Interview with Corey Reid, creator of “Dino-Pirates of Ninja Island”

Corey Reid of Scratch Factory and the mad genius behind Dino-Pirates of Ninja Island, recently shared his thoughts on DPoNI and shared story worlds.

 

What were some of the inspirations for DPoNI?

Developing the setting, I’ve drawn on my love of Hong Kong wuxia pictures, pirate stories, ninja mythology and awesome “Lost World” tales of vanished civilizations in prehistoric jungles. Basically, if Ti Lung and Errol Flynn fought King Kong from the deck of Blackbeard’s flagship, you’d have a typical DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND scene.

But originally it wasn’t even my idea. The original idea was created by “JPL” over on the ENWorld.org discussion forums. People were posting their ridiculous ideas for D&D settings, trying to one-up each other’s pulpy mash-ups, and JPL basically came in and blew everyone away with this amazing idea. There was really nothing cool left to build on top of — he’d wrapped everything up in one package.

He and I got to talking after, and with his blessing I’ve been developing things around the setting ever since.

Seems appropriate that DPoNI was collaborative from the very beginning! Like many shared story worlds, DPoNI is a sci-fi/fantasy genre property (technically, a mix of genres). What attributes of sci-fi/fantasy do you think makes them so popular for these kinds of collaborations?

Well, genre stories work because the expectations of the audience are very specific — if it says “fantasy” on the cover then there better be swordfighting and magic on the inside. When collaborating, you want to be sure that everyone involved has a clear understanding of the setting’s vision, and genre is an easy way to do that.

At the same time, you want something unique about your setting — it needs to have a draw of some kind — but the unique piece has to be easy to communicate. Genre mash-ups are one way to do this.

If I say, “this world is like medieval Europe, but there’s three major powers, each with its own take on a monotheistic religion, and an international association of merchant houses that produces its own currency, and these animal cults that can actually take on powers of their totem animals, and…” — that’s getting to be a pretty complicated description, and difficult to pass on to total strangers with any confidence.

Whereas if I say, “There’s ninjas and pirates fighting this big bad Empire full of evil sorcerers. And dinosaurs.” Well, that’s a lot easier to grasp.

DPoNI is a role-playing game (RPG) property. Do you have any plans to create (or encourage the creation of) non-gaming material: a comic, novel, etc.?

Certainly do! There’s a comic book in the works as we speak, and other stories waiting to be told. A Facebook game is currently stalled in development but very near completion.

And I have a story I want to tell in an episodic fashion about a noodle chef who gets pushed too far.

In addition, the setting material is all licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution license, which means anyone who gets a notion can create their own material and do whatever they like with it. If you want to write a screenplay and make a blockbuster film of ninjas, pirates and dinosaurs, look no further!

Awesome! When those narratives start to roll out and there are more storylines to manage for world canonicity and continuity, how will your world stewardship change (or will it?)?

Should I be fortunate enough to have that particular problem, my plan is to maintain a canonical repository of setting information at dino-pirates.com.

The setting is made up of thousands of islands in the midst of a gigantic archipelago, so as people describe islands, those islands can be considered ‘canoncial’ or not. The idea is that anything that is canonical will be consistent with anything else that is canonical, so you can always build on those elements and be confident they’ll go along with each other.

The hope is that as narratives or storylines begin to emerge, their contributions to the setting will be added and identified as canonical or not, rather than try to mark or manage the narratives themselves.

I expect this will get more complicated than that, but as I said at the outset, I will consider myself very fortunate to have that problem.

From a licensing standpoint, DPoNI is very open, utilizing both Creative Commons and the Open Gaming License frameworks. Why did you choose the licensing approach you did?

Building the existing RPG on top of Green Ronin’s True20 meant I was compelled to use the Open Gaming License, since that’s what True20 is distributed under. There are other games currently in development that will use the CC licensing.

I have no expectations of making a living at this — it’s hard enough to make a living at writing no matter what you do, so my feeling is that making it easier for other people to build on these ideas doesn’t hurt me in a meaningful way.

If other materials (like the comic book) reach an audience, they will probably NOT be licensed in the same fashion. My model is that the setting remains open, but stories created using that setting can be offered in a variety of licensing formats.

So, you’re using a Creative Commons license to encourage sharing, remixing and even commercial use of the setting – but leaving you the option to monetize new content based on the setting?

As I mentioned, other DPoNI products may very well use other licenses. I don’t believe there’s much money in an online setting, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that people will pay for a print version of material that’s free online. So if the stars align I will probably offer a print version, and other products will follow.

The hope is that the open setting encourages engagement, which gets people involved.

But it may well be that somebody else figures out a way to profit off this — which will please me to no end. People having fun is the goal, here, not cash.

How can people contribute to DPoNI?

At dino-pirates.com you can start creating islands or other elements in the setting — just click on “Create an Island” and away you go. Because the setting is a giant archipelago, people can have a lot of freedom in creating wacky islands that don’t necessarily have to match up with any other islands.

As I mentioned above, I instituted a notion of ‘canonicity’ whereby some islands will be designated as canonical, meaning they are meant to be consistent with one another, and any official materials created will assume they exist. The idea is that folks running games or otherwise creating their own content around the setting will have a relatively stable set of material that they can rely on to build their stuff around.

But you don’t have to care about that, so if a non-canonical island grabs your eye, you use it any way you like.

How does the submission/editing process work? What are some of the considerations you have to address?

Currently there are no restrictions on what islands you can create or what you can put in them. I’m reviewing the incoming content myself but so far I haven’t edited anything in particular — just some grammar and the odd typo.

The primary differentiator right now is this notion of canonicity. I’ve occasionally offered guidance to people as to why their island has not been made canonical, but the whole point of this system is that material that does NOT fit with the main DINO-PIRATES vision can still go up on the site and be available to people who want it.

My hope is that, over time, the examples of canonical material will make it easier and easier for people to produce work that fits with the DINO-PIRATES vision.

Can you share how you have gone about marketing DPoNI and how you have developed a community around the property?

The primary effort so far has been me personally running RPGs at various events around North America. At the moment virtually all the content that exists is RPG material, and it’s an easy and fun way to get people excited about the idea.

The next step is to provide new material in the form of stories that people can enjoy away from the game table — the aforementioned comic book is part of that.

What was a pleasant surprise you had with DPoNI?

It’s always a thrill how excited people get when they hear the concept. People seem to grasp the idea immediately, and possibilities occur to them right away.

What was an unexpected challenge you had with DPoNI?

The importance of an off-line version. I’ve gotten very used to running games without anything other than an online reference document, but it seems like most people are far more comfortable with something they can at least download and use offline. So I’m working on producing a PDF of the rules.

What is your view about the future of participatory entertainment? Has it changed since you started DPoNI?

People like to be told stories, and they like to tell stories. When we used to live around campfires, people told stories about legendary characters that everyone knew, and somebody who was listening last week maybe told a story this week, and maybe it was a story they heard, or maybe it was just something they made up and thought was cool.

The idea that storytelling is the province of professional storytellers is the really new idea here — I see community-oriented approaches like DPoNI as using modern technology to invigorate a much older, more traditional model of story sharing.

What advice would you give someone creating/managing an RPG property with an open licensing approach?

Have faith that if you had a good idea today, you’re likely to have another good idea tomorrow, so don’t hang on to your good ideas. Share them, let other people build on them, and trust that if you’re providing something of real value to the world, then others will return value to you.

I’m seeing more RPG content being released under a Creative Commons license (some without any obvious revenue model, others – like Eclipse Phase – with a more traditional approach to content monetization). What do you think is driving this adoption?

I heard it once said that there are more full-time astronauts than full-time RPG creators. This has always been a hobby driven by amateur creativity and effort. Since there’s such tiny sums of money at stake, there’s very little motivation to close up the shop and try to squeeze every drop of cash out of the fans. It seems like the idea of including the fans in development actually reduces costs, opens up opportunities and gets you some amount of free marketing.

Open licenses are great because they provide for an unambiguous statement of rights that everyone can work from. You don’t need a lawyer to sort this out for you.

Can you talk about some upcoming DPoNI announcements or future plans you have in store for the property?

Well, like I said, there’s a comic book in the works, and the possibility of a Facebook game remains imminent. I am working on a couple of alternate rulesets for running games in this setting, since there’s no reason to limit people to only playing the One True Way.

I’ve gotten some great feedback on the early setting material and will be hoping to develop a number of things in more depth that people want to hear about like what are all these ninjas and pirates are REALLY UP TO out there.

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