Interview Time: D3 Games (Mark Carroll + Jason Yarnell)

Greetings, readers!
I’m taking a quick break from covering the Champions System as I do some additional research on 5th edition. Plus, I’ve been working hard on the Gamer’s Tavern, a podcast I’m hosting along with Darryl Mott (the Abstruse One), the AICN Tabletop coordinator for Ain’t It Cool News.
Today I have a great double interview for Rogue Warden: I’m talking to both Mark Carroll and Jason Yarnell of D3 Adventures, an independent game publisher that I’ve mentioned before here on the blog.
Mark happens to live here in Austin, and we’ve chatted several times about various kickstarters (especially right before the launch of Accursed). Jason’s the man with the plan behind D3 Adventures.
Mark and Jason are involved in a bold new adventure with Aethercon, an online gaming convention taking place this November. In addition, they’re also working on an interesting project called the Infinite Dungeon, a former kickstarter project that D3 Adventures is now taking to fruition.
Jason Yarnell, part-time Superhero, full time gamer.
Aethercon features quite a few interesting panels and a lineup of cool-looking games, so I highly suggest you go check it out!
As always, my questions are in red text.
RW: Can you tell me a little about yourselves as a gamer and as a game industry professional?

JY: Man, I am horrible at talking about myself. I’ve been a gamer since ’77 when I got my first Atari. I was exposed to D&D in ’78 and created my first RPG the next day from notes my friend and I cribbed from his brothers books (he wouldn’t let us play, saying we were too young). In ‘81 my mom bought me the Basic D&D box set as a graduation present from 6th grade. I’ve been modifying, playing and running games ever since. I have a knack for finding a niche game system, falling in love with it and then realizing that nobody else, or a very small number of folks, enjoys it. My fav systems are Hero System and Rolemaster.

MC: I’ve been gaming since I was nine – I started with the old Mayfair CHILL RPG, and I was lucky enough to have a group of experienced gamers to get me familiar with roleplaying; I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve been writing about as long, so combining the two seemed a natural match for me.

I know a lot of amazing people in the industry, and I feel pretty humbled to be counted among their number.

RW: How did you get your start in the RPG industry?

JY: In 1999 my roommate at the time and myself created a Mod for Tribes called Chivalry, a fan gave us some money as an angel investor to begin a video game company. In 2001 we formed Sojourn Development and started working on an MMO. That whole process fell apart in 2003 but I retained ownership of the design. In 2006 my wife convinced me to start up a new company and D3 Games was born. In 2010 we moved back to Houston and had to remake the company as D3 Adventures and that’s where I am today. 

MC: I actually sort of lucked into it – my wife was doing some copyediting for AEG’s 7th Sea line at the time, and mentioned my name to their line editor. I was asked to submit a writing sample, passed the initial round of scrutiny, and found myself writing for 7th Sea and, eventually, the World’s Largest Dungeon. From there, I wrote some books for Mutants and Masterminds, a bit nof Pathfinder stuff, and the Infinite Dungeon, natch.

RW: Tell me about D3 Adventures – what should people know about your company?

JY: We’re small…very, very small. It’s just myself and my wife, who handles all of the dollars. Our tagline pretty much explains our goals, “Forging Better Worlds For Better Games”. My passion is in setting design and my goal is to create, either full cloth or through idea seeds turned over to other authors, settings that are interesting, unique, playable and, most important to me, believable. We have an erratic release schedule due to myself and all of my contractors having day jobs, but we’re working on getting better at consistent release dates with upcoming product lines.
MC: First and foremost, we’re doing what we do because we just flat-out love gaming. We work on our products as long as it takes, and we make sure that what ends up in peoples’ hands is the best we can offer. We’re a small, tight-knit shop, and that really helps us with that goal.

RW: Tell me about Aethercon – for those who don’t know about it, what is it? What’s awesome about it?

JY: Aethercon is an online convention. Started up by Stephen Holodinsky. It seems to me to be a natural outgrowth of the online gaming community, from play-by-post (my personal savior) to electronic tabletops, gaming is moving more and more towards the digital kitchen table. Aethercon is a great way to celebrate this and is able to do it for free. We’re all volunteers who love the concept and want to see it grow into an international phenomenon. 

MC: Aethercon’s an online convention – you don’t need to leave the comfort of your computer to attend. We’re aiming to provide everything an in-person con can – we’ve got a dealers’ room, panels, and lots of gaming. Oh man, we have got a *lot* of gaming! And thanks to the magic of the Internet, we’re running events 24 hours a day for the length of the convention.

RW: What do you think gamers are looking forward to most about Aethercon?

JY: Hm, that’s difficult for me to say. I’d like to say that the mix of panels and a chance to meet and socialize with a wide variety of online gamers would be the pull, but that doesn’t exactly limit it to a specific thing…it’s pretty much the entirety of Aethercons existence.
MC: Just from my perspective, it’s going to be the gaming – we’ve got several different types of virtual tabletops available, and tons of different systems being run.

RW: I’m very pleased that D3 Adventures is helping keep the torch burning for the Hero System with several products and upcoming releases (my good friend Michael Surbrook has written some books for you on this!). Can you tell me about what you love about the Hero System, and what else may be in the works for fellow HERO-philes?

MC: This is more Jason’s wheelhouse, but I’ll admit that the Champions big blue book was one of the first RPGs I bought with my own money and ran for several years. It’s solid stuff, and the HERO folks have done a bang-up job of updating the system. It really is one of the most flexible ones out there.

JY: Oh man, I love Hero System. It can do anything. It allows me the freedom to create the mechanics for whatever I want to represent and remain internally consistent without having to turn to houserules or shoehorn my concept into a rigid architecture. Most other game systems do their game systems well, but break as soon as you want to represent something else. Hero doesn’t do that. It’s a toolkit as they say and it freakin’ rocks. Unfortunately, it isn’t as popular as I would like so releasing more products for it is secondary at this point in time. I released Kamarathin as a 5E Hero System setting, got an award for Best Writing, and released a conversion for 6E for it. Everyone that has picked it up have said good things about it, but even still, it didn’t sell enough to cover the costs of its manufacture. That hurt the pocket book. So right now I’m focusing on releasing system agnostic mini-adventures and I have several Pathfinder product lines in development. One of which, Irshaa, will be kickstarted and one of the goals will be to release a Hero System version as well. I bought the IP for USA-50 and I want to re-release it for M&M3 as well as Hero System with new art and better layout, but that’s going to have to wait until after the release of the Infinite Dungeon, Irshaa and the Campaign Toybox lines. 
RW: How has your perception of working professionally in the RPG industry changed over the last 5 years?

MC: Wow, good one! For me, the industry’s shift towards accepting digital products has been a huge thing; it’s really changed the landscape. I’ve primarily worked in digital products, though I’ve got plenty in print as well. Even more, we’re looking at Kickstarter and other crowdfunding as viable methods to bring games that otherwise would never see the light of day to the gaming folks. That’s utterly changed the landscape in a good way, despite the bumps in that particular road.

JY: I did not know what the hell I was doing. Pure and simple. I originally got into this to release Kamarathin and focus exclusively on it. Thinking I could just settle into my little fantasy setting and with Hero System and be profitable or at least break even. HA! Man, I cannot even remember the amount of things I didn’t know back then that I should have before I began. Every single month has been a brand new learning experience, some shocking, some incredibly disheartening, but most have been fantastic. For someone with zero experience in the publishing industry it has been one heck of a rollercoaster and our earlier products and present erratic releases are all prime examples of this. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Right now, I’ve got to the point where I need to focus. I’ve tried to do too many things in the name of diversification and it has held us back. I’ve left the world of idealistic system niche’s and will be expanding into the world of the popular market place until I get this company in a financially stable enough place that I can revisit my love of niche systems. 
RW: If you could change one thing about the RPG industry, what would it be?

MC: I’d say that creators would be paid what they’re worth, as opposed to what I call ‘app pricing’, which for my money has seriously devalued the work being put out there.

JY: Hm, if you had asked me this a few years ago, I would have said takedown the big corporations and keep it a craftsman industry. But after seeing the rise of Paizo and the consistently quality work they release (despite my misgivings about the D20/3.x systems) and the new iteration of D&D Next; I have to say, that maybe the industry is actually listening to its fans again and that is a good thing. Will wait and see if this trend continues, and I really hope it does. 

RW: What does the future hold for you guys? For D3 Adventures, Aethercon, or your own personal gaming projects?

MC: Well, we’ve got the Infinite Dungeon coming up, and that’s going to be a hell of a thing. We’ll continue putting out our top-selling Tangents line of systemless adventures, too. Aethercon’s always improving things, working toward a better experience so we can grow the convention as a whole, too.

For me personally, I’ll contiue writing for RPGs – I’ve got a horror setting coming up called Stalking the Nightmare, for FATE. I’m also working on a series of short stories that the setting springs from. It’s a good time to be writing for me. 

JY: Professionally I’m focusing focusing D3 Adventures on five product lines; Irshaanic Confluence, Infinite Dungeon, Tangents, Spectral Earth and Campaign Toybox. Keeping the priority on Pathfinder and Mutants & Masterminds 3E as well as systemless releases. I’m keeping Hero System possibilities in the background as finances allow. For Aethercon, I’m focusing on my minor role as prize monkey and making sure those that participate receive their just desserts. Personally, I’m trying to get into face-2-face gaming more. I currently have three play-by-post campaigns and one face-to-face game (every 3 weeks or so) that are all using my bastard creation of Rolemaster, Pathfinder and Houserules that I call Jasonmaster…because, well, I’m humble. But it’s a fun exercise in refining, massaging and creating game rules, a practice I had stopped once I got back into Hero System. I have ideas for a game system in my notes that I touch upon every now and then and may, in the far distant future release. 

RW: Can you tell me more about the Infinite Dungeon?

MC: The Infinite Dungeon started as a cocktail napkin idea over some Chinese at a local restaurant. From there, the idea continued to develop – we came up with the concept of the Cursed Isle, the dungeon there that went on forever, and the surrounding environs, all in one feverish afternoon.

From there, we dug into the history – how the Isle and Dungeon came to be, the history of the Wardens that sent adventurers to explore both, and then Ross Isaacs stepped in as line developer to bring it all together. Ross, by the way, is awesome, and really helped us achieve a voice for the project.

With Ross on board, we had solid direction, and that brought some major talent to the fore – Chris Harris wrote some incredible stuff with ruins and worked on our monsters; Alyssa Faden developed some outstanding, stunning cartography and provided us with a creepy plot twist for the nature of the Dungeon; Jennifer Baughman, who worked on 7th Sea for AEG, wrote up Valek’s Landing, which is the first village that adventurers on the Isle go to…and sometimes never escape from. I wrote a lot on the history of the Wardens and the ecology of the Cursed Isle, which was tons of fun.

It’s a hell of a project – the first book in the Infinite Dungeon line covers the huge outdoor dungeon that’s part of the Cursed Isle. Tons of NPCs, plot hooks, weird, horrific stuff going on; you could play out an entire game just on the island alone. With Book 2, players and GMs will see the first of the underground levels of the Dungeon…and it’s nothing that’s been seen before as far as I can tell. It’s the Dungeon as not just an ecosystem, but a living, changing thing; what the players do will affect how the whole thing plays out.

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