Jim Butler is a veteran of the RPG industry. He has a string of credits to his name under the TSR flag, some with Wizards of the Coast and then founded Bastion Press with the release of the d20 system and OGL. He’s worked on Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun and Alternity. GameWyrd’s questions appear in strange blue, Jim’s answers are in typical black.
1) What was your reaction to the announcement of the 3.5 edition of D&D? Has your opinion change now that they’ve been published?
The D&D upgrade cycle (releasing a new version about once every 3-4 years) was always on the design board from the moment we launched 3rd Edition. The games industry changes at a frantic pace now, and re-releasing the core books on a faster-paced schedule would allow Wizards to update the rules and layout to better represent the business market of the future.
I think 3.5 is even better than 3.0. The great designers at WotC have taken a look at the system over the past few years, listened to the fans’ questions, and made much-needed improvements to the game we all love. Everyone wins.
2) Is Oathbound a Dungeons & Dragons game, or is it a d20 game?
I don’t see a difference. It’s kind of like asking if Office is a Windows program or an XP program. The Oathbound setting uses the rules behind the Dungeons & Dragons game (the d20 Game System) to bring a gaming environment to a truly unique and wondrous world.
3) How much of Bastion Press’ focus is going to be on Oathbound in the next year or so?
We’ll continue to craft Oathbound game products as long as the audience wants them, and that’s certainly keeping us busy right now. Oathbound: Arena (detailing the second of the seven domains of the world), launches in late August. Forged (by Thomas M. Reid, author of Insurrection) just launched at Gen Con.
From there, you’ll see about one game product a quarter from us. And Thomas has a few more novels in the works as well.
4) How’s running Bastion Press different from working with TSR?
I’ve got much greater freedom in running a company than I did by working at TSR. Of course, that also means that I’ve got to find ways to pay all of the bills, create a marketing budget, and do other things that I didn’t get involved in much while at the old TSR.
5) Your Yahoo username (which we won’t mention in order to stall the fanboys) still contains the letters tsr. Is this just because it’s inconvenient to change it, because you think of yourself as a TSR man, a point of pride or something else?
I’m very proud of my work and time spent at TSR. The creative staff at the company was a close-knit family that watched out for each other, gathered together on weekends for BBQs and tree-planting parties, and did things above and beyond the general call of duty.
I’ve left my screen names the same at a number of sites and services just because it was easier. I’ve never really used Yahoo much, and family and friends still keep sending me mail to my AOL account. I should get around to changing them one of these days, but with Trillian it’s easier for me to just leave them as they are.
6) Glossy, full colour products are wonderful but they don’t seem have been as successful as you would have hoped. Why do you think that is?
I think our full-color products allowed us to get noticed more than we otherwise would have. At the time Bastion launched, there were a large number of companies in the field, and Bastion’s full-color stance helped us get picked up by the book and hobby trade distributors.
But printing in color is expensive, and as the d20 industry continues its half-life cycles (where sales drop roughly 50% each cycle), printing in color ceased to become a viable option.
We haven’t seen a drop in sales as a result from moving to black & white. While everyone likes to see full-color products, it doesn’t seem to weigh heavily in purchasing decisions.
7) Can we expect to see Bastion partner up with anyone else in the future? Take a few imprint companies in under your wing?
It’s a possibility. Imprinting is ideal for starting companies that aren’t planning a release each month to get their products out into the marketplace (because it’s extremely difficult to do it on your own; distributors are reluctant to pick up one-shot products from starting companies these days). Imprinting works best for Bastion when we’re working with a company that isn’t trying to release the same kinds of products that we are.
But imprinting is also a business arrangement. As an imprint, you’re not going to make as much money as you would if you sold the same quantities yourself. The benefit with imprinting is that you’re not fronting printing and advertising costs, and that you’re getting sold at the same sales levels as other Bastion Press products.
8) What’s exciting you in the roleplaying world at the minute?
The launch of 3.5 is the most exciting thing I see out in the RPG world right now. I think there’s a good chance for Wizards to reignite the market with the revised core rulebooks, and I hope that brings many of those that have been steering away from d20 back into the fold.
9) If you could go back in time and do something differently, what would it be?
I would have stopped doing full-color products sooner (probably with Pale Designs or Guildcraft). Again, I love the full-color products, but it just doesn’t seem to have been a major factor in consumers’ purchasing decisions.
10) Is it true that you work out, visit the gym and engage in all sorts of healthy activities? Surely that’s against everything roleplayers hold dear!
*chuckle* Well, lately I’ve been 100% roleplayer. The month between Origins and Gen Con pretty much kept me chained in front of the computer. Now that Gen Con is over, I’ve been shackled behind the desk answering emails and getting orders out the door.
I do try and get to the gym as often as I can, though. While I don’t ever see myself developing into a hard-bodied jock that you see on the cover of Men’s Health, I do feel better when I work out.
(GameWyrd notes – We’re in the Out of the Box section now. A couple of unusual questions for which we expect unusual answers!)
11*) What did you debut at Gen Con?
We launched our first 3.5-compatible product, Torn Asunder: Critical Hits. It’s a quick and elegant way to provide a critical hit system that doesn’t slow combat down to a crawl. It fast-paced and fun, and doesn’t require pages upon pages of tables and charts to determine what happened.
12) Rather than finding a healthy mug of coffee waiting for you when you wake up in the morning you discover a glowing portal. Do you step through it? If so, why?
I wouldn’t step through—I’d dive in! You never know when portals like that will decide to close. :)
Fantasy literature1 is filled with characters that have left our world to adventure in other realms, and all of us have fantasized about what it would be like to ‘live the fantasy.’ I’d love the opportunity to visit a new realm. I’d just be hoping as I jumped through that I didn’t show up in Asmodeus’ throne room or Tiamat’s dinner plate…
*Actually, we think we asked Jim what he’d do if he found himself in a weird world without roleplaying as his other Out of the Box question. Doesn’t matter. This question may have the slightest whiff of clever marketing about it but it’s also interesting and so we’ll leave it alone.