Golden, Davis Chenault
and Stephen Chenault
of Troll Lord Games spoke
with Allan "Sven" Sugarbaker via email.]
Tell us about yourselves (particularly what you do during downtime)
and how Troll Lord Games got started.
Troll Lord Games grew out of a long time effort to produce a gaming
magazine actually, "The Seeker." Myself and a member of
our gaming group, Christian Harris, had produced "The Seeker"
as a fanzine for a little while and were thinking of going professional
with it. Unfortunately, the marketplace at the time could not support
such an effort.
the same time, Stephen and Davis had been discussing the publication
of a massive, 300 page leatherbound campaign setting. Neither of
us got anything off the ground.
was until a few months later Stephen and I began discussing the
publication of "The Seeker" again. That quickly spun into
the idea of doing universal fantasy modules in the old judges guild
style. We decided to publish "The Mortality of Green"
and to see what happened. Before we knew it, Davis wanted in as
well and he had a whole series of adventures. So we decided to give
it a real go as a company.
we were preparing to go to print, the whole d20 System idea came
about. We knew this would present a huge opportunity, so we proceeded
with our plan to debut at Gen Con 2000 with our universal modules,
all the while knowing that as soon as d20 was approved, we would
be on board. And we were, and we are, and now we're Gary Gygax's
Well, currently I am working on my Masters in Anthropology and focusing
on Arabic studies. Actually is more like material anthropology or
cultural archaeology - but that's just me quibbling. I've been a
profession archaeologist for 10 years and have spent much of that
time living in a tent or out of the back of my car. It was a good
life. Then on one of my frequent trips home my brother Steve asked
me, almost out of the blue, if I wanted to jump in and start a business
with him and Mac making generic adventure modules. Well, shoot,
I knew they had been kickin' that idea around for several years
(or a decade) and figured they must know something about the market
I didn't. Money was just around the corner$$$. Well, that's not
exactly how it happened but close enough. Next thing you know, I
am writing up some adventures I had run and whoosh, off to the publishers.
Easy as building the pyramids.
Its been one wild ride, that's for sure. I remember when Mac and
Chris first did the Dragon con Seeker. A one page little gibbet
that noone seemed to be picking up. Mark Sandy and myself took it
down to the lobby and pushed that son of a gun hard! Haha That was
hilarious. That's about all I had to do with the Seeker in those
days, but as Mac mentioned, Davis and I were talking on and off
about doing a campaign and putting it into print. The two ideas
just seemed to marry up pretty well and things have been popping
for down time? I don't have much of that. Try to do a little kayaking
sometimes, read a lot of history and raise two kids. But really
TLG consumes volumes of my time, lot of fun, lot of work.
did the deals with the Gygax clan come about?
All the Troll Lords grew up with First Edition and in fact, never
left it. We still play and enjoy First Edition. We met Gary at Gen
Con last year, began talking to him, and things just spiraled from
For that I will defer to Steve. He worked that whole thing up. The
interesting thing is, all of grew up with Gygax stoking the fires
of our imaginations. We all, to a person, love 1st edition, still
play 1st edition and some of the most memorable adventures springboarded
from Gary's creation. 'Village of Hommlet' comes to mind as my favorite.
So I do not think it was a surprise that Steve and Gary hit it off
one at least one level. As for a deal to publish Gary's source book,
serendipity I suppose. We are all very excited not just to be publishing
some of Gary's work but that he is writing D and D material again.
We met Gary last year at Gen Con and he was real nice. We comped
him some of our books and later he sent an email thanking us. He's
really a nice, jovial fellow, whose real personable. We talked back
and forth for awhile and finally all had the idea of publishing
some of his material. Just the idea is mind boggling.
you set your sights on any other veterans of the industry?
Well, we have Rob Kuntz writing a series of hardback books for us,
"The Myths and Legends" series. Each book details a particular
mythos and has all the expected d20 goodies. First up is the Norse
and Germanic myths and legends, "Codex Germania."
I don't think we 'set our sights' too often. Haha, sometimes I wonder
if we even have sights. From my perspective, I want Troll Lords
to publish quality material produced by whomever. We welcome any
veterans in the industry and would be glad to publish a number of
well known writers.
We have a number of projects that we won't bring to the public just
yet, but could, if they come to fruition, be very exciting.
your feel for the D20 market these days? Is it becoming bogged down
with too many products?
There's a great deal of talk about this. But I don't think so. A
whole host of people have been introduced to the world of RPGs by
the 3e and d20 is allowing the market to broaden even more. So long
as companies put out quality material there will be a market for
it. Demand rarily dies off from a glut, but rather because quality
falls. So long as we publishers keep putting out the good stuff,
we'll make a market.
This is a small market and most consumers do not spend a lot of
money on products. I do not know how many hundreds of D20 products
are out there, but there certainly are a lot. I believe it will
glut and sales on individual items will lag as consumer dollars
spread out over numerous product lines. However, those who can weather
the storm and survive the rough road ahead will likely dominate
the market in a few years time.
the other hand, the RPG community has just received a nice boost
with the OGL. New players are entering the arena - I know 6 personally
since last year (and I do not know many people). It seems the word
is getting out again. These were adults. The children are another
consideration. If the game continually attracts a young uninitiated
crowd whose long term consumption outpaces in growth the reduction
in current consumption, then the industry will do fine. I laud the
recent attempt by WoTC to attract a younger crowd and like the fact
they are gearing a portion of their products to that crowd.
made you first want to publish D20 materials on CD-ROM?
I got a wild hair one day to do it. I believe Stephen and Davis
didn't think it would really go anywhere, but there was nothing
to lose letting me to play around with producing the CDs. So they
let me play in my sandbox and surprisingly, the CDs took off. The
latest release, "The Malady of Kings," was just released
with enhanced production values - silk-screened CD label, inserts,
jewel case, shrink-wrapping. I think people will be surprised when
they see it on the shelf.
That was Mac's idea. We all looked at, saw nothing wrong with but
I personally did not think the sales of this item would blow us
away. Mac showed me something that changed my mind.
This was definitely all Mac's game. Its been an amazing eye opener!
companies, Troll Lord included, sell role-playing supplements on
CD. Some companies have done so for quite a while. Yet there still
seems to be reluctance from the average gamer to trade his books
for CD-ROMs. Given the general geekiness of gamers, and the relative
cheapness to make and distribute CD-based gaming materials, why
haven't they been more widely accepted?
The lack of acceptance mainly stems from the distributors and retailers,
not the gamers. If the CDs are not in the stores, the market has
no chance to try them out. There will always be people who want
printed books and Troll Lord will always meet that demand. However,
there is a new generation that is fully comfortable with having
their adventures on CD only, and we are trying to provide that generation
with what it wants. We have seen an especially huge demand for the
CDs in Europe. In the U.S., however, they have slowly been building
steam as more distributors decide to carry the CDs and more retailers
become comfortable with selling them. As major publishers outside
of gaming produce more CD publications, the demand for CD games
will slowly increase in the hobby industry.
Part of this is cultural, we have been trained since childhood to
read from books, most of the material we read in our day to day
lives is on paper. The printed word dominates communication even
in this age of mass media. Culture is very conservative and changes
usually at necessity rather than whim. Further, reading from a laptop
or computer screen is irritating and eye boggling after a few hours.
One would, off course, print the material. But printers are spewers
of single page, non-bound paper. Very irksome at times. Everything
I have downloaded from the net and used often has become utterly
destroyed, necessitating more downloads. Ugg they can just be problematic.
Consider also, many gamers do not have ready access to computers.
By this I mean the younger gamers. They must go to the printed word
not the electronically imaged one. There are innumerable problems
with the net and CD-ROMs and all that technical jazz.
a side note though, as computers become cheaper, downloads more
available and interactive, screens less damaging to the eyes and
storage devices more dependable, electronic devices will become
more prevalent in the industry.
do you see digital distribution of game materials going in the future?
I expect them to develop alongside the efforts of major fiction
and technical publishers, with PDF "pay-by-download" delivery
being the most popular format for awhile. Who knows though, someday
gaming products may be free or open to download based upon the payment
of a monthly fee, just like cable TV.
Troll Lord Games on the Web