Inspired by Fred Hicks‘ many posts on the behind-the-scenes of running Evil Hat Productions, I’m gonna be taking a shot at “thinking out loud” about Highmoon Media Productions, at least from time to time. Starting now. 

Earlier this year, Bret Boyd queried me on an idea for a new series of products. These would be interesting, and sometimes quirky, locations in a world-neutral format and usable for a variety of games. I liked the idea so I told him to send me a small number of location blurbs, just to get a better grasp of what he had in mind, and what he sent totally sold me. When it came time to settle on the format of the series, we instinctively went with d20 because that’s just what we both do most. At some point, one of us mentioned the idea of going systemless, just having the products be all narrative (fluff, if you will) and letting the GM provide the stats. The reason was that, even though this conversation was taking place early this year, the scent of D&D 4th Edition could be felt in the air, even if we didn’t know what the smell was for sure. Green Ronin had already announced that their new Freeport book would be systemless with optional rules companions sold separately, admittedly in order to safeguard against a new edition announcement, and this gave us both a confirmation that the idea had merit and was worth pursuing.

Fast forward to yesterday, Nov. 1st (through no fault of Bret, for he sent all his work in months ago): the Domains of Adventure series from HMP launches with the first release, The Museum of Infamous Heroism. The main ebook release is 100% narrative elements, a series of descriptions of the location inside and out, with no stats whatsoever. In addition, we released the Rules Appendix – d20 for the Museum, which includes an area-by-area rundown of relevant stats for d20 wherever the main release alluded to a possible game mechanic (for example, adding stats for the building, describing a magical item, and the stats for the main NPC). My desire and hope is that we will be able to put out Rules Appendix for other open rules systems for each release in the series, thus widening the appeal of the product. Recently, Adamant Entertainment also launched Star System, a systemless series to support space opera-type sci-fi games, citing very much the same reasoning for the decision (though they aren’t doing rules companions of any kind, last I checked).

I’m no stranger to risky products; my “flagship” line is Targum Magazine, a periodical targetting the ancient world and supporting three campaign settings by Green Ronin, probably the epitome of a niche-within-a-niche product. I also envisioned and commissioned DaVinci Labs, a d20 Modern/Future series that was supposed to be grand and vast, and has barely done well enough to warrant the prep time that was put into it, let alone the production time, money and effort. This is all fine and dandy to me, because these are products I would have liked to buy myself, which is why I went for them and continue to support them. Domains of Adventure falls in the same category: it is a risky product, but one I would have liked to see as a consumer. Domains, however, is the biggest experiment we have done so far, and has both the potential to be the most labor-intensive one, though the most successful line we do as well.

I mean, let’s be honest here, if it fails, all we’re out is a few hours of work; there has been just a minor financial investment in the product (for the map), so it’s not like I’ll be out on the street. It’s all about the idea, though. I’m really hoping that it takes off, that customers see the benefit of a systemless product that they can adapt to their own needs, and that, to boot, comes with free rules addendum that they can use if they are using a particular system (which is why d20 will always be the default and always be available immediately upon release of a new product in the line). I’m also hoping that I can get people involved and have a fan do a Rules Appendix for a rules system I do not have yet available, like RuneQuest or True20 (even though I can’t use the trademarked brand), or even some of the indie systems, like The Shadow of Yesterday‘s Solar System (fully available for free online) or FATE (though this is a bit harder since although there is a FATE 3.0 SRD taken from Spirit of the Century, there is no FATE 3.0 Core System yet to standarize how to use FATE in a fantasy setting, though it is coming). I’m a bit realistic (pessimistic?) and I know this level of fan involvement is unlikely, at the very best, though once can always find that one person who is really passionate and wants to help (very much like I found Mark Gedak).

So, here’s hoping that Domains of Adventure does well enough to warrant more releases in the series. I really would like to see that happen, not only as the publisher, but also as a fan. I hope to see fans embracing the concept and sending in Rules Appendixes for their favorite systems, including some of the indie ones, so that we can foster cross-pollination and unity.