As promised last month, Chris Pramas agreed to do an interview for F:AT. Chris Pramas worked with Wizads of Coast. His work for Dungeons & Dragon include: Slavers, Guild to Hell, Apocalyse Stone, Vortex of Madness and some work on the 2000 Players Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guild. Chris has also worked on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. He currently runs his own Role Playing Company Green Ronin Publishing. Green Ronin Publishing publishes Dragon Age, A Song of Ice and Fire and Mutants & Masterminds and DC Adventures.
KingPut: We're here today with Chris Pramas from Green Ronin Publishing. Chris has agreed to give FortressAT an exclusive interview because I gave Chris his first professional writing gig. While Chris was still in high school I paid him to help me write a college history paper on Alexander the Great. Chris, sorry for not going all high tech in this interview with a pod-cast or YouTube video. We're going old school like a Playboy Playmate interview. So Chris what are you WEARING right now (just kidding).
Chris: My sleeping shorts and a t-shirt, because I’m doing this interview in bed. Sexytime!
KingPut: Just to start us out, can you give us some background or history of Green Ronin Publishing? (How long has Green Ronin been in business? How many employees? Where are you located? What are some of the games in your product line? etc)
Chris: I started Green Ronin in the year 2000. I was working at Wizards of the Coast at the time on the D&D Chainmail miniatures game. I found I missed doing RPG work so I decided to start a side venture. It’s fair to say things went well, so when I was laid off in 2002, I just stepped in to doing GR full time. We are Seattle based, but our staff (there are nine of us currently) are spread out all over the country. We have people in Illinois, New Hampshire, Oregon, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington.
At the moment we have four major RPG lines: Dragon Age, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, Mutants & Masterminds, and DC Adventures (which uses M&M’s rules in the DC Universe).
KingPut: How did you pull off getting the rights to Game of Thrones? Did you call up George R. R. Martin and say, "Hey George, hurry the frak up and finish the 4th book so we can start this role playing game?" Or did you say, "George why are you wasting time with this HBO thing? Cable TV is so 1990s, let do a RPG."
Chris: A company that’s now out of business previously had the license. A year or so after they went down in flames, I thought the time was right to go after it. I just cold e-mailed George, introduced myself, and offered to send him some of our books. Knowing he was a comic fan from way back, I sent several books of our Mutants & Masterminds line and he liked what he saw. We then got to negotiating and GR ended up licensing both A Song of Ice and Fire and the Wild Cards series.
KingPut: Even if I don't play RPGs any more, I really enjoy reading RPG books for the background information about the setting or universe of the games. So I was thinking of picking up your Game of Thrones RPG. Which book would you recommend me starting out with for Game of Thrones?
Chris: If you only want to read the background info, I’d pick up the Campaign Guide. It’s the setting book for the game, with lots of info about the Seven Kingdoms and beyond. The core rulebook really is mostly rules, so if you don’t want to look at the system then the Campaign Guide is the way to go. We just put out a revised edition of it in September. Its full name is the A Song of Ice and Fire Campaign Guide: A Game of Thrones Edition. A bit of a mouthful!
KingPut: And how about the DC Adventures RPG? Did you stalk Stan Lee (or is he the Marvel guy?) and say "Why are you wasting times with movies when you could be doing a RPG?"
Chris: Yes, Stan Lee is a Marvel guy. Hence all his cameos in the Marvel movies.
The DC license was a long and complicated negotiation that took 3 years. Basically, some folks on their editorial side liked our Mutants & Masterminds game and put us in touch with the licensing department. There were several points where I thought it was a no go, but it was DC’s 75th Anniversary that helped us seal the deal. They wanted DC everywhere that year, even in niche markets like pen and paper RPGs. We made a deal to do a limited four book line and that became our DC Adventures RPG. Three of the books are out now and the fourth (DC Adventures: Universe) should be out before Xmas.
KingPut: Ok, here's a question I ask everyone who knows anything about comics. If Batman and Aquaman were in a fight who would win? How about Aquaman vs. Dr. Doolittle? Hey can you do this battle with the DC Adventures RPG?
Chris: I think it depends on where the fight is. At sea it’s going to be Aquaman and on land Batman. And yes, you can certainly do that fight in DC Adventures. You can find game stats for both in the second book of the line, Heroes & Villains, Volume 1. No stats for Dr. Doolittle though!
KingPut: A few years back Green Ronin was doing the Warhammer Fantasy RPG stuff. Tell me about that project.
Chris: I got into Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay back when I was in college. We played that more than any other RPG in those years. Later, I got to contribute to an adventure called Dying of the Light when Hogshead Publishing had the license. Then for some years there was no WFRP, but I did make some contacts at GW through the industry and through writing some Warhammer and 40K short stories for the Black Library (GW’s fiction division). When GW first got interested in doing RPGs again, I consulted with them and gave them the lay of the land. Then I was able to negotiate a deal for Green Ronin in which we’d be their RPG design studio. So basically, we’d go over there for a week once a year and work out a schedule. Then GR would get the books written, edited, illustrated, and laid out. GW, of course, had approvals on everything. When a book was ready, they would solicit, print, and sell it. We did that for several years and produced a lot of new WFRP material, which was exciting for an old fan of the game and setting like me.
KingPut: Back in the 1990s you were working for Wizards of the Coast. Can you tell us about that experience?
Chris: I started off in RPG R&D, writing books for AD&D 2nd edition and Alternity. I wrote books like Guide to Hell, Slavers, and The Vortex of Madness. When WotC decided to get into miniatures, I moved over that that division. I figured I could have a bigger impact in a new division than as low man on the totem pole in RPG R&D. Trying to launch a traditional miniatures game in a company that only really understands collectability was a thoroughly frustrating experience though. We did finally get to launch the D&D Chainmail game, but it was the result of a series of compromises that made no one happy. For one thing, the original plan was to do a skirmish game that led into a full mass battle game. My third boss in that group, who was not a minis guy in background, decided the game should only be a skirmish game, which meant most players would only need around a dozen figures. Then they asked us if we were going to make $10 million the first year! When we said no, few of the higher ups retained any interest in the game. They cancelled it a week before it won an Origins Award for Best New Minis Game.
I could go on and on but let’s just say that in many ways getting laid off was a relief. At least I was free from brand managers and other such idiots.
KingPut: So tell me about the process you go through when working on a new RPG or book? Do you take out the hookah and smoke some hash while you create some crazy ass world?
Chris: I like to do a lot of research when world building, which may sound weird when you’re talking about making something up. However, I draw a lot of inspiration from history, mythology, and such. I keep notes as I’m reading, and eventually use these to sketch out what I’m trying to do. I also usually make a crude map early on, as geography dictates a lot about the way cultures develop.
It’s easier when doing a supplement for an existing game. Then you are building on something that already exists. It’s easier to assess what’s there, decide what you want to add or expand, create an outline, and then get to it.
KingPut: The last RPGs I remember playing with you in high school were Traveler and Space Opera. I remember constantly dying in the Science Fiction worlds. I guess I could get use to the fact that a phaser or blaster in a SF RPG did a lot more damage than a Berserker wielding a bastard sword in D&D. Have you worked on any futuristic space games?
Chris: You’ve put your finger on the reason fantasy remains much more popular in RPGs than scifi. Games that try to be in any way realistic are not going to let you heal up right after taking horrific wounds. It’s also why the scifi games that tend to work best are more science fantasy, like Star Wars.
Anyway, I’ve worked on a few games in the genre. I contributed to the Star Trek: The Next Generation RPG that Last Unicorn did in the late 90s. I wrote a bit for Alternity at WotC. And then there’s Warhammer 40,000: Dark Heresy, but again 40K is not your typical scifi universe.
KingPut: At F:AT we do a lot of top 5 lists so let me ask you a few top 5 lists.
You were into punk rock back high school and college what are your top 5 punk bands?
Chris: I’m still a punk and go to shows regularly. I like angry music. :)
It’s hard to narrow it down to five but I’ll try for you. I might answer differently on another day…
1. The Clash
2. Mission of Burma
3. Naked Raygun
4. The Wipers
5. Articles of Faith
KingPut: What are your top 5 comic books or comic book series?
Chris: Well, let’s see:
1. Alan Moore anything (V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Top 10, etc)
4. Rex Mundi
5. Age of Bronze
KingPut: I remember seeing some of the Conan movies and Excalibur with you back in the day. So what are your top 5 fantasy – adventure movies? If Christian Peterson's Midnight Chronicles made the list you've lost all credibility here. I guess he was saving money on paying designers, artists and editors to make this masterpiece of a movie.
Chris: Gee, I missed that one. Darn!
1. Fellowship of the Ring
2. Pan’s Labyrinth
3. Excalibur (still!)
4. Chinese Ghost Story
5. 13th Warrior
KingPut: What are you working on now or what should we be looking for in the near future?
Chris: I am working on finishing up Set 3 for my Dragon Age RPG. We’ve been doing the game sort of like the old Basic D&D sets, so Set 1 covered levels 1-5, Set 2 levels 6-10, and Set 3 will be levels 11-20. That will complete the core game.
Other stuff we have coming up includes the Night’s Watch book for A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, the Emerald City setting for Mutants & Masterminds, and the fourth DC Adventures book, Universe. We’ll also be launching our first Kickstarter soon, so watch our website for more info on that.
KingPut: You recently went to Historicon, miniatures game convention in Fredricksburg, Virginia. What was that like?
Chris: Oh, it was great fun. I’ve wanted to go forever but its July dates put it right in the middle of my convention season with Green Ronin. This year I was going to be on the East Coast anyway, so it worked out. For many years I’ve been going to a local historical minis con here in Washington called Enfilade. It’s in Olympia and draws about 300 folks. It’s usually the only con I get to go to strictly to game and have fun, but this year I got to follow it with Historicon. It was similar to Enfilade, but ten times the size. They had a great dealers’ hall, with many companies you never see in game stores. I also got to play in a giant Space: 1889 game run by Frank Chadwick himself. I hope to go back next year.
KingPut: Any other cons that you or Green Ronin are going to this year?
Chris: We just finished GenCon and the Penny Arcade Expo. In mid-September we’ll be at a new show in Durham, NC called The Escapist Expo. As you might guess, the folks behind The Escapist website are behind it. We’ll have a booth there and I’ll be doing some panels as well. That should be our last show of this year.
KingPut: F:AT is mainly a board gaming site. What are some of your favorite board games?
Chris: When I got into hobby gaming, there wasn’t as much of a distinction between the types of gamers. So while I was primarily a roleplayer, I grew up playing games like Squad Leader, Machiavelli, Civilization, and Diplomacy. I still play those when I have time, as well as stuff like Combat Commander, History of the World, and Space Hulk. I also like lighter fare like Ticket to Ride, Small World, Thurn & Taxis, and pretty much all of the Commands & Colors games. Recent games I’ve found surprisingly good are Lords of Waterdeep and Spartacus.
KingPut: As you know back in the 1980s I created the first MMORPG, Gonzaga World. Unfortunately, it was created before the Al Gore invented the Internet or I could be a billionaire right now. You've worked on some MMOs how was that experience?
Chris: I’m going to go with meh. I mostly wrote quest text, which is also known as the stuff most players don’t bother to read. Also, the second MMO I worked on, Dark Millennium Online (the Warhammer 40K MMO), is never going to see the light of day.
KingPut: Ok here's one more question I ask all geeks like myself. Which situation would give you the biggest boner?
#1. Being Batman and having Catwomen tie you up?
#2. Putting Wonder women's plane on auto pilot while you do her in the cockpit?
#3. Being Jaba the Hut and having Princess Lea as your slave girl?
#4. Being Shaggy and having a threesome with Velma and Daphne in the back of the Scooby van?
Chris: Oh, number 4 for sure. And really, Daphne is optional. It’s all about Velma.
KingPut: Anything else you'd like to add?
Chris: It was great to see you on my East Coast trip. Hope it’s not another 25 years before that happens again! Maybe next time we can squeeze a game in