d20 Questions with Maggie Vining


In part 2 of our (hopefully) 10-part series, we interviewed a relative newcomer to the world of d20 publishing. We gave 20 questions to Margaret "Maggie" Vining of Better World Roleplaying, Inc., and she gave us her impression of the current state of the d20 system, and her part in the larger picture. Take a look inside Maggie's mind...

GG: How would you introduce yourself to someone who had no idea who you were, what you did or who you worked for? (i.e., name, rank, serial number, job title, company affiliation, etc.)

AP: "Hi. I'm Maggie." But my name tag would say "Margaret Vining, President, Better World Roleplaying, Inc."

GG: How long has your company been around (alternately, or additionally, how long have you been in the industry)?

AP: Better World Roleplaying (BWR) was incorporated as a nonprofit organization on June 1, 2001. Technically, that would put me in the gaming industry as of that date but I think I and BWR has a long way to go before we are considered part of the industry by the veterans.

GG: What are some of the major projects you've worked on recently?

AP: Aside from trying to get BWR started, I have worked on nothing, nada, and zero for the industry. I have, however, worked on a few fan projects (like Project Silverymoon at http://www.mageweb.com/silverymoon) and turned in my share of unsuccessful submissions, rejected/ignored employment applications, and unwanted magazine articles. I just keep reminding myself that Einstein failed math.

GG: What are some of the major projects you've worked on in the past?

AP: ::sigh:: see above

GG: What's your favorite project? (this assumes you worked on it)

AP: Founding BWR was definitely my favorite endeavor. It was a huge step for me on a personal level. Prior to this endeavor I had never worked with an attorney or an accountant. It was difficult, at first, to get them to understand my goals with the organization, its potential, and to look past their current views of people who play roleplaying games. But now that they understand, I have their full support as well as their sincere enthusiasm for the project. Oddly enough, I have had more support for BWR outside of the RPG industry than from inside it. I had anticipated the exact opposite and I'm yet to figure out why this is true. Alas, the organization is young and so am I. This has been an amazing learning experience for me and I look forward to the challenges that the future brings.

General RPG Publishing 101

GG: I have a cool idea for an RPG. How do I get it published?

AP: I think people have two options: form their own company or try to tailor it and then submit it to one of the many established RPG companies out there.

GG: How do I get writing/art/editing/playtesting credits in the RPG industry? (Include any contact info/writer guideline URLs/etc.)

AP: BWR will be looking to fill all of those positions with volunteers possibly as early as September. I am also looking for board members. I always want BWR to be a place where the inexperienced come to learn and the experienced come to teach... and contribute to a good cause while they are at it. Thus far, getting the support of experienced people has been like pulling teeth, but I have faith that we will eventually win someone over.

GG: Assuming I'm crazy enough to try this on my own, what sort of software and hardware will I need? (i.e., Can I do this all in Microsoft Word?)

AP: When you find out, let me know.

GG: How much money does this take?

AP: That depends on what you want to do and what personnel resources you have. I have very little money and no staff and most of the money BWR earns will have to go directly into our scholarship and grant programs. So, my goal is keep our costs as small as possible regardless of how much money comes into the organization. (I keep thinking, for every roleplayer we put through college there will be at least one family and a university who will gain more respect for the RPG industry.) So far, our costs have been very small. By the time BWR has its 501c3 status I anticipate our total start up fees to be about $2,000 (that includes incorporation fees and 501c3 filing fees, the drafting of several legal contracts, the website, the URL, the mailing lists, the completion of several low cost web projects, and last but not least the unsolicited business advice of an experienced accountant and an attorney). I was able to set up the organization so that I could (marginally) run it and fulfill the mission by myself and without further financial support, if necessary. (All without going into debt.) I think that is really important for anyone starting their own business. I look at starting a business similar to an investment risk and I am a firm believer that no one should risk more money than they can afford to lose.

GG: How much money will I make? (Gross vs Net, Ideal vs. Reality)

AP: I believe that depends on many, many factors. I decided to structure BWR so it wouldn't be dependent on a stable income to survive. The last thing I want to do is spend the rest of my life stressing out over money. Our goal is to put more and more money into our programs each year and to make sure we never get into debt. If we can do that I will be very happy. I just want to make sure I'm still in the RPG industry 20 years from now. In fact, my guess is that most people do not go into the RPG industry for the money. If you are just starting out and looking to make a quick buck I think you have missed the boat with d20 (unless you can score the support of someone "famous" in the industry).

d20/OGL Stuff

GG: Assuming your audience knows nothing about any of this, what's the difference between the OGL, the d20 License, the SRD and all these other crazy acronyms?

AP: The Open Gaming License is a license that requires open content to remain open regardless of who uses it or modifies it. The d20 license requires that its users adhere to certain rules if (and only if) they want to place the d20 logo on their products. The System Reference Document is a set of game rules that have been released under the OGL.

GG: What's the biggest misconception about d20 Publishing you've come across?

AP: I had a lot of misconceptions in the beginning and I'm sure I still have many. Hands down I would say the biggest misconception in the d20 arena is the assumption that anyone knows what they are talking about. Newbie and expert alike all seem to have one thing in common: they filter the d20 concept through their own perspectives. The reality is often a hard, but refreshing pill to swallow and a pill that must be swallowed often. Sometimes I thought the d20stl, the OGL, and the SRD were just as complicated as the Bible. "Why were they created? What am I supposed to do with it? Was it meant to be read by me? Why does everyone interpret them so differently? Why do some people follow these documents yet clearly have never read them?" Never in a million years did I think I would witness something so beautiful in something as traditionally cold-hearted as business. So, my biggest misconception was that d20 publishing was about d20 publishing. Instead, I think of the d20 publishing arena as a paradigm for how people grow through human interaction. This has been the most terrifying experience of my life and my only hope is that it gets worse.

GG: It could be argued that similar attempts to create a unified game engine did not succeed as hoped. In your opinion, is the d20 effort succeeding, failing, or is it too soon to tell?

AP: That is a difficult question to answer, but I think it is too soon to tell. "Failure" is also such a subjective term that we may never know. If d20 can grow beyond the traditional D&D genre and the traditional RPG market then I will think it was successful.

GG: How would you rate the overall quality of d20 products that have hit the marketplace so far? Who's doing the best job?

AP: I think most of them are very poor, unfortunately, even though I am beginning to understand how difficult RPG production is. I think many of them should have spent more time on playtesting, editing, layout, market research, and more money on artwork and printing. I've gone back to depending on Wizard's products and magazines when I need something new for D&D. So, I would have to say that Wizards is still doing the best job. I have faith, however, that some of the new d20 companies will pull through and I'm really excited about some of the d20 magazines coming out. BWR hasn't published a product yet, and I have no idea what kind of quality we will be able to maintain, but here's hoping.

GG: Obviously, you probably feel to some degree that the d20 concept is worth investing your time and money in, but why? Is it because everyone is doing it? Is it the only viable way to get things to market today? Is it the future of the industry?

AP: My attraction to d20 has very little to do with its popularity, the RPG market, or the future of the industry. Yet, all of those are important factors. BWR needs an RPG that can be standardized yet flexible for the purposes of education, and I believe that d20 has the most potential for that than any other RPG available. My attraction to d20 has more to do with the strength of RPGA as a community than anything else. No other game system has a community like RPGA attached to it, at least none that I know of. If BWR could earn the support of an entity like RPGA then I believe the concept of roleplaying in education would become a definite reality. Realistically, I just want to show Wizard's that it can and should be done. If I ever see a company like Wizards throwing their weight into educational RPG products and being successful at it, then I will die a happy woman.

Cheap Plug Stuff and Errata

GG: What are you working on right now?

AP: Our first two modules are d20 adventures that teach basic chemistry, "The Idiotic Fable of Elephants" and "Avogadro's Number". (The entire series is called "Altotus"). We were going to release them in October as free downloads but we decided to delay that in favor of a thorough playtest (one that will hopefully prove they can educate). In the near future we will complete "Altotus" as well as begin production of a d20 world designed to place students in the role of modern day social conflicts and moral dilemmas.

GG: What are you playing right now (both computer games and pen-and-paper games count)?

AP: Every Sunday I play a psionicist in my husband's Forgotten Realms campaign (D&D 3E). On Thursdays I play a 3E paladin 2/sorceress 2 with the following stats: Str 26, Dex 32, Con 39, Int 45, Wis 51, and Cha 42. It is so relaxing! We have three other players and none of them understand what d20 is. But hey, I tried. I rarely have time to play them but I also enjoy Heroes of Might and Magic III (computer), Zelda and Majora's Mask (Nintendo 64), and Gauntlet, Gran Turismo 3, and Dark Cloud (PS2). I also get a real kick out of playing in the Wizard's chat rooms and go by the name "Bombastus". My favorite board game is "Loaded Questions" because I love getting to know people on a deeper level than trivial chit chat.

GG: Why is everyone in the new Player's Handbook dressed in bondage gear? What ever happened to pointy-hats and horned helms?

AP: I have no idea, but it took me an hour to slice that stupid phoney-tail off of the top of my miniature female wizard's head. She looks much better now.

GG: URL(s) - your home page, your company's home page, etc.

AP: Better World Roleplaying, Inc. - www.betterworldroleplaying.org

GG: Where can your stuff be purchased online?

AP: It will eventually be available through our website, but I've stopped trying to guess when that will be. Until then, come back each month to see a new review and our latest Artist of the Month. And hey! Join our discussion list while you are at it!