d20 Questions With Avalanche Press


We're interviewing 10 people involved in the creation of d20 products, from renowned game designers and publishers to the freelance writers and artists who make it all happen. We give them 20 questions. They give us a piece of their mind. Take a look inside and see what Mike Bennighof of Avalanche Press had to say.

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: Dr. Mike Bennighof, Ph.D., general manager, Avalanche Press Ltd.

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

AP: Avalanche Press was incorporated in April, 1993 and released its first products in June, 1994. I have been a game industry professional since July, 1981.

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

AP: I scripted Destroyer Command and Silent Hunter II for SSI/Ubisoft, both of which should be out for this year's Christmas season. I'm heading the development of the new edition of Third Reich, the board game. Recent board game designs include Great War at Sea: Mediterranean and Winter Fury. I designed a simulation for the U.S. Navy's Special Warfare Group One (the SEALs, West Coast branch). And I wrote Last Days of Constantinople and Greenland Saga, a couple of d20 supplements.

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

AP: I scripted Panzer General 2, at the time the best-selling computer strategy game to date, and a number of other SSI titles. I designed the Great War at Sea military strategy boardgame series, which won Origins Awards in 1999 and 2000. I've been designer or developer for about 75 board and card games.

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

AP: Survival of the Witless, a card game of the tenure process. Back in my academic days, I won the campus-wide award for classroom teaching before I had tenure. That essentially destroyed my career. The game allowed me to vent a number of frustrations - therapy I got paid for.

General RPG Publishing 101

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

AP: Prepare an outline of no more than one page and a writing sample of no more than 10 pages. Select ONE professional publisher, find the name of their submissions editor (call them and ask), and send this to them with a polite cover letter. When they reject it, start the process over. It will take many tries. Do not, under any circumstances, try to "save time" by submitting to many publishers at once. This annoys us. And we all talk to each other.

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

AP: See above

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: Don't try this on your own unless you're just dying to throw away thousands of dollars. Learn the craft on someone else's nickel, as a freelancer and then staffer, before taking the plunge.

GG: How much money does this take?

AP: To be done properly, a minimum of $20,000 per title.

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

AP: As a one-shot, no experience or track record, rookie publisher? Zero.

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: I'm not an attorney. If you don't understand this, hire one experienced in intellectual property issues. It's worth it.

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

AP: "Ooohhh, anyone can run down to Kinko's and make a fortune with a cool dungeon crawl they wrote for their college buds!" This can be a vicious business, and the Pied Pipers chanting the "anyone can publish" line are doing their peers a great disservice. Every successful d20 item of which I'm aware is either published or marketed by a company in existence before the release of the Open License.

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

AP: It's too soon to tell. The Sea of Crap being pumped out this summer may well choke the entire effort.

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 see a lot of garbage. A LOT of garbage. There are some gems among the bilge, with Atlas' Penumbra books really standing out. In economic theory, there's the principle known as "Gresham's Law," that the bad will drive out the good. I think we're about to see this in action.

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: For the moment, they are profitable and reasonably easy to do.

Cheap Plug Stuff and Errata

GG: What are you working on right now?

AP: Third Reich consumes much of my workday, and I'm writing another d20 supplement called "Day of the Blackbirds."

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

AP: "The farm animals run away and live in the woods" with my three-year-old daughter. When you do this for a living, you find that you just don't play games for fun any more.

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

AP: It's all the result of "Who Knew? Friday."

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

AP: www.avalanchepress.com

GG: Where can your stuff be purchased online?

AP: See above, or order toll-free at 1-800-564-9008.