In a way, I think I’ve said enough about OpenQuest recently, especially since I’ve been working on the third edition for over a year, which is now out!
OpenQuest’s story starts around 2005. I was regularly going to cons, about every 3-6 months then, and well into writing adventures. Sick of me going on about it during TV time, my wife challenged me to write an adventure and release it. Drivethrurpg.com was a thing then, for pdfs anyway, and Mongoose RuneQuest (MRQ) was out with its OGL Systems Resource Document. So over several lunchtime writing sessions at work, the adventure pack that was to become Life and Death* started to take shape.
Then one day, it occurred to why not publish a ruleset to go with it? As a long time RQ fan, I was amazed that no one else had seized on this opportunity**, and in a wonderful, joyous sense of naivety, I set about working on it on days I didn’t feel like going out into the grey rainy Manchester city centre.
By 2008 I had the core of the game, which was at that time called SimpleQuest. My design goal was to make something that was easy and straightforward to play, D100 games at that time, even the modern MRQ often descended into a mess of crunchy rules when the basic core is quite straightforward yet. I also wanted to make something that would be accessible to my friends on the UK con scene that used D100 as a default system. So I took a spirally bound printout to Continuum 2008 (D101-02) and ran an early version of Life and Death there.
So the rest of the year was heads down get it done time. I used a mix of public domain art and art generously done by Simon Bray, another D100 fan who got what I was doing with OpenQuest. The game’s name got changed from SimpleQuest to OpenQuest in October of 2008, at the suggestion of Tom Zunder (who runs The Tavern BB) since it reflected the open gaming nature of the book.
So September 2009, it finally came out. As a free pdf and a paid-for low-cost Print on Demand book available from Lulu.com. This initial release went well, with something like 700 downloads of the free pdf within two months, but I was less than impressed with the sales of the physical book – which I needed to do more than beer money to pay for production costs of further OpenQuest supplements that I had planned. So I had a rethink after four months or so and started charging for the pdf. Suddenly the game was paying for itself!
The second big change was the cover art. It was nice that people cared about the game, but I got incessant calls to get a new cover. Initially, I was resistant, I like Simon’s cover to this day as a piece of vibrant art, but my publisher’s head won out in the end. Jon Hodgeson, who I was already in contact with to do Monkey’s 1st edition cover, was able to modify an existing cover to fit OpenQuest***. Sales then started to go up. Not in a way that was making me zillions, but away that showed that I had something to build upon.
All in all, we had about five versions of OQ1 to fix typos and rules****, and I also played about adding extra content. This was fairly typical of indie-RPGs of the day, so I felt justified doing it. Plus, it was fun to grow the game this way. I released two mini-settings with supporting adventures, the Savage North (D101-07) and Life and Death (D101-015), both in 2010. While this was going on, I was getting more feedback from the fans, and it was obvious that a second edition was on the cards. So by summer 2012, OpenQuest 1st Edition had had its day, and OpenQuest 2nd Edition was upon IndieGoGo.com being crowdfunded. But that’s another story 😉
Next up The Savage North (D101-07)
*Life and Death is currently out of print. The plan is to re-work it
** It became very clear why no one else seized on it later on. About five years later, Mongoose gave up the MRQ 1 license and released a second edition. At this point, the RuneQuest logo license, which, if you were saying “hey, this is compatible with RQ” was important, just disappeared. So you were stuffed if you had gone down that route. Cakebread & Walton, for example, took a year to redo their MRQ version of Clockwork and Chivalry game, moving it over to OpenQuest as a standalone game (so I guess it worked out well :D). But the rest of the more casual hobby publishers who used it were stuffed, and their supplements eventually disappeared. The MRQ 1 Systems Resource Document hung around, and is still on the internet to the best of my knowledge, but was the subject of some dispute as revitalised new management at Chaosium pointed out that several Glorantha elements had been released in it without permission – which of course invalidates the whole thing. Today, as a result, OpenQuest is based fully on the successor to MRQ1, through MRQ2, Legend, which was released in its entirety as Open Gaming Content under the OGL. One of the reasons I didn’t release Life and Death under the MRQ Logo license was that I saw that it could be withdrawn at any time. Even though I checked with Greg Stafford just before release, he was ok with it and never had any of the disputed Gloranthan material in OpenQuest, which has always been a non-Gloranthan game. Still, I didn’t twig that the MRQ SRD was on shaky ground until much later. Wiser eyes would have seen this mess straight out of the box. If I had realised this, I would have worried myself to death and never have done OQ. So it’s good my publishing naviety won out here 🙂
***The (in)famous Halfling to Duck change.
**** OQ 1 had a car crash of a proof/editorial. In the case of one proofer quite literally, another had a major life-changing crisis that took him out, and I had the game over the situation of my second child being born, literally the month I decided to publish and be damned. Part of me wishes that I had taken more time to squash the typos and clean up the rules mistakes. My rather happy punk rock attitude to getting games done in the early days of D101 gave us a reputation based on that, which some reviewers focused on and highlighted in their reviews. That made me very angry until I took practical steps to fix it and realised that they only said what they did because they cared about the books and wanted them to be better. But I stand by the decision to publish when I did. I don’t think I would have done it otherwise. My second child was a more bumpy ride than my first, which was effortless, and I think I would have lost the momentum of getting it out there. Plus, it gave me and a great many others, who told me in person at cons or via emails, a great sense of joy.