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Screams from the Cave 2008
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Interviews: Silverthorne Games

Sometimes you just don't want to play a dwarf, but with limited racial choices in D&D3e, what do you do? Outside of Fantasy Flight's hardcover Mythic Races, there seems to be a lack of new race-oriented books. Up to the plate steps newcomer Silverthorne Games with two Race books already out the door and another one in the wings. Take a look at the company that brought you the popular Book of Templates and the Races of Evernor Volumes 1 and 2, as Joe Kushner asks them a few questions for OgreCave.

Tell the Ogre a little about Silverthorne Games. Where'd the name come from? What's the company goal? Why go the PDF route? Any plans for print products?

Silverthorne Games was formed in early 2001 by me (Ian Johnston) and my wife, Risa. I do most of the writing and Risa helps with NPC backgrounds and creative brainstorming sessions. A buddy of ours, Bruce R. Tillotson, agreed to function as the editor in chief of our products, which was a real blessing. Bruce has a keen eye for detail and understands d20 mechanics quite well. From that point, it took us over one year to write and get our first product, Races of Evernor (Part I), to market.

As far as where the name came from, we wanted to select a name that invoked a feeling of high fantasy and adventure – something with a touch of class that was easy to say and remember. We settled on “Silverthorne Games” instead. Seriously, I had always liked “Silverthorne”, which is the name of a town in Colorado. It’s a popular skiing area, I believe, nestled on the eastern side of the Rockies. It always evoked an otherworldly but refined image in my mind (not to mention the place itself is gorgeous). So we went with it. The easy part was adding “Games” to the company name. *grin*

Our company goal is to produce innovative, quality RPG products that people will like and use in their own games. We like to provide players and GMs with options – not retreads of concepts that are well past their expiration dates. When gamers see the Silverthorne Games name and logo, we want them to think quality and creativity first. Silverthorne will never be a “me, too!” company.

We decided to go the PDF route for two different reasons. First, budget. We simply did not have the extra discretionary cash to go to print right away. PDF is much less expensive to get started. Second, we wanted to test our products in the smaller electronic market and see how they were received first. Plus, the PDF format would allow us to react faster to customer feedback and make the necessary changes in our products to correct errata, add tables, etc.

As for print products, we do have plans. We are working on getting a couple of our products published this year. More news on this later as things develop…

What lessons have you learned in the market so far?

The PDF market is tough. Everybody and his dog have access to the technology to publish electronically these days, so there has been a geometric increase in the number of items available in the last few months. As some of the other e-publishers have put it “it’s not the product of the month – it’s the product of the moment”. Being noticed is paramount in the PDF business, but it’s easy to get buried under the avalanche of new stuff out there.

Now many of these products are good. Some are quite good and even rival the print publishers in quality. Unfortunately, there are also some real stinkers, too, and still other products that are simply not following the d20 license as they should. I think these factors have been responsible, at least in part, for a less-than-favorable image of the PDF market. I think consumers like the idea of PDFs (it is relatively inexpensive to build a large RPG library of PDF products, after all), but they are generally unsure or uneasy about the quality of the product they will be getting.

However, this current state of affairs should change in the coming months. Industry leaders and vets such as Monte Cook (Malhavoc), Jim Bishop (Bastion Press), Philip J. Reed (from Steve Jackson games), and Mongoose Publishing, of course, are helping to elevate the status of the market in the quality department. Hopefully, we will be a part of this movement, too.

What is your best product and why?

This is a tricky question. It’s like asking a parent which child of theirs is their favorite. The word “best” could also be construed in a number of ways, so I will answer this one from a couple of different perspectives.

Our best product creatively, I think, is the Races of Evernor project. It has much more flavor than anything else we’ve done thus far. We’ve put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this project and developing the Realms of Evernor setting as a viable campaign world that gamers will want adventure in.

Our best product commercially is the Book of Templates. Hands down. This is the “crunchiest” product we’ve done to date and, for some reason, the template ideas have really caught on. We are happy it’s done so well, but we were not really expecting the kind of success that it has had – we were blown away!

Will you be attending Gen Con this year?

Most likely. We were there for the final Gen Con in Milwaukee last year, although we did not have a booth – we just kind of lurked around in the background, preying on hapless industry professionals as we met them. There will probably not be a Silverthorne booth this year, but we never say never.

Do you see the PDF/electronic market, continuing to grow?

Yes, I do. With larger publishers releasing products online, I think the word will spread and the market will grow. I also think that some contraction of the sheer volume of products will occur.

Was your company injured by the finalized SRD with the monsters section? Some companies had product in the pipeline that are now going to be one print run specials.

Not really. We had an example monster in the Book of Templates and some minor references to those squid-headed chaps in Races of Evernor I & II, but that will be revised shortly and a new SRD-compliant download will be made available to our customers. So, those of you with an edition of the Book of Templates featuring the voidspawn beholder – congrats! It’s a collector’s item!

Are there any authors or artist you'd like to see come to Silverthorne?

On the writing side of things, we’d love to work with Mike Mearls, Jeff Quick, Owen KC Stephens, Ari Marmell, and a handful of others. We have already contacted Mr. Quick and Mr. Stephens, who are agreeable to working with us in the future.

As far as artists, we have a very good stable of artists that we currently use (Lance W. Card, Stephen Cook, Jeremy Mohler, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, Cara Mitten, Cari Buziak, and Roberto Campus). You will be seeing some more great stuff by these artists in future releases. However, if I could add a few more names, I’d go with Todd Lockwood, Arnie Swekel, Lars Grant-West, and Christopher Appel. Not to mention Andy Hopp and Matt Wilson.

What can we expect to see from Silverthorne in upcoming months?

We have several goodies in the pipeline for the upcoming months. Here is a little taste of what’s yet to come:

Book of Templates: Deluxe Edition – This upgraded version of our best-selling Book of Templates has undergone a graphic overhaul and will feature more templates, more “example critters”, ECLs, adventure seeds, and more.

Races of Evernor III – The final volume in the Races of Evernor series. This product features 12 more races from the Realms of Evernor setting, but suitable for any campaign world. Two free bonus races for Part III are available now at our website.

Mind the Gap – First in our “Dungeon Blocks” line of products. It is a compendium of pit traps and rules for their creation, random generation charts, and more.

Tainted Troves – Second “Dungeon Blocks” product, containing over 120 new cursed items for any campaign setting. For those keeping track at home, this more than quadruples the number of cursed items in the SRD. A must for sadistic DMs everywhere.

Feats, Vol. I – A compendium of feats from Silverthorne Games’ other products.

The Kobold Hoard – Our first adventure module, featuring those pesky little kobold critters. For levels 10-12 or so. Yes, you read that right. This module is quite deadly in spots. Lesser mortals need not apply.

And, finally, we have planned some products related to new creatures. More details on that later…

What's the d20 community, both fan and publisher, like?

As far as publishers go, the d20 community is like a big family where all the publishers are competitive siblings in one big house. There is stiff competition, but it isn’t cutthroat like in other industries (at least not what I’ve seen so far).

Fans are generally very supportive of materials produced. However, with so many publishers and limited dollars, it has fragmented the market into niches or “fan bases” for each publisher. Necromancer, Privateer Press, Malhavoc, Green Ronin, Mystic Eye, and others all have their own fan bases. There is some overlap, naturally, but this is what I’ve noticed.

What's a typical day of work like over there?

I typically do most of the writing for Silverthorne, so I spend 3-4 hours per day (outside of my day job) writing material. Then, I run it by Risa to see if it makes any kind of sense. Being new to gaming, she has a more objective vantage point from which to judge material. Then, Bruce usually does the edits once I’ve got a semi-finished product ready to go. I coordinate all the artists and do the layout for our products. Busy, busy.

Do you foresee electronic files getting more advanced as time moves on or is PDF it?

I’d like to think so. I don’t think PDF is “it” any more than the manual typewriter was “it”. There will be technological advances that make PDF look like a quill and ink, I believe.

Which parts of D&D are you waiting for to hit the SRD and why?

Here’s my wish list:

Epic Level Handbook – It’s part of character progression and allows for much more powerful play. Yes, it’s a bit of a munchkin’s wonderland, but there is some cool stuff in there for everyone else out there, too.

All the Class Books – It would be nice to reference the feats and spells in such books. Reinventing the wheel is tedious work.

Arms & Equipment Guide – Variety is the spice of life.

Savage Species – I love monster PCs. What can I say?

Which products on the market do you wish Silverthorne had created?

The Player’s Handbook. Seriously, though, I wish we had done the following: Spycraft (AEG), Oathbound (Bastion Press), Dragon Star (FFG), Monster’s Handbook (FFG), Broncosaurus Rex (Goodman Games), Book of the Righteous (Green Ronin), and Tome of Horrors (Necromancer Games). It’s mostly supplement stuff, but these products (and probably a handful of others) are the cream of the d20 crop, IMHO.

What product are you most excited about that's not out yet?

The Penumbra Bestiary looks particularly interesting, but it has been delayed due to 3.5e. I’m also looking forward to the Revised Core Rulebooks.

What's the biggest challenge being a PDF d20 publisher?

Staying noticed. With the deluge of stuff these days, it’s hard to secure a market share. I think this will improve with time, but right now, it’s very problematic.

Any last words?

We would just like to thank everyone who has purchased our products. Without customers, our work would all be in vain, so we appreciate the support! Good gaming!

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