So, Sunday afternoon I was interviewed by +Erik Jensen . Not to give away any spoilers, but the press release for the Tenkar's Tavern Crate ruffled some feathers. Having served as a liaison between two city agencies for years, I have a hyperbole filter that I tend to ignore such stuff. It was good though, because it resulted in the following interview.
As I say in the post heading - Come for the Drama, Stay for the Beer :)
Note - I corrected my typos as i found them. I don't think ER had any. Damn him!
Q = Erik Jenson
A = Erik Tenkar
Q - Perhaps we can start with the logistics of the crate. The signups for the first month of the Tenkar's Tavern Crate are about to end (and will have ended by the time I get this interview up maybe). Would you describe the crate's contents as a "Tenkar-curated collection"? What's your vision for the product, and how is it maybe different from its "sister-crate" Mythoard, and any other rpg crates out there?
A - The contents of the Crate are definitely "Tenkar Curated" - it was the only way I would do it. My reputation means something to me. Whether you love me, hate me or dont give a damn you should know that when I recommend something, that I think it has value. You may disagree with me on the value of something, but not the value of my word. And if its gaming material in the Crate, its something I recommend.
Personally, I want to explore some of the older products of the OSR - such as Blackmarsh, which is often overlooked and hardly ever grabbed in print. Or some of Matt Finch’s early work. I also want to explore some of the up and comers that are creating content, like Thom Wilson and Jason Hobbs. Then maybe surprise folks and throw in some Venger Santanis. Yes, I do “shake hands and make friends” fairly well. Actually, I hope Ven goes to Gamehole Con this fall so we can repeat our Gary Con breakfast.
Q - So we shouldn't expect that Illusionist stumbles across a shipping container full of Dragon Dice and all of a sudden it's Tenkar-recommended.
A - Lol - I actually bought myself a hoard of them last year to give my niece, 5 years old at the time something to play with
But no - no Dragon Dice
Also, the OSR isn’t limited to D&D clones either. There’s Traveller, RuneQuest, Tunnels & Trolls and other games that have been around 35 years or more. They are old school. Then there are games like Polyhedral Dungeon and Far Away Land, that aren’t cloning an old school game but have obvious old school roots.
Q - The OSR focus makes sense to me, although one has to wonder how deep the catalog can go; I suppose it's all dependent on what's available to you, rights-wise, and who you can partner with. Sounds like we can expect a broad swath of stuff. That can be both good and bad -- as a Mythoard subscriber but not a Traveller guy, there's been plenty of JG Traveller stuff in there that didn't do it for me, but that's the nature of a crate. Did Illusionist come to you, or vice versa?
A - They came to me. Jarrod from Mythoard recommended me to them and I respect Jarrod immensely - if he recommended me to them it was also recommending them to me in a way.
As an aside, i'd love to get some long out of print GURPS Sourcbooks in the crate. A man can dream I suppose
Q - Couldn't hurt to ask Steve Jackson, I guess! Jarrod's recent appearance on Drink Spin Run was interesting, hearing him talk about Mythoard on the business end. I'd be curious to see what the Illusionist folks have to say as well. Here's an obvious question on the Tavern Crate: the price point is a good bit higher than that on 'classic' Mythoard. Is there a canned answer on why that might be so? Seems a logical thing for customers to wonder.
A - No canned answer. We are looking to put more value in the crate, which means a higher price point. We'll see what the market bears. I will say this, tangentially (is that the right word?) - the OSR is an underserved market. I can see that with my affiliate reports from the current OSR Extravaganza Sale at RPGNow. Its been eye opening to me.
Q - The Tavern must have respectable amounts of traffic, I can imagine. And surely Illusionist thought you brought audience with you as part of the equation there, so much so they apparently called you the "Voice of the OSR Market" in the press release. What's your current vision statement on the blog, and do you see yourself as some kind of voice of the OSR?
A - Its a press release. Need I say more? I wrote the bit I was quoted on. Nothing more. I am but one standard bearer in a field of hundreds, if not thousands. I may have greater reach than most due to my soapbox *Tenkar’s Tavern”, but I openly solicit guest posters to use said sandbox. I have yet to turn anyone away. The OSR is a community of peers.
Q - It's a press release, but it's got your name stapled to it. People can be pretty sensitive about indications that someone in a scene is claiming to speak on behalf of that scene, but even beyond that, I can see why someone might read that assertion and kind of tilt their head in a "Rooby-Roo?" kind of way. That's why I wanted to bring it up.
A - Understandable. I've spent my prior career reading (and occasionally writing) such stuff. Believe it or not, its part of government work, even law endorsement. Painting a Picture, so to speak. I never put much value in such but have always considered it part and parcel with marketing.
Q - I don't think there's any question it's marketing, the question is how hyperbolic is it, is it worth the potential blowback, etc. Tenkar's Tavern is primarily a news blog, or so it seems to me - product announcements, industry gossip, occasionally peppered with Tenkar-as-DM type posts. Do you think that's a fair characterization, that it's chiefly an industry news blog?
A - Its chiefly "whatever comes to my mind to post" type of blog. News? Sure. Gaming posts? yep Gaming content? when I can. Kickstarters? Certainly. Hounding the... wait, I don't want #ConManKen to threaten to sue me again - I maintain a vigilant eye on those that may not be fulfilling their obligations. All that being said, I make no claim to be a news site. I leave that for other gaming sites to claim.
Q - Okay, that's fair, I think "news site" probably gives the impression that we're talking about flipping press releases or something; the Tavern is definitely a personality-driven opinion blog. I suppose I meant that the majority of your posts are industry-focused, rather than gameable-content-focused; some blogs are the inverse of that. Surely the Kickstarter stuff is high on the list of "things Tenkar's known for". Do you expect that to continue with new "cases", or are we just going to hear about Far West and Whitman because they've become legacy subjects for the blog?
I think I'd count the Gygax Memorial as one of those legacy subjects as well.
A - There are others that are getting long in the tooth but regularly update, so we'll see. Part of me writing posts for The Tavern is that its pretty much stream of consciousness - I don't pre-write posts days, or even hours in advance. Which probably shows with the typos. But going back to Kickstarters in particular, I get about a half dozen inquiries a week to either - look at a Kickstarter before its released to identify potential issues - or - please write about my Kickstarter, I was told if you post about it I'll make lots of money. So, some folks are learning to prevent problems and others still can't help seeing the quick bucks. I expect we'll see more hitting the highlight reel regretfully.
A little secret about the Kickstarter stuff and why its a burr on my ass. I finished my career as a Sergeant in Internal Affairs, and hated seeing the vast majority of good cops soiled by the bad ones. If I can scare future Kickstarter creators straight, so much the better.
Q - Those regular, rapid updates give the blog a newsroom type quality I think, and I suppose people shouldn't let that fool them into thinking it's unbiased or journalistic! It sounds like you expect to continue your "ombudsman" type role when it comes to rpg Kickstarters. Do you think that conflicts at all with your newer role as a content creator with S&W Light? Can you critique the industry from inside it, and will that impact the Tenkar image? Or am I presuming a semblance of aloof neutrality vis-a-vis the Kickstarter stuff that isn't there, and the question's moot?
A - I don’t think anyone that creates content is outside the community and I’ve been creating content for years. I’ve had adventures appear in two different KSs as well as three supplements for S&W from 2 different publishers over the years in addition to my recent releases re: SWL. I think the secret is being fair and honest, and knowing when you are at risk of bias. My relationship with Frog God is well known. My friendships are well known. I don’t hide them. I know my biases and will highlight such when i mention products (such as) from my good friend James Spahn. Now, when James puts out a turd, that's when I'll have to question my integrity for calling it as it is. He has yet to put me in that position and I don't expect him to.
Q - Since we've come to Frog God, let me ask about the drama some time back with Contessa and Stacy Dellorfano. Now that you're both doing work for Frog God, have you two buried the hatchet and moved on, or should we not hold our breath for a future collaboration?
A - Stacy and I have never actually conversed directly. My understanding is she was brought in for a particular project which she successfully completed. At this point, SWL is an an ongoing project. I don't expect our paths will cross.
Q - That's a diplomatic answer and I'm sure it's accurate even if it didn't give me what I wanted there, Erik. Safe to assume, then, that while there may be lingering beef there, nobody's interested in dredging it up moving forward.
A - I did say there may be some disappointment to this interview
Q - I'm just asking the people's questions, man! So no future snark re Contessa from the Tenkar then.
A - The Tavern is a stream of consciousness blog, as I said earlier. There are currently no plans to bring up stacey beyond posting this interview.
Q - Fair enough. You mentioned James Spahn earlier - could you talk a little about Save or Die: Expert Edition, and how that shift came about? I don't recall seeing anybody talk about the 'why' behind the transition. As a semi-regular listener, I had assumed the previous hosts were stepping back to take a break, but then we got Save For Half. Is there a story there?
A - Creative differences? That's just a guess, but Liz and Mike have moved on to Save for Half on a new network and are doing real well for themselves. They need to bring back Jim after the Dark Master gives him a reprieve from MCC
Q - I'm sure Corbett will be glad to hear you say that LOL
A - LOL! I think there's room for four over there
Q - I'll chalk it up to "network issues" until I hear otherwise, I suppose. Between the blog and the podcast and the crate, it looks like Tenkar has a pretty loud megaphone pointed at OSR-heads, moving forward. What do you want to do with all that? Is there a grand vision, or are you just enjoying yourself and saying "yes" to stuff that looks fun?
A - A "grand vision" assumes a lot :) I want to be busy enough in this hobby of ours that Rach isn't tempted to find me "real work" in my retirement. I'm having fun "working" in my hobby. It was my dream 30 years ago and now I'm doing it. Could I live on it without my pension? Hell no! God bless them with the skill and tenacity to do so. But I'm happy making content and writing and talking and... its pretty damn cool.
Q - Let me ask you as a commentator then - where do you think this 'OSR' thing is headed next, and where _should_ it go? I ask only because I'm told you're the Voice of the OSR Market, you see.
A - Heh. Zing! Alright, I see the OSR as an underserved market that deserves more respect. 5e is huge for the OSR because writing product for 5e and converting to the OSR is much easier than going from 4e or Pathfinder. There is synergy between 5e and the OSR. Some folks want to see new clones - I want to see new hacks. Hack SWL or the Black Hack or some other OSR game and give us a western, supers, space opera, sci-fantasy, godzilla monsters - whatever! I think the future of the OSR is finding new genres and not new systems. Or I could be totally wrong. But I think the OSR is just going to grow in the number of players at this point and we have 5e to thank for it.
Q - Underserved? Huh, I don't think that's a word I would've used to describe the OSR market; I often wonder how much 'product' the OSR market can actually bear. I'm not sure it's all that much. But perhaps that's a discussion for another time. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me regarding the questions that came up the other day in a G+ thread. Everybody has opinions, and I don't know if anyone will have their opinion changed or vetted based on this interview, but data is data. Always better to ask than assume.
A - My pleasure Erik.