Interview: Wolfgang Baur of Kobold Quarterly and Open Design

Wolfgang Baur. For me, his name brings to mind years of saving money to buy the latest Dungeon and Dragon magazines at my local game store. Baur was involved in projects at TSR that varied from Planescape and Al-Qadim to Alternity. Since those days, he’s gained the title of Kobold-in-Chief as the editor-in-chief for Kobold Quarterly and Open Design.

To say that he’s been a force for good in roleplaying games would be a massive understatement. The Open Design movement that started five years ago is inspiring in its scope, matching up great projects with sponsors who want to see them succeed. It’s a bit like some of the cool projects financed via Kickstarter, but with the added ability to secure great designers, artists, and writers more consistently across a broader number of book projects.

Q: When you started Open Design back in 2006, where did you think it would be in 5 years? How does it compare to the reality now in 2011?

I wasn’t really thinking that far ahead at the time, but I was certain I was going to publish 1 or 2 books a year. The reality is, Open Design now does 8 to 10 books a year, and we’re on track for our first hardbacks as well. The reality has been more successful than I would have guessed!

Q: What’s the hardest part of being the “Kobold-in-Chief”? And what’s the best?

The hardest part is constantly saying no to things, and juggling 15 chainsaws at once. The saying “no” is required; gamers, designers, artists all have questions, and unfortunately, time and funds are sharply limited at a small firm. So you learn to make trade-offs.

The best part? I still love the smell of fresh ink, but the very best part is when people review it and get it. That’s especially true when the project was a tough one and a struggle to meet the goals. Want to make a publisher happy? Review a book he published.

Q: Now that Midgard is in full swing, what part of the setting are you most interested to see develop?

I’m all eager to write the Dragon Empire section, but my patrons want to see the Demon Mountain and the Steppes first. I can wait, napping like an ancient wyrm, dreaming up ever more glorious elements of the Empire…. The book covers everything from magic-blasted wildlands to mountain kingdoms and vast deserts, so really, there’s a lot of different flavors.

I’m enjoying the wild tangents, and the clear cases of synchronicity and brain transfer. It just keeps getting better, and we’re still in the first couple chapters!

Q: Of the many projects that Open Design is behind, what has provided the most surprises?

Currently? Midgard by far. It’s a whole world, so there’s lots of room for surprises.

Q: Which is the more difficult part of your job? Spearheading the Open Design process or pulling together a magazine full of great content every three months?

Luckily, I don’t spearhead Open Design that often: patrons and other lead designers do that more often than I do these days. And fortunately, I have three editors and dozens of writers I work with for Kobold Quarterly. So… Neither is a solo effort.

Which is harder? Probably the magazine, because they are more complicated and need to be done on a tighter timeline. But I love doing magazines, so it doesn’t feel like work.

Q: What are you currently playing or GMing?

Call of Cthulhu, Dragon Age RPG, 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and…. Is that it? Yeah, that’s the list at the moment. It changes fairly often these days, more often than it did when I was working at Wizards of the Coast.

Q: How do you feel about the use of technology such as laptops, tablet computers, and other mobile devices in today’s gaming? If you use it, what tools do you use? If not, why not?

Sure, I’ve used a lot of tech for prep time (PC, BlackBerry, Excel), and I’m using more lately (Kindle, iPad). I find I tend to ignore it at the table unless I’m a player. As a DM, I’d rather run from my notes and books, but I also want some eye contact and sense of where the group is headed so… I think it’s like any other set of tools: useful, make the job easier, not required. A poor craftsman blames his tools, and a DM who spends too much time looking at tech is ignoring his players. Players come first.

I want to thank Wolfgang for taking the time to answer my questions and wish him and the rest of the kobolds the best of luck as Open Design heads into it’s next 1/2 decade. I for one am ecstatic to dive into any new book the kobolds produce, so I’m sure Midgard will offer some great places for adventure and mysteries to explore!

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