Interviewing Owen KC Stephens Green Ronin’s Fantasy AGE

Owen KC Stephens is one of the living legends of tabletop RPG. With two decades of creations for Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Green Ronin Publishing, and many more, his work is synonymous with D&D, Star Wars, Pathfinder, and Starfinder, so when Green Ronin announced his new position as Line Developer for the Fantasy AGE, it opens a new and interesting path for a creator of Owen’s pedigree.

Fantasy AGE 01.jpg

EGG EMBRY (EGG): Owen, thanks for talking with me. There’s a lot to unpack here so let’s start with (and I’m sure I’m going to be fuzzy on some of the details and locations, but…) the journey to this position. You were Design Lead for Paizo’s Starfinder based in Redmond, WA. However, you gave up that role when your partner took an exceptional job and you relocated to Indiana. Now you’ve taken a job with Green Ronin Publishing based in Seattle, WA. All in 2019. How did that new position come about?
OWEN KC STEPHENS (OKCS)
: Green Ronin has always been amazingly supportive of me and my career, going way back to the early aughts when they gave me some of my earliest freelance projects, and trusted me to write whole books. That freelance relationship expanded to being the Freeport- and Pathfinder-Compatible Product Developer in 2013, a position I held for five years. When I left, it was largely because Green Ronin had accomplished what it wanted to with Pathfinder-compatible books, and my position at Paizo meant that, though they offered, I didn’t want to find a different position within Green Ronin. I just didn’t have the time. But I was considered an Alumnus of the company, and continued to exchange my feedback any time they wanted it for cheese. (Yes, really.) Then I left Paizo, as my wife was taking a job with Lone Wolf Development, which meant we needed to move to Indiana. At Gen Con this year, Green Ronin had me spend time sitting in their booth, passing out life advice on an air-conditioned sofa to anyone who wanted it. (Yes, really.) So we’ve kept in touch. :) When it turned out the existing Fantasy AGE Developer, the amazing Jack Norris, was looking to step down for other things in a bit, Green Ronin reached out and asked if I wanted to throw my hat in the ring for that position. There’s a LOT to be said for working with people you know and trust in the tabletop games industry, and I was never unhappy with how Green Ronin treated me, so that seemed like a definite opportunity. I talked to them about details for a bit, and in the end they made an offer I couldn’t refuse. :D
[UPDATE: This interview was conducted before the Lone Wolf Development staff reductions. LJ Stephens, Owen's wife, was impacted by that layoff.]

Fantasy AGE 02.jpg

EGG: For those that don’t know, what is Fantasy AGE? What makes it special?
OKCS
: Fantasy AGE is the fantasy version of the Adventure Game Engine, the same basic ruleset used for the tabletop Dragon Age RPG, Modern AGE, Blue Rose: The RPG of Romantic Fantasy, and The Expanse RPG. The games aren’t identical, but they all share a great deal of the same DNA – if you pick one up, it’s easy to learn the rest quickly. The core mechanic behind AGE is that you roll 3d6 (one of which is a differently colored “stunt die”), add them and a few potential bonuses, and see if you hit a target number. But, importantly, if any 2 of the 3 dice are doubles, you get stunt points equal to the value of the stunt die on that roll. You can spend stunt points to do cool and exciting things, some of which anyone can do, some of which you may have selected as part of your character. This keeps combat interesting and flexible without players having to constantly check to see if exactly the circumstances they need for their Cool Trick to work have come up. Connected to that is a fast and flexible character creation system that gives some guidance, but doesn’t break everything into 30-300 different categories. There are three classes for example -- Mage, Rogue, and Warrior – all of which are extremely flexible to allow lots of different characters to be made with each class. The flexible game framework allows players to get into the action quickly and have cool, unexpected things happen, without having to remember dozens and dozens of specific bonuses, triggers, and special cases. It’s also the game that was featured on Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana, Wil Wheaton’s show on Geek & Sundry. That’s cool because there’s a whole season of people playing this game easily available to watch. Not everyone is into watching people play RPGs, and that’s fine, but in this case it makes it easy to pick up the game without just reading it. I still think playing a game is the best way to learn it, but a lot of folks want to have a better idea what they are doing before taking that step, and this can help a lot!

Fantasy AGE 03.jpg

EGG: As Line Developer for the Fantasy AGE, what does that title entail?
OKCS
: Being a developer for a tabletop RPG is a lot like being a director for a movie. You may not be the writer, or the actor, or the editor, or the special effects staff, but you work with all of those to create a unified, interesting, worthwhile product. Some of that is creative. Developers pitch products to the publisher, outline those that are approved, assign them to freelancers (who the developer normally finds and is the point of contact for), makes sure the work arrives on time, and then “develops” it. This is mostly about making sure it is up to snuff on writing quality, has the correct tone (such as a unified tone if different writers wrote sections of a single section of a book), sticks to known continuity, stays within appropriate themes (both in terms of tone and appropriateness), doesn’t break gameplay, isn’t boring, and so on. The developer is also the last line of defense if a freelancer can’t deliver a manuscript in time—the developer either has to find someone else to do it in the time remaining, or take on such writing themself. Meanwhile, the developer works with the art director to come up with a cover art description, give feedback on sketches (mostly for subject matter—Hal Mangold knows his stuff on looking good, but he can’t read everything we publish to make sure they are depicted properly, and covers generally need to be ordered before text is done anyway, so it’s the developer’s “vision” that dictates both), and when the time comes give interior art descriptions. Then the developer works with the editors to make sure the manuscript is pleasing to read and free of errors. Again, our editors know their jobs, but sometimes a weird turn of phrase is just oddly worded, and sometimes it’s a crucial game rule that can’t be changed. Once the book comes together the developer works with the marketing team to create appropriate marketing text, writes blog posts talking about an interesting part of the project, and sometimes answers fan questions. The developer is the “subject expert” for their game line and products.

Fantasy AGE 04.jpg

EGG: What are some of the tasks that you want to tackle, day one?
OKCS
: I want to pin down a high-level map for where Green Ronin wants the game to go. It already has a Core Rulebook, Bestiary, the Titansgrave setting book, Campaign Builder’s Guide, Companion, and Game Master’s Kit, amongst other things. And, of course, there are books in process already which I’ll take over development for. So where does it go from here? A core setting? A series of full adventures? Another Bestiary? Once the stakeholders all agree where we are taking the game line, I can start pitching specific ideas on how to get it there.

EGG: Fantasy AGE has a campaign setting (Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana), however, it’s tied-up in a recently publicized lawsuit. Modern AGE, the present-day version of the AGE system, has two official settings, The World of Lazarus (reviewed here), licensed from the Image comic, and Threefold, Green Ronin’s in-house campaign setting. What are the chances that we’ll see an in-house Fantasy AGE setting under your watch?
OKCS
: I think that’s absolutely something Green Ronin as a whole is interested in looking at, and it’s an obvious place to take the game line. At the same time, I don’t want to do anything to discourage people from using Fantasy AGE to run the games they want in worlds of their own creation. So it’s a careful balance, and a challenge I look forward to tackling.

EGG: You’re rejoining Green Ronin just in time for their 20th anniversary. What was your role with Green Ronin before?
OKCS
: I have gone from freelancer, to regular freelancer, to developer and friend, to alumnus. I wasn’t quite there for the beginning almost-20 years ago, but I’ve certainly been enjoying the Ronin’s work for a good deal more than a decade.

EGG: You have a list of RPG credits from a who’s who of companies, games, and editions. What are some of the highlights?
OKCS
: I worked on all three editions of Wizards of the Coast’s d20 Star Wars game, and was co-author of the Star Wars Saga Edition Core Rulebook. I’ve done official work for D&D 2nd, 3rd, 3.5, and 4th Edition. I worked for White Wolf’s Sword & Sorcery imprint, especially on numerous EverQuest d20 books. I wrote Bastards & Bloodlines for Green Ronin, a book I still get email about, along with some of Thieves’ World, Black Company, and the whole Advanced Gamemastery Guide. I created the “Horrifically Overpowered Feats” line of pdfs I encourage no one to ever use, and was one of the core creators of the Starfinder RPG.

EGG: While this is not your first time outside of a d20 game, what do you see as the most exciting part of crafting something using a different engine?
OKCS
: I’m looking forward to flexing some different design muscles. AGE has a very different paradigm of how the rules interact with players and story, and it’s going to be fun to see what I can do with that different environment. I especially want to see what stories I can help people tell with AGE that are difficult in other game systems.

EGG: Designer for Fantasy AGE is not your only job. For those that don’t know, what other companies/projects are you currently working for/on?
OKCS
: I’m currently the Game Design Expert for Lone Wolf Development, a producer for Rite Publishing, and the owner and publisher of Rogue Genius Games. I also do freelance writing and consulting, and run a blog (owenkcstephens.com) supported by the patrons of my Patreon.

EGG: Considering popularity of The Expanse RPG (that uses the AGE system) and your prominent work on Starfinder, can we hope for Star AGE?
OKCS
: Certainly I think The Expanse RPG can be used for a lot of science fiction games beyond just the setting of the Expanse, as cool as it is. But it wouldn’t surprise me if some sort of Sci-fi AGE book not directly connected to a license comes along at some point. But if Green Ronin decides to do that, I doubt my Starfinder work will play much of a role in that thinking. The owners and staff of Green Ronin have plenty of expertise and experience in sci-fi themselves, and they are among the people I learn from on a regular basis. If they decided on a Sci-Fi AGE, it’ll be because the idea excites them and makes sense.

EGG: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me about your work. For fans interested in learning more, where can they find you online?
OKCS
: I’m very active on Facebook, somewhat active on Twitter, and have a website and Patreon!
 
Last edited:
Egg Embry

Comments

Egg Embry

Explorer
Great that he managed to get a new job!

By the way, the AGE system is (unfortunately) not a legally free rule in any form (as in OGL or CC), right?
Lucas Yew,
As far as I know, you are correct. However, it does cover a lot at the gaming table (Fantasy to Modern as well as properties like The Expanse, Dragon Age, and Lazarus). At Gen Con, I've seen it hacked to run a session of Masters of the Universe.
Castle Grayskull as the GM Screen:
Resized_20190803_230010.jpeg
 

JeffB

Adventurer
This is great news. I love FAGE , but I have not been impressed with the product line outside the Basic Rulebook (everything else seems halfass/half done). Looking forward to Owen taking the reins. Hope they can put out some great adventure related product that gets people playing.
 
Great that he managed to get a new job!

By the way, the AGE system is (unfortunately) not a legally free rule in any form (as in OGL or CC), right?
AGE is not covered by any OGL or CC. That said Green Ronin and I are big fans of seeing what other people can do with our toys, once we feel a ruleset is stable. I expect GR to find a way to let people play with AGE is some official, licensed way, though I don't expect that to look exactly like either the OGL or CC for various reasons.
 

aurionshidhe

Mees the T'sa
I'm always happy to see Owen's name attached to a RPG product. I met him in 1997-ish (?) when we both went to a writer's seminar at WotC headquarters in Seattle. I think he had just had his dwarven name generator published in Dragon Magazine. A great guy and fun to chat with. I'm glad to see that one of that alumni "made it" in the industry.

Congrats,

Mees the T'sa
 

Paragon Lost

Explorer
I've always wanted to see more developed for AGE system and Fantasy Age in particular. Hopefully Owen will be a catalyst for more products. :)
 

Augreth

Villager
I like a lot about the AGE system, especially about Modern AGE. Fantasy AGE, however, always seemed to lack something. I find the class options not very inspired, and the specialisations dont give me a „cool, I get this amazing effect!“ vibe. plus classes and specialisations should have their own stunts, I think.
 
I met him in 1997-ish (?) when we both went to a writer's seminar at WotC headquarters in Seattle. I think he had just had his dwarven name generator published in Dragon Magazine. A great guy and fun to chat with. I'm glad to see that one of that alumni "made it" in the industry.
I had just had the Dwarf accepted, though it wasn't published yet. :)

Several of us stayed in touch for, what, a year? And then we just all drifted apart. Nice to hear a voice from the past!
 

aurionshidhe

Mees the T'sa
I had just had the Dwarf accepted, though it wasn't published yet. :)

Several of us stayed in touch for, what, a year? And then we just all drifted apart. Nice to hear a voice from the past!
Yeah, it's hard to believe that was 20+ years ago. :oops: You've worked on a lot of my favorite IPs since then, particularly Star Wars (SAGA edition is still my fave). I look forward to seeing what you do with AGE. Cheers!
 

Advertisement

Latest threads

Advertisement

Top