In our second part to the Jeremy Smith interview, we take a look back at the process behind Psionics Unleashed, plus venture a bit forward into the future of Dreamscarred Press.
Rudd: When did you realize you wanted to produce RPG supplements?
Smith: Back in 2006 was when I got it in my head to actually put together and publish RPG supplements. For a few years before that, I’d put out material for free on some of the Wizard of the Coast D&D message boards, but not much.
Early 2006 was when I got it in my head to approach some of the other more notable members of the psionics community and pitched doing a psionic supplement under the OGL. We’d all produced material for psionics, and were unhappy with the official psionic support we were seeing, so we got together and made Untapped Potential.
Rudd: How did that project shape your view of the RPG industry?
Smith: First, it showed me that even a small-time, start-up company can get support from the fan-base if it puts together a quality product and markets it properly. Second, it showed me that the RPG industry is a lot bigger than I’d ever realized. Prior to starting Dreamscarred Press, the only non-Wizards of the Coast publishers I really knew of were Malhavoc Press and Mongoose Publishing, for their psionics books, and White Wolf. I learned quickly when we started Dreamscarred Press just how many other RPG publishers, especially independent publishers, there were.
Rudd: What do you feel is the most important aspect of designing an RPG?
Smith: Objectivity. It was probably one of the harsher lessons learned, but recognizing when a concept you have is great or is junk is important, and you have to be willing to admit that an idea you had just wasn’t a good idea and let it go. And you also have to admit when something you put out didn’t meet the necessary standards and needs to be fixed, and then not get defensive over it or let it bring you down.
Rudd: Whose work inspires you? Whose work do you admire now?
Smith: Well, initially, I was inspired by Bruce Cordell, who wrote the Expanded Psionics Handbook and Hyperconscious. While I was a big fan of 2nd Edition psionics in general, the mechanics were a little bit lacking. 3.5 introduced a very elegant system with a lot of potential. More recently, Pathfinder has really inspired; it’s revitalized my regular gaming group, who had taken a long hiatus from gaming.
Rudd: Speaking of Pathfinder, how do you feel about your experiences designing the Psionic Rulebook?
Smith: It’s very interesting. And it’s been very refreshing. The development process we did for most every project in 3.5; we were lucky to have more than a handful of people look at it at any given time, mostly from a logistical standpoint. The open nature of this project has introduced so many extra sets of eyes and opinions; it’s really helped to push us out of the “silo” mentality that can so easily happen during development. It’s also been great to get so much feedback so quickly.
Rudd: How do you think your playtest compares to Paizo’s?
Smith: Well, simply by being a third-party publisher, along with being psionics, I have a feeling we won’t have quite so many players. I also don’t think it will take over a year, as Paizo’s staff has already laid a lot of groundwork for us to use in updating psionics. But, I think we’ll catch a lot of those little problems that plagued psionics in 3.5, and hopefully release something that will bring more folks over to psionics.
Rudd: What is the most exciting change for Psionics Unleashed?
Smith: The most exciting part to me so far is just being a part of it. I see it as a pretty big deal from a community perspective, and am just excited to be doing it at all—being able to change the little things that didn’t make sense before, being able to update those aspects that felt underrepresented, and working off of so much fan feedback to make sure that the folks who use it like the way it’s going.
Rudd: Are there any plans for changes to established psionic fluff?
Smith: As for changes to the non-mechanical aspects—yes, there are plans for that. We want to make it a bit more mutable, so while we’ll give one vision of how it could be styled, we’ll also give clear direction about how to change that to suit your own game.
Rudd: What has been the most difficult challenge in developing Psionics Unleashed?
Smith: So far, keeping things balanced and also making them interesting—so far, the base psionic classes in that regard. Sometimes, a really cool concept would fit so well, but then you step back and look at it, and it’s just not balanced, and trying to figure out how to make it work mechanically without losing that “cool factor” can be incredibly frustrating. It’s also been a challenge to conform to the Pathfinder RPG design paradigms without falling into the “Psionic X” syndrome that plagued 3.5 psionics to an extent.
Rudd: What are your plans for converting your products to Pathfinder?
Smith: We definitely plan to convert some of them to Pathfinder, including the Third Dawn Campaign Setting, which is actually set to get a revised (3.5) edition in just a couple weeks. It will definitely be on a case-by-case basis, but a Pathfinder RPG-compatible Untapped Potential is a strong possibility to get the marksman and society mind in particular updated to match the other classes.
Rudd: What else do you see in the future for Dreamscarred Press?
Smith: We actually have a few 3.5 projects coming down the line really soon, in particular a handful of High Psionics releases and a couple more Races of the Mind. While we’ll probably still release a few products here and there for 4E; it won’t be a priority for us, because we’re not swimming in ideas for adventures, and the crunchier releases we’ve done in the past just don’t work well for the 4E market. Beyond that, it’s going to depend on how successful our initial forays into Pathfinder are. If our Pathfinder RPG products are successful, I’d expect we’ll migrate more heavily to that, rather than stick with 3.5, but a hybrid will likely exist for some time, as we still have ideas that fit 3.5 and still have fans who play 3.5 and buy books.
Don’t stop here! You can learn more about Dreamscarred Press by visiting their website. They sell Pathfinder releases on Paizo, DriveThru RPG, and more!