Charles Rice is Vigilance Press and has the Vigilance superhero RPG and the Sci-Fi Prometheus Rising too his name. More recently, Charles has written the spacecraft combat toolkit, Blood & Space, for RPGObjects and a Dragonstar adventure for Mystic Eye Game’s Raw Recruits. GameWyrd’s questions appear in strange blue and Charles’ answers are in typical black.
1) Are you moonlighting on yourself? We can find your name but not the Vigilance Press logo on the likes of Raw Recruits and the new Blood and Space?
Hmmm…. that’s an interesting way to look at it, and I never thought of it that way. I suppose you could say that I am moonlighting on myself. For me, “forming a company” (I always looked at it as self-publishing) was not the end in and of itself, it was a means to an end- to get into the business as a writer.
You see, I had pitched product to several companies previously, including Mongoose (it was a slayer’s guide), and some other companies, was that they weren’t sure I could handle a big project, so they wanted me to contribute on a smaller scale first, like send them some spells, a monster, a free web enhancement, that sort of thing. This is the same model that TSR/WOTC has used forever, where you can’t do anything without making your bones by submitting a Dragon or Dungeon article. Now, I fully understand why companies want to work this way, and I respect it, and when I wrote Vigilance I was working on some spells and other proposals (I sent RPGObjects some mutations as I recall), but my goal with Vigilance, besides making some cash and giving an outlet for others to see a system that my players kept telling me was really good, was to show the rpg companies out there that I could be trusted with a big project, and that I could deliver a complete game.
And, in my case, it worked. I would recommend to anyone that they self-publish on RPGNow as a way to get noticed in the business. If you know your stuff, it can open a lot of doors. I can only say in my case, that the way I was treated by publishers after they had read Vigilance was very different from before I had written it.
So for me, if other work as a writer in the business didn’t come calling, I was content to continue doing my own thing as a “Company”, but my main purpose in forming Vigilance Press was to get a couple of 20K Writing samples, that I could send to companies and say “Not only can I write, but people actually have PAID for that.”
It makes a big difference.
2) How did you end up working on those two products? Who came to who first?
Well, its funny, because I for the most part pitch ideas to publishers, but in the two cases you mention, I was approached first as I recall.
Raw Recruits was a case where, during a conversation Doug and I were having about when Vigilance would be released and other such sundries, he said “Hey, its short notice, but I need a writer for a project NOW. Have you ever heard of Dragonstar?” I had the Starfarer’s Handbook, but had never gotten around to reading it (not that I told Doug that), and after staying up reading it all night (and *loving it*) I was trading emails with the other writers about who would do what the next day.
Blood and Space was a little different… I had written Prometheus Rising with a friend of mine, a big science fan Chris Nicholson, and soon as I saw the game was good I was ready to pitch it to publishers. But we decided to put it out as a PDF first.
After it was released, the OTHER Chris (owner of RPGObjects) came to me and said he really liked the space combat system, would I be willing to pull it out from the setting, expand that one chapter into a whole sourcebook for all the sci-fi d20 games out there. My response was a resounding yes! That was such a great idea, one I wish I had thought of in the first place, and one that fills what I see as a great market. I suppose having ideas like that is why Chris is a businessman and I’m a writer :)
3) Can you explain how an imprint partnership works for those of us who don’ t know? What’s in it for you? What’s in it for the partner? Is a game published as part of an imprint deal a bit like a movie going straight to video?
Well, an Imprint partnership is two companies working together to bring a product to market. In my case with MEG, I had the game, and I had pitched it to absolutely everyone (I sent the game to MEG, Mongoose, FFG, Fast forward, Bastion you name it they got IT or a cover letter about it). For MEG, what was in it was that they got to see the game, see that there was a market for it, before deciding to invest any capital in the game. Doug could read the complete game, could see that it was selling, and then decide if he wanted to commit money to the project. What was in it for me was a chance to see a game I wrote in print. At the time Vigilance was the first commitment to a print run that anything I had written had gotten.
I dont really see the analogy of a movie going straight to video. I think its more akin to Pixar working with Disney on a movie. Disney has its experitse, Pixar has theirs, so they get together and do a project (or two) together, in order to make the final product better. That’s the way I see imprint partnerships. What you’re saying is “I’m not sure I want to work with you forever, but for THIS project at THIS time, our two companies can make a better game that will appeal to more gamers”.
Doug is absoultely amazing at partnerships like this. Whether its PDF publishers, some of them huge (like Natural 20), or a beginner like Vigilance Press, to FFG’s Dragonstar, to Arcana Unearthed, to Mongoose, he has a real knack for seeing an opportunity to work together instead of competing.
4) You’ve got the Vigilance RPG itself that is super heroes game, Prometheus Rising, Blood and Space and Raw Recruits that are all Sci-Fi. Do you not like fantasy?
I love fantasy! It’s funny how things happen. I have had a couple of ideas that I pitched to companies that were fantasy lately and been asked “Can you write Fantasy? How well do you know the spells?” And I just have to laugh. I am a huge fan of the fantasy genre, and have a homebrew D&D campaign going back to when I was a 16 yr old who had read an article in Dragon on world design. But so far I have only been paid to write science fiction sub genres.
5) What inspired you to put pen to paper and come up with Vigilance in the first place? Vigilance is the first d20 super hero game that I can think of and it must have taken a leap off faith to create the first PDF edition all by yourself.
For me it was two things. First, I had wanted to play supers, and so did my group. At that time, there were NO superhero games on the market, PDF or print… remember, this was before Godlike, before Hero came back into the print medium (and the older Hero editions were hard to find)… one of my players who has known me forever (my sister- we go way back) remembered I had tinkered with a superhero game in college called Vigilance, a point based classless system. She said she liked it, and that I should take another stab at it (the older rules are lost to the moving Gods).
It sounded fun, so I started to think about it. Now I had seen the Foundation… and I had heard the rumblings that Mutants and Masterminds was going to be classless, levelless, and hit-point-less, so I decided to see if I COULD make a d20 game that was just a d20 game. You know, pick a race, pick a class, roll some stats, pick some feats….
Once we had played it for a couple of weeks, I began to think about what to do with the game, because it seemed really solid. Having tinkered with designing games since college, I can tell you that you never know until the playtesting starts. Sometimes you think you have a clunker and she runs for years. Sometimes the paint job is the only thing worth looking at. I had recently started to buy PDFs (Darwin’s World and Book of Eldritch Might were my first two purchases and boy did they spoil me!) and after enquiring to RPGnow about what it took to get going, decided to go that route.
It was very intimidating. Agonizing. The first day I sold nothing. Nada. I cannot describe that feeling. So I went to bed saying “Ah well, at least you can say you did it.” And when I woke up the next morning it had started selling, and it’s still selling Im happy to say.
6) There are more super hero games in the d20 market now, Silver Age Sentinels as well as Mutants and Masterminds for example. Could the competition be any more intimidating?
Well, I’m of two minds about this question.
First, I’m not sure rpg products compete in the way a lot of folks seem to think they do. I think a GM who wants to run a supers game, or a fantasy game, or a post apocalypse game, is likely to buy multiple products, pick the one that best strikes his fancy as the base system, and cherry pick from all the rest. This is the beauty of universal systems like GURPs, Hero, and d20.
Looking at it another way- Vigilance was the first d20 superhero game in existence (I dont consider Foundation, because it really didnt have any character generation rules in it- just some characters). By the time Silver Age Sentinels and Mutants and Masterminds were out, Vigilance was done. I mean done. Expanded for the print edition and already edited for the print edition (thanks Wade!). Under different circumstances, with different timing, I would have looked at what they did, and been influenced by it. But I never got that chance, for good or ill. So there’s another way in which the competition didnt affect me.
Do I respect those games? You bet I do. Mutants and Masterminds might be the best looking, best executed project since the 3rd edition of D&D. But the “competition” angle was really eliminated by the luck of timing. I never had the chance to be intimidated.
Looking at it another way- if M&M had come out one year earlier, I would have never written Vigilance. I think Vigilance has a lot to add to the mix don;t get me wrong- it’s the most “traditional” of the superhero offerings to date (in my opinion)- but had I been able to go to a gamestore and BUY a game, I doubt I would have gone to the trouble to write one.
7) Do you have any advice for Wyrdlings who might have their own idea for a game and are considering entering the RPG industry via the PDF route?
Well my first piece of advice is to use the PDF route. If you have an original idea, one that catches people’s attention, it is THE easiest way to get the attention of the owners of the companies. Self Publishing in the print medium is an expensive way to learn from your mistakes. Paying several thousand dollars to look back and say “I wish I had known that”. A Good PDF can be made for less than 300 dollars: 150 dollars for a PDF distiller- 150 dollars for some artwork.
So, for a few hundred bucks, you can get some exposure, begin to learn the business. However, you need to make sure your idea is something with an eye-catching quality. That’s harder than it used to be. But it can be done.
The other advice I would give is to be a customer first. That was how I started. I was a PDF consumer before I wrote one. This gave me an intimate understanding of what my customers expected (and what they didnt much care about).
8) What sort of products would you like to see people play more of?
Well I can only judge from my own example here. I am still a consumer of RPG products. When I go into my FLGS, my attention is caught by the product that has not been done a thousand times. I don’t immediately run and pick up the latest splatbook, or the latest book of 20 prestige classes. Frankly, those books don’t appeal to me. I would like to see people use the unusual products. Nyambe. GURPs WWII (quite possibly the most impressive RPG book I have ever bought). Godlike. Call of Cthulhu.
I may be biting the hand that (sort of) feeds me here, but I pause to point out that only half of the books I name as books that have really made me go fan-boy over the last couple of years have been d20 books. In some ways, I think companies are in a rut. However, there ARE companies out there making great innovative products.
Im not sure Ive answered this one. I like big crunchy books that have substance and style. I love rules. I love tinkering with them, getting my hands dirty on them, shaking them turning them over, trying to bend them, and seeing if they’ll break. This is why Monte Cook and Aaron Allston are the greatest game designers I have ever seen. Their rules just dont shake apart. I am not a big fan of “Chew” (I think fluff is dismissive)- a lot of reviewers put down big crunchy products- I prefer to come up with my own story- I want innovative books of game mechanics to make that happen.
9) Do you think there will come a point where you’ve outgrown the assistance Mystic Eye provides?
Well again you’ve put it in a way I never would have. MEG isn’t the big brother I would like to stop riding my bus and going to my school and telling my parents what I did wrong at gym class. I dont see them as something I would never need to outgrow. I have learned a lot from them, and would be happy to continue to work for them.
That said, I don’t work for MEG, and it may well be that after Vigilance’s run is done (they have committed to 4 sourcebooks supporting the main game- so it might be awhile lol), that we part ways. That’s the nature of the business right now. If that happens, I wouldn’t be surprised actually. But by the same token, if MEG asked me to write a sourcebook for them tomorrow, and I thought I could pull it off, I wouldnt hesitate to sign on the bottom line either.
10) What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
That’s a really hard question to answer. My gut reaction is to say “This! are you crazy?” But I look back five years into the PAST, and see a Charles Rice who was a manager at a large corporation, working his way up the corporate ladder, and if you had asked me then what Id be doing in five years I would have seen myself two higher steps up that big ladder. Ten years ago I was an English Literature major nursing a dying father and planning on a career in academia.
So, its hard to say. Im happy where I am right now, but you never know what life is going to throw your way.
(GameWyrd notes – We’re in the Out of the Box section now. A couple of unusual questions for which we expect unusual answers!)
11) You’re trapped in a dimension similar to ours expect that there’s no concept of roleplaying games at all. By magical means you’ve an unlimited supply of core rules and they come to you entirely free. Can you think of a way to use them to make a living? If so, how?
I would use them to build great works of architecture. Perhaps a wall to protect us from the Mongol hordes. Or great pyramids to sacrifice enemies captured in battle to ensure the sun would rise one more day.
Where do you come up with these things? I forsee that a lot of Tequila goes down during the writing of these questions. Lol.
12) 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?
I would send Bruce Campbell an email. He’d know what to do in a situation like that. Hell he named Spider Man and had a Chainsaw for a hand. Yeah. He’s the guy for something like that. I’m just a writer for crying out loud.