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Christmas Gift Guide 2010 (11/26/10)
PAX East 2010 report (4/9/10)
Christmas Gift Guide 2009 (12/4/09)
Games of the Ninja 2008 (12/5/08)
Christmas Gift Guide 2008 (11/27/08)
Screams from the Cave 2008
Ogres' Choice Awards 2008 (9/12/08)
Christmas Gift Guide 2007 (11/30/07)
Ogres' Choice Awards 2007 (8/17/07)
GAMA Trade Show 2007 report (4/27/07)
Christmas Gift Guide 2006 (11/30/06)
Ogres' Choice Awards 2006 (7/28/06)
Christmas Gift Guide 2005 (11/29/05)
Christmas Gift Guide 2004 (12/10/04)
Night of the Living Gamer
(Halloween RPGs)

Interviews: Troll Lord Games

[Mac 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.

Mac: 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.

At 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.

That 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.

As 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 publisher!

Davis: 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.

Stephen: 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 ever since.

As 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.

How did the deals with the Gygax clan come about?

Mac: 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 there.

Davis: 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.

Steve: 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.

Have you set your sights on any other veterans of the industry?

Mac: 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."

Davis: 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.

Steve: 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.

What's your feel for the D20 market these days? Is it becoming bogged down with too many products?

Steve: 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.

Davis: 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.

On 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.

What made you first want to publish D20 materials on CD-ROM?

Mac: 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.

Davis: 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.

Steve: This was definitely all Mac's game. Its been an amazing eye opener!

Many 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?

Mac: 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.

Davis: 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.

As 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.

Where do you see digital distribution of game materials going in the future?

Mac: 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.

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