Q&A with Colin McComb

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Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Havard » Mon Feb 23, 2009 12:11 pm

Once again, it is a great honor to welcome Thunder Rift creator Colin McComb!
I'd be glad to - err, that is, answer questions about Thunder Rift (and Planescape/Birthright/Ravenloft stuff, if anyone's interested), though I must warn you that all memories are subject to recall provisions and the possibility of being entirely in error. :)

However, one thing I can assure you of is that Thunder Rift was definitely intended to be part of Mystara. As you know, TR was designed for introducing new players to Dungeons & Dragons - we had an executive mandate tying the design of the Thunder Rift series toward the promotion of the big boxes, and it was always assumed that the new gamers would gravitate toward Mystara, the home of Basic D&D.

Where was TR supposed to go exactly? Well, that's another matter altogether...
Ah, thanks for confirming this connection between the two settings. It seems to have been accepted by most now, but I remember we had some discussions about this years ago. The ongoing Thunder Rift project has Thunder Rift placed in one of the mountain chains of Darokin, possibly on the Darokin/Karameikos border. What do you think of that placement?

I guess, that's going to be the first question in this thread. I encourage others to contribute as well. (And although this is the Thunder Rift forum, questions about anything Colin feels like talking about will be allowed in this thread).

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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Colin McComb » Mon Feb 23, 2009 12:34 pm

Havard wrote: Ah, thanks for confirming this connection between the two settings. It seems to have been accepted by most now, but I remember we had some discussions about this years ago. The ongoing Thunder Rift project has Thunder Rift placed in one of the mountain chains of Darokin, possibly on the Darokin/Karameikos border. What do you think of that placement?
In between Armistead and Threshold? That's pretty close to where I was imagining it, as I recall. Of course, I wasn't supposed to make any overt references to any particular placement in the book, but I needed to have some mental anchor - and Karameikos seemed like a good, fantasy-generic place to start. It helped that Karameikos was one of the original starting points for D&D, back in the '80s.

-Colin

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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Big Mac » Mon Feb 23, 2009 12:59 pm

Thanks for signing up with The Piazza Colin. Sadly, I missed Thunder Rift (along with the rest of the original D&D stuff) because I started out with AD&D, and although I was interested in some of the stuff, I could never work out what I had to buy to be able to "get into it". However, I'm now interested (with 20 20 hindsight) and will be looking forward to reading your thoughts about it.

A couple of questions I can ask are:

How did you get involved in Thunder Rift?

And how much input were you allowed to have once you were onboard (i.e. did you do all the creative stuff or did they hand you a "Thunder Rift bible" that told you a bunch of stuff that had to be included)?

I would be interested in your thougths on Planescape, Birthright, Ravenloft (and I believe you did some Dragonlance stuff too). But maybe we should put a Q&A thread in the appropriate setting forums, so that people can find them (if that is OK with you).
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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Colin McComb » Mon Feb 23, 2009 3:18 pm

Big Mac wrote: How did you get involved in Thunder Rift?

And how much input were you allowed to have once you were onboard (i.e. did you do all the creative stuff or did they hand you a "Thunder Rift bible" that told you a bunch of stuff that had to be included)?
Before I can answer these, I need to explain how the scheduling worked at TSR, so...
The R&D staff (designers, editors, product line leaders [who were also designers or editors]) were divided into various fungible groups along world-based lines (my first group at TSR was the Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms group, under the guidance of Karen Boomgarden). These groups would come up with the schedule of releases for the next year for that product line (and some group would always try to get an imaginary product called "Castle of the Frog" or "Temple of the Frog" [note that the latter was already a DA module] on the schedule in honor of our scheduling manager).

When this process was complete, the scheduling manager (Bruce Heard, a Frenchman, also the product lead for Mystara) would try to figure out how to assign all the designers and editors to various projects, which to freelance out, and the various nitpicky stuff that actually made the company run. Each of us was given about a month to design or edit 32 pages (including art and map orders), so we'd have, for instance, 3 months to design a 96-page book, and then the editor would have it for an equal amount of time (come to think of it, I can't say for sure editors got a full month for 32 pages, but I'm going to run with it).

As an aside, I should mention that it was only years later that I grew to appreciate just how hard Bruce's job was, and why he'd be so stressed about people missing their deadlines.

At any rate, I was part of Bruce's group for a short time - just in time, in fact, to be asked to take the design for Thunder Rift, with the mandate that it be an introductory area for new players. This was essentially the only direction I was given for the project: "Make it accessible, and make it droppable anywhere. Make it possible for us to base a lot of adventures there, and take a look at the schedule to see what's coming up."

I figured the obvious solution, based on the name, was to stick it in some nearly impassable mountains. My general routine when starting a project was to call a brainstorming session of the various people in the product group; my general philosophy was that if I had all these fantastically creative people at my fingertips, I'd be a fool not to pick their brains (but not in a mind flayer sense). They suggested that I incorporate the names for the big boxes as locations, they offered suggestions for terrain types, and general good hints.

I took their suggestions and incorporated many of them. Then I went to my office, busted out the big poster map sheet, and started coloring (on the floor), placing the various geological features, and then placed the cities, ruins, and sites of interest in neat places. I also (see "Thunder Rift Product list") screwed up the rivers.

So if there's something you like in Thunder Rift, I'll share the credit with the product team. Something you don't like, I'll take the blame. :)
Big Mac wrote: I would be interested in your thougths on Planescape, Birthright, Ravenloft (and I believe you did some Dragonlance stuff too). But maybe we should put a Q&A thread in the appropriate setting forums, so that people can find them (if that is OK with you).
Maybe pointers from the various forums to here, or move the designer/editor threads to an upper level with redirects from the world topics? Most of us didn't focus on a single world. :) But honestly, whatever works best for you - just let me know what you decide.

-Colin

(and another edit, because I dropped an "a". See, this is why we need editors!)
Last edited by Colin McComb on Mon Feb 23, 2009 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Gawain_VIII » Mon Feb 23, 2009 4:37 pm

Colin,

This is probably a long-shot, but... There are quite a few similarities between TR and the new WotC mini-setting/super-module for 3e "Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde". Most notably a "generic fantasy" setting built inside a valley surrounded by impassable mountains. Have you seen SGoS? Are you aware of (or recognize) any TR elements which were recycled?

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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Colin McComb » Mon Feb 23, 2009 4:54 pm

Gawain_VIII wrote:Colin,

This is probably a long-shot, but... There are quite a few similarities between TR and the new WotC mini-setting/super-module for 3e "Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde". Most notably a "generic fantasy" setting built inside a valley surrounded by impassable mountains. Have you seen SGoS? Are you aware of (or recognize) any TR elements which were recycled?

Roger
Roger,

I haven't seen it yet, so I couldn't tell you one way or another - sorry! I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, though - there are few options for a generic, replaceable fantasy spot that don't involve mountains. You could have a desert oasis, I suppose, or something on a moon, or on an island, or under the sea - but if you want to make the place eventually accessible via a wide range of travel options (river, flight, caverns, overland), you're pretty much limited to a valley.

But if it turns out they've got a place named after a dude named Raven, or a town named after a vining fruit... well, then I'll reconsider. ;)

-Colin
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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Cthulhudrew » Mon Feb 23, 2009 11:18 pm

Colin McComb wrote:Maybe pointers from the various forums to here, or move the designer/editor threads to an upper level with redirects from the world topics? Most of us didn't focus on a single world. :) But honestly, whatever works best for you - just let me know what you decide.
That's not a bad idea- since the Piazza is geared towards all Old D&D Campaign Worlds (with, admittedly, more of a Mystara focus at the moment, due to the primary originators of the forum), maybe we should have these Creator threads in a General Location, rather than in Specific World Forums?

(For that matter, maybe I should have proposed this in a different forum myself...)
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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Havard » Wed Feb 25, 2009 12:12 pm

Colin McComb wrote: In between Armistead and Threshold? That's pretty close to where I was imagining it, as I recall. Of course, I wasn't supposed to make any overt references to any particular placement in the book, but I needed to have some mental anchor - and Karameikos seemed like a good, fantasy-generic place to start. It helped that Karameikos was one of the original starting points for D&D, back in the '80s.
Wow, it is interesting that you were so specific about the theoretical location for the valley! We have been working from the assumption that it might be slightlly further to the east, so that the pathway through the Horned Hills could lead to Ylaruam. It is nice to be able to give each individual DM some leeway on the exact location though.

I guess what we have been doing here is going in the opposite direction from your instructions. While you were supposed to avoid specific references, we have been trying to tie the races/cultures of TR to nearby Known World groups and make connections between the history of Thunder Rift with the overall Mystara timeline. Its been fun! :)

A somewhat unrelated question: Many of us were surprised when the module In the Phantom's Wake detailed a ghostly ship, rather than revealing the secrets of Wizardspire as was suggested in the main TR book. Did you have any thoughts on Wizardspire and the Mad Mage? We have speculated that he might be a Lich, but perhaps that would be too powerful a creature for a Thunder Rift adventure?

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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Colin McComb » Thu Feb 26, 2009 1:43 am

Havard wrote:
Wow, it is interesting that you were so specific about the theoretical location for the valley! We have been working from the assumption that it might be slightlly further to the east, so that the pathway through the Horned Hills could lead to Ylaruam. It is nice to be able to give each individual DM some leeway on the exact location though.
Keep in mind that this specific location was for my use only as a purely mental anchor. The intent was always to keep the actual location fluid, so that it could slot in where necessary. If someone wanted to use this Greyhawk, for instance, I wouldn't want to deny them by saying, "Sorry, this is a Mystara-only product." I certainly don't want to give the impression that my word on this is final - consider my words a weak guideline at best. :)
I guess what we have been doing here is going in the opposite direction from your instructions. While you were supposed to avoid specific references, we have been trying to tie the races/cultures of TR to nearby Known World groups and make connections between the history of Thunder Rift with the overall Mystara timeline. Its been fun! :)
Excellent. My plan is coming together nicely.
A somewhat unrelated question: Many of us were surprised when the module In the Phantom's Wake detailed a ghostly ship, rather than revealing the secrets of Wizardspire as was suggested in the main TR book. Did you have any thoughts on Wizardspire and the Mad Mage? We have speculated that he might be a Lich, but perhaps that would be too powerful a creature for a Thunder Rift adventure?

Havard
I was incredibly surprised by that as well. Our product roadmap was, I thought, fairly straightforward, and the appearance of the ship basically directly contravened that. Sooo...

I envisioned the undead not so much the servants of the Mad Mage as his undying foes. The undead came out to slaughter the homesteaders because they felt people settling in the area were allying themselves with Wizardspire. The feud between the Academy and the Spire is ongoing, and continues until... well, when does a feud with undead in it die?

The Mad Mage was supposed to be the last of the apprentices, a survivor of the assassins that wiped out the last of the wizards in the Spire. He hid among the rubble and the corpses, and studied magic without the constraints of a master, and so his mind and spirit warped - he has gained long life because of this, but is still decidedly mortal and exceptionally paranoid. He totters around the ancient keep with magic of unknowable power tucked into the pockets of his threadbare robes, and occasionally exerts control over the goblins and orcs who emerge from the caverns beneath mountains - but rarely long enough to marshal them into any serious threat. His attention turns upon the Fighters' Academy.

Sir Jameson the Defender, btw, was based on Jim Ward. :)
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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Havard » Fri Feb 27, 2009 12:25 pm

Colin McComb wrote:
Havard wrote:I guess what we have been doing here is going in the opposite direction from your instructions. While you were supposed to avoid specific references, we have been trying to tie the races/cultures of TR to nearby Known World groups and make connections between the history of Thunder Rift with the overall Mystara timeline. Its been fun! :)
Excellent. My plan is coming together nicely.
Hehe :)
Making those connections ourselves seemed to be a good way to expand upon what we had to work with. We established that the elves were related to the elves of Alfheim, which meant we suddenly had alot of elven culture to draw upon. We made Eladin Silvercrest from Curse of the Silver Sword lord of the elven lands of the Gauntlin Woods. Most likely they are followers of Ilsundal and Mealiden. The Humans of Thunder Rift were trickier since their names can be traced to many different RW cultures. I simply assumed that many different peoples have found their way into the valley through the ages, though the culture resembles to a great extent something similar to Karameikos/Thyatis/Darokin. I still haven't worked out which Immortals should be followed there though. I have been going back and forth between using the Traladaran Immortals or using something from the Thyatian pantheon. Ofcourse, we could include everything, but I like getting a bit of structure.


Phantom's Wake/Wizardspire

I was incredibly surprised by that as well. Our product roadmap was, I thought, fairly straightforward, and the appearance of the ship basically directly contravened that. Sooo...
I'm guessing this was a question of deadlines and having a finnished module available even if it didn't fit the specifications, but who knows :)

I envisioned the undead not so much the servants of the Mad Mage as his undying foes. The undead came out to slaughter the homesteaders because they felt people settling in the area were allying themselves with Wizardspire. The feud between the Academy and the Spire is ongoing, and continues until... well, when does a feud with undead in it die?

The Mad Mage was supposed to be the last of the apprentices, a survivor of the assassins that wiped out the last of the wizards in the Spire. He hid among the rubble and the corpses, and studied magic without the constraints of a master, and so his mind and spirit warped - he has gained long life because of this, but is still decidedly mortal and exceptionally paranoid. He totters around the ancient keep with magic of unknowable power tucked into the pockets of his threadbare robes, and occasionally exerts control over the goblins and orcs who emerge from the caverns beneath mountains - but rarely long enough to marshal them into any serious threat. His attention turns upon the Fighters' Academy.
Wow, this is interesting! The mad mage as a mortal eh? Well that is cool! His attention being focused on the Fighter's Academy is a good thing I suppose, but what happens when the PCs clear out that place? :twisted:

Orcs and goblins living beneath the mountain makes sense. This gives him some minions as well.
Sir Jameson the Defender, btw, was based on Jim Ward. :)
Aha! Cool detail. I guess we should have seen that one :D

I guess for a long-term campaign, some good PC goals could be to reestablish these lost institutions like the Fighter's Academy and Wizardspire.
Could be interesting.


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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Big Mac » Sat Feb 28, 2009 9:22 pm

Sorry for the delay getting back to this. I've had a very busy week and have only had time for short posts. This post deserved a more well thought out answer than I had time for.
Colin McComb wrote:
Big Mac wrote: How did you get involved in Thunder Rift?

And how much input were you allowed to have once you were onboard (i.e. did you do all the creative stuff or did they hand you a "Thunder Rift bible" that told you a bunch of stuff that had to be included)?
Before I can answer these, I need to explain how the scheduling worked at TSR, so...
Cool. Extra details I didn't ask for! 8-)
Colin McComb wrote:The R&D staff (designers, editors, product line leaders [who were also designers or editors]) were divided into various fungible groups along world-based lines (my first group at TSR was the Dragonlance/Forgotten Realms group, under the guidance of Karen Boomgarden). These groups would come up with the schedule of releases for the next year for that product line (and some group would always try to get an imaginary product called "Castle of the Frog" or "Temple of the Frog" [note that the latter was already a DA module] on the schedule in honor of our scheduling manager).
"Fungible" is an interesting word. I'll have to find an excuse to slip that into a conversation sometime. :)

Ohh. I've noticed Karen Boomgarden as an editor of a couple of Spelljammer products. Spelljammer seems to have hijacked quite a few people from Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, although not knowing who was on the teams (like you do) it isn't easy to spot the connections.

It is interesting that Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms seems to have been run by one team. I read somewhere that Dragonlance was cobbled together to give time for (what was going to turn into) Forgotten Realms to be developed, but was then a lot more successful than hoped for. I'm actually a big fan of Dragonlance (as well as Forgotten Realms), so I'm glad the team kept that line going too.

I was originally only interested in the game (and didn't pay any attention to behind the scenes stuff) so I have been amazed at the number of in-jokes that you lot have managed to slide under the RADAR. (My own LARP club spent about 10 years making frog jokes at one of our members (but in his case, it was because he dressed up in a frog costume...once), so I think I would have loved to have created fake products for TSR. :lol: )

Something I have seen in actual D&D products (rather than fake ones designed to poke their tongue out at Bruce Heard) is a lot of random things named after D&D staff. Spelljammer has an entire planet (Nehzmyth) named after Bruce Nesmith (although the 3e DLCS has swapped that "joke planet" for the more correct planet: Shinare). Did you have any joke locations in Thunder Rift (or any of the other settings you did)?
Colin McComb wrote:When this process was complete, the scheduling manager (Bruce Heard, a Frenchman, also the product lead for Mystara) would try to figure out how to assign all the designers and editors to various projects, which to freelance out, and the various nitpicky stuff that actually made the company run. Each of us was given about a month to design or edit 32 pages (including art and map orders), so we'd have, for instance, 3 months to design a 96-page book, and then the editor would have it for an equal amount of time (come to think of it, I can't say for sure editors got a full month for 32 pages, but I'm going to run with it).
It is interesting to hear that Bruce Heard was in charge of the timetables for all the products. I wonder if that made OD&D products easier to organise than AD&D products. Or if it actually hindered OD&D.

Night Druid (who is our 4th biggest poster and one of the HackJammer authors) has pointed out the "32 page printing requirements" before. It must be pretty bad (from a creative point of view) when you are trying to make something and it is too big for 32 pages, but too small for 64 pages. I've seen a few D&D products that could have benifitted from being allowed to have another 4, 8 or 12 pages of detail (plus some that have a ton of recycled artwork and very large print).

Have you ever had to drop a really cool idea, because you couldn't shoehorn it into a product (or get another 32 page section organised)?
Colin McComb wrote:As an aside, I should mention that it was only years later that I grew to appreciate just how hard Bruce's job was, and why he'd be so stressed about people missing their deadlines.
WotC recently dropped the last ever Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman Dragonlance novel from their schedule after they missed a deadline. It is done now, but I bet that sort of delay makes it very hard to get the logistics of printing things sorted out.

I've seen about 3 freebie D&D products that are things that originally got dumped from the schedule (and for various reasons never got put back on) and it really amazes me that a ton of hard work that misses a deadline can just be dumped onto the scrapheap. Did you have any trouble with any of your product lines? Are there any half finished D&D modules sitting in your filing cabinet?
Colin McComb wrote:At any rate, I was part of Bruce's group for a short time - just in time, in fact, to be asked to take the design for Thunder Rift, with the mandate that it be an introductory area for new players. This was essentially the only direction I was given for the project: "Make it accessible, and make it droppable anywhere. Make it possible for us to base a lot of adventures there, and take a look at the schedule to see what's coming up."
If Thunder Rift had been done under WotC it would probably be an obscure part of Greyhawk. Did you ever look at the non-Mystara worlds to see where you would pick for alternate Thunder Rift drop-off points?

Spelljammer has the Rock of Bral as a "dump it anywhere" location, so it looks like this sort of tradition has gone from Thunder Rift, through to 3e (where WotC have tried to make all of Greyhawk into a "generic world"). Personally, I'm not a big fan of the "drop it anywhere" approach as I think it ties one hand of the designer behind their back and stops the GM from being given expanded information (like where that location fits into the world). So I think I would have preferred to have been given "Colin McComb's Thunder Rift location" as a default with a sidebar (or maybe even an entire chapter) telling me how to ignore your location and move Thunder Rift to other places (i.e. to use this on Krynn, put it here, to use it on Toril, put it there, to use it with Spelljammer make it a rocky moon, to use it with Planescape make it a demi-plane, etc, etc). And looking back at these old out of print settings, I'd love to see any unused notes from the original designers turned into "unnofficial web enhancements".

However, I keep hearing a mantra* that "proper" campaign settings don't sell and generic stuff is what gamers want, so I must be someone who doesn't actually like normal game material. :?

* = Given that so many third party publishers managed to make campaign settings that were compatible with the d20 System, I really don't understand how people can continue to claim that TSR was killed off by having too many settings. (I'd love to see every out of print TSR setting made into a 3rd edition conversion. I'll be looking forward to what the Mystara fans can do with your Thunder Rift stuff.)
Colin McComb wrote:I figured the obvious solution, based on the name, was to stick it in some nearly impassable mountains. My general routine when starting a project was to call a brainstorming session of the various people in the product group; my general philosophy was that if I had all these fantastically creative people at my fingertips, I'd be a fool not to pick their brains (but not in a mind flayer sense). They suggested that I incorporate the names for the big boxes as locations, they offered suggestions for terrain types, and general good hints.
Hmm. Designing from the names sounds very much like J.R.R. Tolkein is supposed to have designed his Middle Earth characters. I don't have Thunder Rift yet**, but I do want to learn more about Mystara and Thunder Rift sounds like a good place to start running a Mystara based campaign.

** = I started out with AD&D and was interested in some OD&D stuff, but, back then, I could never figure out how many books I needed to buy to be able to use the other products. In fact, with a lot of D&D books still being shrinkwrapped today, I still get annoyed that I sometimes can't tell if a book is a standalone book or if I need to buy another book to "unlock" that book.

I also want to create some fanon expansion for the planet Reorx (a mountainous planet in Krynnspace - the Dragonlance crystal sphere). I'd guess that the geography of Reorx would be very similar to Thunder Rift, so I'll have to have a good look at your stuff and see if I can reboot some of it into Dragonlance form. Reorx has a lot of invaders who do pick brains in the mindflayer sense, so I don't think that most of it can be low-level, but maybe I can add in a bit more variety and make a world of isolated valleys that can take PCs from level 1 to epic play.
Colin McComb wrote:I took their suggestions and incorporated many of them. Then I went to my office, busted out the big poster map sheet, and started coloring (on the floor), placing the various geological features, and then placed the cities, ruins, and sites of interest in neat places. I also (see "Thunder Rift Product list") screwed up the rivers.
Do you have a list of the unused ideas? Did you reject them because they didn't fit in with other stuff you wanted to do or were some of them things that got saved for later but never used?

I need to learn a little bit more about cartography myself. I guess it must be very hard to get rivers right if you are working with a 2D map that has to represent the way that springs flow down into the sea. A few years ago, I saw a small lake on the top of a high hill, so sometimes nature itself looks wrong***

*** = If I had been reading a map I would have convinced myself that the water meant that the lake had to be in a dip.
Colin McComb wrote:So if there's something you like in Thunder Rift, I'll share the credit with the product team. Something you don't like, I'll take the blame. :)
Who takes the blame for Thunder Rift not having a 3rd edition reprint? :P ;)
Colin McComb wrote:
Big Mac wrote:I would be interested in your thougths on Planescape, Birthright, Ravenloft (and I believe you did some Dragonlance stuff too). But maybe we should put a Q&A thread in the appropriate setting forums, so that people can find them (if that is OK with you).
Maybe pointers from the various forums to here, or move the designer/editor threads to an upper level with redirects from the world topics? Most of us didn't focus on a single world. :) But honestly, whatever works best for you - just let me know what you decide.
I'm still not too sure myself. I'd say we have more Mystara fans than fans of Planescape, Birthright, Ravenloft and Dragonlance, so it makes sense to have a thread here.

But then again, talk of the other stuff might get burried in the Thunder Rift questions. Maybe we can see how we get on and come back to this later.

I'd also like to know about any new RPG stuff you are working on (which should go into our Other Worlds section) and the sort of worlds that you use for your own personal gaming. So I hope that you will feel free to jump around the forums and butt into any conversations that look interesting to you. :D
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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Tzunk » Sun Mar 01, 2009 2:26 am

I just wanted to thank you, Mr. McComb.

My favorite, most long-running D&D campaign of all time started way back in high school and included the PCs building their strongholds in Thunder Rift just because they had a sentimental attachment to where they had all those fun low-level adventures. In fact, we still don't consider this campaign "finished" to this day (we're now into our early 30s), and often talk about playing once again once circumstances bring us around the same table.

Incidentally: The innkeeper at the Sarcastic Goat became one of the campaign's more notable NPCs, mostly because he was the favorite target of my Chaotic (though not evil) elf's practical jokes. :)

I think that the introductory modules that you and the other Thunder Rift collaborators put out were a perfect introduction to the game for a group of newbies who needed time to grow into the full potential of campaigning as it was presented in the Rules Cyclopedia.

Not only that, but by focusing on a small, local "core" sub-setting and illustrating how to get a party of PCs started there, you really focused on the kind of "bread and butter" useful RPG products that TSR as a whole was forsaking at that time in place of the every more esoteric and obscure (Spelljammer, Al Quadim, etc).

Thanks again for all the great times.

P.S. We put our Thunder Rift in the valley on the southern edge of the Broken Lands marked "Trollhattan" on the map. We figured it was the right size and would account for all those pesky humanoids. :)

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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Colin McComb » Tue Mar 03, 2009 3:33 pm

Big Mac wrote: I was originally only interested in the game (and didn't pay any attention to behind the scenes stuff) so I have been amazed at the number of in-jokes that you lot have managed to slide under the RADAR. (My own LARP club spent about 10 years making frog jokes at one of our members (but in his case, it was because he dressed up in a frog costume...once), so I think I would have loved to have created fake products for TSR. :lol: )

Something I have seen in actual D&D products (rather than fake ones designed to poke their tongue out at Bruce Heard) is a lot of random things named after D&D staff. Spelljammer has an entire planet (Nehzmyth) named after Bruce Nesmith (although the 3e DLCS has swapped that "joke planet" for the more correct planet: Shinare). Did you have any joke locations in Thunder Rift (or any of the other settings you did)?
The item I created with the most exposure was the Helm of Valor, from the Complete Book of Elves. This item allowed the wearer to take minimal damage from missile fire, assuming that he or she doesn't fail a Wisdom check and flinch. The Helm was based on a fencing mask I'd brought from college. Bill Connors discovered that plastic-tipped darts stuck nicely in the wire mesh, about an inch and a half away from the eye, and so we started putting it on people and throwing darts at their heads. This was especially fun for the new people - it became a rite of passage for any new editor or designer, in fact - and it gave us a quick sense of their personalities.

So, Thunder Rift didn't really have joke locations. It did have in-joke people, though. In Melinir alone:
- Connor the Scribe = Bill Connors
- Stefan des Herbsts = Steve Winter, the product lead for the AD&D line, and the guy responsible for hiring me at TSR.
- The Sarcastic Goat (and its proprietor): Zeb Cook, who looks and speaks like Jamie from Mythbusters
- Pickman the Sage: Jon Pickens, a fantastic editor with an encyclopedic knowledge of D&D, and a good guy, who actually does have a tendency to ramble; he was known for continuing conversations with people as they were getting into their cars.
- The Miller: Rich Baker (see, his name is Richard the Baker...). The "baking bread becomes very boring after a while" is a direct quote.
- Nicholas Maybrush: Me! A backstabbing, two-faced villain! (okay, I needed a bad guy in Melinir and didn't want to base it on any of my coworkers). See, "Colin" is a version of "Nicholas", and when I'm explaining how to spell my last name to people*, I tell them "Mc-Comb... like McBrush, only it's a Comb."
- Geoffrey the Mage: Jeff Grubb!
- Daffyd the Wise: David Wise, a great editor, Shakespeare buff, and later my boss.
- Ap Hen: Dale "Slade" Henson. See, "Ap Hen" means "Son of Hen". A real party animal for a while, instigator of much extrawork insanity.
- Dara: Dori Jean Heine, or "Dori the Barbarian". She was an editor at TSR who hung her office in a variety of furs, and had, as I recall, a large sword.

*because they always say, "C-O-N-V?" no matter how clearly I enunciate.

Big Mac wrote: It is interesting to hear that Bruce Heard was in charge of the timetables for all the products. I wonder if that made OD&D products easier to organise than AD&D products. Or if it actually hindered OD&D.
Nah, he was pretty even-handed about it all.
Big Mac wrote: Night Druid (who is our 4th biggest poster and one of the HackJammer authors) has pointed out the "32 page printing requirements" before. It must be pretty bad (from a creative point of view) when you are trying to make something and it is too big for 32 pages, but too small for 64 pages. I've seen a few D&D products that could have benifitted from being allowed to have another 4, 8 or 12 pages of detail (plus some that have a ton of recycled artwork and very large print).
This is what editors are for - trimming stuff down or blowing it up when the designer misses the target. It's occasionally rough trying to hit that target, but this is what outlines, brainstorms, and planning sessions are for - we allot space to discuss a topic, and then try to ensure that our topic stays within those boundaries. This teaches us to learn to write concisely, or in the case of too little content, to fill our space with lots and lots of words, saying the same thing over and over, and attempting not to stray into redundancy (at least not obviously) - though this latter tack rarely works, and should only be used in the most extreme of situations.
Big Mac wrote: Have you ever had to drop a really cool idea, because you couldn't shoehorn it into a product (or get another 32 page section organised)?
Not so much dropping really cool ideas as dropping the second-rate ideas in order to make room for the cool ones. :)
Big Mac wrote: I've seen about 3 freebie D&D products that are things that originally got dumped from the schedule (and for various reasons never got put back on) and it really amazes me that a ton of hard work that misses a deadline can just be dumped onto the scrapheap. Did you have any trouble with any of your product lines? Are there any half finished D&D modules sitting in your filing cabinet?
Schedules are serious business. In addition to the time necessary to complete the product in-house (design, editing, typesetting, graphic design, logos, and preparing the marketing campaigns), you're also talking significant amounts of out-of-house work: printing, packaging, distribution. This is work that requires significant forethought, too, because other customers and other products need to use those resources, and a late product that tries to cut in line throws the schedule for those products into total disarray. Then you've got the retailers, who schedule space on their shelves and have promos running in advance; missing deadlines ruins their schedules, and that makes them VERY unhappy - and pissing off a retailer is very, very low on the list of things you want to do as a publishing house.

As noted above, there's also the marketing campaigns. It's incredibly wasteful for Marketing/PR to set up their marketing run with ads in magazines, papers, scheduling interviews, and generally buying exposure for a project that gets bumped a few months. It really is easier and cheaper to dump the project on the back burner for a while until a slot opens up.

As to whether I've got any old D&D modules lying around... Nope! But I did have a half-finished Buck Rogers/Pulp adventure that (thankfully) got canceled shortly before it was due. I say "thankfully" because I was running really, really late - and when they told me the product line was canceled it was like a gift from the heavens.
Big Mac wrote: If Thunder Rift had been done under WotC it would probably be an obscure part of Greyhawk. Did you ever look at the non-Mystara worlds to see where you would pick for alternate Thunder Rift drop-off points?
I did, but I don't actually remember where they are... :O
Big Mac wrote:* = Given that so many third party publishers managed to make campaign settings that were compatible with the d20 System, I really don't understand how people can continue to claim that TSR was killed off by having too many settings. (I'd love to see every out of print TSR setting made into a 3rd edition conversion. I'll be looking forward to what the Mystara fans can do with your Thunder Rift stuff.)
Keep in mind that the third-party publishers are significantly smaller than TSR/WotC, so they have significantly less overhead to worry about (office space, support staff, business management staff, and all the other associated costs with a huge business), so their profit margins and revenue streams can be a lot smaller and still let them maintain viability. Tabletop gaming, sad to say, is not exactly a lucrative industry - but it IS a hell of a lot of fun.
Big Mac wrote: Do you have a list of the unused ideas? Did you reject them because they didn't fit in with other stuff you wanted to do or were some of them things that got saved for later but never used?
Some of the stuff got recycled, I'm sure - I don't have a list of the notes anywhere, sadly, at least not in an accessible format. I've been through at least three computers since then, and I don't have a 3.5" floppy drive on my newest machine. I'll have to turn on the PC again to start transferring these files before they go extinct. :D
Big Mac wrote: Who takes the blame for Thunder Rift not having a 3rd edition reprint? :P ;)
You. For not having bought it when it came out. YOU DID IT, BIG MAC. How could you? ;)

Alternately (and more realistically), you could blame TSR management for not having promoted the line effectively, and for generally not having a clue about what gamers want and need. Most of them (with the exception of Jim Ward) had never even played the game - and they hired marketing people who had never played (and never would play) the game. Way to go after the target market.
Big Mac wrote: I'd also like to know about any new RPG stuff you are working on (which should go into our Other Worlds section) and the sort of worlds that you use for your own personal gaming. So I hope that you will feel free to jump around the forums and butt into any conversations that look interesting to you. :D
I've recently finished an adventure for Paizo called "Beyond the Vault of Souls", which takes place in Golarion's Outer Sphere, and I'm working on a gazetteer-style book for them that I don't think has been officially announced yet, so I'm not at liberty to say anything. I'm also going to be doing some work with Kobold Quarterly, though that's more a meta-design discussion than actual RPG products. I'm ALSO going to be putting up some fiction and stuff on my personal website, which is not actually completely done yet so don't expect anything there yet. :D
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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Colin McComb » Tue Mar 03, 2009 3:40 pm

Tzunk wrote:I just wanted to thank you, Mr. McComb.

My favorite, most long-running D&D campaign of all time started way back in high school and included the PCs building their strongholds in Thunder Rift just because they had a sentimental attachment to where they had all those fun low-level adventures. In fact, we still don't consider this campaign "finished" to this day (we're now into our early 30s), and often talk about playing once again once circumstances bring us around the same table.

Incidentally: The innkeeper at the Sarcastic Goat became one of the campaign's more notable NPCs, mostly because he was the favorite target of my Chaotic (though not evil) elf's practical jokes. :)

I think that the introductory modules that you and the other Thunder Rift collaborators put out were a perfect introduction to the game for a group of newbies who needed time to grow into the full potential of campaigning as it was presented in the Rules Cyclopedia.

Not only that, but by focusing on a small, local "core" sub-setting and illustrating how to get a party of PCs started there, you really focused on the kind of "bread and butter" useful RPG products that TSR as a whole was forsaking at that time in place of the every more esoteric and obscure (Spelljammer, Al Quadim, etc).

Thanks again for all the great times.

P.S. We put our Thunder Rift in the valley on the southern edge of the Broken Lands marked "Trollhattan" on the map. We figured it was the right size and would account for all those pesky humanoids. :)

No, thank *you*. It's always gratifying to hear that the work I've done has meant something and made a difference for people. Too often (especially back in the days before the Internet became a widely used tool - has it only been 15 years?), the only real interaction we had with the people who bought our work was at conventions and through fan letters - and these are self-selecting crowds, so we didn't get a real sense of what people wanted, liked, or could use in their games.

Honestly, I'm surprised that Thunder Rift was so well received, and I am delighted that you've used it to its full potential - and made even more of it than what I created. So thank you for giving it life.
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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Havard » Wed Mar 04, 2009 5:07 pm

Colin McComb wrote:So, Thunder Rift didn't really have joke locations. It did have in-joke people, though. In Melinir alone:
- Connor the Scribe = Bill Connors
- Stefan des Herbsts = Steve Winter, the product lead for the AD&D line, and the guy responsible for hiring me at TSR.
- The Sarcastic Goat (and its proprietor): Zeb Cook, who looks and speaks like Jamie from Mythbusters
- Pickman the Sage: Jon Pickens, a fantastic editor with an encyclopedic knowledge of D&D, and a good guy, who actually does have a tendency to ramble; he was known for continuing conversations with people as they were getting into their cars.
- The Miller: Rich Baker (see, his name is Richard the Baker...). The "baking bread becomes very boring after a while" is a direct quote.
- Nicholas Maybrush: Me! A backstabbing, two-faced villain! (okay, I needed a bad guy in Melinir and didn't want to base it on any of my coworkers). See, "Colin" is a version of "Nicholas", and when I'm explaining how to spell my last name to people*, I tell them "Mc-Comb... like McBrush, only it's a Comb."
- Geoffrey the Mage: Jeff Grubb!
- Daffyd the Wise: David Wise, a great editor, Shakespeare buff, and later my boss.
- Ap Hen: Dale "Slade" Henson. See, "Ap Hen" means "Son of Hen". A real party animal for a while, instigator of much extrawork insanity.
- Dara: Dori Jean Heine, or "Dori the Barbarian". She was an editor at TSR who hung her office in a variety of furs, and had, as I recall, a large sword.

*because they always say, "C-O-N-V?" no matter how clearly I enunciate.
These are priceless!

Speaking of Geoffrey the Mage, would he have had any connection with Wizardspire?
I've recently finished an adventure for Paizo called "Beyond the Vault of Souls", which takes place in Golarion's Outer Sphere, and I'm working on a gazetteer-style book for them that I don't think has been officially announced yet, so I'm not at liberty to say anything. I'm also going to be doing some work with Kobold Quarterly, though that's more a meta-design discussion than actual RPG products. I'm ALSO going to be putting up some fiction and stuff on my personal website, which is not actually completely done yet so don't expect anything there yet. :D
Any chance of seeing anything semi-linked to Thunder Rift? 8-)

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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Colin McComb » Wed Mar 04, 2009 7:45 pm

Havard wrote:Speaking of Geoffrey the Mage, would he have had any connection with Wizardspire?
mmmmmaybe. :D
Havard wrote:
I've recently finished an adventure for Paizo called "Beyond the Vault of Souls", which takes place in Golarion's Outer Sphere, and I'm working on a gazetteer-style book for them that I don't think has been officially announced yet, so I'm not at liberty to say anything. I'm also going to be doing some work with Kobold Quarterly, though that's more a meta-design discussion than actual RPG products. I'm ALSO going to be putting up some fiction and stuff on my personal website, which is not actually completely done yet so don't expect anything there yet. :D
Any chance of seeing anything semi-linked to Thunder Rift? 8-)

Havard
Sadly, probably not. I don't have the personal resources to fight a copyright battle with Hasbro. Hell, even if I won the lottery I wouldn't have the resources to fight a copyright battle with Hasbro.
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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Havard » Tue Mar 10, 2009 12:40 pm

Colin McComb wrote:Sadly, probably not. I don't have the personal resources to fight a copyright battle with Hasbro. Hell, even if I won the lottery I wouldn't have the resources to fight a copyright battle with Hasbro.
Understandable. I was thinking more in the lines of generic material which us fans could claim for Thunder Rift since it was written by our guru :)

Speaking of TR products, were there any ideas for more TR products beyond the modules that were published? What do you think should have been the next TR module?

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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Colin McComb » Fri Mar 13, 2009 2:41 pm

Havard wrote:
Colin McComb wrote:Sadly, probably not. I don't have the personal resources to fight a copyright battle with Hasbro. Hell, even if I won the lottery I wouldn't have the resources to fight a copyright battle with Hasbro.
Understandable. I was thinking more in the lines of generic material which us fans could claim for Thunder Rift since it was written by our guru :)

Speaking of TR products, were there any ideas for more TR products beyond the modules that were published? What do you think should have been the next TR module?

Havard
If I can find the time, I might knock out a few locations that an enterprising soul could possibly claim as part of Thunder Rift, though I would hasten to add that in no way would I be *intending* these locations to infringe on any copyrights, etc. :D

I would have liked to see adventures in Wizardspire developed, some direct confrontations with the dragon, more explorations of the dwarven holdings, and perhaps some discovery of the grasslands - I imagined that there'd be a wealth of knowledge, treasure, and arcana to be picked up from the old battlefields - and who'se to say that there wouldn't be a dungeon hidden away in the barrows in those hills?
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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by TraverseTravis » Thu Mar 19, 2009 2:55 pm

Colin, Thanks for sharing with us -- I've enjoyed reading your responses.
Colin McComb wrote:If I can find the time, I might knock out a few locations that an enterprising soul could possibly claim as part of Thunder Rift, though I would hasten to add that in no way would I be *intending* these locations to infringe on any copyrights, etc. :D
That would be swell!
Are there any non-Thunder Rift books that you worked on -- either within TSR or with other companies -- that you would give informal suggestions about how that material might adapt to a Thunder Rift or Mystaran campaign?

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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Havard » Thu Mar 19, 2009 8:07 pm

Colin McComb wrote:[I would have liked to see adventures in Wizardspire developed, some direct confrontations with the dragon, more explorations of the dwarven holdings, and perhaps some discovery of the grasslands - I imagined that there'd be a wealth of knowledge, treasure, and arcana to be picked up from the old battlefields - and who'se to say that there wouldn't be a dungeon hidden away in the barrows in those hills?
Good ideas! I was just thinking that the Grasslands seem to have alot of unused potential. Battlefields to be pillaged sounds like a great idea. Maybe some undead haunting those fields as well? My impression is that there would be alot of scattered homesteads out there too.

Speaking of villages, there has been alot of confusion about town sizes in Thunder Rift. Melinir, Torlynn and Kleie are all described as villages, but later on terms like city and town are used for the former two... How large were they intended to be?

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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Colin McComb » Sat Mar 21, 2009 2:52 am

TraverseTravis wrote:Colin, Thanks for sharing with us -- I've enjoyed reading your responses.
Colin McComb wrote:If I can find the time, I might knock out a few locations that an enterprising soul could possibly claim as part of Thunder Rift, though I would hasten to add that in no way would I be *intending* these locations to infringe on any copyrights, etc. :D
That would be swell!
Are there any non-Thunder Rift books that you worked on -- either within TSR or with other companies -- that you would give informal suggestions about how that material might adapt to a Thunder Rift or Mystaran campaign?

Travis
Let's see... I think we can ignore Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Planescape, Planescape: Torment, Fallout 2, and RYL. That leaves us with Birthright, Dragon Mountain, Complete Book of Elves, and Ravenloft.

The Ravenloft would be easy enough to adapt - just strip out the darklord mythology and the Mists of Ravenloft. Howls in the Night could easily be set in Thunder Rift, and certain domains from Islands of Terror could be adjusted to fit into various areas of the Rift, assuming you don't mind compressing those areas into much smaller tracts of land. Introducing Ravenloft assumes, of course, that you don't mind your campaign heading toward horror. (Personally, I'd avoid Howls only because it's really not my best work.)

Complete Book of Elves could be a valuable resource for the elves of the Rift, but I would caution against relying on it too heavily. I've said it in other places, but I'll do it here, too: Do not use the bladesinger. A role-playing detriment does not balance out a mechanical advantage. Take what you like from the book and ignore the rest. :)

Dragon Mountain, on the other hand, would be awesome; you could easily use the mountain part of the adventure as Scorch's lair, and ignore the backstory of a teleporting mountain.

Finally, Birthright: Want to rule the land, rather than just adventure in it? Want to relive the days of the Academy and Wizardspire? Want to see how rulers can live in harmony, uniting the Rift, or how they can tear it apart? Use the domain rules to divide the place into the various domain types and see just how well all of your characters get along. :)
Havard wrote:Good ideas! I was just thinking that the Grasslands seem to have alot of unused potential. Battlefields to be pillaged sounds like a great idea. Maybe some undead haunting those fields as well? My impression is that there would be alot of scattered homesteads out there too.
Absolutely! I definitely didn't want to leave the impression that the only places to live were the villages... err, cities... towns? ;) Life on the Grasslands is hard, obviously, but some people don't like being crowded around by other people and want to set off on their own. Keep in mind that some of those people are likely treasure hunters, explorers, adventurers, archaeologists... or something altogether more sinister. There's a lot of history in the Grasslands, and there's bound to be someone out there stirring up trouble - and the people who live there have to be tough enough to handle at least most of it.
Speaking of villages, there has been alot of confusion about town sizes in Thunder Rift. Melinir, Torlynn and Kleie are all described as villages, but later on terms like city and town are used for the former two... How large were they intended to be?

Havard
What happened there is one of three things*, and you can take your pick:
1. I was getting sick of writing "villages" and wanted to use different synonyms;
2. My editor was getting sick of reading "villages", and wanted to see some other words.
3. I wanted to leave the impression that the size of these places was malleable, depending on the whims or the needs of the DM. Since this was the intro-to-D&D place, I wanted to give the DM as much leeway as possible when using the space.

* The answer is: Mostly 3, but probably with just a smattering of 1 and 2.
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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by TraverseTravis » Tue Mar 24, 2009 12:09 am

Thanks for the suggestions about adapting your other works for Thunder Rift. I especially like the idea of using Dragon Mountain for Scorch's lair.

Given how most other D&D settings have cross-overs with Ravenloft, have you ever considered a Thunder Rift cross-over?...some kind of "Terror Rift" domain?

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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Plaag » Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:16 pm

TraverseTravis wrote:Thanks for the suggestions about adapting your other works for Thunder Rift. I especially like the idea of using Dragon Mountain for Scorch's lair.

Given how most other D&D settings have cross-overs with Ravenloft, have you ever considered a Thunder Rift cross-over?...some kind of "Terror Rift" domain?
They have a rift already in Ravenloft..the Shadow Rift..lots of Fey.

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Re: Q&A with Colin McComb

Post by Havard » Thu Apr 02, 2009 3:36 pm

Colin McComb wrote:
The Ravenloft would be easy enough to adapt - just strip out the darklord mythology and the Mists of Ravenloft. Howls in the Night could easily be set in Thunder Rift, and certain domains from Islands of Terror could be adjusted to fit into various areas of the Rift, assuming you don't mind compressing those areas into much smaller tracts of land. Introducing Ravenloft assumes, of course, that you don't mind your campaign heading toward horror. (Personally, I'd avoid Howls only because it's really not my best work.)
Great ideas! I don't know if I would have TR go all the way horror, but we already have undead in the gloomfens so maybe these could be used in connection with those lands? There is really more room over in the fens to expand upon beyond the Tower of Dread IMO..
Complete Book of Elves could be a valuable resource for the elves of the Rift, but I would caution against relying on it too heavily. I've said it in other places, but I'll do it here, too: Do not use the bladesinger. A role-playing detriment does not balance out a mechanical advantage. Take what you like
from the book and ignore the rest. :)
Haha, a lesson we had to learn the hard way about the bladesinger! :) I will keep this book in mind when expanding on the elves of Gauntlin though. How about those things about elves replacing limbs with magical "cyberware"-like things? Sounds a bit more like something dwarves would do, but...
Dragon Mountain, on the other hand, would be awesome; you could easily use the mountain part of the adventure as Scorch's lair, and ignore the backstory of a teleporting mountain.
I definately want to use this in Mystara. Im leaning towards placing it in Norwold, but combing it with Scorch's lair is a great idea.
Finally, Birthright: Want to rule the land, rather than just adventure in it? Want to relive the days of the Academy and Wizardspire? Want to see how rulers can live in harmony, uniting the Rift, or how they can tear it apart? Use the domain rules to divide the place into the various domain types and see just how well all of your characters get along. :)
I think becoming rulers of the valley is where many TR campaigns will go. Once you have defeated most of the villains and gained enough levels to outshine most NPCs, the people of the valley will look to the PCs for aid against outside threats...

Grasslands:
Absolutely! I definitely didn't want to leave the impression that the only places to live were the villages... err, cities... towns? ;) Life on the Grasslands is hard, obviously, but some people don't like being crowded around by other people and want to set off on their own. Keep in mind that some of those people are likely treasure hunters, explorers, adventurers, archaeologists... or something altogether more sinister. There's a lot of history in the Grasslands, and there's bound to be someone out there stirring up trouble - and the people who live there have to be tough enough to handle at least most of it.
Worth thinking about, definately!


Villages:
What happened there is one of three things*, and you can take your pick:
1. I was getting sick of writing "villages" and wanted to use different synonyms;
2. My editor was getting sick of reading "villages", and wanted to see some other words.
3. I wanted to leave the impression that the size of these places was malleable, depending on the whims or the needs of the DM. Since this was the intro-to-D&D place, I wanted to give the DM as much leeway as possible when using the space.

* The answer is: Mostly 3, but probably with just a smattering of 1 and 2.
Pretty much what I had figured. Nice to have it confirmed though :)
I think we should probably keep the flexibility here to keep allowing DM's to modify the valley as they see fit.

Havard

Aliases: Håvard Frosta, Havard Blackmoor, Blackmoorian, Dragon Turtle etc
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Colin McComb
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Paizo stuff starting to emerge!

Post by Colin McComb » Fri May 22, 2009 4:51 pm

Hi, all - apologies for being away; I've been kept busy with a teaching gig and a pile of Paizo work, not to mention the iPhone development we've been doing, "we" being my wife and myself, working as 3lb Games; if you're interested in it, check out the video for our first app:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4crFGkFUx_4

Aaaanyway, Beyond the Vault of Souls, an adventure companion to The Great Beyond, will be out shortly... and then you'll see some country-based sourcebooks for Golarion following in the months after.

Fun stuff, people. Fun stuff. We now return you to your regularly scheduled discussion board. :)
Oathbreaker, Book 1: The Knight's Tale
Now in e-print: my first fiction! (people say it's pretty good)

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