Bangrim takes some questions and asks the mastermind of Lamentations of the flame princess (LotfP) and also the Random esoteric creature Generator, James Edward Raggi IV, some of them. The translated version of this interview will follow soon.
Bangrim: Would you like to introduce yourself and Lotfp to our reader?
James Edward Raggi IV: I’m nobody, no reason to waste time with that.
LotFP is an awesome RPG publishing putting out all sorts of cool stuff. Rules, settings, adventures. You like traditional games? You like fantasy? Horror? You like unrestrained creativity that doesn’t think the audience is made up of fragile children? Check out LotFP’s releases.
Bangrim: How did you get in touch with the RPG community in the first place?
James Raggi: My mother originally introduced me to D&D back in 83 or 84 because she wanted an excuse to paint the little metal figures. From there it was a matter of finding out which of my friends gave a crap about books and dice and character sheets and dungeons and all the things that come with codified make-believe.
In high school I first connected with gamers outside of my own group, and then in the early 00s I discovered the internet and RPG.net and Dragonsfoot and since then I’ve been marveling at how utterly wrong and crazy everyone else is.
In 2008 I released my first RPG book and started my blog to transform the world more to my liking.
Bangrim: How did you come up with the idea of moving from the US to finland and start a rpg company there?
James Raggi: A woman pulled me to Finland, and women kept me there.
Finnish women are better looking and easier than American women. They react favorably to old and fat and broke foreigners, even when there’s no common language. My advice to everyone is live someplace where the locals will do you and get away from places where they won’t.
Starting the RPG company was pretty much my only choice other than cleaning metro station toilets. That’s one reason why LotFP succeeds – it has to. There is no Plan B.
Bangrim: Which RPGs do you play beside Lotfp?
James Raggi: I don’t get the chance to play very much. I’m not very good at Finnish so it would be rude to show up to someone else’s game and demand they speak my language. The last non-LotFP RPG I think I actually got to play was Maid. I’d like to play the new Marvel thing and Call or Trail of Cthulhu .
I do like board games and (non CCG) card games.
Bangrim: Can you really make your living with “old school” or lets better say “weird fantasy” RPGs?
James Raggi: I truly believe one /can/, although admittedly I’m only doing so now because of a very understanding wife. But the business is profitable, suffering mostly from a slow product release schedule, which is why I’m trying to get some adventures pre-funded so I can get top people working on them and get a real catalog going at a brisk pace.
Bangrim: What are your thoughts on the whole “old school” scene?
James Raggi: On one hand it has a lot of creative people and it’s really exciting being a part of this group of people that’s taking stuff that’s old and making new and exciting things with it and having this past-to-future continuity going on.
On the other hand there’s this section of the old school scene that seems more about revering the actual past and wishing it was 1980, like old school was some sort of religion or something. They’re a drag.
Bangrim: Whats your impression of this whole „Crowdfounding“ stuff?
James Raggi: I’m extremely jealous of the Order of the Stick and Ogre people.
A few times over the past few months I’ve thought things are getting a bit too crowded and too many people are starting stuff up and basically it’s just me whining about competition. But it’s always been that way; RPGNow has always had a ton of new releases every single day. Distributor catalogs have new stuff ever frickin week. Crowdfunding isn’t introducting new competition, it’s just another avenue that the competition uses.
But the thoughts about “competition” don’t last long. Hundreds of RPG publishers existed before LotFP started and hundreds more will start up after LotFP disappears. LotFP isn’t successful because of a lack of alternatives, LotFP is successful because out of this giant mountain of RPG releases, LotFP’s books stand out as being just that damn good. So bring on the 348923749823498 new games and releases. If they’re better than LotFP releases then the gaming world has gained something great, and if they’re not as good as LotFP then they make me look that much better in comparison.
Bangrim: You financed two adventures, at the moment you try to finance a big project and also big companys like White Wolf financed their stuff by Crowdfounding.How will it affect RPGs and the “RPG Industry” , especially LotFP?
James Raggi: I think it’s going to make life easier for publishers who already have an established audience (prefund ALL THE THINGS!) and make things difficult for unknown designers.
Word of mouth is important for the success of small publishers and you have to be willing to sacrifice a bit to make your vision real. I fear some people who would have taken the financial risk to produce a good product before will attempt to crowdfund their idea, get discouraged when it doesn’t fund (or limit their vision according to a pre-funded budget), and we’ll miss out on things we should have.
In my own experience, only 5% of Death Frost Doom’s sales happened in the first 30 days it was available. Only 13% of Vornheim’s sales to date happened in the first 30 days. Good things will sell over time, so making your big project’s future depends on pre-selling stuff within a small timeframe… I’d say don’t risk it. Just do it.
Now I’ve got one crowdfunding campaign under my belt, another ongoing, and another planned. But I don’t think I’ll again crowdfund a project I was going to do anyway, unless it was to try to fund ridiculously extravagant production upgrades. However, trying to fund projects that I would not do otherwise (for example releasing a hardcover version of the rules I’m already selling in a box set) or could not afford to do otherwise (hire top names to write adventures for my game), that is a perfectly legitimate reason to do a crowdfunding campaign and I think I’ll continue to do that.
Bangrim: You published Stuff from Zak S., your Hardcover Project features a lot of reknown Writers, but there must be someone you still want to work with?
James Raggi: My hardcover crowdfunding project features a lot of renowned writers that I will work with if – if – their adventures fund. I want to actually work with them instead of just hopefully potentially working with them.
Bangrim: In the last years a lot of “Beginner” Stuff was published. Everyone wanted to create a Box or a game that tried to get People to play RPGs. I think Lotfp is one of the best systems out there for people who want to start playing RPGs. Was this intended?
James Raggi: Nope. Complete accident.
Bangrim: Do you think that RPG books or boxes especially designed for “beginners” will attract new players? Is this a good idea or do you think that a good rpg is enough to attract new players?
James Raggi: I don’t think that “stuff for beginners” attracts new gamers, but they make it a lot easier for the interested newcomer to get started.
Bangrim: LotFP is a good System, but you didn’t wrote a Setting. Everything is in the hand of the Referee. Why?
James Raggi: I want the game to be bigger and have more possibilities than how I use it myself.
Bangrim: You visited the SPIEL and RPC in Germany. What were your impressions?
James Raggi: I’m still too small an operation to properly take advantage of those conventions. I’m a small operation with just a few releases in print. I can make do with a single table, but these conventions offer as a standard presentation space a 10 square meter booth. Way too much! Conventions are an important promotional tool to get through to active gamers who aren’t yet familiar with my stuff. If I can’t fill out and dress a full booth properly I’m going to look bush league compared to the larger established companies, and that just might be death when I’m trying to promote professional products with professional prices that are supposed to favorably compare with those of the larger established companies.
We’re not making assembly-line toasters here. RPG books don’t do anything and aren’t supposed to do anything. Their only purpose is to inspire YOU to do things.
Presentation and perception are very important in convincing people that this is something they should pay money for.
Bangrim: You live in Finland, visited Germany and the rest of Europe and you were born in the USA. When you compare these countries: what are the biggest differences – with regard of rpgs?
James Raggi: With regards to RPGs? Pretty much none. I’ve discovered that no matter where I go in this world, two types of people are the same everywhere: Role-players and metalheads.
There are slight differences (the traditional entry game in Germany was Das Schwarze Auge, Sweden had Drakar och Demoner, etc) but the look of the gamers, the games they play, the arguments they make (I even got a lecture about “Role-Playing vs Roll-Playing” at GothCon in Sweden last month!), they’re all the same.
Bangrim: What tips you have for young aspiring authors who want to write a RPG?
James Raggi: Nobody gives a shit. Really. The RPG hobby and industry is absolutely flooded with thousands of creative and talented people all desperate for attention and maybe a few bucks.
To make people give a shit, you have to do two things:
Ignore the audience. What they want doesn’t matter. Present something to the world that represents YOUR passions and YOUR energy and everything YOU ever wanted. System, setting, all of that is irrelevant on its own. Your belief and your enthusiasm is what people will respond to, so you damn well better do something that you can believe in and be enthusiastic about.
Cut no corners. This doesn’t mean break the bank (that will result in heartbreak for a newcomer), but make sure everything you can do is actually done. Lay off your amusement of choice for a bit and get a quality cover done. Have someone actually proofread the thing and get somebody skilled to lay it out. Make sure it’s something you’ll be proud to pull off the bookshelf in 5 or 10 or 20 years when your RPG writing career is over.
Bangrim: Recently you started your own “webshow” “Because Fuck You, That’s Why”. What was the reason to say “I’ll do a webshow” ?
James Raggi: I’d watch other video blogs and think “That’s boring! I could be much better than that!” So I started. Now I’m another in a pile of boring video bloggers on Youtube but it’s a fun thing to do now and again. Plus this one marketing guy I know says it’s a good idea to have visibility in a number of different social media channels. It helps LotFP seem more ubiquitous and therefore important, or something like that.
I’ll keep it up as long as it’s fun and only put a video up when I think I have something to say, so it should work out fine.
Bangrim: On which LotFP projects are you working at the moment?
James Raggi: I’m finishing up the production of The Monolith from beyond Space and Time (the wildest, trippiest adventure ever), The God that Crawls (a dungeon chase!), and Green Devil Face #5 (random stuff).
After that it’ll be managing whatever gets funded from the current crowdfunding campaign, moving forward with a couple of adventures written by other people, and then deciding what my next big project is going to be.
Bangrim: A year ago you announced that LotFP will publish Exquisite Corpses. No news since then, will it still be published?
James Raggi: That’s up to Stefan Poag. I’d made some suggestions for changing the presentation of the book (I wasn’t attempting a straight reprint of the edition he’d already done), he agreed, but making that happen is a fair bit of work. He’s got a life and gets to choose his priorities. It’s not going to be a better book if he’s pressured, and I’ve got other things to work on too, so I don’t worry about it.
Bangrim: Before you started LotFP you wrote a Metal Fanzine. How much did Metal influence you when you wrote LotFP?
James Raggi: It influenced me very much. In metal there’s a real culture of being able to do absolutely anything (from hippie funk to Nazi noise) and part of metal’s appeal is being the music of “outsiders” (except in Finland where bands dress up like dinosaurs and play metal for small children – look up Hevisaurus) so even if you are on the “outside” of the metal mainstream you’ll connect with part of the most loyal and rabid fanbase there is.
The flip side of that is the metal crowd is rabid, picky, and critical and no matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, there will be tons of people ready to tear you down and let everyone know you suck because if your niche-of-a-niche band gets any traction there will be 100 more coming just like it because fans become bands; metal is a folk movement. The overall economic picture is small so there really is competition for spots on tours and festivals, and hype for bands you don’t like means less for bands you do – and everyone’s aware of the economics of small-type musicians and how difficult it is to finance tours and all the fun stuff that makes touring and recording possible.
And nobody “respectable” will ever acknowledge that you even exist just because it’s metal.
Does any of this sound familiar to role-players?
It’s very liberating creatively to know ahead of time that most people will hate what you do so you might as well make it as personally satisfying as possible. And that’s what you should do anyway because people will sniff out a crowd-chasing poseur every time… and the other big reason the fanbase is rabid, picky, and critical is because they’ve been burned and burned and burned by substandard product created by former favorites who had no respect for their audience too many times.
Bangrim: You said Metal influenced you, but is there any RPG that influenced you very much? (In the terms of good or unusual mix of genres, great setting or just a mindblowing idea)
James Raggi: D&D (Mentzer and AD&D versions) and Warhammer FRPG (1st edition) were by far the biggest influences on what I do now. I’ve played a lot of good games, but the more original the game is or the more detailed the setting, the less likely I am going to use anything from it in my own work. I’ll take more generic ideas from others and then add my stuff on top of that.
Bangrim: In the LotFP Referee Book you explain which stuff should be in a good adventure. Which adventure, not written or published by you, would you consider great ?
James Raggi: Death on the Reik.
Bangrim: Thanks for the Interview. Anything you want to say to our readers?
James Raggi: The current thing I’m promoting is the LotFP Hardcover and Adventures crowdfunding campaign.
At the very least you’re going to get a world-class hardcover (with a new edit and layout), and if you’re feeling generous we might just get some creepy adventures from the biggest names in gaming today.
Otherwise, check out Vornheim and Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown and all the adventures. It’s good stuff.