June 11, 2009

Questing with J. Matthew Kubisz of Alluria Publishing Part 1

We interrupt the weekly posting of {Quest Log} for a very special post.

This week, I was able to score an interview with J. Matthew Kubisz, director of Alluria Publishing, who were behind a peculiar line of PDF products that introduces new and unconventional races to 4E.

How unconventional?

Imagine having a party with a two-headed hybrid between an ettin and an eladrin, a tiny horned creature with human-sized hands, an adventurous caterpillar that can metamorphosis when it reaches the paragon tier, a living skeleton infused with life energy that fights against undead and a cold and calculating, walking tree.

That's what you get from Alluria's Remarkable Races line that is made under the GSL and is fully compatible with 4E. Each of these races are not tied to any particular setting, so they can placed anywhere if your player is looking to have a little wackiness in their campaign.

In the first part of this interview, I went ahead and asked Matthew to talk a little bit about himself, the company and what went behind the scenes when designing Remarkable Races.

Tell us about yourself and how did you get into gaming?

Gaming has always been a fascination of mine, especially D&D. I started gaming in the early 80s and never stopped. By high school, I was a full-time Dungeon Master, designing interesting campaigns for several different groups of friends (including a group with all-female players, something quite rare at the time).

College life only served to give me more freedom to game. My college record was DMing for a 21 player game that lasted 16 hours. Lately, with a kid and a new family, I have had much less time for tabletop. Though I am always using my spare time to peruse vast volumes of old material and writing new things.

How did you form Alluria Publishing?

After pouring decades into designing campaigns, I not only ended up with a huge repertoire of self-made gaming material, I had also honed the presentation of that material into a solid product.

One night, while waiting for a player to show up, a discussion arose. With volumes of home-brew handouts littering the table, floors, and suddenly occurred to us that others might want to buy these materials. I had done a lot of freelance writing before during 3rd edition. I worked especially close with Mystic Eye Games and picked up a general feel for the game publishing business then.

After a few more lengthy discussions, Alluria Publishing was born.

What made you decide to sign up for the GSL? Were there any other systems you were thinking of taking your products to be compatible with?

Alluria Publishing has always been a supporter of GSL and 4th edition.

I personally abhored the concept of 4th edition when I first heard of it. I was even in the forefront of the protesters who screamed against losing paper versions of Dragon & Dungeon magazines.

Since I actually picked up the books, however, I found the new version to be very entertaining. 4th edition is a solid game system; the best version of D&D yet. Sure, it has issues here and there, but nothing like 3rd ed did. I started out in 1st edition. 4th edition feels more like gaming in the good ol' days than any other, but with rules that actually make sense.

Tell us about your flagship product from Alluria Publishing.

The problem with many homebrew campaigns is that they often gather material from a variety of sources, and mine was no exception. The most unique works, however, were the races.

Remarkable Races offers players and DMs alike a brand new selection of truly interesting races.

Our philosophy behind Remarkable Races was to release new and unique races that the D&D universe has never seen before, and will likely never see published by Wizards of the Coast. Much like authors of the past have done with dwarves, hobbits, orcs, and elves; Remarkable Races reflect forces in our modern world. The 21st century gamer should be able to relate better to these races than those designed decades ago.

Currently, the Remarkable Races line consists of 15 new races, each with full writeups, racial feats, monster statistics, magic items, and lots of extras. They are all color illustrated by talented artists with all original art (no stock art!).

While we are a new company, and made a few mistakes starting out, we continuously improve our products and offer the updates free of charge. Alluria Publishing's main goal is to provide a superior product.

With Remarkable Races, you were going for original ideas. Where do you get your inspiration for these new ideas for races? Any specific references you can name?

Inspiration comes from all around. Popular culture has its fair amount of influence. TV and movies also tend to tie into some of the concepts. Even children’s books and fairy tales have had their place.

For example, the mogogol race was certainly partly inspired by Thaddeus Toad from the Wind and the Willows. Oaklings have a touch of Vulcan from Star Trek. Little bits and pieces are accumulated from these sorts of sources, the rest comes from odd dreams and old campaigns. The Numistians, for example, are a race that’s been in development in my own games since first edition.

We've already have PHB 1 & 2, with 3 already on the way for next year. There are already 13 races in both books, which has covered most of the 'core' races from previous editions, and who knows what other races will be in the third.

Are you worried that Wizards might be creating more races that might limit the scope of what races you can create?

Well, first of all, the Remarkable Races line has drawn to a close, though we will continually update it with expansions as Wizards continues to develop their product. As far as the scope hedging in on our existing creations; our design focuses on making a product that Wizards shows little interest in exploring.

While many of our concepts may seem a little odd, that seems to be our niche. I feel that’s one of the pitfalls of GSL publishing, we always have to guess as to what WotC is going to put out. Our design team has thrown out scores of concepts simply because we feel Wizards will someday make something similar.

What's the design process like behind each of your product? Any insights you could share on what goes behind the thought/development process?

Design is a slow process. The first step is to narrow the focus. Remarkable Races, for example, is broken into 3 sets: Newly Discovered, Ancients Rediscovered, and Aliens Among Us. Under these loose themes, the next step is simply brainstorming. This takes days, and we don't stop until we are completely exhausted.

An idea gets in if it meets most of the qualifications. For example, for Remarkable Races, the race had to able to answer yes to most of the following questions:
  • Does it fit with the theme?
  • Is it a new race (never seen in previous editions of D&D)?
  • Is it a race that Wizards will likely not make?
  • Is it a race that does something new with 4e rules?
  • Is it interesting?
  • Will people play it?

The last step is to bounce it off our rules consultants, who keep everything in balance. The rules consultants' job is basically to tell the design team how their ideas won't work, and that it's an extremely important step. You need someone who often disagrees with you and still knows the rules well on your design team.

What in your design philosophy makes a good race? Which is more important to you, fluff or crunch?

Both are equally important. I have to admit that in the beginning we were more fluff than crunch—as we were new to exploring the nuisances of 4th edition. Now we like to keep it 50/50.

Personally, I am a bit old school, and believe the DM should use rules as loose guidelines. I consider that I am in the minority on this though, and we have several people that make sure we are producing quality, well-tested crunch as well.

Stay tune for the second part of the interview same time next week where he talks a little more about future plans, new and upcoming products and RPG bloggers!

Don't forget to drop any comments if you have anything to say.

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