Roundtable Interview with Onyx Path Publishing about the Anarchs Unbound Kickstarter for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition

When it comes to crowdfunding, perhaps no tabletop publisher does it better than Onyx Path Publishing. They’ve had nine successful Kickstarters involving classing brands like Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Vampire: The Masquerade and Exalted. They’ve also used crowdfunding to put out new World of Darkness lines like Mummy: The Curse and Demon: The Descent. With roughly a week to go, Onyx Path’s NINTH Kickstarter, Anarchs Unbound for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition has just met its $40,000 goal. This means all 540+ backers will see another new deluxe supplement released for the oldest of the “White Wolf” Storyteller titles. It also means any new backers and dollars brought in will go towards stretch goals.

As a long time V:TM fan, it’s no surprise that I’ve been following this Kickstarter closely (or that I’ll end up reviewing the finished product as I have all the others). I approached Ian Watson, Community Manager for Onyx Path Publishing to see if anyone felt like doing an interview about Anarchs Unbound for our readers or gamers who might not pay close attention to crowdfunding initiatives. I ended up getting not one, but THREE, Onyx Path staff members ready and willing to answer my questions about their latest project.

Rich Thomas – Creative Director for Onyx Path Publishing
Justin Achilli – V20 Line Developer for Onyx Path Publishing
Ian Watson – Community Manager for Onyx Path Publishing

What all did they have to say about Anarchs Unbound? Let’s take a look.

Diehard GameFAN: Anarchs Unbound is Onyx Path’s Ninth Kickstarter, which I believe makes you the most prolific tabletop RPG publisher in terms of crowdfunding. Of course you’re also still publishing some books like Blood & Smoke and The God Machine Chronicle under more traditional methods. How do you decide which book gets crowdfunded and which doesn’t. As well, what are the benefits of one method over another?

Rich Thomas: Since we have only run Kickstarters for Deluxe or Prestige versions of books we were going to create in our standard publishing model of PDFs and physical book PoDs anyway, we do them for those projects that would most benefit from KS. The whole point of the 20th Anniversary Editions, for example, is to create a Deluxe celebratory volume — we couldn’t do that without KS. Mummy: The Curse, or Demon: The Descent, as new nWoD game lines, benefit from being in a Prestige format which allows us to give them a physical appearance most like the earlier nWoD core books.

Ian Watson: There’s also juggling which products could be expanded with the addition of new material, or which products can have their release schedules expanded. We’ve had a lot of success with both approaches in Kickstarter, but they’re not necessarily right for each project we do.

DHGF: Anarchs Unbound is your fourth Kickstarter (and sixth release include the core rulebook and Dust to Dust) for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition. Previous renditions of V:TM have covered the Anarch Movement in various supplements and sourcebooks. What made you decide to go back and take a new look at the Anarchs for your next V20 release?

Justin Achilli: When we concluded the original WoD support, the Anarchs weren’t in great shape. Quite simply, as we reinvigorated Vampire, we really wanted every element of it to have some appeal to players. While playing a scrappy underdog is part of what draws some players to the Anarchs anyway, it’s not as fun to play a sect that, due to twenty years of prior publishing history, is in an almost hopeless situation. So we used the opportunity to have the Anarchs rebound (get it? Anarchs REBOUND? Haha ha ah ah… ha… uh, anyway…) and turned their previous crisis into a new opportunity. In fact, given the Anarchs’ skill with absorbing and optimizing mortal trends for their own use, there’s a case that the modern Anarchs are a précis of the V20 Vampire experience.

DHGF: The big goal of the Anarchs Unbound Kickstarter is to produce a deluxe hardcover version of the book (as opposed to the Print on Demand and digital versions) that is meant to look like a weathered journal. This is going to be a different look and feel from the otherV20 deluxe editions. What made you decide to go this route and what ideas do you have for the cover? Leather Exterior, different size dimensions more akin to an actual journal rather than those of a traditional RPG book, anything else?

Rich Thomas: Mirthful Mike Chaney and I are still figuring out what we want to include with that look much as we did with the Deluxe Hunters Hunted II, and working with our printer to see what they’re capable of, but the impetus was the idea that just making one black leatherette clad book after another is dull. Cool for looking at on the shelf for collectors maybe, but it becomes routine for us, and that’s not what Onyx Path is about. It’s not what V20 or our vampires should feel like either. There should be some surprises in store when you get your book. Really, although it made sense for the Deluxe V20 Companion to match V20, I should have changed the deluxe cover features for Children of the Revolution, too.

Justin Achilli: This is actually one of my favorite parts of the Kickstarter process. We’re no longer bound by traditional notions of “what a book has to be” in order to sell itself from a shelf. Rich and Mike really get to say, “Well, this book is about X, so maybe it’s in the form of Y,” as opposed to the old model of, “Well, this is a limited-edition book, so it absolutely must have a black leatherette cover and a red ribbon and be consistent visually with the other limited editions we’ve done.” Like with Hunters Hunted II looking like a hunter’s field journal, or Anarchs Unbound (currently) planned to look like the manifesto of a rebel on the run.

Ian Watson: Each Kickstarter we do is a learning process for us. While obviously we get better at handling them each time, I hope they never become standardized and boring. Each one should bring something new to the table, so I look forward to even more amazing book presentations down the road.

DHGF: So let’s talk content. Right now Anarchs Unbound is scheduled to be approximately 130 pages (or more depending on stretch goals that are met). What are some of the topics a gamer can expect to find in the finished version of the book?

Justin Achilli: The book is really geared at being a “how to” book for playing or storytelling an Anarch. It includes a bit of their history to set the stage. It includes some excellent chapters on how the Anarchs operate, both inside domains that they claim as their own and inside domains where Anarchs aren’t the dominant power faction. This is key — being an Anarch is more than tossing molotovs and shaking your fist at the Prince. How do you actually run a domain as an Anarch? How do you destabilize one for an Anarch coup? The books also contains some new systems for building Anarchs characters and advice on running an Anarch chronicle. Also, the Disciplines chapter offers some unique Anarch perspectives on the supernatural powers of the undead. In particular, Thaumaturgy has made it into the ranks of the Anarch Movement, and because it’s so useful — which is why the Tremere are so powerful, for an upstart clan — it’s spreading very quickly through the Anarchs, putting one of the Camarilla’s proprietary weapons in the hands of a rival sect.

DHGF: Obviously a lot has changed since V:TM first came out over two decades ago. We now have smart phones, hybrid cars, high speed internet, e-readers, tablet computers and other forms of technology. We also have political movements like Occupy, the Tea Party, the events of the Arab Spring and even a strong emphasis on green energy. These are things that simply weren’t around in the early 1990s. How have things and events like these changed the Anarchs and how will they be reflected in the book?

Justin Achilli Great question. They actually form the core of the book. In a nutshell, these emerging technologies and cultural trends are the primary vector by which the Anarchs managed to pull themselves out of their desperate straits. The big two sects got complacent and assumed that the way things were in the late 20th century were the way things were always going to be, but information travels so quickly and a sense of community is now so prevalent that while the Camarilla and Sabbat were congratulating themselves, the Anarchs were watching and learning from the modern world. And it’s given them a huge new category of advantages as the other sects struggle to catch up.

Diehard GameFAN: One thing worth mentioning is that you have a Retailer Tier in this
Kickstarter. For a long time, the World of Darkness (both Classic and New) have been digital and Print on Demand only. Reap the Whirlwind was the first time in ages that I’ve seen a WoD product in stores. What was the decision behind the foray back into brick and mortar stores and are retailers taking advantage of the offers you are putting forth?

Rich Thomas: Like much of what Onyx Path is doing, we’re looking at new, better, smarter, ways to do the things that White Wolf used to do in the past. We’ve never been against selling our books in stores, but we’re not willing to go back into a broken system of distribution in order to do so. Those Retailers who are availing themselves of the Retailer Tiers, and they are taking risks by doing so, or who are coming on board with our Retailer PoD beta-program, are also thinking outside the traditional box, and we’re thrilled that they’re joining us. We love working together to find a way to get the WW fans back in their stores.

DHGF: For gamers new to the Classic World of Darkness (be it age, experience or just not trying it until now), how inviting is Anarchs Unbound? Is it a book better left in the hands of those who are well versed in the lore of Vampire: The Masquerade or can newcomers pick this up and find it accessible?

Justin Achilli: On the contrary, this is a great book with which to introduce a new player or to get into the game. Like I was saying above, on the street level, Anarchs Unbound is a great model for the modern spirit of Vampire: lots of action and combat, plenty of intrigue, and an introduction to the political maneuvering and clan/ sect politics that characterize the Masquerade. In fact, I’d probably suggest that new players actually begin with an Anarch story or chronicle, which they can expand thereafter or get involved with one of the other sects if they want to explore different themes.

DHGF: What sorts of stretch goals do you have planned for Anarchs Unbound? Currently the front page only lists a bookmark. How do you determine what your stretch goals will be?

Rich Thomas: We have the expected fiction anthologies and novels, because stretch goals and Fiction go together so perfectly, and a variety of extra material we could add to the book like more Anarch Free States. We have entire extra projects, like a Baron’s Handbook, that have been suggested. It really depends on the velocity of the pledging and whether the extra amount of the stretch goal can cover the costs of the added stuff. You have to remember that extra money after the funding goal is hit is hardly extra. For what we do, it’s mostly the result of pledges for the book itself, so there are manufacturing and (gulp) shipping costs that all have to be deducted. We’ve been able to do so many of these Kickstarters successfully because we try and only have stretch goals that we absolutely know we can do.

DHGF: Once Anarchs Unbound is funded and pledges are collected, what are things like on your end in terms of getting the book prepped and ready?

Rich Thomas: It’s a madhouse! A MADHOUSE!

Justin Achilli: The books are warehoused and fulfilled down in Atlanta, so I either have to have them shipped up to me to do signings, or I head down to Atlanta on a ROAD TRIP that usually ends up as some sort of side-adventure.

DHGF: One thing I’ve noticed with Kickstarter campaigns is that there is always a percentage of backers who view it as a pre-order options and then have a bit of a meltdown when a product isn’t out by the original estimated delivery date. Now I’ve backed enough crowdfunding projects and have worked in both the tabletop and video game industry long enough to know delays occur 85-90% of the time, if not more, so I’m pretty accepting of delays. However for those that might not know what things are like on the back end, would you care to explain why delays are so common for publishers?

Rich Thomas: I can’t speak for other publishers, but in Onyx’s case it’s because we are actually pushing the envelope of what we can do with these books. Whether that is crazy embosses or laser cutting holes in covers, or using KS Stretch Goals to add in whole chapters to already written and designed books, we have always expressed what we’re doing with Kickstarter as experiments that the backers fund. In return, backers get a reward of what we come up with. Because we try new things, we often discover that we, or the writer, or artist, or the printer, need more time than any of us thought to accomplish what we were trying to do. Putting a copper page gilding on the Deluxe W20, for example, went from a one month estimate to four months when all was said and done, and took three different printers to make it work. This is the nature of these things, and the difference is that they happened behind the scenes back in the day, and are now right in the backers’ faces -and some folks really don’t want to know how the sausage is made.

I think one of the worst mistakes I made was to try and actually estimate the delivery date because KS demands that info, rather than completely push it as far out as possible. It set very false expectations for the backers, and we can’t change those dates on the KS after we do stuff like add text to the book, so I really don’t blame them for being frustrated when those dates are missed.

DHGF: Finally, after Anarchs Unbound, what other Kickstarter projects and/or V:TM releases do you have planned?

Rich Thomas: Mage20 is next, I know that! W20 Book of the Wyrm, V20 Rites of the Blood, V20 Dark Ages…

Ian Watson: …V20 Ghouls, WoD: Dark Eras… Too many, and not enough. Plenty to keep us busy (and Rich tearing his hair out), at least.

There you go. Remember you still have a week to get in on the Kickstarter for Anarchs Unbound. Just click here, pledge some money and in the latter half of 2014, you’ll have a nifty new sourcebook for Vampire: The Masquerade, 20th Anniversary Edition. To learn more about Onyx Path, you can always visit the company’s official website, follow their Google Plus page or like their Facebook page. Remember to check back here in a few months as I’ll definitely be doing a review of Anarchs Unbound. In the meantime, you can always check out our archive of reviews of V20 releases.



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One response to “Roundtable Interview with Onyx Path Publishing about the Anarchs Unbound Kickstarter for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition”

  1. […] Justin, and Ian did a roundtable interview about Anarchs Unbound with Diehard […]

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