I’m a backer on Trapdoor Technology’s Codename: Morningstar Kickstarter. This is a crowd-funding campaign to pick up a digital toolset that Wizards of the Coast pulled out of. The replacement software works with the Pathfinder Reference Document (PRD) instead.
Geek Native was lucky enough to land an interview with Trapdoor’s founding director Chris Matney. In the interview he suggests that Trapdoor is ready to announce which publishers they’ll be working with if Codename: Morningstar funds. Any bets on it being Paizo rather than Wizards? You can read that after the Kickstater pitch for the software.
For gamers just tuning in can you tell us about Codename: Morningstar and your Kickstarter?
Codename: Morningstar is a cloud-based application designed to enhance your tabletop RPG adventuring and storytelling. Everything about the game is at your fingertips from rulebooks, adventures, characters, and maps to the most specific character customization – even a hard-earned badge from an epic homebrew campaign. Tracking campaigns and compiling logbooks are no longer chores, but an integrated, shareable experience. And game night is streamlined. Rules lookups are instantaneous. Sharing of content, maps and secret notes is a single tap away.
We were initially developing the toolset for 5th edition D&D through a partnership with Wizards of the Coast. When the partnership ended in October, we had to quickly pivot in order to keep the project going. Hence, the Kickstarter campaign!
Which RPG systems will it run?
Morningstar utilizes the Open Gaming License – specifically, the Pathfinder Reference Document (PRD). While the focus of Morningstar is on telling a great story, rules provide a structure for the narrative action – allowing characters to interact with the world in a logical and fun way. We believe the PRD provides for the most flexible, extensible, and well-tested foundation for our role-playing app. We’re hoping that future versions of Morningstar may utilize other licensed rules systems, based on demand from the community.
Do you have any companies lined up to provide content? Are their any publishers in particular you’d like to work with?
Yes! We will be announcing publishers and authors who have joined the campaign in the coming weeks. We’re interested in the full gamut – from first time homebrew publishers to small indie presses to the larger commercial publishing houses. In the past, adventures have always had to be 32 or 64 pages long. They always had to have the same amount of content in order to have an MSRP that was high enough that the publisher could justify printing things in China, shipping them and distributing them. Content had to be not too long and not too short and it had to appeal to a very wide audience to get the required number of sales. One of the things that is great about our system is that it’s all digital. With our technology in particular, there will be room for niche writers who write very short adventures or writers who write very long, epic adventures. Both don’t really fit into the classic model. There will also be people who have never published anything – we’re hoping to see some of these folks get discovered by the community through Morningstar.
Which publishers are the most advanced when it comes to the digital revolution?
For the publishing world at large? The answer is actually pretty disappointing. The large publishing houses are very resistant to any change in the status quo, they have a well oiled monopoly on print books. Although niche publishers exist to fill certain needs that aren’t met by major publishers, the large companies have a stronghold on the traditional trade fiction industry. What we found is that there are small indie publishers who are less tied to the traditional publishing chain. They are more accepting of digital distribution and I think that they have the most to win by having a different medium other than paper become well established. Now that said, PDF documents are not much different than regular print documents as far as the features they provide and the distribution methods they employ. Plus, they are easily pirated and provide little to no security for large publishers.
In the case of publisher industries that focus on younger adults, they’re more progressive when it comes to digital publishing because its a form factor they’ve grown up with and expect. There is a higher adoption for publishers that speak to those particular audiences. Education being one, games being another and even a lot of businesses are starting to see the value proposition in internal corporate publishing
We believe that in the gaming industry, there will always be a place for a finely crafted, beautiful book. Their place however, will be in gamers’ collections – on the bookshelf or coffee table – not on the gaming table taking up space.
Does digital help recruit new blood to the RPG hobby? If so; how?
Yes, absolutely! For many players and especially for very young players, a pile of rulebooks is a daunting barrier to entry when it comes to RPG games. Even players who enjoy very complex games like CCG or miniatures are daunted by the stack of rulebooks required to play. By bringing that barrier of entry down so that new players can interact with the rules in a more intuitive manner and in a way that reflects the mobile experience that they are already comfortable with, the chances of getting a new person interested in roleplaying dramatically increases. As an example, one of our alpha testers had been trying to get his kids to play D&D but they looked at the pile of rule books like homework. When they started play testing Morningstar, it clearly became a game. The way they interacted with the information, the rules and the characters made them feel right at home playing and the experience was transformed.
What’s the attraction of digital for gamers who’ve an established routine and rarely need to buy anything new?
For Game Masters who create content or modify content for use, the big advantages is that they save 20-25% of their creative time which has traditionally been focused on inserting stat blocks and manually taking care of the mechanics of the game. With Morningstar, that time is recovered and can be used towards building a more in depth storyline or creating a more engaging campaign. For everybody who sits around the table and plays, they get an hour back that they lose to rule checks, finding old copies of characters or hunting for some piece of info that is months old but now super critical. All of those tasks are automated so that the game runs more quickly and you end up getting another hour of actual roleplaying with your group.
What trouble do you think Wizards of the Coast have with their digital vision?
The folks at Wizards of the Coast are bright and incredibly passionate. They put out a great product. A move to digital is a big jump for the company and it takes time for those types of transactions to occur.
Has the fragmentation of technology stacked the deck against traditional publishers?
Somewhat. The fact that there are many different tech platforms, form factors and operating systems that have to be considered to even launch a comprehensive digital strategy is a very complex environment to step into. Publishers are not developers. You can look at any of the large publishing companies and trade fiction shops like Barnes & Noble – they tried to do tech and failed because that isn’t their core competency. The publishers and booksellers who are succeeding are the ones who are partnering with tech companies for whom multiple platforms and form factors are core competencies. Which is why it is easier to partner with a company like Trapdoor Technologies to create a product than it is to create one on your own if you aren’t a software company.
What are Trapdoor’s plans for the future?
Obviously our short term event horizon is to get the Morningstar app refactored for the PRD and get all three platforms into the hands of our community. April 2015 is our goal. Longer term plans are to build out The Forge module into the community publishing platform that we wanted it to be from the beginning – the goal there is to launch in July of 2015
Then our goal is to grow the community of GMs and content developers into a very robust group of people who are creating the best content out there. If we can pick up additional game systems along the way, we are perfectly open to those discussions. Even with those game systems underneath, we think the story is really where the value is.
Join (or start) the healthy debate. Share your observations below.