An Interview with Brennan Taylor

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in October 2007. 

Interview conducted by Simon Rogers

Brennan Taylor is the co-founder of Indie Press Revolution (an online rpg retailer) and creator of such games as Mortal Coil and Bulldogs! I was so impressed with IPR’s business model, and the quality of games they offer that I became a shareholder in IPR. Pretty soon Pelgrane Press’s games will be available through IPR, too. I’m also a big fan of one of the games Brennan created, Mortal Coil. The rules allow participants as a group to come up with amazing, rich settings in a way that is unmatched by any other game I’ve played.

I started by asking a few questions about IPR, and then I moved on to Brennan’s games.

Why did you and Ed Cha set up IPR?

Both Ed and I were small publishers, and we were having trouble earning enough through the existing distribution system. We looked around for the service we wanted and found that no one was doing it. That’s when we decided it would be a good idea to set it up ourselves.

What criteria do you use to select games for IPR? Do you a certain type of Forge-influenced game is given preference? Do they have to be creator-owned?

I look for games that have strong writing and good design. This can run the gamut, I don’t prefer Forge-influenced games per se. I am impressed by a lot of the games that came out of the Forge, and that probably has an influence on my taste, but I give all games the benefit of the doubt.

The games don’t have to be creator-owned, I’m not as strict as some about that criterion. I do want to see a strong influence from the game designer, and I generally am not interested in games designed by marketing teams or committees. I want to see some personality, some innovation, and a love of the hobby in the game. I do know that some authors simply aren’t interested in printing and marketing their own stuff, and I am open to companies that do that for game designers.

Do you include games which are well received, but that aren’t personally to your taste?

If a game has gotten a lot of positive buzz, it does affect my review.

I may not be interested in playing a particular game, but if it is clearly a quality, well-written product, I will ask the publisher to join IPR.

Why don’t you stock more d20 games?

There are a couple of reasons. First, not many d20 publishers have contacted me over the years, and more than half of the publishers on IPR reached out to me initially. Because we don’t have a lot of d20, what we do have doesn’t sell as well on IPR as many of the non-d20 games, so d20 publishers don’t have as much incentive to join as many other publishers do. I myself have a d20 product, Bulldogs!, which was one of the first games on IPR, and we also carry Blue Devil Games and Bad Axe Games titles, both d20 publishers. I’d be happy to carry more if there were publishers out there interested in having their games up on IPR.

IPR is expanding into the retail market. Does this mean you think selling rpgs through retail has a future?

Absolutely. I don’t think a retailer can sustain itself solely on RPGs, but retailers can definitely create a strong portion of their sales by selling them. It’s a challenge for a retailer, but creating an environment welcoming to play in their area will build sales for their store. RPGs won’t sell themselves, it takes a bit of work, but retailers who put the effort in will see results. Retail stores are still a big part of how the hobby expands, and are essential to keeping it alive.

What are your plans for the future of IPR?

I plan to continue to grow the business. It has already become so large that I was no longer able to do all of the work myself. Fred Hicks from Evil Hat has been a big supporter, and is actually working for IPR now in customer service and web development. IPR is providing a service that is obviously valuable to small publishers, so I want to expand our ability to deliver what these publishers need: a way to sell directly to customers, and a way onto the shelves of retailers that is still profitable.

What new products and publishers are coming up at IPR?

We just signed on Mob United Media, publishers of Aeternal Legends, a modern fantasy game. Gamewick is also coming aboard with WEGS 101, a tongue-in-cheek dungeon crawl game that looks like lots of fun.

How do you think 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons will affect IPR, if at all?

I don’t see a big impact on IPR. We have a few publishers who use the d20 OGL, but most of our publishers are using their own systems for games. The impact on the whole hobby is going to be less than 3.0, I think, because the smaller publishers putting out support books for D&D are a lot fewer in number these days.

What games most influenced your own game design?

Vincent Baker is a big inspiration to me. Dogs in the Vineyard is probably the most influential game I have read, and it is still a big influence on my design. Matt Snyder of Chimera Creations is another influence, with his game Dust Devils. These games really expanded my horizons as far as what a role-playing game can do.

Are you ever going to do a second edition of Mortal Coil, or publish a supplement?

I probably won’t ever produce a supplement for Mortal Coil, because the world-building component is such a big part of the game and that is something each group needs to do for themselves. I will probably put out a second edition, but I am not going to revise the basic rules.

I’ve received feedback that the game is a bit unclear as presented for for some people, and I want to expand the examples of play and explain a few concepts better. That probably won’t happen for a while, though, because I have several other projects in the works at the moment and no time to do revisions.

What are you playing at the moment?

I’m playing Primetime Adventures on Fridays. We just started a series based on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, centered around the Kingdom of Dale by the Lonely Mountain. I’ve also been playing Spirit of the Century with another group on Saturdays, but we are switching next week to Bulldogs! for a while in that group.

What advice would you give to budding games designers about getting their game to market?

There are a lot of resources available to game designers online now.

Take some time to look around and do some research, and the whole process will be much easier. There’s a lot of wisdom easily available from the internet community, and it will pay to look into it before finishing your design. There’s no reason for anyone to design and publish in a vacuum any more. Sites such as the Forge or Story Games have a lot of helpful advice, and we talked extensively about self publishing on The Voice of the Revolution podcast. Also, organizations like the Game Publishers Association can be very helpful for people starting out.

Tell me about your latest project.

I’m working on a new game called How We Came to Live Here, which is an adventure role-playing game based on the American Southwest. Players will take the roles of heroes of the People, who have recently emerged in the Fifth World from a hole in the ground. They find themselves in a land populated by monsters, and must carve out a place for humans to live.

The game explores the conflict between tradition and innovation, and community versus the individual. I am doing some final playtesting myself, and should have a version posted online for outside playtesting sometime this fall.

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