a few ideas for new books to that line and a couple of free downloads but I can’t say any more because it would spoil my air of wolfish aloof mystery.
8) The fantasy of the City Guides and cyber punk of Cyber Style make strange bedfellows. Do you think this range of product pushes Dark Quest forward or do you find it can be quite a battle to keep both sets of fans happy?
Neal: The two products lines actually have a different set of writers and developers. A few of the writers cross the line bwteen the two, but for the most part we have the staff to keep both sets of fans happy. We recently promoted Chris Snook to the role of Whisper City and Cyber Style Line Developer. You will see hear more about the Whisper City line in the near future.
Darren: Chris is a great guy, and CStyle is in good hands, I was very pleased to along with Tensen, promote him to the Line Developer of that line. Plus he’s got my other baby in his paws – Whisper City, but I can’t say much more about Whisper since we’re keeping a tight lid on it.
9) Do you think Dark Quest Games products are better than others from companies of a similar size? Why?
Neal: I would say we are different. One of the things that I’ve seen in the d20 market, is a lot of comradery. We aren’t so much as competiting with the other companies as complementing them. While we may cover the same topics as some other companies, it has always been my intension to keep our products covering slightly different aspects, and enhancing upon them. D20 didn’t create a horde of slobbering game orges out to grab the glory, it gave us the opportunity to really help spur the imagination of the readers. If you are a DM or a player that is interested in providing better roleplaying aspects for your character, as opposed to just more umph to your powers, then you will probably want to look at our products. We add flesh to the skeleton, and not a small bit of muscle to it as well.
Darren: Interesting question, my ego would say, YES they are. But there are many reasons why I’d not say that. I don’t want to come across as one of the industries big head egos – or create that kind of image. I just want to do my job and entertain people. So I’d say our products are an interesting synergy of detail and game mechanics with the emphasis on detail. We have a habit of trying to take an established idea and turn it around 180, or 360 from itself. For instance, and I can say no more at this time. I decided I would put my dark elves (note I say dark elves and not drow) from my own game world Ashirion (Which should be a Dark Quest game system/world sometime in the future) out for other people to play with. But I won’t spoil it, but I can say with clarity you might not have seen dark elves like these ever. I think the reason we’re good is that we have a lot of talented writers who are just as commited as myself and Neal to providing quality entertainment at a reasonable price and trying to alter the mould of traditional Fantasy.
10) Dark Quest isn’t known for producing dungeon crawls and prestige classes. Is this a marketing decision or perhaps a matter of taste or chance?
Neal: We don’t want to be neglecting in that we do create prestige classes. People expect us to, and we do believe prestige classes should be there. We try to tailor our classes to the particular product, so unless you want to see a Guild Master, of which there are probably dozens of variations, you likely won’t see prestige classes in the standard City Guide product line anytime soon. You will see a few prestige classes in the Cultures product line, and some of the other ones.
As for dungeon crawls. That is currently a marketing decision. At the present time, we currently have enough projects in the works to last us into 2004 without covering any adventures. Whether we produce city based adventures in the future is one a matter of chance (whether a writer contacts with a plan in place), or one of our staff writers goes completely bonkers and decides he absolutely must write one or he will go postal. [no offense to any postal workers or ones who play one on TV]
Darren: Dungeon crawls, perhaps I might do one, but it would be again – totally different compared to the others out there. I don’t like copying anything, even slightly. Though in my world there’s a few ideas that were inspired by certain things as a child from life, film, and books (especially Lord of the Rings) As for PrC’s well for me it’s a matter of choice, I’d rather be writing flavour text and detail/design than scrawling over mechanics and the like. For instance I’ve been told the Sword Singer from the Moon Elves is like the Blade Singer from D&D. I’d more likely say that it’s based on a corruption of the Wardancers from WHFRP than D&D because I always loved those elves – something about song and swordwork just struck me as cool. But you never can tell with me. I might wake up tomorrow and decide – today is a day for a city adventure and spend two weeks cranking out 7,000 words/day to create something totally off the wall.
(GameWyrd notes – We’re in the Out of the Box section now. A couple of unusual questions for which we expect unusual answers!)
11) Imagine a strangely accented man with oddly coloured eyes thrust a battered and torn scroll at you, explained that it was of utmost importance that you read the words of the scroll from the top of the nearby hill during tomorrow’s dawn and then he then ran off before you could ask him anything else. Would you read the scroll on the hill at dawn?
Neal: As one of my standard characters I would boldly and blindly read the scroll on the hilltop.. and probably wait for the whole hill to explode.
As for myself, I’d scan over the scroll before I got up to the hill, hoping it wasn’t someone’s grocery list. If I liked what I read, I’d happily chant the scroll. Of course I’d be hoping it was a full moon, so I could punctuate it with a good howl. Otherwise, I’d be sitting with someone holding a flashlight over my shoulder so I could read, because I’ve always found it extremely difficult to read scrolls in the dark by candlelight. (Don’t ask)
On second thought. I’d probably be standing there wondering if I knew the person from someplace, because he was strangely familiar. I would probably then head over to the hilltop and take a nap. When the gawd-aweful yellow thing started rising way too early in the morning. I’d take out a bottle of Dr. Pepper, take a good swing. Blink a few times, and then belt out whatever was written on the scroll. And then try and quiet down the dogs in the neighborhood that were barking.
Darren: Oooh estoeric question, this requires some thought. Yeah, I’m nuts enough to go and read the scroll at dawn on the hill. Knowing me it’d be a shopping list or some ritual that blew the world up. But you live and learn, as long as I looked good doing it, I wouldn’t mind. I’d have to wear a long black cloak and a hood though just for that extra effect. If it were one of my other characters, he’d probably steal off with the scroll and go and read it at his leisure, decide if it were worth doing and then if not find a brothel and spend the night/day/night there with the scroll in his pocket just out of spite. Yeah, I play some evil swines sometimes.
Neal: *chuckle* You know this is the weird thing of working with Darren. We do think a lot alike. I was thinking the two exact things he was.. about the shopping list or blowing up the world.
12) If you were to find yourselves in a world entirely like this one except that there was no concept at all of roleplaying games and yet you had a magical and endless supply of core d20 rule books how would you go about making a living from them?
Neal: I would find the best marketing team I could buy and be the new TSR of this world. I would then find a memorable slanderous term for my own product, and start slandering it so badly, that people started buying the product just to spite their parents. Okay, maybe I’m not quite that evil.
Darren: I’d be there with Neal, and we’d take over the world. It’d be like Pinky and the Brain only a thousand more times terrifying since we’d actually set out to accomplish something and do it. I’d have to corrupt people into playing them, of course we’d probably get some religious furvour going as well behind the scenes so that it would be considered cool to be one of the rebels who owned the books. If there were no Satan I’d invent a demon and call it Tensen, and then a whole religion to oppose it. Then we could sell books based on the ‘rebel’ factor. Sorry I’m being a little caustic there, since I get sick of seeing those self same religious fanatics now, decrying a harmless hobby (watch out folks he’s really an agent of the dark one Bob) Anyways – we’d try and enrich the lives of many people as we could. And just as one big smile to those who are bothered about Dungeons and Dragons. I ran my course for 2 years and all my students went off – found respectable jobs and none of them fell to the powers of the dark lord of the abyss. So roleplaying can have a positive effect on people’s lives. Apart from Damien, that kid just wouldn’t stop spinning his head around.
Neal: Oh, there I am… stuck in the naughty demon role again. My I’m type cast.