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Interviews: Bastion Press

 
Interview by Joe G. Kushner

Bastion Press boasts something not every D20 company can: a former Wizards of the Coast employee as its founder and driving force (Jim Butler). In the short time Bastion has been around, they've produced several full color sourcebooks for use in any d20 fantasy campaign. This is in addition to a host of modules and numerous sourcebooks, some of them, like Norse Gods and Ink & Quill, available for free. See what's brewing for the rest of 2002 and catch a glimpse of 2003.

[Bastion] uses a lot of freelancers for [its] products. Do you find that works well for you? How has it been?

Greg: I have mixed opinions on that. If we have a lead developer it works better. Like when I did Arms & Armor, I did half the stuff in there and the other half, I went through the submissions and wrote them all out and did the rules there. This gives the book a continuous feel. I tried to make the text feel like one person wrote it. Now how I don't like to work is if we have a whole book freelanced out where parts of the book are sent out to six different people and [we] don't have a lot of control over what comes back. Over all the products we have outlined, we have a lead developer. We have Steve Creech, Sam Wit (Airships), and all those are going to have some open calls.

It draws people to us because they like to be able to get their material in and provides us with a lot more variety. We don't have too much of that in there just so that you have some consistency.

Same as above, plus "What does a freelancer need to do to be successful?"

Jim Butler: It's been really good. Like Steven Creech did a whole lot of material for us. You have to meet deadlines. We have to make promises to the book trade and if you miss those deadlines they cut the amount by a huge amount. A writer who needs very little editing and rework is what we need. A lot of fans have this one product, this one dream, that they've really wanted to do and we'll get it and be like "Wow."

Jim, have you found your time at Wizards of the Coast has served you well in your own company?

Jim Butler: Yes. The time at Wizards has been very valuable. I didn't agree with everything they did, but there was a lot. Input that works for people. Process designs. What will sell and what won't sell. I took a lot from Wizards in that regard.

With the explosive amount of D20 products out there, do you feel companies are going to go into a strictly competition mode or more cooperation?

Jim Butler: Its hard to say. There are going to be some companies that want to do what they've been doing and some companies will engage in more cooperation. I don't see the market diminishing. The barrier to get into the market is too low. You may not be able to pay for advertising, you may not be able to pay the people who wrote or illustrated it, but you can get it printed.

What role do you find the net taking? You have a lot of PDF files as modules, but no print product, for example.

Jim Butler: We knew that modules were the worst selling products, since they essentially only appeal to one out of 5 players (the DMs). If we do any print adventures, they'll be the super-sized variety. We're going to keep doing PDF because there is a market that's only going to get bigger in the future.

Did you ever find a talent when you do open calls?

Greg: Yes, we actually have people whom we have used and like a lot and use again. One of the first adventures of Oathbound is done by people we've met over the web (Brannon Hollingsworth, Ken Marable, and Darrin Drader). Steve Creech has done a lot of online stuff with us and his material has gone over very well from the web onwards. He'll be lead designer on Poisoner's Handbook.

Sam Wit was Lead Designer for Spells & Magic and is doing Airships. Basically, if we like someone we'll use him or her again. Steven Schend for example, did Alchemy & Herbalists.

One thing we just started doing is design reviews. Wes did a book called Guildcraft I wasn't sure how Wes Nicholson and crew was going to tackle the whole guild issue and make it useful, but it's very innovative. I spent a week on it, going through each item, making sure it's consistent, fixing any rules, checking DCs. We're making sure that everything is clear and D20 compatible. Plug and Play is essential. Our products are the kind people can pick up and use right off the bat. There should be no doubt as to how something in a Bastion book works.

What's up with Oathbound?

Jim Butler: Oathbound has a great story behind it. We're going into novels. The first adventure we're releasing free online (Waters of Akaya by Darrin Drader). Web support will involve some great online adventures to keep the GMs filled with things to do. Oathbound is also going to have several support products behind it in print as well like our upcoming Plains of Penance by Greg Dent. The price is a littler higher than our standard books, it's $27.95 instead of $24.95, but you get an extra 32 pages for that amount.

Novels? Now you've got me intrigued. Do you have an author in mind or still searching?

Jim Butler: We have several in mind but don't have any signed. Let's not jinx it. Suffice it to say one of them has a hardcover coming out from Wizards of the Coast.

03 or 04?

Jim Butler: 03, probably end of 1st quarter, start of 2nd. March or April.

What made Bastion decide to do a setting? You've been doing all purpose fantasy sourcebooks for a while now and a setting seems almost out of place. I say almost because there have been ties between the books for those who looked for them.

Jim Butler: My primary goal with Bastion has always been to design new worlds. But good worlds take a long time to design, illustrate, and put together when compared to rulebooks. We'll keep doing rulebooks, but you'll see us spread our wings into other areas of publishing.

Will you be supporting any Modern D20 books? Any non D20 books?

Jim Butler: We don't have any specific plans to do d20 Modern right now, but that could change. Right now, we're focusing on the fantasy side of things. The same is true of non-d20 books.

Tell me some more about Oathbound. Explain about the Prestige Races. This sounds like an interesting concept.

Jim Butler: Oathbound is our first campaign setting, designed for use in any d20 fantasy world. It sits on top of a world along the same lines as Ravenloft or Planescape does, merging with the history and flavor of your world or serving as a campaign setting unto itself.

Prestige Races are our way of allowing players to customize their characters. A character might want to add natural armor to their dwarf, wings to their elf, or darkvision to their human. I've explained them as mutations, and that's a pretty good way to look at them.

How was Gen Con? What role does this convention play as opposed to Origins for you?

Jim Butler: Gen Con was a wonderful show! We had a tremendous time introducing gamers to the world of the Oathbound, as well as talking about our line of sourcebooks.

Gen Con is much more of a gamers' show, whereas Origins is a much more mixed bag between card game players, historical war gamers, and roleplayers. Gen Con is much closer to our target audience than is Origins, but we still love it and will probably return next year. There's no doubt you'll see us at Gen Con in Indianapolis.

What are the main differences between your D20 products and anyone else?

Jim Butler: Beyond our full color presentation and high production values, I believe our products are better designed and edited than others that I've seen. That's not to say that there aren't other good publishers out there, though. There's a lot of competition, and much of it is good.

Do you find that a mix of free adventures and sourcebooks (like Ink & Quill) goes along well with the priced products or do readers just want everything free?

Jim Butler: We give away products on our website from time to time to drive traffic there, but it's also a good sounding board for new product concepts. While there are some people that think any price is too high for gaming products, we haven't heard a lot of pricing backlash from people. The only concerns we've heard about our online products is the amount of ink they consume while printing. We've recently rebundled all of our online releases in two versions (one with color borders and one without) to alleviate this concern.

Airships seems to be a bit different than past books. Why airships? Obviously we don't need another book on normal ships, but airships?

Jim Butler: I don't want to tread over the same tired ground as every other d20 publisher, so I'm looking for products that are going to offer a fresh insight into the game and the rules behind it. Flying ships is something that's a popular element in a number of novels and gaming products (Spelljammer among them), and it's something I've wanted to do for a while.

Are you still gaming? If so, how often?

Jim Butler: I try and play a few times a week, but the summer months are hard on that schedule with all the conventions and such going on.

What other D20 products do you use or wish Bastion press had done?

Jim Butler: I've used bits and pieces of a lot of d20 products, so it's hard to pick just one. I think Green Ronin and Mystic Eye/Thunderhead Games are producing good stuff, so I'm always watching their releases closely. There aren't any products I wish we would have done, though.

It looks like you have a more aggressive printing schedule this year. What's the goal?

Jim Butler: We're looking to become a bigger player in the gaming community, and part of that means we'll be providing more d20 material. Now that we've geared up with staff and a good pool of freelancers, I'm ready to tackle a more aggressive publishing strategy that includes game products, novels, and other products.

Do you think distributors are being more careful about what they carry in terms of D20 and even non-D20 stuff?

Jim Butler: Yes and no. I think the entire market is reacting by buying less and less of each company's products. Non-d20 products are selling about one-third the level (or less) of d20 products. It's a tough time to be a new publisher.

What are your feelings about Gen Con moving next year? Good? Bad?

Jim Butler: Good. As fond as I am of Milwaukee, having lived there while working at TSR and gone there each year for Gen Con, we've simply outgrown it. We need more hotel rooms and a larger convention center for everyone, and I think Indianapolis will be able to provide that for us. Look for us at Gen Con next year...

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