In this interview, the latest installment in my annual series leading up to the 2015 ENnies, I interview…well, the entirety of the Illuminerdy. You can vote for the ENnies here today through July 14, 2015, with the winners announced on July 31 at Gen Con’s ENnies Ceremony.
Michael Tresca (MT): So, who am I interviewing exactly?
The Illuminerdy Contributors: This year, we decided to try something a little different. A few of our contributors all chipped in to answer your questions: Kennon Bauman, Creative Director for theIlluminerdy.com and the primary contributor for Unreal Worlds and the 100 Word RPG Hook (KB); Andy Click, Illuminerdy Contributor, Behind the Screen (AC); Bill Paulson, Illuminerdy Contributor, Bringing the Awesome and sometime #RPGChat co-host (BP); Ruth Tillman, Illuminerdy Contributor, Arkham Archivist (RT); Nook Harper, Illuminerdy Contributor, Emergency Gaming Kit (NH); and Elizabeth Bauman, the Illuminerdy’s Managing Editor, #RPGchat organizer, and contributor for TableTots (EB).
MT: Okay then! Tell us about your company.
KB: TheIlluminerdy.com is a gaming blog dedicated to bringing new inspiring content to players, GMs, and aspiring writers alike, often with a conspiratorial flair. We also have regular columns focused on providing game-writing and game-running, all from well-connected, experienced RPG players and GMs.
BP: I think the really cool thing about the Illuminerdy is that it’s meant to inspire and be a resource for gamemasters and players of tabletop role playing games. From 100 Word RPG Hooks to the gaming advice column Behind the Screen, our content is full of immediately useful advice and information.
MT: Tell us about your gaming experience.
AC: I’ve been playing tabletop games since 6th grade, video games since several years before that, and still play both avidly. I started with the D&D setting Dark Sun and have recently gotten addicted to Eclipse Phase and Numenera.
BP: I have been playing RPGs for over 30 years, since the red box D&D Basic set and the Dallas Egbert affair. I’ve studiously avoided steam tunnels ever since.
RT: My gaming experience started out pretty standard, with D&D. More recently, I’ve been into GUMSHOE games and 13th Age (I swear Pelgrane Press only owns me because they make good stuff). I also really love the new Sentinels of the Multiverse game that’s still in development. I’ve playtested it a bit and it’s fantastic.
NH: My gaming experience: I got snowed in at a friends house in 1996, and had the choice of generating a CyberPunk 2020 character or staring at the wall. After that I played Ars Magica 3rd edition with them, and then at University got into White Wolf and the World of Darkness as well as fantasy LARP. I’ve been GMing since University, and wrote plot/ran adventures for my local LARP club for about 5 years. I wrote my own solo blog, Total Party Kill, since 2007, and joined the Illuminerdy in 2014.
KB: And we’re glad you did, Nook! As for me, a well-intentioned uncle bought me the old Milton Bradley HeroQuest game for Christmas one year, and I’ve been hooked on the whole idea of tabletop adventure gaming ever since. After a few lonely years of playing both the adventurers and the monsters, I found a group of like-minded nerds in my High School debate and drama clubs, and ended up in a 6 year long WEG D6 Star Wars campaign. Since then, I’ve branched out a bit to various editions of D&D, Savage Worlds, Mutants and Masterminds, Hollow Earth Expedition, and Night’s Black Agents just to name a few.
EB: I’ve been a gamer since my teens – got my start in my Mitchell, South Dakota high school. It was the perfect escape for a teenager who dreamed of getting out of her small town and going on big adventures. I cut my teeth on WEG’s d6 Star Wars, moved on to 3e, and – from there – my passion for RPGs really took off. RPGs inspired me to always say, “Yes, and…,” which eventually prompted me to get married and move from the midwest to the DC metro area all before I turned 20!
Now in my early 30s, my love of games has taken me many places and given me many opportunities. I worked as a retail manager at a WotC retail store before they went under, served as the first female ENnies judge, and edited many award-winning game books. I’ve made lifelong friends, created and curated industry events like #RPGchat, worked diligently on content and mission behind The Illuminerdy, and woven elaborate tales of heroics and heartbreak from the comfort of my own couch… and all because I like to roll dice and cast spells.
In short, gaming is an integral part of who I am and I’m enormously grateful for that.
MT: What product(s) are nominated this year?
KB: TheIlluminerdy.com was nominated for “Best Website” this year. We’re very excited!
MT: What sets your product apart from the competition?
BP: I can’t think of anything that doesn’t sound tawdry!
EB: We’re gamers with a passion and a mission. We’re conspiring to inspire. We’re not just writing for ourselves, but – instead – are seeking to find and amplify other voices to make games – and the game community – a more inspiring, engaging, welcoming place.
AC: To expand a little bit on what Liz is saying, the fact that we have a diverse writing staff with a variety of backgrounds and gaming interests helps us provide voices from a wide range of perspectives to a wide range of readers. Having two educators and a professional archivist on staff also aids the site’s aim of aiding gamers through authentic research and effective delivery, using actual history and theory as a launch pad for inspiring imagination and improving communication at the table.
RT: This past year, I’ve been combining two of my interests, Lovecraftian/Smithian Weird horror and 13th Age in a series called Eldritch Icons. When it’s done, it’ll be enough for a long campaign as players attempt to keep otherworldly beings from supplanting the Icons, or make the best of a bad situation that no human is strong enough to fix (depending on how Lovecraftian the GM is). Not only is there thematic material, I’ve worked with the 13th Age monster generation tools to create some new creatures to fight.
NH: Ooh, that’s good. I’ve always thought our “thing” was that the Illuminerdy is the only RPG website I know of that gives such focus to alt history and conspiracy. Loads of other sites give you game ideas about reptilian overlords, only the Illuminerdy links Robert E. Howard to David Icke to current events to your game.
KB: Maybe I should mention some practical aspects? We don’t have ads (at least so far), and we don’t hide anything behind a paywall. Creatively speaking, we’ve addressed a huge range of issues and topics, enough that you could probably find something to use in your game no matter what game you’re playing. If anything, we skew slightly toward mystery and horror, but we’ve also got lots of content there for everything from Four-color superheroes to traditional D&D.
MT: Have you had any products nominated before?
EB: Yep! We’ve been up for Best Blog twice (and once took the Silver!).
MT: What publishers or products will you be rooting for in the ENnies (besides yourselves)?
EB: I’m a big fan of ConTessa and what they’re doing for women in gaming – I’d love to see a Gold ENnie on their list of accolades.
BP: Yeah! I definitely want to sincerely wish the ConTessa blog good luck in the Best Blog category.
AC: Good call. I’m rooting for Trail of Cthulhu: Dreamhounds of Paris and the Miskatonic University Podcast in their respective categories.
KB: D&D, Acthung Cthulhu, and Pelgrane’s various nominees are getting my votes this year. Maybe there’s a trend developing here.
NH: I have much love for Pelgrane Press, and hope they do well again this year.
RT: I’m rooting for KWAS [Ken Write About Stuff]. That subscription is really worthwhile if you do anything Lovecraftian and especially Trail-based stuff. Ken Hite throws out a lot of seeds that you can use in creating adventures. It’s a real tossup for me on Monster Manuals. I’ve had a lot of fun getting creatures out of the 13th Age one for Eldritch Icons recommendations. But the D&D Monster Manual has some of the most gorgeous artwork I’ve ever seen in an RPG book.
KB: Well at least we’re somewhat consistent in our interests!
MT: There was some controversy over an unlicensed fan product. What’s your opinion on fan products?
NH: As far as I’m concerned, Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer Fantasy RPG were originally unlicensed fan versions of Tolkien and Lewis.
BP: Fan products are a wonderful thing to have in the hobby, however the unlicensed fan products even ones made with the best of intentions can be in a murky place legally. I would think that even a well loved and well made game would recognize the murkiness of this territory and would not want to involve the Ennie awards and the EnWorld website into a legal quandary. No matter how sure you are of your own legal position dragging others into a legal minefield is something to avoid.
RT: I’m pro people making fan products for fun and games, but I think they should keep in mind that as long as it’s someone else’s material and they don’t have a license, it’s ultimately not theirs. I suppose my opinions also differ based on the age of the IP. Sherlock Holmes and the like have dragged long-dead estates out far too long. On the other hand, IP for a popular game franchise that’s still being developed? Incorporating the company’s images, etc.? I see that kind of thing as the stuff you make for friends, maybe put up online in case someone else wants to play, but don’t present as a game/your game. On a related note, I think Sentinels of the Multiverse handles this well. Original art, concepts derived from tropes and mashups, homage while managing to be something that two companies with legions of lawyers can’t find a reason to sue–that’s well-done. But I think a lot of IP is much too specific for that to work.
KB: As time goes on and the barriers to creating a high-quality product continue to lower, the conceptual differences between a “fan” product and a “real” or “professional” product is very, very blurry. A game is a game, and it matters less and less if it was made by a staff of one or two in somebody’s basement or by a staff of ten or fifteen in an office block in Renton. Judge it all by a single standard and the cream will consistently rise to the top.
MT: Licensed products are an interesting challenge that few companies can afford. Are there any licensed products you would like to see as a role-playing game? Is your company considering any of these licenses currently?
AC: Image Comics’ “Death Vigil” and “Rat Queens” series would both be delightful settings to see at the table.
KB: How about Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian books? That would make some pretty sweet RPG fodder. And Star Trek. I’d kind of like to see a modern take on a Star Trek RPG.
BP: Someone really needs to license the Witcher series of novels and video games. Also Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk Leviathan books would make a great RPG setting.
MT: It looks like Kickstarters are finally getting some regulation after the FTC went after “The Doom That Came to Atlantic City” board game. What’s your thoughts on crowdfunding?
BP: Hopefully, the legal case won’t dampen the momentum that crowdfunding is bringing to the RPG industry. But it also might bring a much needed honesty, When does not delivering a pre-ordered product cross the line between laziness into outright fraud? We have at least one case to look at to glean a line to not cross.
AC: I think crowdfunding has opened up a new and wonderful avenue for independent creators to get wonderful new material to fans who are more than willing to pay for it. While I agree that there are a number of issues still to address with the relatively new approach, I’m confident that once some of the current problem areas are better managed, it will be a lasting, positive change to the creative industry.
RT: I’ve crowdfunded a handful of projects. I’m a fan of the new trend where there’s a significant part written and available to backers. That gives me more confidence that I’ll get something, although it’s not fool-proof.
KB: Kickstarter is how I get most of my game stuff. I think I even backed two new projects this week — the Microscope Expansion and of course the new Reaper Bones project. Even with the occasional Doom that Came to Atlantic City or even a Far West here or there, the good that comes from the platform far outweighs the bad.
MT: Many publishers have shifted away from crowdfunding to Patreon instead. Do you have a Patreon page or any plans to launch one in the future?
KB: Is Patreon not crowdfunding? God I feel so old.
BP: I don’t know if a Patreon has been seriously discussed at all!
EB: Maybe eventually? It would be nice to be able to reward our contributors in some way for all the work they do.
MT: Will you be at any conventions this year?
NH: Personally, no. I’m very sad about this. Other Illuminerdus will be representing at cons this year, though.
BP: Gen Con is our main convention and many of us will be present. There are also several other local cons and gamedays that various contributors attend, like Con on the Cob, DC Gameday, the Charm City Gameday, and the Ohio Gameday.
KB: At the moment Gen Con is dominating the mental landscape, but there will certainly be others. Maybe even some kind of IlluminerdiCon next year?
MT: Where can fans find you online?
EB: You can find us on the best RPG site on the web: www.theIlluminerdy.com! You can like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheIlluminerdy, or follow the site’s news feed on Twitter as @theIlluminerdy.
Most of us also participate in the weekly #RPGchat on Twitter. Incidentally, you can find me (Elizabeth Bauman) on Twitter and Instragram as d20Blonde. Kennon is on Twitter as @theUniverseGM, Andy is @overclicked, Nook is @nookharper, and Ruth is @ruthbrarian. Nook and Ruth both have pretty substantial Google+ presences, as well.
MT: Anything else you’d like to add?
KB: Get out there and vote (preferably for us)!