This interview is part of a series focusing on candidates in the running for the 2014 ENnie Awards. The Gen Con EN World RPG Awards (the “ENnies”) are an annual fan-based celebration of excellence in tabletop role-playing gaming, with voting beginning 7 a.m. Central on Sunday, July 20 through 7 p.m. Central on Wednesday, July 30. The winners will be announced at Gen Con, the Grand Hall at the Historic Union Station on Friday, August 15. To vote, see http://www.ennie-awards.com/vote/. In this installment I interview Shanna Germain, co-owner and creative director at Monte Cook Games, LLC.
Michael Tresca (MT): Tell us about your company.
Shanna Germain (SG): Monte Cook and I started Monte Cook Games, LLC in 2013. Monte had an idea that he’d been passionate about for a long time; it was one that he’d had to keep on the back burner while he was doing work on other projects. When he stopped working on the new edition of D&D, he had time on his hands and decided to revive the idea that he’d been working on so long ago. He told me about it — science fantasy, set a billion years in the future, with magic in the form of technology — and I knew right away that I wanted to be part of it. We thought it would just be a little game, one that we loved, but we weren’t sure whether gamers would like it.
We decided to make it anyway, because we were so excited about the concept. Then we ran our first Kickstarter, and gamers were just amazing. They supported us right out of the gate, letting us not just make a single book, but a whole game line, a whole company really.
That’s how MCG was born. Now we’re a company of six passionate people who really give a damn (that’s one of our criteria for hiring people; if they don’t give a damn about great games and the people who play great games, then they’re not for us), plus a lot of talented freelancers and amazing fans. Our goal is to create amazing games that bring joy and creativity to people’s lives. Gamers are such amazing, passionate people; we want to honor that passion with every product that we put out.
MT: Tell us about your nominated products/site.
SG: The Numenera corebook is the one that started it all.
We went into the Kickstarter thinking that we would only be able to create a small, soft-cover, black-and-white book. But the Kickstarter did so well that we had the funds to put together 416-page hardcover full of amazing full-color art and maps. We got to work with some great artists, including our lead artist, Kieran Yanner and our cartographer, Christopher West. And we were able to create the game that we wanted to create, a very story-driven game that gives the power to the GM and the players, chock full of lots of weird things to keep players intrigued and on their toes.
The Ninth World Bestiary and the Numenera Creature Deck were also nominated, and those products continue to enhance the Ninth World, providing lots of new creatures and NPCS, as well as lots of Ninth World ecology and information on how to create your own creatures.
Two fan-run podcasts about Numenera were also nominated, and I think that’s just the coolest thing ever. To watch fans spending their time on a project that was inspired by our game, and then get recognition like an ENnie nomination is just so wonderful.
MT: What distinguishes your entries from your competitors?
SG: Our goal is to give people an experience at the table that moves them deep into the storytelling and roleplaying aspects of RPGs. I love games where you’re watching numbers, moving around miniatures, and paying lots of attention to complex rules. But I also love games that really allow me to immerse myself, to actually forget I’m playing a game and to become my character. By creating a system where the GM’s main job is to set the scene and tell a story, and the player’s job is to constantly make important, life-changing choices for their characters, we strive to immerse everyone deep into the Ninth World. As a player, the power is in your hands. You roll the dice. You spend extra effort if you feel like this is an important action. You decide when and how to use your one-shot items (called cyphers in the game). We want the players to be so engaged that they are a little heartbroken when their companion gets left behind after getting caught in a vortex, to actually feel fear when they encounter a dread destroyer in an ancient, deserted complex, and to be able to truly celebrate when they discover the reason that everyone in town is having the same nightmare night after night.
MT: What products will you be producing for the remainder of this year?
SG: The Strange, our new Cypher System game — that’s the same game system that Numenera uses — debuts at Gen Con this year, as does our Numenera Technology Compendium. Right now, we’re also working on the Ninth World Guidebook and the Recursions book — both large, art- and map-heavy hard cover books that explore the worlds of Numenera and The Strange in lots of wild detail. And we’re putting together our second Numenera cypher deck, so that GMs can have even more technology at their fingertips.
MT: Have you participated in any recent Kickstarters?
SG: Both of our games have been launched thanks to Kickstarters, and we are avid supporters of Kicking it Forward, so as a company we’re always backing games and other geeky projects that seem interesting and innovative.
Crowdfunding has been such a boon for the game industry as a whole, and for us in particular, that I think we’ll keep doing it for as long as fans tell us that they want the chance to participate in the experience. Having fans support us in that way means that we have enough money to invest in beautiful art, high-quality printing, and little extras like gorgeous endsheets and poster maps. And it means that fans like what we’re doing, and that is the driving force behind all of it.
MT: What do you think of the new edition of D&D?
SG: We haven’t had a chance to play it yet — we’re currently in the middle of a long-running OD&D campaign — but personally I’m so excited that it’s arrived. D&D was such a huge part of my teen years, and the excitement it brings to the industry every time there’s a new edition is great for all of us. There’s a whole new generation of gamers out there who are playing with their parents, and this will be their first version of D&D. I can still remember what that felt like, and how attached I still am to the very first version that I played.
MT: Will you be at Gen Con? Where? Will any new products debut at Gen Con?
SG: Monte Cook Games will have a booth at Gen Con, and I already talked a little about what we’ll have in terms of The Strange corebook and the Numenera Technology Compendium. But we’ll also have XP and Cypher Decks for The Strange, and lots of other goodies. Last year, we showed up with Numenera miniatures from Reaper, so you never know what we’ll surprise fans with!
We have a lot of volunteer GMs running games for us as well — two brand-new adventures that we put together just for Gen Con, so that will be a great opportunity for people to try out the games and see if it’s something that they like.
MT: Where can we find out more about your company online?
SG: Our website at www.montecookgames.com is the best place to stay up on all the news.